suggestioni musicali a cura di raffaello russo
Pure passion for electro-acoustic explorations.
Here’s Gavin Caitling, who recently ended up his labels Twice Removed and The Long Story Recording Company, talking about his experience on running an independent label and about the overall nowadays experimental music market.
With the release of the latest Western Skies Motel album you declared your experience as label owner over: what did you make this decision after a few years of many and good ambient/electro-acoustic releases?
The plan initially was to end Twice Removed late 2014 and start afresh with the Long Story Recording Company label. However, I had a number of releases that I had committed myself to and the option was either to write to the artists and say I wouldn’t be able to honour the commitment, or run both labels concurrently. I opted for the latter. The reason to start over again was based on the fact that I had done a lot of releases on Twice Removed over the years and I had a desire to rein it back a bit, spend more time on promotion and spread them out evenly over the year.
How did you first get the idea of creating a peculiar label as Twice Removed?
The label grew out of a blog that I was doing of the same name (which is still online). Not being much of a wordsmith and with less time to focus on it, a few months before the end I started planning on doing a label. Cd-r wasn’t (and still isn’t) a dirty word to me and with inspiration of those that came before me (Home Normal, Hibernate, Dead Pilot Recording, Heat Death, Under the Spire) I started getting in contact with artists I liked. Initially I planned following the defunct Sound & Fury label with mixing Australian and Overseas artists, but that quickly fell by the wayside and I concentrated on overseas artists.
Do you think that the focus on ambient and experimental helped characterizing the label’s profile? And, for your experience, do you think that this is good artistic field for keeping releasing physical records?
I probably released Ambient/Drone the most, but there are some other styles such as Electroacoustic (Simon Whetham and Canned Fit, Cycle ~440, Grzegorz Bojanek), Post Rock (These Ship Wrecks) Modern Classical (Endless Melancholy, Vitaly Beskrovny, Andrei Machado), Synth (Oliwa, Fontaine, Ophion, Given). Ambient and cd-r’s, creative packaging work hand in hand, more so that a style of music such as metal. You can do packaging that is very complimentary.
How did you choose the music you released?
I was largely unsuccessful in pursuing artists. I think I had a rejection rate of around 80%, so I subsequently gave up on approaching people on the whole. Demo’s or people approaching me was my source of music. Sometimes it came from releasing an artist’s friend, through a Soundcloud comment or people being aware through reviews. My decision to release was basically based on whether I liked the music. The idea of whether the artist was known, the amount of Facebook friends, Twitter followers, etc.… was immaterial. I remember the first time I passed on a demo. The artist in question was well connected with collaborators, remixers, etc.… but I wasn’t that into the music. It could have been good to tap into that sort of connections, but if I wasn’t into it, I couldn’t release it. This probably was to the detriment of the label, but if you are doing it for the wrong reason it’s going to be less enjoyable.
Is there any anecdote about some of the releases you would like to tell?
No real anecdotes, just experiences learned over the journey.
Do you believe that now that everyone listens to music from the web there is still some space for the cd-object?
I don’t honestly get just buying digital. I am definitely a fan of physical product instead of just files and there are enough people out there that appreciate the physical goods. Labels like Time Released Sound, Facture/Fluid Audio and self-released artists like The Volume Settings Folder are keeping good and collectable packaging alive.
How much important packaging and artworks can be for keeping the physical records alive?
I think it’s incredibly important and enticing to have good packaging and art work. Over the time of Twice Removed I experimented with a variety of packaging from factory printed 2 panel to digipack oversized card, clam shell, post card, 5” and 7” lathe… With postage costs going up over the years, providing something different and with value is important.
Generally speaking, what do you think of the state of today’s music market?
There is an abundance of great releases and labels that it’s simply too hard to keep up with everything. I don’t think it has been healthier. Since Twice Removed started great labels like Tessellate, Soft, Eilean, Dauw, Dronarivm, Assembly Field, White Paddy Mountain, Eter, etc.… have all started up and putting out outstanding releases. It is probably a great time to be an artist with a variety of people to release your music. That said releases can be passed by quickly with the influx of newer releases.
Which suggestion or advice would you give to somebody who would like to start a label now?
