Label Profiling: Drip Audio “I couldn’t be happier that all these large corporate record companies are now looked down upon and seen as losers.”

Over a year ago, I was privy to a live taping collaboration between Toronto singer-songwriter Sandro Perri and Vancouver sextet Fond of Tigers at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Studio 40 in Ottawa, Canada. Having about a half day for rehearsals, Fond of Tigers stole the show, playing the dual role of taut-but-restless post-rock juggernaut and intuitive back-up band for Perri’s emotional compositions. Mixing free-wheeling improvisation and lengthy drones, herding in jazz, extreme volumes, and more than a passing glance toward prog, their set was a diverse, dizzying display for the audience.

For the band, it was all in a day’s work, particularly for its violinist Jesse Zubot, who plays in other musical projects and who, for the last 5 years, has worn the proprietor hat for one of his country’s most daring independent imprints, Drip Audio. In light of recently issued albums by Copilots, DarkBlueWorld, Viviane Houle, and the Tony Wilson Sextet, it felt like the perfect time to throw some questions at Zubot. Not surprisingly, his answers on questions concerning the reasons behind the label’s launching Drip Audio, the joys and perils of operating a small record label in this uncertain economic climate, and finding the time for one’s passion mirror his approach to and output from his various musical outlets: always passionate and compelling.

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What prompted creating Drip Audio? Was starting a label something you always wanted to do?

Well about 4 or 5 years back I disbanded some of the projects I was involved with, as I felt they were missing something musically. I was really excited to personally create music that was not geared for any specific thing. I felt I needed to have all this music organized and it needed a home. So I started Drip Audio. It was initially going to be an avenue to release my own music. But then things quickly changed. Around that time there was a place in Vancouver called The Sugar Refinery, which is somewhat legendary now. There was a great scene of improvised music and such going on there. I realized that a lot of my friends were making some great music and there was no infrastructure in Vancouver to support it. So one of the first releases I put out was by a band called Inhabitants, which has some of the same members as Fond of Tigers. I still believe Vancouver has a great amount of very creative and gifted musicians that stand up to anywhere in the world. Unfortunately Vancouver is geographical separate from most of North America and the US because of the border. It makes it hard to get stuff going on business wise out here. But the internet is making things easier all the time.

I did not always want to start a label. I never really thought about it much until it seemed more and more like a necessity. I hit a point where I didn’t want to deal with asking other people to put out my music, or wondering where money for cd sales was going, or leaving the progression of my career up to other people. I wanted to take it into my own hands.

You said you cut out some musical projects when you started Drip Audio but I assume you will always be busy with a variety of projects. How hard is it balancing the label with playing, writing, recording, and touring?

Balancing the label is extremely difficult when I am constantly running and flying around from gig to gig. I usually have to put label work on the backburner when I’m involved in an intense tour, but sometimes it’s also beneficial as I can visit record stores and radio stations in many cities and get to know people, kind of acting like a label rep on tour, I guess. I get bored of only doing one thing for too long so juggling my time between touring, writing, and the label is ultimately healthy. I would say writing my own music has been suffering the most lately.

What has your experience as a musician taught you that you have applied to running the label?

Through my experiences as a musician I have learned that I really want to put the music first, with the label, and kind of let the music do the talking, rather than kissing too much ass or pretending I’m really cool so the right hip people pay attention to the music. I’ve learned that in the long run it comes down to quality and all these fads of “the bands of the day” die quickly. I want this label to stand the test of time and therefore I am trying my best to be patient and kind of let things be. I also like to let the artists on the label see their vision come to light with the music and let it be as edgy, ridiculous, bizarre, irritating, simple or beautiful as it ends up being. Through my experiences as a musician I have been involved, way too many times, in situations where someone or somebody, who thinks they have some kind of higher power, tries to ultimately edit, censor and shape the music into something it doesn’t necessarily want to become.

Do you run Drip Audio by yourself?

At this point I run Drip Audio all by my lonesome. There were points in the past that I had some people at various distribution companies and stuff doing a little publicity work here and there and sometimes band members on the label help with packaging things up as well as my girlfriend. But for the most part I am, unfortunately, a control freak.

Drip Audio has been alive for five years. What have been the hardest obstacles to overcome?

The hardest obstacles to overcome have been a lack of time, not having employees and a lack of funds to properly promote releases as well as trying to get the label widely distributed. I have a few deals worked out here and there but wide, solid distribution is very hard to pull off.

What sort of help do you receive from government programs or free-spending sugar daddies?

I have funded some Drip Audio projects myself, but thanks to the Canada Council for the Arts, many of the recent releases have been subsidized by them. They have been an invaluable source for creative musicians and artists in Canada and have single handedly kept Canada culture alive. Unfortunately, our current close minded conservative government has recently cut their funding to the body (Canadian Musical Diversity) that funds the Canada Council’s recording sound recording program. Instead they gave the money to commercial bodies that promote music that sounds like more music that has been recorded and sold thousands of times over. It just goes to show you how forward thinking artists and creators continue to freak out government bodies, specifically Canada’s at the moment. And some people wonder why the world is kind of going to shit. Very very sad.

Do you have any distribution deals in place?

