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

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

It’s definitely possible. It might seem strange, but I actually prefer to have a (low-stress) regular job in conjunction with running my label. A few reasons for that: The stability of a regular paycheck also makes the label more stable and less compromised, health benefits, reinvesting label revenue back into the label instead of to pay rent and bills, but mainly, I actually don’t want to live and breathe music and the music business all the time. I have many interests that have nothing to do with all that, and though I’d list music as primary among my favorite things, I also like to step away from it and just interact with people who have nothing to do with it. The people I work with largely have no idea what I do in the music world, and I like it that way.

What’s more profitable, vinyl or CDs?

That’s a difficult question to answer because it’s dependent on so many factors: the cost of manufacturing, the wholesale cost, the retail cost. Those are not fixed costs for any particular release; they always change. I can say that when selling directly through my label/mailorder online shop, I sell more vinyl than CDs, because it’s more tailored to that format. So in that regard, vinyl is more profitable. But my distributor, Revolver, tends to sell a lot of CDs too, maybe because they’re cheaper, maybe because some people out there still want them.

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?

The progression of the internet has had the effect of monopoly breaker on the music scene. When a monopoly is broken up, it only fucks with the big corporate interests. Smaller companies are mostly unaffected and can even flourish as a result of the breakup. Small labels command a more loyal following, and it’s the true music fans who follow and buy from small labels. You rarely come across a total music fanatic who is only following major label bands/releases. Major labels depend on a fly-by-night, very casual type of music fan, not loyal at all. Without their back catalogs from bygone days, they are dead in the water. Major labels are the reality television of the music scene, empty cal, surgary waste. Eventually people go on a diet. Give ‘em a good healthy but tasty platter, and they’ll stick with you. But yes, there’s been an uptick of interest in vinyl for sure, definitely in the underground. Even tapes have resurfaced (in some cases, they never left), which I’m personally thrilled about, as I have hundreds of them from when I was coming up and I still love them.

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

I get solicited everyday by bands looking for a label release. Most of them are really bad, boring, and unoriginal, and believe themselves to be the right thing for 20 Buck Spin based on their own limited perception of the label’s aesthetic. I am very tired of getting recordings from stoner/drone/post/black metal type stuff. I reject stuff because I don’t like it, first and foremost, and if I don’t like something, I’d have trouble selling it, regardless of its actual sales potential. I’ve turned down records that I knew would sell. I used to own a brick and mortar record store in Olympia called Phantom City Records. But after a while, I realized I didn’t want to be selling a bunch of stuff I didn’t like. I would fail to keep up with the genres and releases that are important for a store to have but that I didn’t care for. I’ve released a lot of stuff that didn’t sell well, even when I knew it wouldn’t. As long as you have some that do sell, you can do some that don’t and live to tell the tale. You have to consider sales potential, but you don’t live and die by it if you want to stay true to your creative purpose. 

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

Further fragmentation into scenes and sub-scenes; faster trend cycles; continued restructuring and shrinking but not the total demise of the major label system; more leveling of the playing field between big indie labels and the majors; opportunities for creative, savvy individuals to make a living by understanding and adapting to the changing landscape of the music biz, to the changes in what it means to be employed, and to the technological advances that will progress faster and faster. More people listen to music now then ever before, and that’s an opportunity.

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

I’ve seen a lot of cool stuff in my time. Some crazy stuff in the noise scene. One thing that sticks out is in the early 90s when Earache Records had a deal with Columbia Records in the States and they were releasing albums by Entombed, Napalm Death, Carcass, Cathedral etc. Cathedral put out a record called The Ethereal Mirror. Not a very good record, but they expected it to be huge. I was working at my high school radio station at the time and they sent me a mirror with the Cathedral logo and an image of a statue screened onto it in blue. It’s not that crazy, but I always that was the coolest piece of label “swag” that I got. I kept that mirror for years, but ultimately it disappeared somewhere along the way to now. Also my friend Mauz put out a Melvins 8-track on his Life Is Abuse label. That was killer.

Hardly Art (Sarah Moody)

[Seattle, WA]
Formats: vinyl, CD, cassette
Artists: Magic Trick, Hunx, The Sandwitches, Le Loup

Do you put out digital albums? If so, why do you find it to be a good format?

We’ve never released a digital-only album, and I hope to avoid going down that road. Digital is more often than not the most efficient option in terms of both sales and turnaround time.

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?

Vinyl is certainly a trend, and while it’s great that the format is being paid more attention lately, it still accounts for a relatively small amount of overall sales. I don’t think larger record labels losing money is a new concept, nor do I think that vinyl is solely responsible for keeping smaller labels afloat — if anything, it’s that vinyl has created an additional avenue for sales, much as digital did when it was first introduced.

