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[nextpage title=”Intro” ] We’re continuing our conversation with indie labels – the beginnings, the challenges they face and more! This time our interviewees include Sara Laughs (US), Third Kind Records (UK) and Muzai Records (NZ/UK).
Chad Beattie from Sara Laughs got a solo project called Yes Selma and he contributed a track Music for Rodents to our Winter 2019 Sampler. The sample also includes Blissland by Third Kind artist Hattie Cooke.
[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Sara Laughs” ]

Sara Laughs

For the doomed & unlistenable.

What made you start a label?
No one was interested in releasing the music me and my friends were making. I grew impatient. I didn’t want to sit around and wait for the rest of the world to catch up to what I was doing and experiencing. All the great music that’s floating in the air, stagnantly, with no where to go. I want to provide a home for that. The artists I play and collaborate with like Pony Payroll Bones, Rosemary Krust, Jenny Moon Tucker, Gordy Manny – we all have different perspectives but share the same passion toward sound, and we are equally obsessive about recording. This is true of other artists’ tapes I’ve put out like Newagehillbilly and Human Host, who just have really great and original ears for sound. Basically I want to release music I feel passionate about existing in the world.
What are some of the challenges you see as a label owner?
I don’t view myself as an owner, more like a sharer or perhaps an organizer. But there are challenges, the main ones being time and money. I wash dishes for a living, which isn’t exactly luxurious or financially rewarding. And I duplicate the tapes myself in my bedroom. So most of my free time and spare money is spent toward music. Finding the time between work to do this can be challenging, but the community in Baltimore is very supportive. I have a lot of help from friends, for which I am thankful. I could not do this alone. You’d have to be a madman to do that. A complete and utter madman, devoid of ration and sanity.
What is your take on Spotify and streaming services?
The fact that the CEO’s and workers at Spotify are making significantly more money than most of the artists is reason alone for me to protest those streaming services. I do, however, support the zero waste concept. I love physical media like records and tapes and I believe it’s essential that they exist, but it’s nice to think that you can listen to a wide variety of music without possessing it. I would never give those companies a penny from my pocket though. That’s why I prefer to buy merchandise from the artists themselves. I like to support the artists who make the art, not the companies that capitalize on it. But I do like Bandcamp, obviously, because it’s artist and label friendly.
Is there a specific focus as far as genres or local/regional aspect of music you’re releasing?
That concept is one that is perpetually evolving. At a very core level, I want to release music that is expressive. I want it to be purposeful. I have many issues with both popular and academic music because I find they often lack expression and individuality. I find most of it safe and dull. I want to release music made by true artists and outsiders, people who think outside the boundaries of what is taught or told. I like lo-fi, disjointed, and fucked-up sounding music. I like personality and originality. So those are my core guidelines to what I enjoy. But really I wouldn’t rule anything out. I guess my focus is that I have no focus, which reflects my general philosophy on how I live my life. Without rules or limitations.
Do you believe that music could bring about social change?
I believe that is one of music’s main functions, if not consciously then sub-consciously. I believe very sincerely in the idea of hope and I believe that because of music. Even music that isn’t political in nature, it brings people together. The world can be an ugly place, but it does contain beauty if you take the time to notice it. The three words that get stuck in my head are GIVE, HOPE, and NOW. I chant those words to myself as I’m washing dishes. GIVE more than you take. There is always HOPE. Do everything NOW. Those basic ideas are important to me. And the only way I see myself having any sort of positive effect on the world is through music. So that’s why I do whatever it is that I do. I’m not exactly sure myself.


[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Third Kind” ]

Third Kind

Third Kind is a label based in Brighton UK specializing in unique short-run cassettes. The first 3 albums were released on 3 Sept 2013.

