||[Apr. 8th, 2004|01:18 pm]
i got interviewed for a belgian magazine (which is written in dutch). they are printing an article about cd-r labels sometime in june. i think the interview is just for research (so none of it will be printed), but here is the interview:|
1. When did you start yr cdr label? Did it grow out of a local music scene, or out of personal engagement?
Katie and Kelly started the label in early 2001 to put out the first album by The Most Dangerous Game of Cat and Mouse Band, whose members were the two of them as well as Ben and Matt (Matt later moved away from the rest of the band). It was sort of a joke, but they started bugging Matt to put out a CD of his electronic music (Strikeforce: Euler) and I was accidentally around for that. We all worked at WCBN, the freeform radio station in Ann Arbor, so that was the community from which it grew. We ended up making a bunch of music of all different kinds that summer. We made a compilation of every band that we had formed (most of which lasted for only one day) and some music by our friends and gave it away to anyone who wanted it. It was more about making albums and projects than live band things. There hasn’t been much of a live music scene in Ann Arbor for this kind of music, so making albums was a natural direction to go in. A lot of other people were doing similar things with labels in town and even more have sprung up since then.
2. Why did you start yr cdr label? Did you feel the independent record labels weren’t interested in this music? Where do you think the established independents went wrong? What’s yr underlying philosophy?
Starting a record label was a little bit like starting a band that does a lot of very different things. We didn’t really think about getting larger labels to put the stuff out since none of it was very commercial at all. Hanson Records, American Tapes and Bulb Records had been doing that sort of thing with noisier music for a long time and we followed in their footsteps in the same way that a young band would be inspired by older bands. Katie, Ben and I all worked in the music department at WCBN, so we were pretty disillusioned with the idea of indie rock as being a special and pure sort of thing (maybe I shouldn’t speak for the others though) since we very much saw a sleazy music industry approach in independent labels. I don’t really think there’s a clear distinction between what we do and a lot of the independent labels that I admire. Our underlying philosophy is based on creativity without making any real concessions to the expectations of an audience. Sometimes it’s pretty confounding stuff and sometimes it’s totally accessible, but I think that everything that we have done has been independent of trying to make money or even to please an audience more than ourselves.
3. Why did you choose to release/concentrate on cdr, and not cd, tape or vinyl? What do you think of the quality of the cdr as a material object?
We have released a seven inch record by a local band called the Rants that we really liked and we are releasing another one this spring by the band Saturday Looks Good to Me. We also have a CD release by a band called the Vix Krater, who were into the label and wanted their album to be on it, so we aren’t that pure about being solely CD-Rs. CD-R releases allow us to release music that we like for anyone to hear without worrying about the economics of selling a lot of any one record, which is really important as far as separating ourselves from “selling out” in any way. As material objects, I think that CD-Rs are pretty much the same as regular CDs. They aren’t as sturdy, but you don’t really approach them any differently than you would approach CDs. There was a print ad by the RIAA (I think) that said that “music doesn’t just happen” because for a CD to exist, you need to have marketing and advertising and lawyers and all of the bullshit that goes into any release by a major label or even a larger independent label. The similarity between CD-Rs and CDs really helps to break through that illusion and make people realize that music is really something that anyone can just do without much preparation. I’d say that vinyl releases have an advantage over CDs and tapes as actual material objects that you can touch and feel, but since most people listen primarily to CDs these days, CD-Rs are accessible to more people. That’s a huge jump from the situation of tape labels and “the cassette underground” in the 80’s, which pretty much had the same aesthetic as CD-R labels but was more clearly distinct as the “other.” CD-Rs are very good for showing that making albums isn’t something that’s separate from what a normal person can do.
4. On what criteria do you select artists for yr label?
Almost all of our releases are projects with which we are intimately involved. We have a pretty specific aesthetic that encompasses a lot of different sounds and we don’t want to go outside of that too much. Justin sent us a tape and then joined up with us and our friends contribute stuff that fits in with what we do more than other projects that they do separately. Usually we encourage people to start their own label when they ask us to put something out. That way, we can spread the DIY thing around more and stick closer to the sorts of music in which we’re most interested.