Do you think that in this climate simply providing quality music is enough to guarantee decent-to-good sales?

No. If releasing music were as simple as making it available for purchase online, there would be no need for record labels, distribution, booking agents, PR, etc. The internet is vast and full of terrible demos.

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

I see digital sales continuing to increase, though with a heavier reliance on streaming services such as Spotify and Rdio, etc. Online mailorder will continue to thrive, for both labels and stores. Given that it has never been easier to manufacture vinyl or distribute digitally, I would imagine the trend of the microlabel will continue, though it’ll be interesting to see how much longer the revived fascination with cassettes will last.

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

The t-shirt-plus-download-code idea is an interesting incentive, though it also presumes a healthy percentage of customers will want a token of ownership despite not caring to purchase the physical format. The Xiu Xiu vial of blood from way back when was interesting… but I think the craziest thing these days are the insane LP/7-inch box sets being offered (à la The Disintegration Loops set or Numero’s Omnibus); the amount of production that goes into those releases is mind-boggling. We’ve made some entertaining promo items this year (à la a comb for the latest Hunx solo record and a ruler for the Magic Trick LP) — otherwise, the craziest thing we’ve ever done was to start including download codes with LPs back in 08. Wild scene. Wild scene.

[Full disclosure: Sarah Moody contributed briefly to TMT years ago.]

Ultra Eczema (Dennis Tyfus)

[Antwerp, Belgium]
Formats: vinyl, zines, books, CD-R, cassette, 3-inch CD
Artists: Evil Madness, Edmond de Deyster, Body/Head, Cassis Cornuta

Do you sell music because it’s profitable, as a hobby, or both?

None of these. All profit, if any, goes back into the label. I don’t get paid. I actually injected money I made with selling artwork into the label. A lot of why I do a label is very selfish; I just really like to trade records with other labels for my collection. On the other hand, it’s very social, as Ultra Eczema tries to bring people together on its UE nights and I want people to hear strange sounds and music from the area I am at at that time, etc.

I am a visual artist and consider Ultra Eczema to be a part of that practice. There’s no time for hobbies. I am working on both the label and my visual work day and night. Hobby would be a great name for a ugly wet dog, much like the name “fletcher,” which I just found out is also a sort of hand-held machine to close frames with.

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

It depends. Right now, I only follow my gut feeling. I used to find it very important to have a personal bond with the people I publish records by, but sort of gave up on that, as it wasn’t always possible. For example, with Kito Mizikumi Rouber from Japan or Menstruation Sisters from Australia, I only had contact through email at the time I published their LPs, but was obsessed with how they sounded. Luckily, meeting some of them afterwards was not a disappointment. 

More and more UE is publishing archival records, such as the most recent release, which is a record by visual and sound poet Paul De Vree, who died in 1982. I was a three year old in 1982, and we were not friends then… I guess while searching for recordings by Ludo Mich, Wout Vercammen, Marcel Van Maele, etc., I stumbled upon more and more interesting, old dusty archives that fascinated me, all Belgian freaks who made the path even for us dwarfs.

I don’t own a glass ball, and if they were available, I wouldn’t buy one.

Partly I started focusing more and more on MSS MEESTERD as well, the monthly magazine Ultra Eczema is publishing since April, which is always a collection of the visual work I’m working on in these specific moments.

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 keep the stuff I’m doing personal and small enough and am not so interested in this matter. I am hardly thinking about what happens in the “industry,” though maybe that is because the label is financing itself and not in financial trouble. I’ll think about it and will maybe regret later that I didn’t make much effort to become a bigger label or made more cash with it etc. Things change; that is as sure as the fact that Oi Polloi is not nationalist.

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

No, there have been records I thought would sell out immediately, which I still have hundreds of copies of, and there were records I thought I’d never get rid of because they were so retarded, which sold out in one night. You simply can’t tell, and I really don’t want to think about sales in that way. I don’t want to not publish something I really love because money is on that back of my mind or something.

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

I don’t own a glass ball, and if they were available, I wouldn’t buy one.

I’ve seen 8-tracks, MP3-player buttons, and baby-doll parts included with albums. What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen/done to put out/promote a record?

I still love the Merzbow car.

Monofonus Press (Morgan Coy)

[Austin, Texas]
Format: vinyl, cassette, ‘zines, MP3
Artists: Guardian Alien, Okie Dokie, Lucky Dragons

Monofonus Press is a strange organization. It’s a small group of people who take on all sorts of jobs to produce and release records, zines, videos, and whatever else we’re involved with. Our first several releases were collaborations through association: an album, a little book, and a visual artist. It’s evolved from that circle of friends and from that initial idea, but our roots are still in the same place. We still believe in the idea that great things can come out of artists helping to promote each other.