What made you start a label?
A series of things led to us starting Third Kind. I had released tapes way back, from 1992 to about ‘97. Back then it was a matter of advertising them in the ‘personals’ section in the back of Future Music magazine, as there was no internet to speak of. But rumblings of Third Kind began in 2011 when I noticed that a number of people in my day job were making really great music. I came up with this idea to compile a charity fundraiser album featuring all these friends and work colleagues like Peter Hoggarth, The Vitamin B12 and Duncan Harrison.
Initially it was going to be a digital-only release but we ended up releasing a CD-R too on World AIDS Day for a local charity. The sales were disappointing, I think we only raised about £100. It was a time when most people had really had enough of CD-Rs I think – but it was also early days for bandcamp sales.
https://infinityfoods.bandcamp.com
About a year later, Molly and I went to see her friend’s band The Hundredth Anniversary at Brighton’s Green Door Store. They were selling cassettes released on the Reeks Of Effort label there as merch https://reeksofeffort.bandcamp.com/album/guts-2 It looked great and seemed like a nice thing for a band to do. It also sold out pretty fast.
Around that time I also went to see my friend Jez Creek play. I’d met Jez because of his electronic music event in the midlands called Awakenings and my band Cosmonauttransfer (with Dark Half) played at it a few times. It was at The Prince Albert and he was on the same bill as this very prolific tape artist Tidal (aka HOLOVR, Venn Rain etc). Jez was selling copies of his ModulatorESP tape that had just come out on Fort Evil Fruit. It was the first new tape I’d bought in almost twenty years and it looked really intriguing.
https://fortevilfruit.bandcamp.com/album/inner-cosmos
I wasn’t aware of it at the time but I think Molly had maybe already started doing a cassette design for a band called Furrow https://bleedinggoldrecords.bandcamp.com/album/bg059-a-field This was Spring 2013 and I asked her if she’d be up for starting a cassette label with me. We’d both do A&R (I already knew a lot of people wanting to do stuff) and Molly would do the art and design side. Molly emigrated to Canada after the first six Third Kind tapes but she did a few more designs like the first Nikmis one https://thirdkindrecords.bandcamp.com/album/widdendream
It’s basically just been me since then but I still think of it as our baby, I would never have got it together without Molly. A few visual-artist friends have helped out since then too, like Amy Hope, which has been invaluable.
What are some of the challenges you see as a label owner?
There are quite a few I guess, loosing money being the obvious one. Only half of our releases have broken even. That’s mostly because I come up with wacky ideas about the packaging that cost way too much. But you have to be prepared for disappointments out of the blue. You might think something is your best release and then it just doesn’t move, which is demoralising. I’ve heard a few labels say the same thing.
It’s wonderful now, as a label, to be able to connect with more and more music enthusiasts all over the world but parallel to that, tons more music is being produced – it’s staggering. It means that just to sell a handful of tapes you have to shout about it a lot of the time, which means a lot of time spent on social media. I find that all that eats into my music time quite a bit. It can become a bit like being a professional attention-seeker which feels unnatural to a lot of us. Looking at the quantity of global music produced objectively, it’s honestly a wonder we’ve sold anything. Hopefully, the curation and physical-release quality of tape labels gives the artist a better platform than their own digital release in many cases, which is the reason we still exist basically. All that said, running Third Kind has been immensely rewarding thanks to all the rich human connections made with so many enthusiastic artists, listeners and writers in the music world community. There have been so many really satisfying synchronicities and coincidences relating to the label as time’s gone on! It really is a small world that we’re tuned into.
One specific challenge I had at Third Kind was not understanding how to do basic Photoshop layouts. I started the label with a designer who emigrated so I struggled for a while after that. I always knew what I wanted artistically but didn’t know how to make it a printed reality. It took a couple of years of floundering around and gradually learning but I still use a combination of phone apps and a really ancient version of Photoshop.
What is your take on Spotify and streaming services?
I’ve been using Spotify since it started ten years ago or whatever, I find it useful. YouTube was already providing most young people with all their music needs for free anyway and will probably out live all the others services. YouTube is probably the most interesting in that it’s quite chaotic and democratised. More of an organic system where you can really dig around or stumble upon the most obscure thing. I don’t think it’s appropriate or realistic these days for a music platform to seem finite.
I’m not bothered about putting releases on Spotify, I see it more as a service for playing back famous old albums. A decade ago Soundcloud was where you’d go to discover new artists and Spotify was for playing commercial music. It’s harder now to find good new stuff on Soundcloud. I try and buy most things via Bandcamp. So far it seems like the best working model for music artists and fans. The tape scene has flourished there I think and paying a quid or two for a digital release means I’ve got the wavs and all my streams in one place whilst supporting the artist.
I pretty much separate underground music and commercial/‘corporate’ music. It’s not very intrepid to just find your new music via Spotify playlists. It’s another type of media that feeds this old fashioned illusion that there are ‘proper releases’ or that it’s even humanly possible to listen to one percent of released albums. It’s a constant disappointment to me that so many people are only aware of corporate music and attitudes don’t seem to be shifting as fast as I thought they would. In the last few weeks I’ve been taken aback, even by young music journalists. It’s as if everybody is still pretending it’s the twentieth century and that there are ‘important albums’ or that it’s possible to objectively list the year’s best albums. It’s ludicrous right now but I predict that in a few short years people will deny that this attitude was still rife two decades into the century. The same way that vinyl enthusiasts now pretend like hundreds of millions of LPs weren’t thrown out in the early 90’s because of frustrating sound quality limitations. The biggest private collections I’ve seen came about this way very cheaply, but people who didn’t live through that scarcely believe it. It’s odd but I suppose inevitable to see this kind of revisionism when you get to a certain age!
Is there a specific focus as far as genres or local/regional aspect of music you’re releasing?
In terms of tape genres I guess I’ve been less interested in presenting ‘more of the same’ so I consciously never ventured into vaporwave and beat tapes for instance, and I’m really particular about ambient, techno and drone stuff too because there’s so much of it. I’m really excited by artists that have a very individual vision and style. It’s not about originality as such – more just ‘doing their own thing’ or being true to themselves instead of a genre. I get sent lots of really good demos but I’ll only release something if it’s something that absolutely excites me. I should mention that I don’t get time to release everything that I love either.
So far all of our releases have been by artists based in UK, Japan, US, Belgium, New Zealand and Germany. It’s not actually that diverse in that sense, and there are still a lot of styles that I’m passionate about that haven’t been represented on the label… yet!
Do you believe that music could bring about social change?
It’s interesting to me how, for instance, the tape scene is so resilient yet completely regardless of money which drives so many other aspects of our society. The artist makes virtually no money from the label, the label makes virtually no money from the listener, the listener buys something that usually has little resale value. Yet all parties involved are completely dedicated and passionate about the process. It’s like a transaction from the future.