I have various distribution deals worked out for various kinds of releases. More structured music goes through a bigger distributor to try to get the albums in bigger record stores, then I work with small specialized online distributors in many countries that deal a lot with mail order. It seems when you sell specialized music a lot less people buy it, but the real lovers of creative music go a long distance to search something out. The whole Drip Audio catalog is also available digitally worldwide. It is hard to get specialized music widely distributed though and this continues to be a big challenge. Most companies are very fixed on selling the current hip indie bands and don’t like to waste much time with things that don’t sell a lot.

“I like to let the artists on the label see their vision come to light with the music and let it be as edgy, ridiculous, bizarre, irritating, simple or beautiful as it ends up being.”

Drip Audio gets lots of love on BBC6’s “Freak Zone” show. Did you just send them a package on a
whim?


I got to know about BBC6’s “Freak Zone” through researching appropriate radio programs for Drip Audio’s music. I checked out a lot of there playlists and listened to some shows online and it’s definitely one of the most diverse and interesting radio shows on the planet. It is very refreshing and I’m very thankful that they seem to like Drip Audio artists.

What other outlets have been particularly receptive to Drip Audio?

CBC’s “The Signal” has probably been the biggest supporter on radio for Drip Audio music. They have been unbelievably supportive. They to are one of the most diverse and interesting radio shows around. There are also some online stations in New York such as East Village Radio & free103point9 as well as many free-jazz and improvised music radio programs around the world that have been supportive. Publications such as Signal to Noise, The Wire, Downbeat, The New York Times and many online music magazines such as yourself have also been supportive. I can’t complain about the critical support the label has received.

I want to go back what you said about the internet making things easier. Is promotion easier now that artists can promote themselves and take care of spreading the word without relying on traditional routes.
I think it is definitely easier to spread the word and promote now because of the internet. There is no doubt about it. You can make it available everywhere instantly and people can learn about an album within minutes. It’s quite unbelievable really.

How do you prioritize your promotion spending and how much is promotion about simply using word of mouth or by e-mailing and contacting people to see if they will take a chance on spreading the word themselves?

I have spent hundreds of hours doing research and finding the right people to review Drip Audio albums, play them on their programs, and help promote stuff. Because we work on such ridiculously small promotional budgets, the only way to get the word out is through critics and dj’s that really love music and are promoting music for the right reasons. They are essential. That and playing live shows.

Do you think the music industry has been slow to realize the full potential of the internet and, if so, how much has it damaged it?

I really like the chaos and uncontrollable nature of the internet. I do think the music industry has been slightly slow to realize it’s full potential and I’m very happy it has damaged the music industry. I’ve never really liked the music industry in any way. It’s always been detrimental to me as I won’t be forced to make music that is easily categorizable and place in a nice little area. I couldn’t be happier that all these large corporate record companies are now looked down upon and seen as losers.

Can you see a time soon when Drip Audio will have to go strictly digital?

I would never want to go fully digital with the label unless the insanity of this world really propels itself to an uncontrollable level and there is no option. In fact, as time goes on I would like to start printing vinyl and may even cassettes or something, but I can’t afford it at the moment. I like creations that come in a hard document. It’s too hard to fathom something only existing as numbers travelling through the air and over networking systems.

Getting to the music, most of the label’s release have ties to Vancouver acts that you play on or are friends with but one of my favourite releases on Drip Audio is by an American. How did Jim McAuley’s The Ultimate Frog come about?

Jim McAuley’s The Ultimate Frog came about through the recommendation from a very bright music writer named Nate Dorward from Toronto. Nate has written many pieces for publications such as Signal To Noise, Exclaim!, and Paris Transatlantic Magazine. Nate followed Jim’s music for awhile and got to know him through the internet a bit. Jim had this huge double album project in the works with the legendary Leroy Jenkins, Nels Cline, and some other amazing musicians. It was to be a double album of duets. Jim wanted to put it out through a label that cared and one that would support it properly. Nate suggested to Jim that Drip Audio would be a good bet. I was very moved by this considering who was involved with the project and because Jim is such a great, underrated guitarist. I’m a big fan of John Fahey and unique acoustic guitarists that combine folk and roots sense with improvisational techniques and Jim McAuley is a perfect example of this. The album has received some great critical acclaim!

Do you actively seek out prospective artists to release? Do you receive a lot of demos from potential acts?

I do not actively seek out prospective artists to release because I don’t have the time or money to do so. I also have a lot of unbelievably talented friends that have many albums that need to be released. This makes up most of Drip Audio’s catalogue. I received many demos from acts from all over the world on a regular basis. Too many. I would like to respond to all the requests, but that would be a part-time job in itself.

What are your favourite releases on Drip Audio and which releases are you most proud?

I have many favourite releases on Drip Audio. I feel pretty good about every single release thankfully. I am probably most proud of pulling off the Jim McAuley’s Double album The Ultimate Frog and maybe the release Way Out Northwest featuring the great sax player John Butcher of the UK. Both of these releases have opened up many doors for the label. When Way Out Northwest came out John happened to be on the cover of The Wire, which was pretty good timing. I do also have to say I’m very proud of all the Vancouver releases on Drip Audio as I really believe some of the greatest musicians anywhere live in Vancouver.

• Drop Audio: http://www.dripaudio.com
• Drip Audio (MySpace): http://www.myspace.com/dripaudiorecords

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