Indie Label Roundtable #2 – Arachnidiscs / Disintegration State / Bad Cake Records
Indie Label Roundtable #2 – Arachnidiscs / Disintegration State / Bad Cake Records

Indie Label Roundtable #2 – Arachnidiscs / Disintegration State / Bad Cake Records

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[nextpage title=”Intro” ]
Continuing our conversation with indie record labels –  challenges they face, their views on streaming services and more! This time our interviewees include Arachnidiscs (Canada), Disintegration State (UK) and Bad Cake Records (US).
Check out part 1 of ILR (featuring Community Radio Tapes, WarHen Records and Blue Tapes).
[nextpage title=”Arachnidiscs ” ]

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=”15″]Arachnidiscs Recordings is a Canadian boutique label that has been releasing “Music For and By Weirdos” since 1999.[/perfectpullquote]
Recent releases: Jacob Rehlinger – Time Cocoon | Dark Bird – In a Milky Way | Moonwood – Arrivals & Departures
What made you start a label?
It was 1989, I was in grade 11, and I’d recorded my first demo tape. I’m not sure why I felt I needed to create a label for it—other local bands didn’t really do that with theirs—other than out of a sense of fun. I don’t know if I was trying to make it seem more legit or not. I might have romanticized DIY culture a bit, but I was definitely aiming to get on a major label at that point so I don’t think I ever intended it to be a real label. I think it was teenage dream-fulfillment to have a label logo on the j-card more than anything, Anyway, that was No Love Records which became Arachnidiscs in 1999 when I started doing CDr.
With Arachnidiscs, it was definitely, and still is to some extent, a vehicle for my own releases and to legitimize them in some way. I started to put out friends’ music to legitimize the label itself so it wouldn’t come across to radio programmers and journalists as just a vanity project. Because for some reason back then I thought that’d matter or they’d even care. Eventually, I branched out to releasing stuff by strangers from all parts of the globe, now I’m focusing a bit more locally again.

What are some of the challenges you see as a label owner?
In the last 12-18 months I’ve noticed a dramatic drop in sales. I think the golden age of the micro-label is coming to a close. I’m not sure if it’s because people are buying less or if there’s just exponentially more records being released every month and sales are spread more thinly across the board. It sure seems like it. I think in some ways this downturn is concurrent with this being a sort of golden age for independent music. For the last five years I’ve really questioned to need for smaller labels like mine—ones that release 50 or fewer copies of a title.
There’s not much labels like Arachnidiscs can provide an artist that Bandcamp doesn’t provide for them already. I’m not great at getting press (I don’t pay-out for PR weasels to get results); I can’t help with tour costs or studio or video costs. Basically I save an artist a few hundred dollars on getting tapes made and a tiny bit of brand recognition.
Being on Arachnidiscs says to people at least one “gatekeeper” (me) believes in the band. But I’m not sure that matters as much as it used to, to have that label stamp of approval. The end result of all this is, though I’m not in it for the money, there comes a point when not being able expect to break even becomes… not very fun and frankly a bit irresponsible. I’m toying with ending the label some time in 2019, after 20 years and 200 releases.

What is your take on Spotify and streaming services?
If you’re a career touring artist who doesn’t care about record sales, then it seems like a useful, perhaps essential, tool for finding an audience. For a micro-label like Arachnidiscs, it doesn’t really make sense. When I’m trying to sell 40 copies of a tape or CD (I don’t sell stand-alone digital files unless it’s my own project), paying-out my break-even margins to get it on Spotify, and promote it enough with paid Facebook or Instagram ads or whatever to matter that it’s even on Spotify, to find an audience to buy 40 tapes… It’s madness, really. Especially when the size of the audience you’d have to find would be so huge because you need to find that small percentage of people who love the music so much that having it free and conveniently on Spotify isn’t enough for them, and they need to buy a physical… what? A tape? Madness, I say.

Is there a specific focus as far as genres or local/regional aspect of music you’re releasing?
Currently, I’m only interested in releasing instrumental music. Despite being my most successful releases, I regret releasing song-based music on Arachnidiscs as I think it damaged the label’s brand aesthetic of being a home for weird music. If I had to name a genre it’d be “drone” but it’s really whatever catches my fancy. “Drone” could be doom-metal or new-age synth music or a string quartet or someone humming into a loop pedal or maybe ambient-dub or a freaky jam-band. My preference is for improvised, experimental music under whatever banner.