5. Does a cdr label imply that the music you make isn’t taken serious by the mainstream press/labels/…? Or do you get support from well-known musicians? Are you being ignored or respected for your authenticity?
We’ve gotten a lot of support from some fairly well-known musicians like Jeffrey Lewis (who records for Rough Trade) and Saturday Looks Good to Me (who record for Polyvinyl). The mainstream press is pretty far outside our thinking. We haven’t quite found a home in the underground press. We get a lot of respect for the way we do things, but a lot of times we get written off even by total underground avant-garde noise people for being unprofessional.
6. Do you release limited editions as collector’s items? How many copies does a release on yr label normally sell?
We have a couple limited edition releases, but that isn’t really what we’re about. A lot of CD-R labels, especially noise labels, do limited editions in crazy packaging and things like that. I think that’s really cool, but I think what we’re about is more keeping things available indefinitely. The Smithsonian bought Folkways in the late 80s and now all of the Folkways releases are available on CD-Rs made to order, which makes it an amazingly cool CD-R label. We try to follow that kind approach and make things available to anyone who wants them. The ability to make CD-Rs to order really helps with that. We sell between 20 and 200 of most releases and we’ve given out about a lot more of the free comps. The low production of our releases would maybe make limited editions a natural way to do things, but in theory we generally want to make our music available to everyone indefinitely.
7. Do you only sell yr releases, or can people trade self-made artwork etc.? What about distribution? Can people only order through website or do you have local stores that sell yr cd’s? Do you distribute them on concerts?
We do a lot of trading with other labels and things like that, but we don’t really have a system set up for trading artwork. Our releases are mostly $3-$5 and we end up giving a lot away, so it’s pretty much set up on a break even basis. Local stores in Ann Arbor carry them and we’ve done limited outside distribution. We also have released two compilations that are completely free (shipping included) to anyone who asks, so lots and lots of people have gotten those. We also have them at concerts and stuff. Justin and I started a project called Ever Will You Get There, where we walked around outside in Ann Arbor stopping at cool places and writing and recording songs. We made a three-inch CD that we traded for a piece of original art. We had a tiny notebook in which people were asked to fill a page in return for the CD. The project has become ongoing and lineup non-specific and we really try to push the idea of getting people to be creative with it, cutting out the commercial aspect altogether.
8. Is your label opposed to the capitalist record industry? What political/economic alternative do you offer/have in mind (music industry wise)?
I guess that we’re opposed to it. We try to operate outside the restrictions of capitalism, giving CDs out for free and trading them for art. I think that any person can make a much stronger connection with some kind of music that isn’t tied into the economics of the music industry. There’s a lot of music that means a lot to me that is at least on some level a product of the capitalist record industry, but I don’t think that it really offers any advantage in terms of the music listening. I think that destroying the music industry would for the most part be a positive thing for music. We certainly don’t advocate any specific alternative political or economic system, but there’s a lot to be said for mix tapes and mp3s and anything like that. I’ve been very impressed with some of the online mp3 record labels I’ve seen, and that kind of model can work really well for having your music reach a very large audience without much loss of money (even if they’re not making any profit).
9. How do you package yr discs? Are they standard, plastic boxes, or do you make something different, home-made to distinct your product from major label uniformity?
We don’t really have any consistent standard for packaging. We have a loose policy that all We’re Twins products being handmade and a lot of the releases have different artwork for each individual CD. For the Rants seven inch, we drew with crayons on all of the labels. We pretty much stick to jewel cases or sleeves most of the time though. Our visual aesthetic is most strongly a reaction against shitty quasi-professional packaging that self-released records have a lot of the time. We wanted to be as unprofessional as possible at first, since it seems like it’s easier to make attractive packaging when you don’t strive for a professional look. Some more recent releases have been fancier, but it still all has the homemade aesthetic.
10. Does yr label’s existence depends on the Internet infrastructure?
We give out free CDs based on people emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org and so we wouldn’t have given nearly as many of those without the internet. We also do most of our sales from our website. I think that the label would exist without the Internet infrastructure, but it’s done a whole lot to build our reputation.
