Label philosophy

Hi. I have never thought much about labels, although some I interpret as sources of potentially interesting music with a distinguishable sound (say, Basic Channel, Chain Reaction, MORD, Modularz, Tresor, Djax-Up Beats, Editions Mego, Raster-Noton etc etc).

Some labels have, communicate and even develop a philosophy. The most obvious I know (and as said, i pay little attention to labels) is Mille Plateaux with their Deleuzian “ultrablack” published as the book Ultrablack of Music (2020) edited by label head Achim Szepanski. I have not yet read it, ant have no idea if or how the sound, organizing around a label, and ideas come together.

What do you make of this practice of expressing, insisting on, organizing around, or developing label philosophy? A fad or gimmick? Who does it well? Are there patterns? How does philosophy inform running a label, or a running a label inform a philosophy. What are necessary and sufficient characteristics of “a label philosophy”?

Many people here on lines are involved in operating labels, I presume. What does the above mean for you, perhaps?

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This might be illuminating

@taylor12k is on lines…

I’m also reminded of the great ECM label.

There is no question that a label can have a strong vision. Whether that manifests as a “philosophy” or just “taste” is an interesting thing to ponder. But it can be very real and powerful. It serves as a kind of center of gravity for attracting simpatico artists and audiences. It’s a commitment, which I find to be a wonderful thing, even when I don’t care for the music.

Generally this kind of thing tends to be found in more indie labels, as the majors are more interested in chasing profits than forwarding any particular vision…

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So true, and one of the reasons I’ve gravitated to “indie” music in different forms over the years.

I came up in the Canadian lo-fi indie and punk scene via zines. In this environment, most labels were created simply to support a particular artist or scene in a certain area (Sloan’s Murderecords, for example, or all of the labels Eric’s Trip and it’s offshoots used to self-release demos, etc). Some of these labels evolved into actual commercial concerns, others devolved, disappeared, or changed into new entities. Ultimately though the common thread amongst all these types of labels - I think this can be said of many Punk and metal labels and scenes as well - is one of DIY self-promotion.

I eventually got involved with harsh noise and as with pretty much everyone involved in those scenes, I started releasing my own material and the material of others on my own label. I didn’t have any particular philosophy at the time, other than “If I think it’s good, I’ll release it.” Typically this would be in small quantities, often less than 50, and in many cases the releases had (often needlessly) complicated packaging. My philosophy at that time was “whatever works.”

My memory of the more successful labels at that time, is that the philosophy was largely focused on aesthetics. The contents were, in retrospect, somewhat irrelevant. As long as the tapes, CDrs, lathes, whatever, looked a certain way, that was the main point. I’m saying this not as a judgement, I think having an keen aesthetic sense - visual, aural, etc - is important and really adds to the overall experience. In fact I would argue that in the world of globalized experimental music, the physical artifact has had an important place in the experience of those practices.

Eventually it got to a point where I was losing a ton of money on every release and often getting stuck with a lot of back catalog with no way to move it, so I started just giving away what I had. I still have back catalog stuff and weird stuff I got from RRR and other places, but I’m kind of on the fence about going any further with making physical releases.

Which makes me wonder, what role does a label philosophy have in the digital world? I think perhaps it makes it easier to have and implement a philosophy, as it is a hell of a lot easier to release music digitally and people are generally more literate now with design software than they were when I started doing this stuff in the early 2000s. I guess my thought process here is that often the gap between having a philosophy and living a philosophy, when it comes to music, is often the technological gap. It seems to me that it is much easier now than it ever was to have an idea about how something should be presented and actually following through.

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