I have to be mindful when answering this question as what didn’t necessary work out for me, may work out for others. The cynical part of me would say to release only (well) known artists which would give you an already established fan base to sell to. You could also do a Kickstarter or apply for an applicable grant in your state or via a funding body. This would eliminate the worry about funding your release. However, doing these things would also eliminate, for me, the enjoyment and satisfaction of knowing that you did it yourself and have brought a new artist to people’s attention. By all means deal with known artists, I have done so as well, but nurture the next lot. Labels like Home Normal could easily rest on their laurels and release only known artists, but they are continually exposing punters to new or lesser known artists. While it is great to get another release by a favourite artist, it probably even better to be blown away by someone new.
If you can’t do things in house like art and mastering, establishing relationships with those that do is important. This just gives your releases a better impact. I used two artists for most of my releases – Grace Wood, Peter Nejedly and Phil Gardelis (Zenjungle) and Wil Bolton mastered a few of those. Getting someone on board that can do these things is priceless as well as working with an artist that also has these skills (like I did with Nicola Fornasari aka Xu).
Reviews are the greatest enigma, it’s almost like you need to know a secret handshake to get one in some cases. Some sites/reviewers will only review off the physical product and some of those don’t guarantee just because you sent them something, they will review it. There are also a great lot of people sending material to be reviewed, which can mean that your release gets overlooked. The more I increased my mailing list the less the reviews came and actually someone on it was uploading to Torrent sites as they kindly included the press release that only went out to a select few. It is great when someone takes the time to listen to what you put out as it validates what the artist and label is aiming to achieve. I recommend seeing what other labels are quoting their reviews from and building up a list. I would probably steer away from those that only accept physical because if they don’t review the release, the costs start adding up.
Distribution is something that labels engage with or just don’t. I have sent all my releases out to a variety of places. The reason I have done this to help get the name of the label, the artists and releases out to a potential new audience. The drawback from this is that postage costs have raised considerably over the years and you have to compete with local labels price wise. Why is someone going to buy your release when it is several $, Euro, Pounds more? Most times my wholesale price has been pretty close to cost price to compete and it’s the stockists that make more money when they add their margin to the wholesale cost. If you are able to sell via your own Bandcamp or site then go for it. If you want to tap into their network and be surrounded by other likeminded labels I recommend doing distribution.
You can’t do an internship on a small label, so either you learn as you go or you ask questions. I don’t think we are all in competition and protecting ‘markets’, so I think it would reasonable for people who are thinking of doing a label to get advice from those that currently run one. This way you can build up a list of knowledge and contacts. If I had known certain things like stockists or manufactures along the way, things would have been different.
I thought that The Long Story Recording Company would keep the inheritance of Twice Removed alive, while you decided to stop that label too after… a short story: what has been the reason to start a different label than Twice Removed only for a few releases?
The Long Story Recording Company was designed to release less with more promotion. I had decided to approach artists again which I had previously given up on. This led to Hessien, while Elian and Pleq and Giulio Aldinucci had come across from Twice Removed and Darren McClure had been in contact before with a possibility of the Suisen release. The idea was also to try and do a consistent product theme like early Home Normal, but this fell by the wayside. I had it to release on a constant 3 month basis, where as soon as one release came out the first preview of the next would come out on Soundcloud and this would be followed up 3 months later by the release. The label lasted from 15 Jan – October 1 2015, while the Twice Removed label ran from 14 November, 2011- 14 November, 2015. The idea was to stop on the 4th anniversary of Twice Removed’s start. The reason being that over the years I had put a lot of time and effort into the labels, but had got to the stage where things where plateauing and it was a struggle to get reviews, sales were to the usual customers. Also over the years I was running out of time due to work and other commitments. I felt it was a good time to step back. I feel I gave it a good crack and don’t really have any regrets.
Which other labels do you appreciate the most?
The labels that I appreciate are Home Normal (Inc. Komu, Tokyo Droning and Nomadic Kids Republic), Hibernate (and Rural Colours), Eilean, Dauw, Preserved Sound, Eta Label, Erased Tapes, Gizeh, Tench, Dronarivm, Hidden Vibes, Assembly Field to name a few.
What will you do instead of running a record label now that your experience has ended (at least for now…)? How will you keep “living” the music as a simple listener?
I am just going to concentrate on being a dad and just an average punter who can appreciate the music without knowing all the trials and tribulations that occurred in its gestation.
Feel free to add any other personal consideration outside the questions above, that might represent a sum of the label’s experience.
I would like to thank all those that bought (especially the dedicated collectors who picked up all or close to all the releases), the artists that I worked with (especially those that I formed friendships with), anyone who reviewed the releases and supported the label. My big thanks to Phil Gardelis who was my right hand man for the last 18 months of the label.
(full label spot and interview in Italian)