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[nextpage title=”Intro” ] Continuing our conversation with indie record labels –  challenges they face, their views on streaming services and more! Our interviewees for part 4 include Whited Sepulchre Records (Ohio), Crafted Sounds (Pittsburgh) and Tor Johnson Records (Providence).
Visit ILR Archives to read our conversations with Community Radio TapesWarHen RecordsArachnidiscs and other labels!
[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Whited Sepulchre Records ” ] Whited Sepulchre - Label Logo
Recent releases: Midwife – Like Author, Like Daughter | John Atkinson / Sabriel’s Orb Split | Kyle Bobby Dunn / Wayne Robert Thomas Split
What made you start a label?
I guess I am pretty susceptible to peer-pressure. I was winding down things with Heligator (a net-label I ran from 2013-2016) and within a week of each other both braeyden jae and Alex Cobb (Students of Decay/Soda Gong) asked me if I wanted to start a label releasing physical media. I said, “sure, why not?”.

What are some of the challenges you see as a label owner?
The biggest challenge is having eyes too big for my stomach/wallet/time-commitment. Since starting the label I’ve had to turn down projects that I would love to release but simply don’t have the capacity to do. I work full-time, teach part-time, play in a band and run a podcast. Finding the time to really put in the necessary work to do a legit press-run and not cut corners with things like packaging and finding solid distro is a major challenge and requires sacrificing things like sleep and being totally present as a partner sometimes. I think on some kind of karmic debt situation, running a label is totally “worth it”. Practically, I can’t speak with a lot of confidence beyond the fact that I’ve met some of my best friends doing this and deepened connections with artists I truly admire and respect. Success would be being able to continue this label for as long as I could and to have it sustain itself.

What is your take on Spotify and streaming services?
As a music consumer I love Spotify. But I feel like unless I have a focused listening plan like exploring an artist’s discography or going through a best of list, I am paralyzed by choice. I’m sure this has been think-pieced to death but streaming services like Spotify are not conducive to deep listening but rather getting cursory glances at worlds of undiscovered music. I use distrokid for digital distribution. So far it has not really paid for itself. Not sure if I am going to continue the subscription. Last year they auto-enrolled me so by the time I realized it, it was too late.

Is there a specific focus as far as genres or local/regional aspect of music you’re releasing?
Not really. I feel like I’m mostly pulling from mostly ambient-drone folks but 2019 will have some notable genre shifts. Nothing too radical though. I went to school in Salt Lake City and have dear friends connected to that music scene – braeyden jae, Sympathy Pain and Sabriel’s Orb I met when I was there. I’d like to put out some more Cincinnati-based artists, which is where I’m located. The Brianna Kelly tape I put out is one of my favorite things I’ve heard. I also grew up in Denver which is how I met Madeline (Midwife) however that was after I had moved away from the city 10+ years ago.

Do you believe that music could bring about social change?
I am a Social Worker by trade. I absolutely believe music can bring about social change. I believe that popular music is best used as an organizing tool as well as a microphone for discontent. I became a Social Worker because of Fugazi. While in high school I learned about their concerts in support of Planned Parenthood and protests against Desert Storm, but I also learned about Positive Force and their organizing around local political and social issues and their direct services to elderly D.C. residents. I was introduced to radical politics by bands like boysetsfire, Racetraitor and Fifteen. Music also has the ability to heal, make sense of the world,
make us feel less alone and create discrepancies about the world that can be and the world that exists. I worked as a case manager for youth with mental and behavioral health challenges. Part of my work was helping them access and recognize emotions beyond binaries of happy/sad, etc. I would play them music and ask them to identify the emotions they felt as they listened to everything from Satie to Bane. It was amazing to watch them struggle through initial reactions and really engage with how these songs made them feel. The corollary is that our emotions are complex and we can sometimes hold opposing emotions and views at the same time and be OK with it. It was powerful.
[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Crafted Sounds ” ] Crafted Sounds - Label Logo
Recent releases: Bat Zuppel – MIRROR | RORRIM | Short Fictions – There’s a Dark Shadow… | The Zells – Failure to Slide
What made you start a label?

I tried to make music. I was awful. I also was also bummed out because I was behind on exploring other people’s music. I wanted to be a part of something still, so I decided to start my own label. I focused on the tape format because many local bands from Baltimore/DC area had their music on tape. I released the first Crafted Sounds tape on my 18th birthday.