Do you believe that music could bring about social change?
Not anymore. Those days are gone. Music doesn’t hold the same social weight as it used to. The proof is Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” didn’t chance a damn thing. That more recent Childish Gambino video didn’t do a thing except make Donald Glover money. That ship has sailed. The revolution will not be sound tracked. What I believe could, and probably does, bring about social change now are memes.
[nextpage title=”Disintegration State” ]

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=”15″]Experimental, electronic, techno, ambient and drone collective.
Making noise.
Releasing records.[/perfectpullquote]
Recent releases: Sunbane – soma | Ghost Halo – Hyperdeath | Lowering – Collapsule
What made you start a label?
Steve: I’ve been posting regularly on the Drowned in Sound forums for a few years now. Over that time I’d heard loads of great music which was barely visible outside of our nice little community – albums which were ranking really high in my AOTY lists but virtually no one was hearing. I also moved from London to Leeds recently and the change of location reignited my own musical project which had lain dormant for about 7 years.
Kris Ilic (aka Lowering) took a chance on the first thing I put out and liked it, so we got chatting over the Bandcamp app. While we were messaging and formulating this idea of a community-driven label, I was listening to his first album of shimmering drone. One composition, ‘New Racist Overlords’, just completely stopped me in my tracks for its 15-minute duration and that was the real spark. It was one of the most transcendent pieces of music I’d heard in a long time and it was plain wrong that so few people would share that experience.
Kris: Like many a music obsessive, I’d idly dreamed of setting up a record label since I was a teenager. I’d always had it in the back of my head that if I ever came into significant cash – the likelihood of which becomes ever smaller by the year – I’d set something up. The realization that it doesn’t take a shedload of cash and instead is simply dependent on doing it only really started getting through to my idiot-brain when Steve and I started chatting, first about the music we were both making, and then about all the incredible music being made by people on the Drowned in Sound forums.
Like he says, there was so much fantastic music, and most of it languishing unloved beyond that forum. It was Steve’s suggestion that we do something about it, and it just suddenly clicked; of course we could set up a label! The only thing stopping it from happening would be us. Luckily, we’ve had a hugely supportive response, not just from the artists on the label, but the wider DiS community, and that’s really helped drive things forward.
Steve: The more philosophical ‘why’ is that as a collective our voice is much louder and our collaboration much stronger. We believe passionately in the music the folks on the label are creating, and the connections each of us brings have the capacity to amplify our individual voices in a saturated space. Then there’s the collaborative element, which has been incredible and hugely rewarding. Bouncing ideas off one another, coming up with a shared vision for the artwork, getting feedback on tracks – it’s all much easier as a formal group.
Kris: That’s definitely been one of the most rewarding things – so many people sharing their skills and time. Although we’re ostensibly the label “heads”, everyone on the label is treated equally and valued for what they bring. The visual aesthetic is probably the best example – we arrived at something I’m very proud of through a genuinely collaborative process of people sharing, building, and voting on each other’s ideas. There’s no way any one of us would have created that on our own. It’s a sense of shared ownership. If you’re on the label, you’re part of the label.
Steve: Everyone’s learning from each other – each artist has a different perspective, background, and level of experience and that’s a fertile environment for each of us; expanding our creative horizons and honing our craft. For example, I listen to Kris’s techno and I’m in awe of how he has so much going on but manages to keep it all coherent, and I’m studying that and thinking about how to apply it to my own music. And when I said that to him it turns out he’s looking at my work and likes how much space there is in the mixes. I don’t think we would have that kind of input as a set of disconnected artists.

What are some of the challenges you see as a label owner?
Steve: Being heard and diversity are probably the big two. I’ve always considered myself to be deep in the ‘experimental’ electronic scene but starting the label has thrown me even deeper into the world of tiny labels producing wonderful music. Everyone is fighting for review space and podcast airtime. But I’ve found it more richly rewarding more than anything – one of the nicest things about the whole endeavour has been the interactions with folks like yourselves. But yeah, the promotional game is a tiring and difficult one.
In terms of diversity, we have 12 artists on Disintegration State and all of them are male. Everyone who has sent me demos has been male. Most folks listening to our music on Spotify or purchasing it on Bandcamp are male. We’ve had some open discussion on the forum about this and I know it’s our issue and duty to address. But right now, it’s one I’m really struggling with – we don’t have a plan yet but it’s important to be open about it and it’s something both Kris and I really want to change.
Kris: I’d agree with both of those things. I’m terrible at using social media to promote anything creative I do at the best of times, but again, we share roles out and that certainly helps. Well, it helps me anyway! The diversity thing is a much more complex problem to overcome.
Our initial thinking was: Are they part of the Drowned in Sound community? Are they making music we like in the electronic/ambient/experimental vein? If the answer to both of those was “yes” then they were welcome. However, as Steve’s said, everyone who’s put themselves forward is male, and – I think – largely white, too. And that’s not entirely reflective of the population of people making the kind of music that Disintegration State exists to promote. We don’t have a solution, but we recognize it’s an issue and are trying to figure out a way to address it.

