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.

Another alluring aspect of vinyl is that it cannot be easily directly replicated. Tapes can be dubbed, CDs burned, and digital files infinitely copied, but vinyl discs can only be replicated through time-consuming processes with expensive materials. Bigger record labels started losing large sums of money when consumers realized CDs are simply vehicles for digital files. Through this collective enlightenment, CDs began and continue to be seen as unnecessary. Digital music is squeaky clean and convenient, but vinyl is more elusive and the object itself has value on multiple levels.

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

Yes, it hasn’t happened yet, but I dedicate most of my time to the label, so I do view it as a possibility in a subconscious way.

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

I enjoy a wide variety of music, but when considering starting a label, I knew it had to have a solid direction.  I would never be satisfied releasing a confused mixture of all the different types of music that I appreciate.  The label did not start with a straightforward mission but has been developing one ever since. Initially, after contacting a bunch of artists I decided to start the label with Rafael Toral due to his enthusiasm and trust, despite the fact we had just met. Once the first release was out, a few curatorial pathways had been created to follow. Since record players must remain stationary to work effectively, vinyl is the perfect medium for challenging music that requires maximum attention to be fully appreciated.  Broadly speaking, that is the criteria.  I feel that, as the catalog grows, more channels will open to invite a wider range of sound that falls under the vast category of experimental music. 

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

No, there is an ever expanding plethora of music to choose from being made and released to the public.  Free music is the reality and investing money in music is an option, not a necessity, so if a certain title isn’t completely attractive, it will easily be passed for something else. It seems to be the case that people are comfortable absorbing advertisements for free content. The label survives on the outskirts by providing music without advertisements included with the releases or on our site. This is something I often forget but plays a huge roll in how we operate. There are a lot of loyal customers who continue to support the label and are keeping it afloat. But I wouldn’t say there’s ever a guarantee of anything; people believe in our honesty and that respect fuels momentum.

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

No, but I try to remain realistic. A lot of this comes down to the artists themselves, how dedicated they are.  I take the label very seriously and operate it as professionally as possible. If a musician has dedicated their life to it, I’m much more comfortable working together than with someone who works on it sporadically. There will always be exceptions, but I put so much time and effort into the label, I feel like all of the parts that contribute to it should have a similar amount of commitment.

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

Third Man, although I don’t own a single record of theirs, has been doing some creative stuff as advocates of vinyl.  This is made possible by the popularity of Jack White, but he’s using his celebrity to push vinyl commendably.  Their flexi-discs attached to helium balloons stunt was pretty crazy.  I also read they made a 12-inch that you had to crack open at the edge to get out a 7-inch that’s inside of it.  This must have been a similar development that made it possible for them to make liquid-filled records.  I think Flaming Lips did something like that too but with band member’s blood inside.  Super expensive stuff that no feeble little underground label could afford to pull off, but anyone pushing the vinyl envelope is a good thing in my book.

Full of Nothing (Ivan Afanasyev)

[Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia, Russia]
Formats: cassette, CD-R
Artists: M. Geddes Gengras, Woodpecker Wooliams, Polypus Acephalous

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

Yes, but only along with physical releases. It’s an essential additional format to satisfy two camps of customers: collectors and modern web fans.

What’s more profitable, vinyl or CDs?

Definitely vinyl. However, we do only tapes.

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

Not at all! A label must have a concept and a style and some kind of feel to appeal to customers. Good music must be presented with special design and promoted wisely. We’ve figured little production details may play an important role in how the release sells.

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

Can’t recall that. We even used to push the idea of releasing something no other label would, especially in the beginning.

What is your favorite aspect of running a label?

Listening to incredible demos and getting to know the artists better: how they live, work, and feel music. It’s also mind-blowing to feel part of a huge worldwide web of people enjoying exactly the same tunes. Also sending packages is a nice moment, especially when you imagine how this box with something you’ve produced and packed is going to fly across the oceans and land at someone’s doorstep.

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

Free downloads, online mixtapes, or endless EPs instead of full-length albums + heavyweight special limited editions at the same time. Low sales, equally digital and physical.

What’s the most elaborate project you’ve envisioned?

For a cassette by Italian psych-drone project throuRoof dedicated to Alejandro Jodorowsky and Tarot, we used a pack of Tarots found in a horrible dump in the Russian forest. Those cards were old and smelled bad. We had to clean and scent them. The cards themselves became covers, each copy unique.

Experimedia (Jeremy Bible)

[Kent, Ohio]
Formats: MP3, vinyl, CD
Artists: Jan Jelinek, Celer, En, Charles-Eric Charrier

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

First of all let me preface these answers with some background:

The mailorder shop was born entirely by accident in 2007. I had put together an online shop for the label at the time. Between being a longtime music collector and in contact with a number of labels, I started buying a couple copies of releases and offering titles from a few other labels alongside our own titles… In 2011, between working a demanding full-time day job and running Experimedia, I found myself entirely overwhelmed. Working all day, coming home and working until 2 AM, only really seeing my family briefly for dinner. At a point, I had to make a difficult decision: quit or drastically cut back Experimedia or take the scary plunge of leaving the security and steady pay of working for a company full time. With the support and encouragement of my wife and daughter, I decided to leave the day job in July 2011.