11. What’s your opinion on downloading/copying music? Should music be free?
I don’t really know if music should be entirely free, but I’m very interested in hearing a lot more music than I could ever afford to buy, so I think that downloading and copying are totally amazing. It also really changes the access, making pretty much any music available to pretty much anybody. I think that’s really amazing and I spend more money on music than I think I should be obligated to, so I don’t really have any ethical objections to pirated music. I think that it really changes the way of approaching the buying of records, though, and it’s probably not OK to stop buying music because it’s available for free.
12. Are you affected in any way by the current crisis in the music industry? Do you think this is a sign of the end of an era? Are home made labels the future of the music?
I guess that I’m very happy about the crisis in the music industry, and I think that the way the music industry portrays it is completely ridiculous. I’d much rather have a situation in which many small labels are selling small amounts of records and in which people engage with music by themselves and their friends neighbors. I hope that it’s the future. As far as the crisis affecting us, we operate on much too small of a level to really notice. Purposely giving our music out for free probably affects us more than people stealing it.
13. Do you think you are liberating the music from the corporate industries? Is this music by and for the people?
Yeah. One of my greatest hopes for our music is that it might inspire people to become empowered to make their own art and share it with other people. The way that the music industry has affected the way in which people perceive music in the last 100 years seems pretty unnatural, so we’re trying on some level to promote an older attitude about music as an integrated part of normal life.
14. Why do you think the cdr labels became popular/manifested themselves is the last decade?
I think that it’s pretty much an effect of the technology, where a CD burner is such an accessible thing these days, maybe even more than a cassette duplicator. Like I said before, the way in which CDs are almost exactly similar to CDs for a listener really equalizes things and I think that the technology is really amazing for allowing anyone to make something that is just as physically accessible as a major label release.
15. Is there much contact between the different labels or is everyone doing his own thing by himself?
I try to keep pretty close track of what’s going on in Michigan and there’s a lot of interaction between different labels. We’ve been farming out some of our music to other labels like Asaurus Records in Allen Park and generally trying to pool resources and audiences. I do a radio show of local music in Ann Arbor with a live band each week, so that serves pretty well as an outlet for some of the more artsy local music, since there aren’t very many live venues in town, especially those that support any of the more weird or underground music. I’m also involved with another label in Ann Arbor called Burning Tongue Records that has a musical approach that is a pretty different extension of lo-fi indie rock than what we’re doing with We’re Twins. We’ve also gotten our name out enough that a lot of other CD-R labels are aware that we exist, so we’ve been able to build a network with other labels. Katie, Kelly and Ben have been living in New York for the last two years and doing their part of the label out there and they have linked up with Colonial Recordings. We’re also doing a pretty interesting musical collaboration with a label called Cat Scratch Records in Houston, Texas that should be release in the somewhat distant future.
16. Do you see cdr labels as a way to heighten personal/individual contact between people as opposed to the mechanical, anonymous mass production of the established music industry?
Yeah, I’d say so. At the least, the production method works as a good metaphor for the sort of qualities of art that are attractive to me. Art is a really important thing for me, experiencing other people’s art helps a lot to make normal personal connections with them.
that was the first time i ever used lj-cut. i hope i used the proper lj-cut etiquette. in other news, dustin and eliza played on the local music show last night and it was totally awesome. they did a crazy cover of "here" by pavement as well as "i think we're alone now" and "king of the road" by roger miller. i also have been working on an awesome database of ann arbor music. i have my collection all entered (about 300 records) and i'm starting on the radio station's stuff. i need to figure out how to make databases. i'm also trying to write a column for the zine "bad ideas," which is made by josh sanchez and some other local punks, so i've been setting aside some time each day to concentrate on being punk rock.
for anyone who doesn't know, next wednesday is the second in our new series of ever will you get there live performances. we're meeting at liberty plaza (formerly the "bum park" before the "cool cities initiative" got to work) at 6 pm and then walking about the streets of ace deuce. everyone is invited to come and play music, either just by jingling yr keys along with the rhythm or playing guitar and singing yr own song. i'm a little nervous because it's the first time without justin and it will be during the day when more people will be around.