What is your take on Spotify and streaming services?
Steve: It’s a double-edged sword… I love how accessible it is to put out music digitally and I honestly think our label would be worse off in a world without streaming. It’s such low effort for someone to take a chance on an unknown artist or label.
Kris: Absolutely! It’s so much easier to take a punt on a new artist. Our streaming numbers are still in the tens or low hundreds for the most part, but we already have listeners stretching across the globe. That would have been impossible for a label as small and as new as ours even just a few years ago.
Steve: Of course the payment side is pretty poor as we all know. The focus on playlists and how self-reinforcing they are as a mechanism is frustrating. I think as ‘experimental’ electronic musicians we’re perhaps less impacted by the shift away from albums to playlists as a way of consuming music. I’d guess that folks who into what we’re doing are going to still be into the narrative of an album and appreciate the thought we all put in to how the songs flow.
Maybe I’d feel differently as someone trying to break into the mainstream. By the same token I’ve discovered so much incredible music (particularly via ) through various implementations of personalized radio. And I have found myself listening to significantly more new artists since I started using Spotify because the barrier to entry is so low.
Kris: It’s an odd one because when the curation algorithms work well they can throw up some wonderful surprises and tiny artists suddenly find themselves sitting alongside giants of their genre, which is beautiful. However it does seem like Spotify is moving more and more towards promotion of their own playlists rather than allowing the algorithm to do its thing.
Plus, the fractions-of-fractions payments aren’t brilliant. I suppose Spotify and other streaming services act as a shop window for the small percentage of people still willing to buy music.
Steve: Speaking of which, I do make sure I buy things I really love – that feels important to me. Ultimately, we want to take the label to a point where we have a steady enough fan-base to be able to produce limited runs of physical products without it being a financial risk each time. That permanence and tangibility still feels important in the world of streaming.

Is there a specific focus as far as genres or local/regional aspect of music you’re releasing?
Steve: In terms of genre, we’re looking to stay broadly in the ambient / techno / IDM / ‘experimental’ space. We don’t want to be overly narrow – labels like Sacred Bones and Kranky have succeeded in building a cohesion in attitude as much as in genre and we want that kind of feel. If you take Jacob Nico and Colin Mawson’s recent albums, they’re both exploring similar themes – reacting to the current social situation – and landing in quite different places stylistically. But there’s still a cohesion there. Or at least there is for me!
The other connection is the Drowned in Sound forum. I think for now we want that feeling of community to remain a core component. For example, I run a fortnightly listening club there for electronic music and lots of folks on the label are active in that thread. I like that there’s a connection beyond just putting out music under a label name. That may end up being at odds with the diversity issues mentioned above in the longer run – I guess we’ll see…

Do you believe that music could bring about social change?
Steve: No doubt. Art has always had that capacity through multiple channels. It can be empowering, communicative, and a window to experiences outside of your own – look at hip-hop for example. I’m not qualified to talk about it properly but if I look at my own experience it’s changed how I engage with that culture. I grew up in rural Lincolnshire in a town with negligible diversity and no one actively broadening my horizons in that respect. Rap did that. Poring over lyrics, reading up on NWA, Tupac, his mum’s role in the Black Panthers. It’s transformative.
I’m a straight white cis male and I’m fortunate enough to not be struggling with the impact of the de-industrialisation of the western world. That aspect of music as social change is for everyone other than me. But we have a platform through our music, however small, and we can be allies and do our little bit to help.
Kris: I hope that even the way in which we’ve approached the label reflects this. We’re running it as a non-profit, with exposure for music we love as the goal. The artists all have an equal investment, and any label-profit is going to be put back into further promotion for the benefit of everyone. It’s a kind of micro-scale socialism. And although much of the music we’re putting out is instrumental, it still comes as a response to what we’re seeing in society right now. Pushing back against regressive views and celebrating the progressive.
Steve: We’re proud that the earliest album on the label by Lowering is explicitly a reaction to Brexit and all the alt-right stuff that was emerging and ‘fake news’. We’re proud that Jacob Nico is confronting individualism in his lyrics. We’re proud to support women’s right to choose via Twitter. Of course, our impact is small, but I think we have a duty to be vocal on these things.
[nextpage title=”Bad Cake Records” ]

