2012: Re-Labeling the Future Imprints in the Time of Ephemera

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music and films that helped define the year. More from this series

There were a lot of possibilities a-brewin’ for this year’s FINAL REVENGE: What would a Mitt Romney win have done for punk rock? What are the societal implications of Dave’s Old Porn? How inevitable IS the a cappella invasion?

I decided, in the end, to talk to some label proprietors to find out what’s really happening out there. There have been a lot of predictions floating around regarding the future of CDs/records; a lot of tapes have been dubbed; and the majors have been losing money. It’s easy to say no one will buy records as a let’s-get-physical product in 50 years, when most of the people reading this — and likely helping to fuel the surge in vinyl and cassette — are old, but what about the next 10-25 years? Will our kids face a vinyl vacuum? (And what about their kids?)

Another reason for singling out these incredibly influential people is my own listening habits, as I follow imprints more closely than bands nowadays, monitoring pressing sizes and tape-box runs rather than Daytrotter appearances and tour schedules. The labels I chose for this feature (many of my other favorites are listed at the end of this feature; press on!), Full of Nothing, TAIGA, Ultra Eczema, Spectrum Spools, Experimedia, Hardly Art, 20 Buck Spin, Monofonus Press, and AMDISCS, aren’t necessarily the outfits I follow personally, but each inhabits a distinct corner of the market I’m trying to investigate. I was curious to hear what these brave sound soldiers had to say about a war we were told a few shorts years ago they’d never win. When told of the potentially slim odds, they entrenched themselves deeper. They are curators, artists themselves in almost every case, and are shaping the landscape we so enjoy gazing at from both afar and up-close.

Also, though I never believed it would happen, some people like MP3s, maybe prefer them even, so I tried to include folks who might know of such things.

Spectrum Spools (John Elliott)

[Cleveland, Ohio, and Vienna, Austria]
Formats: CD, vinyl
Artists: Motion Sickness of Time Travel, Gary War, Bee Mask, Drainolith

Being an artist yourself, do you look for bands that share a certain space with your projects, or are you looking for stuff that’s totally different?

I really try to keep it context-free. I think that is the best way to keep things fresh and also open ended. This question actually allows me to go on a small tangent about something that’s really been making my soul ache lately. It seems like people rely on a label to provide them with a product that they’re expecting. Then within this product they want only slight variations therein. Anything outside of that seems to cause a bit of a crisis. How boring is that? This year, I have a few aces up my sleeve that will surely screw up anybody’s expectations of what I’ve done so far. This is one of the dangers of keeping the label context-free. I really just want to put out whatever I think is really good and not out there yet. Sorry for complaining. 

Is making a living from your label something you view as a possibility?

Well, above all, it’s more important that the artists would be able to make a living. I work in a factory 40 hours a week downtown. I try to put a lot of focus on the label and also my own creation, but balancing the three together is nearly impossible. I wish it were a possibility, but sales are so low in music generally that I can’t really see this happening anytime soon. In these times, you can really see a true artist shine. You will watch them labor over something for over a year or more, and they are working hard with no money, only to focus on a singular work. Losing sleep, losing their minds, not eating, spending every penny on making their record better, and sacrificing so much to make something great. The second it goes on sale, everybody has free access to it, and it doesn’t seem like people are feeling very guilty about it according to the sales reports that I see. But the artist does knowing full well it will happen. 

I don’t think anything will change. Until people start getting slapped with fines for illegal downloading (which I am all for, by the way, sorry), there’s no way. If I could, I would do much more with it: have a booking agency, a publishing department, etc. I would go all out and max out the potentials of having a real, killer imprint. 

What’s more profitable, vinyl or CDs?

Depends on who your audience is, I suppose. I would say vinyl probably sells better than anything. Though we have had some success with CDs as well, which makes me very happy.

It’s really hard to sell 1,000 records. 7 billion people live on Earth. How many of them do you think like music? How many of them do you think own record players? How many of them do you think enjoy music? I think about these things and wonder how I can do more for my artists. You have to make an edition within an edition just to get any sales in the first place. “Die Hard Music Lovers” have to have the limited version or they don’t want it at all. 

Over the last 10 years, the bigger record labels have been losing large sums of money, while vinyl has sold relatively strong for smaller labels. Have you seen any trends, etc. at your label that might explain why this is happening?

I can’t really pinpoint anything specifically, but I think that there is a difference between people who appreciate the physical work of an artist, and then those who enjoy music in passing waves of trends. It also seems like a necessary social impulse in the psycho-technology era of people who have to HAVE everything. People who [refresh] Boomkat or Forced Exposure and wait with baited breath for that RapidTransfer link of all the new stuff. Listen once (or click thru sections with your mouse) immediately, and then store it away. It’s so fucking damaged and it hurts my head.

Nick Richardson wrote this shitty letter to Peter (Rehberg) about how he can’t be bowled over by a .zip file of an album by a project. I fully agree with that sentiment. However, nobody buys music, and you’re supposed to be a “music critic,” so why don’t you buy a goddamn record that you think might be good, sit at home and listen to it for a week, and then write about it? You can’t afford it? We can’t afford to give anything physical away because we’re always barely breaking even. We don’t live in that world 10 years ago where labels could send physical to every magazine, to college radio and stuff like that.

Then there are those who are in it because they appreciate the art and want to own a piece by the artist. I am lucky enough to have had enough people onboard and into this imprint to sell enough records to stay alive and maybe even get some artists on my roster paid. 

What is your favorite aspect of running a label?