Those first six months were extremely challenging and awkward. It was the first time I ever had to be cautious of what I was making/losing in order to ensure I had enough to keep things going/growing and make sure the bills were paid. A lot of mental restructuring had to take place. I had to find a way to continue to love everything I do, and not only see it as a job I had to do to survive. The shop especially requires an extremely heavy amount of time, work, and energy to keep sustainable from week to week. Therefore, I first had to mentally map some priorities.

First and foremost, family. Having time to spend with my wife and 7-year-old daughter… time in which I wouldn’t be so stressed I couldn’t enjoy it… Then I had to draw a line between the label and the shop. The label being very important to me personally. I couldn’t allow financial influences to sacrifice my vision for the label or what it meant to me personally. I needed to let myself release what I wanted to release and not be influenced by what sales or the press dictate what is “hot” or not.

So on one side of the line is everything I’ve mentioned so far… then on the other is the shop. The shop is my job. A job that I love and still approach with passion, but ultimately the shop had to become my bread and butter, so to speak. Every week, the work needs to be done. I absolutely love running the shop. It means the world to me. But ultimately the facts remain that it is a service I am providing. I am accepting money in exchange for the service that I provide. Since it is a job, it has to be approached somewhat opportunistically and cautiously, in that I have to know when to say, “okay yeah I should get 100 copies of this one, or lets just try 3 copies and see how it does.”

There are more people these days soliciting music than buying music it seems. My inbox is literally flooded with more solicitations than orders on a weekly basis. My instinct is to try and support everyone. But that has just become impossible, especially over recent years. So I do have to pick and choose, not only with what I stock but with my time. I know a lot of labels get frustrated when they don’t get a response…

But to answer the question: profit or hobby? Ultimately it’s a hobby that accidentally and by complete surprise turned into a job. When it comes down to it… I’m a lifer…

Do you put out digital albums? If so, why do you find it to be a good format? What’s more profitable, vinyl or CDs?

My label activities started out with CD-R and/or digital-only albums. The first record I pressed was in 2003, paid for with student loans, which I just paid off finally last year. My student loans went almost entirely to buying records at the time. That, ramen noodles, and rent. And we still distribute digital versions of the records we press. For the most part, I’m not doing CDs at the moment. The cost of doing CDs is very low compared to vinyl. So if you were to look at a per-piece profit, CDs would be more profitable. But in the end, CDs just aren’t as satisfying for me personally. And the fact that you’re lucky if you can sell 50-100 copies doesn’t help either. Vinyl definitely sells better at the moment all around.

Is making a living from your label something you view as a possibility? Do you think that in this climate simply providing quality music is enough to guarantee decent-to-good sales?

From the label alone, no way. Not within my budget or means anyhow. And not with my interest or vision for the label. Like everything I’ve done, I’m going to keep it pure. So chances are it will never be very profitable, if at all. In fact, I think only 2 out of our nearing-30 releases have ever gone anywhere beyond breaking even. It’s rather safe to say that the labels you see come out of nowhere to do real well and get a ton of hype are putting an ungodly amount of money into buying press and promotion. Essentially buying hype, which explains why you see so many mediocre labels and releases getting an unwarranted amount of hype. So much of it even in independent music is corrupted by money.

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

It’s all up in the air right now. I think it is going to be very interesting to see how the next 10-20 years unfold. Who is still doing it? Who isn’t? What formats are still around? Big challenges and concerns of course have to do with manufacturing/shipping/logistic costs on the rise. And environmental responsibility. How many of these records/CDs/packages/cassettes from this current boom are going to end up in a landfill somewhere? The future, not only with the record industry, is so difficult to predict right now. Perhaps it’s always been that way, but as always, things will change, and as things change, some people will accept change, some will rebel, cycling back to nostalgic formats and so forth. Although my guess would be that someday there will be environmental regulations against the physical production of media [that] can be distributed digitally. Music, video, books, magazines, etc. I think that outcome is very feasible in the long run. So yeah, get your records while you can.

20 Buck Spin (Dave Adelson)

[Olympia, WA]
Formats: CD, vinyl
Artists: Pussygutt, Rakhim, Black Boned Angel, Liturgy

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

The short answer is both. It started out as a hobby, then attained financial self-sufficiency after a time, and eventually, after 8 years, playing a relatively smart game, some profit materialized. I get satisfaction from it in both respects. Very few people would stick with something that requires this much effort and time investment without seeing some sort of monetary compensation (though I’m probably one of them). But the main reason I still do it is because I’m not satisfied with what I’ve done on the creative end. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to that point before I reach the end of my rope with other aspects of the game.

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

I do not put out digital albums as standalone releases. Nothing against that, but it’s not what I want to do. I do release digital versions of the physical releases that are put out on 20 Buck Spin. On a personal level, I like all the various formats of music for different reasons, but vinyl and tapes are my preferred format as a fan, for all the same reasons as everyone who answers that way. But I also have a Rdio subscription and use it everyday. So, I think all the currently available formats have their use at different times. I don’t begrudge or frown upon people who prefer to buy music digitally.

On a side note: I think streaming services like Spotify and Rdio are a great deal for the consumer, but not sustainable ultimately for artists and labels because they don’t pay enough. They can only exist as long as physical releases and album downloads still sell. From an artist/label perspective, unless you’re a huge pop star, it’s more a promotional tool than anything else. It’s useless as a revenue stream.

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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