Innova Recordings’ story begins in 1982, when it was founded by the Minnesota Composers Forum (now the American Composers Forum) as a way to document the McKnight Composer Fellowship winners. In its early years, innova produced several sampler LPs featuring the works of a range of Minnesota composers, many of whom have since achieved national prominence, including Eric Stokes, Libby Larsen, Paul Schoenfield, Steve Tibbetts, and Steven Paulus. With the advent of the compact disc, innova began releasing selected highlights from the top ensembles (the Dale Warland Singers, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Alexander String Quartet, and others) that had been on the Composers Forum concert seasons.
Over its first ten years, innova built up a broad distribution network, far beyond the Forum’s own membership circles, and in 1994, the label — always looking for ways to be of service to the new music community — opened its doors to artists who had their own finished masters and were looking for a helping hand in reaching a wider audience. Thus was born the Recording Assistance Program, an exceptionally artist-friendly business model that has allowed the label to grow to one of the most substantial in the nation. In recognition of the career benefits innova can bestow on its artists, the McKnight Foundation endowed it with a $1 million fund in 2002. Interest from that allows the label to keep costs relatively low to artists (who also keep 100% of sales income) and subsidize administrative costs so each title can receive greater bang for the buck.
In the last decade, the label’s catalog has grown from 70 to over 400 titles, with innova producing 20-30 releases a year encompassing diverse genres, concepts, and approaches — all somehow non-conformist, individualistic, and groundbreaking. Original works receiving their recording debuts (Robert Moran’s Trinity Requiem, Graham Reynolds’ The Difference Engine) sit next to reissues of long out-of-print classics (Talking Drums’ Some Day Catch Some Day Down, William Bolcom's Open House) and definitive career retrospectives (archives of recordings by Harry Partch and Henry Brant). Bold reimaginings of classics (Darrel Brenzel's The Re(w)-Rite of Spring, Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble’s In C Remixed and Music for 18 Musicians) collide with expansive cultural time capsules (The NYFA Collection: 25 Years of New York New Music, Sonic Circuits Electronic Music Festival). Exploratory new music (Todd Reynolds’ Outerborough, Maya Beiser’s Provenance) mingles with modern twists on traditional music (DuoJalal’s A Different World) and hangs out with lo-fi garage pop (R. Stevie Moore’s Nevertheless Optimistic). Field recordings from Vietnam (Stilling Time), Cuba (Habanera), and Belize (Lebeha Boys) cohabit with career collections of music by PRISM Quartet, Zeitgeist, Society for New Music, Fred Ho, Mark Applebaum, Barry Schrader, Andrew Violette, Eleanor Hovda, Robert Moran, and many more. Not only does innova march to the beat of a different drum (the non-profit, artist centered philosophy, in this case), but the different drummer herself (and not just Susie Ibarra) is likely on the roster of artists.
Innova albums and artists have been nominated for - and won - Pulitzers, Grammies, and Emmies. They have received plaudits from publications from the New York Times to Czech Republic’s His Voice magazine, from the Wire in London to the Los Angeles Times, Italy’s Kathodik and everywhere in between.
Major grants over the years from the National Endowment for the Arts (2001, 2003, 2004, 2008, 2010) and the New York State Music Fund (2007) have boosted the label’s growth, reputation, and visibility. In 2009 innova partnered with Naxos USA distribution to expand its reach even further and is constantly adapting to changing needs and embracing new technologies. Philip Blackburn took over the running of the label from Homer Lambrecht in 1996 and has been joined by Chris Campbell (2003) as Operations Manager, and Publicist, Steve McPherson (2010).
In 2012 innova was awarded the prestigious Laurel Leaf Award from the American Composers Alliance "for its excellent support of the full range of contemporary American music."