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=”15″]Misfit, non-elitist cassette label with no set aesthetic. [/perfectpullquote]
Recent Releases: Usr/Friendly – Owner’s Manual | Carlo Giustini – Eden | Sitcom Morals – Stability
See also: Tabs Out
What made you start a label?
First and foremost, I started Bad Cake so I could give my friends and myself a platform in which to catalogue our musical projects. Before moving to Minnesota, I lived in Lincoln, Nebraska for six years, where I was a small part of a passionate underground DIY music scene. My time there had a profound impact on my approach to music — mostly thanks to my swell group of talented friends — so I created Bad Cake as a sort of lasting testament to our collective musical endeavors. Secondly, I wanted to reach out to other artists all around the world who I feel share the same ideals and give their albums a home as well. Why stop with my immediate friends?

What are some of the challenges you see as a label owner?
The biggest challenge, for me personally, is building a responsive audience while operating in a semi-rural area. So far, Bad Cake has relied solely on the Internet to disseminate music. Sure, it’s easy to procure likes on Instagram or Twitter or what-have-you, but it’s another thing to actually entice people to purchase cassettes. And don’t get me wrong — I’m not in this for money. Breaking even with releases is all I ever hope for.
It’s just a sad, heavy feeling to know that an artist has put his/her trust in you to properly disseminate his/her music and you can’t get more than a handful of people to support their work. You want the music to just speak for itself –but in today’s world where attention spans are as short as a Robot Chicken sketch and most people would rather spend $7 on a Caramel Machiatto instead of a cassette, it’s just wishful thinking in the end. Hopefully, when I move to a bigger city this problem will work itself out. Physical media such as cassettes sell best in dark basements and beer gardens.

What is your take on Spotify and streaming services?
Is it weird that I’ve never used Spotify once in my entire life? I kind of forget that it exists honestly. I’m well aware of the debate — thanks to Thom Yorke and those who stand staunchly against it. I guess my bottom line is: don’t use it if you don’t want to use it. I wish they would do away with the Grammy’s, but they never will.
You can stream on Bandcamp and Soundcloud (both of which have fairly functional apps–Bancamp’s being better of course), and if you’re releasing weird music like Hausu Mountain or Orange Milk or Null Zone or Orb Tapes, I don’t see what good Spotify is going to do you anyway. Your target audience probably hates Spotify or the typical streaming services.
That’s part of the charm of the little world of DIY cassette labels; it’s music you have to seek out and actively listen to. The music we release isn’t meant to be streamed in the background at a coffee house. It’s meant to be listened to with headphones on in a dark room or on a long drive. It’s meant to be heard — not used as an auditory decoration.
So I guess I’m not a Spotify person. Support Bandcamp by streaming on Bandcamp. BC is where it’s at.

Is there a specific focus as far as genres or local/regional aspect of music you’re releasing?
I try not to adhere to any one genre/sub-genre. So far, I’ve released experimental electronic music, anti-folk/outsider-folk, improvisational noise rock, lo-fi soundtrack music, and some other stuff in between. Ultimately, I just want to stay away from music that is written/recorded with an objective other than self-satisfaction. I want every artist I work with to have the same philosophy as Foodman (Orange Milk Records): “I like that state of fun. I produce in the hope that I get that joy myself again and again rather than getting my music heard by somebody. So what I care about most is whether or not I am having fun.”

Do you believe that music could bring about social change?
These days, I’m a little pessimistic about social change. We need it now more than ever before in the history of modern civilization. Music, especially “popular” music (I hate that term, but you know what I mean) used to have much more sway when it was more of a novelty. In the 60s/70s, it was a new idea to use music as a tool for disseminating radical ideas and exerting societal pressure over the powers that be. Some of those counter-culture figures used to scare the living shit out of the U.S. Government (like John Lennon/Yoko Ono or Grace Slick from Jefferson Airplane).
It’s just not like that anymore. Those figures were forces to be reckoned with because they were the only citizens who had platforms in which to profess their ideas. Now, most everyone has the Internet and social media — anyone from Catholic priests to Neo-Nazis. And all of these people can find an audience of some kind. Everyone has a platform. It’s depressing, scary, exciting, amazing, and everything in between. So, ultimately I don’t think music is as effective as it used to be when it comes to affecting social change. This isn’t to say that music isn’t powerful. I just think that we, as a species, are completely overloaded with information and opinions as it is.

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