[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”MUZAI Records” ]

MUZAI Records

They call us Operation Thunderbolt – but we’re really just an independent label based in the UK. Looking after NZ bands. Work that one out..

What made you start a label?
I worked for a low-frequency radio station in New Zealand and used to get a bunch of up-and-coming bands from the Auckland area send through their stuff to get played. One of them were called Haiku Terror Shades, who then became god bows to math. Me and the vocalist, Martin, ended up deciding to start a label to release their stuff and we thought having someone as an advocate for these bands made more sense than bands approaching radio directly. It seemed to give it more importance someone else championing it to these outlets.
What are some of the challenges you see as a label owner?
It used to be managing expectations – talking about achievable goals rather than tell bands that they’ll be selling 100,000 records and everything that can be done (at their cost).But these days is remaining relevant; a band can release a record that’s been recorded on a laptop, mastered by an algorithm, released through CD Baby in digital and physical formats and a PR campaign through Submithub.
What is your take on Spotify and streaming services?
I think they are a necessary evil. Even Bandcamp takes a cut at the end of the day (not to mention Paypal fees) and Spotify has all but become a household name, like Netflix and Facebook. My mum knows what Spotify is.
So despite the incriminating evidence that shows how little profits for smaller labels there are with Spotify and other services, it is the standard now for musical exploration I’m afraid. Well… that or YouTube. Where’s the Youtube curated music playlists at?
Is there a specific focus as far as genres or local/regional aspect of music you’re releasing?
I’ve moved from Auckland to Leeds so I’m having to focus on one area instead of trying to cross a lake with my feet in two seperate boats. So if you’re an artists from the Yorkshire or surrounding areas hit me up!
But my A&R when I started the label was “would a younger version of me go to the ends of the earth to follow this band.” That idea got muddled when the focus was on growing as a label and trying to turn a profit. Which has been my ruin in many ways. If I like it and I know a younger me would be at the record store picking it up day of release, chances are I’ll work with that band.
Do you believe that music could bring about social change?
I believe that it can contribute towards society’s quest for social change. You can look at the 90’s hip hop scene with artists such as A Tribe Called Quest or Dilated Peoples, that era of conscious hip hop, or even the early Gangsta rap scene with NWA. These were tales about their plight and brought awareness to social and economic injustices in other communities.
I don’t think one song is going to change the world… maybe Eddie Argos will finally get Palestine and Israel to get along… but I do believe that the more awareness raised through music, then the more we become aware as a society what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s up to us then.
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