There are three of us who focus on the music. Three seems to be a good number for making decisions. We all scout for bands and we keep each other honest. We like different music, but we tend to align when it comes to what Monofonus puts out. Woman Doom, shit noise, punk rock, old time, New Wave analog, Italian prog, British Screw house, Mexican post-punk, psychedelic pop; that’s the way that we’ve been rolling this past year. I don’t think that any of us want to focus in and specialize on a single genre. We’d get bored. We feel like 2012 has been our best year of releases so far, and we’ve got more coming, if the world doesn’t end.

We aren’t making a living off of it yet. It’s a part time job that’s intensely consuming. It needs to be supplemented by other things to stay alive. That said, we keep getting better at what we’re doing, figuring out how to make good things for cheaper and spread the word farther. We’ve got some decent distribution now, and we’ve been doing this long enough that more people know what we’re up to, so the possibility of making some money is getting closer. 

But the music industry is a mess, and, really, a lot of the industries that we’re involved with exist in kind of a doggy paddle of chaos.  We’re all trying to stay afloat long enough so that a reasonable business model appears.  People are making more digital things now than ever, and most of it is free or treated like it’s free. That’s the culture we’re in. It’s not all bad. We love to share the things that we make. We have always made a bunch of the work we release free in some form online. But even free can still be a hard sell. There is just so much out there that it’s hard to get heard through the noise. There are some amazing zines that we’ve helped to make that are free online, but practically nobody has seen them. There are certainly some records that we’ve put out that have sold very badly that we think are great. That’s just the way it goes. We hustle as best we can and then move on.

What we’re doing isn’t mainstream, but we’re working hard to get it to the people who are out there who want it and need it. We’re guided by the music and projects that inspire us. There’s a reward in that. It catches fire in us and we do what we can to spread it. We have some good slow burns going on, which is awesome, but we’re always looking for ways to make the fire bigger. We’ve tried all sorts of things. Hand silk-screened records and record sleeves, books combined with albums, a Nintendo-style video game, a series of interactive dry hump YouTube videos. It’s fun to think of new angles to approach releases with, but it has to fit right. Ultimately, the best kind of promotion for a record is a band that tours. We know that. But damn, some bands don’t tour much, and we love what they recorded. We struggle with that kind of record. But generally, if we really like it, we’ll put it out, and then hustle it as best we can and hope it works. It’s a little bit of a curse to make recorded music these days, but a sweet one.

I wanted to close this piece with a quick list of record labels that, much like most of the imprints above, deserve attention amid swarms of questionable quantity. I’ve been so assss-deep in small-run mayhem I don’t even know what Centipede HZ sounds like. And I love(d) Animal Collective (I’m not shitting you about this; I just Google’d “Name of new Animal Collective album” a second ago). Let me tell you, it’s been an absolute delight to lose myself so thoroughly in this mess, and the folks below are part-responsible for keeping the framework of the underground alive, even if there’s always the chance the scene will die a terrible, terrible death at any time. That, in itself, is exciting.


Feeding Tube, Arbutus, Off Tempo, Soft Abuse, Constellation Tatsu, Kraak, Discrepant, Vulpiano, Basses Frequences, Lo Bit Landscapes, Sunsneeze, De Stijl, Modern Love, Editions RZ, Phantasy Sound, Because, Fan Death, Skrot Up, Solid Melts, Aijna Offensive, Loglady, Dot Dot Dot, Castle Face, Trensmat, Captcha/Kallistei, Black Lake, Blackest Rainbow, Ba Da Bing, Students of Decay, Rock is Hell, Utech, Does Are, Burger, Important, Small Doses, Mexican Summer, Free Loving Anarchists, Moon Glyph, Alchemist, La Station Radar, Hundebiss, Robot Elephant, Aagoo, Moniker, Handmade Birds, Isolated Now Waves, Vauva, Peasant Magick, Bennifer Editions, Land of Decay, Night People, Empty Cellar, Pilgrim Talk, Tapes of a Neon God, Dais, Richie, Permanent, Perennial, Kye, Touch, Funkytonk, Munster/Vinilisssimo/Vampi Soul, Weird Forest, Fabrica, NNA Tapes

Favorite 50 Albums of 2012
Favorite 30 Films of 2012
Chocolate Grinder Mix 2012
Favorite 30 Album Covers of 2012
Tapping Into the Macabre
Eden in Reverse
Re-Labeling The Future
Apocalytpic Ends
Year-End Comic (NSFW)

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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