What are some of the challenges you see as a label owner?
I am a full-time student that works and likes to see his friends from time to time. Needless to say, this stuff takes time and effort for little return. Sometimes I like to sit and do nothing, but I tend to end up working on the label anyway out of habit. I think it is important to find a balance for managing this stuff or you will go crazy… which I do from time to time. I do not know why I do it, but I keep doing it anyway. I always joke and say, “It’s not worth doing if you think about quitting everyday.” I guess I could say the same thing about finishing school… definitely getting my degree though 🙂
Money is not there at least for the scale of my operations… especially because I do not work with pop music or whatever… Money was never the point of the label though. Tapes have terrible margins. I still feel guilty for selling my tapes for above $5 online.
Not being 21 also tends to make things harder.

What is your take on Spotify and streaming services?

Streaming services are great for any independent artist to put their music in standardized locations for people to listen whenever they like. Sure, it’s like $0.00000… per stream, but at least you can get your music out there. Physical media is not the wave, and I am very aware of it. I think people like myself are adapting to the changes streaming services are making everyday. I do not hate streaming or whatever; the industry is just changing.
I will say I am fortunate to work with Misra Records (also of Pittsburgh) for digital distribution purposes. Getting hands on with distribution like that allowed me to really see where things are going from an independent label perspective. Spotify has great tools for artists and labels, and they look improve upon them everyday. It is not surprising that they are beating Apple right now. We even have a label Spotify account now, which I have not been messing around with as much as I would like to.

Is there a specific focus as far as genres or local/regional aspect of music you’re releasing?
Before coming to Pittsburgh, I had a couple of very DIY releases (I had no idea what I was doing) and I knew no one. That is not the case anymore. With each release in Pittsburgh I have gotten better at the label and met tons of people along the way. I love it here. I definitely want to maintain a Pittsburgh emphasis as long as the label is around, however I am looking to expand to other regions more and more. I would love to have a network of artists on the east coast that I work with so people can help each other out with tours and such.
As far as genre goes… I do not know if there are really limits to what Crafted Sounds is or what it will become. I guess you will have to keep listening.

Do you believe that music could bring about social change?

Music is infectious. Messages, melodies, artist cultures… people eat that up. Music can break down barriers and unify people when you least expect it. Sometimes music repeats itself… Pitchfork recently had something to say about that 😉 If you have enough people that believe in another person’s message, sure you will see social change. I have grown up in a generation that has paid attention to everything Kanye West has had to say. I guess that has helped shaped who we are… the good and the bad.
I feel like music in the past used to hold more value within people than what it does now. Releases are shorter and album life-cycles have shrunk as consumer behavior has adapted in to the digital age. Social change through music may be more frequent and abrupt today, but it also may not always necessarily have a long-term impact.
[nextpage title=”Tor Johnson Records ” ]
Tor Johnson Records - Label Logo

Recent releases: Sullest – Fashionable Male | Leopard Print Taser – Teeth Are Not Bones | Heavy Mantle – Weights & Measures
What made you start a label?
At the time (2002), I had been living in Providence a couple years. I moved from Boston for college, but had still been commuting back up to book shows & such. I was starting to really get deeply involved in the PVD scene and was starting to book shows here. The band I had been in had just broken up and I decided I really wanted to do something for the community here. At first it was just a name to book shows under, but started planning releases at the 2nd show booked. It sort of just snowballed from there. And here we are 16 years later.

What are some of the challenges you see as a label owner?
The biggest challenge in my mind is how to get these records in stores across the world. I have some great distributors, but its tough. Wanting to reach a wider audience, but also not trying to go bankrupt, you know? Also, the balance of work, label, regular life, etc is something I normally have a problem with.

What is your take on Spotify and streaming services?
I fully support it. I sell records. Streaming is just cake on top. All digital sales get split with the bands and it is just extra money. My goal is to sell records. Streaming is just a tool to help that. I give away downloads on our bandcamp. I come from the age of napster & file sharing. If someone wants your songs, they will get them. Why not give them the songs & if they like them hopefully they will buy a record. Same with streaming except now we get a little extra money out of it. If someone streams the album and likes it, hopefully they will buy the record.

Is there a specific focus as far as genres or local/regional aspect of music you’re releasing?
For me, live music is what drives me to put out a record. There are some exceptions, but most of the bands I’ve put out have been bands I’ve seen live or have a relationship first. Naturally that means I put out more bands from New England than elsewhere. This isn’t by design, its just how it happens. In terms of genre, I joke that all I have left to put out is country, hip hop, & jazz. My personal taste is all over the board, so the label reflects that. I don’t try to limit what I put out to genres.

Do you believe that music could bring about social change?
I like to believe it can. In the second Bush years there was a lot of politically charged bands & tours. Ska Against Racism, Strike Anywhere, all the Crimethinc bands, etc. I think having bands that are out spoken about politics is very powerful and can help spread information….as long as they are not just “preaching to the converted” and try to make a point to play shows they don’t “fit on”.

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