Seeing an artist thrive: getting positive feedback and new opportunities, selling enough records to make money to fuel more great art, having an audience of listeners excited and confident that I can deliver on the promise of releasing music that rewards and has lasting power. There are things that I absolutely love about it. I have threatened to end the editions at a certain catalog number, which is very possible, but right now, there’s so much interesting stuff out there, that it’s hard to think about doing that.

What is the future of the record industry, as you see it?

I think vinyl will continue to sell more and more, for people who care to listen. My dark half sees tons of hyperlinks, no spiritual reward, no artists, and an empty, mangled gas canister-styled monster energy drink can next to a broken “Now That’s What I Call Music: Apocalypse Edition” CD laying on the ground.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen/done to put out/promote a record?

You can buy a Fiona Apple CD at Starbucks, right?


[UK/Czech Republic]
Formats: MP3, CD-R, cassette, vinyl
Artists: CVLTS, Afrika Pseudobruitismus, a i r s p o r t s, DJ Baglady, VΞRACOM

What are the criteria you use to decide whether to release a band’s music?

∞ facets, and one exactly fits into the mosaic for what I’m looking for: either it strikes like lightning or envelops me like rose pink cloud.

What’s more profitable, vinyl or CDs?

CDs because of lower production costs, and the time arrived that CDs soaked up this sweet obsolete aura that was until recently chained with cassette tapes, and it makes them “cooltimate” for a while∜♡

Do you find digital to be a good format for releasing music?

Because it’s relatively ever present and easily accessible by anyone, anywhere in the world.

Over the last 10 years, the bigger record labels have been losing large sums of money, while vinyl has sold relatively strong for smaller labels. Have you seen any trends, etc. at your label that might explain why this is happening?

1. About the big record labels: I would love to know where the unsold quantities end up, and if they are recyclable, what do they become? iPads? iPods? Galaxies?
2. Vinyl was a trendy seller because it entails this analogue perfection of sound + extra value of artful limited editions that are wished by every person with taste. I think that primarily explains why is it so sought-after, but I don’t think vinyl could be taken as [a] thing to rely on anymore in the present.

What do you do, if anything, to promote your label (newsletter/magazine/web ads/emails/)?

Worst thing to do is [send] a newsletter where you are practically begging people to listen to amazing music. I can’t really do that, being given total awareness of what each of the amazing artists I’ve ever worked with did.

If there is amazing music, it’s against [the] laws of nature to beg people to listen to it; it lowers its value, and it’s not conceit. People who are at home in music scene recesses as well all open-minded individuals are always given a chance to let the music flow into their ears. There will [always be a] stable base of listeners as well people who are “discoverers.” For promotion, we rely on friends who are doing the same independent kind of thing, magazines, services, etc. Besides that, we work with reliable partners.

Have you ever decided against putting out a record because you anticipated it wouldn’t sell well?

Yes, if I won’t be capable to rationalize decisions about putting out records within the actual boundaries & possibilities, everything may be fucked up pretty quickly and easily, and it’s a task to preserve easy going, but that doesn’t mean there is no space for adventures. Sometimes saying no actually means yes. I don’t want to fall into misery. Agreements about releasing records that won’t [sell] are made in total drunkenness or with assistance of other “accelerators.” I feel protected from such decisions.

What is the future of the record industry, as you see it?

Ever presence without medium needs, 3012, highest vibrations, no boundaries a.k.a. fulfillment, abandoned holograms, post-life.

How far will you go to promote a record?

I have sent my underwear with [an] order to a customer who I knew would really appreciate it. It was [actually the] underwear of my father, in five dimensions — time wasn’t the extra D.

TAIGA (Andrew Lange)

[Minneapolis, MN]
Format: vinyl
Artists: Rafael Toral, Lotus Eaters, Deep Listening Band, Eleh

TAIGA puts out limited releases, often with even smaller runs of color vinyl. How did you arrive at that strategy, and why do you think it works?

A lot of the labels I’ve directly ordered from over the years make special editions to thank their mailorder customers. I think of records as more than vehicles to carry sound; they are sculptures, and I strive to make all of our releases into small editions of art objects. When you are making a small run but press three different colors of vinyl, each variation becomes all the more special. Although there are plenty of people out there who only believe in the fidelity of black vinyl, we make colored vinyl to complement or contrast the artwork or concept of the album.

Over the last 10 years, the bigger record labels have been losing large sums of money, while vinyl has sold relatively strong for smaller labels. Have you seen any trends, etc. at your label that might explain why this is happening?

I see this as the beginning of clearing out all the refuse that divides the line between the physical and digital worlds. A direct example being the hopefully dying trend of including digital download coupons with vinyl. This is a way to pander to consumer desires while simultaneously combining what I believe will be the last two standing music formats. It might just be the kind of music I’ve been buying lately, but I’ve seen less of these included with records. I find them a nuisance and often wonder why labels are including pieces of trash with their records. It’s almost like the labels are pretending that you can’t go online and find almost anything for free anyway. I’m sure some people will disagree with me on this topic, but believe me, it’s better to keep some things offline.  

To get back to your question though, a lot of the vinyl sales can be contributed to resale value. You cannot resell a digital download, plus CDs and tapes, with certain exceptions, are also losing their appeal on the aftermarket. This is such a phenomenon that often people buy and don’t even listen to records with the sole purpose of resale. Also, vinyl is the classic music medium, so I’m sure there’s also a certain amount of nostalgia and sentimentality involved. On another note, it’s the only format that can be played without a machine if necessary. If all else fails, listening to digital music, CDs, and cassettes will not be possible. A makeshift record player can be made of anything needle-like connected to anything hollow and conical, set it in the groove and spin the record by hand. Speaking of, if it’s not already being done, someone should make a mass-produced, affordable, hand-cranked turntable that requires no electricity and has decent sound.

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music and films that helped define the year. More from this series

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