Running a record label in 2012 is tough business. Especially when you are a two-man operation doing it on a shoe-string. More especially when you are focused on putting out music by bands and artists that you love. Most especially when no one is buying music anymore, and the value on 'talent' is perceived by some to be at an all-time low behind the ability to put pants in seats (look at the listings at some of Boston's bigger clubs. Not a perfect record).
This brings us to Midriff records, who also might not have a perfect record in the double-A league of noisy indie-rock that they trade in. But try telling that to label-head Cameron Keiber. All year long, Keiber has been running a 10-year anniversary celebration of the label in the form of a monthly residency at Union Square's Radio--highlighting many of the bands that have graced Midriff's roster, including his own band, the Beatings, who released Midriff's first album Italiano in February 2002.
Previous installments in this residency have featured Midriff stalwarts Age Rings (R.I.P.), Greg Lyon and Louder My Dear. Tomorrow, Keiber has invited Boston Band Crush to help put together a special bill for the September installment of the Midriff residency, as the local unicorn lovers bring the Daily Pravda and Eski Esko to join Midriff's Eldridge Rodriguez (Keiber's post-Beatings project) and Midriff NYC friends, Relations.
I talked to Keiber about what the future holds for Midriff Records and what does it even mean to run a label in 2102 anyway.
Inbound Sounds: So why don't you tell me what is going on with Midriff records now?
Cameron Keiber: Well, we released an EP by Age Rings this Spring, and we are gearing up for a big release schedule in 2013. We plan on doing Ted Billings upcoming solo album in a few months. His first release since disbanding Age Rings. Plus we'll have new releases by ZL, Eldridge Rodriguez, Greg Lyon, possibly a new project I'm involved with featuring Ian Adams (ZL, Rock City Crime Wave), Sarah Borges, Mel Lederman (ex Victory at Sea), Mike Joy (Shore Leave) and me (Eldridge Rodriguez, The Beatings) called No Love. Plus a bunch more planned for the near future.
What was your most active period as a label? Or is that yet to come?
It's hard to say. Looking back on our existence it seems like everything moves in waves. When the Beatings were touring more and getting a respectable amount of national attention it seemed pretty active but at the time we were mostly just releasing Beatings albums (with a few additional albums). Then a few years ago we released the Eldridge Rodriguez, Greg Lyon, Ian Adams, The Beatings and Hands and Knees albums all in the same year and that seemed busy. Then the following year we had fewer releases but threw a label party at SXSW that got a lot of attention. It's hard to gauge. This year we are booking and promoting the residency. There is always something to do. It is a skeleton crew working on this stuff (Midriff is run by Cameron and his brother Clayton---pictured below) but we've been able to stick to the DIY principles that were established by Tony and Mike (founders Mike Italiano and Tony Skalicky) when this endeavor got started years ago.
Is this exclusively a Boston label?
CK: We'll technically, on paper, we are a NYC label. My brother lives in Brooklyn and I'm up here. We've had NYC releases (Get Help's albums) and are talking to bands outside Boston on a regular basis, but the way it's worked out. I think because of my relationship with the Boston scene and having personal access to the bands and artists. But that could be changing soon. We've also got the Midriff Records Blog which in addition to keeping people up on what we are doing acts as an online art gallery showcasing work by non-music related artist that we dig--which Clayton is heavily involved with. So that tends to have a more NYC focus.
What does a small independent label do in 2012? And what can bands achieve?
I imagine we do what we've always done: release sincere, intelligent music and hope that the next year brings some way to reimburse what you've put into it in order to stay operational. Unfortunately, we've seen alot of labels who started when we started fold and we've been able to continue. I don't know what circumstances it would take for us to fold but we haven't encountered them.
I think bands can achieve whatever they want. I believe you get out of it what you put into it. If you are willing to tour and tour and tour and hit as many radio stations in every city, you'll do well and probably earn some kind of living. But if you just want to record and release you'll achieve only appreciation and notoriety, and that is enough for some artists. If you can tour and tour and release consistently you've got it made. But it’s difficult--more so than when we started. But that's the way things go
Do you pay for the recordings? Do you pay for the packaging and printing? Do you work out deals with distributors? Do you make calls to record stores? Do you advertise in trade mags, etc?
It depends on the project. If we think we can do well by it and band and label will benefit, we've done more. We've paid for recordings. We paid for the manufacturing and printing back when we were doing hardcopy CD’s (Midriff stopped doing physical CDs last year). We work out the distro and licensing through our channels with companies that we've had relationships with for years. We help with booking if bands are touring. We pay for ads in mags--but there is less and less of that lately. We do all the release PR in house. So all press, media and radio is done by us now. We do the followups. We don't manage bands but we manage the release. We used to hire-out to companies, but alot of what we used to do doesn't make fiscal sense in the current musical landscape. Every band thinks they can do it themselves--and they may be able to and should at least try. We offer a support system for our releases that most bands don't have. But there has never been a better time to be a band and a label, because now (finally) media and radio outlets are accepting digital products--EPKs and the like. Two years ago we had college stations demanding physical copies. NPR only fairly recently began accepting digital promo. But it wasn't always viable.
I guess the question is what is "legit."
"Legit" should have nothing to do with how the work is presented but rather the substance of the work. We all let the term "independent" or "indie" mean something that refers to a sound and not a process of how things are done. I think it does the work and process a dis-service when we allow major labels to re-define things so that they can better sell it. Clap Your Hands And Say Yeah has more in common with DIY metal band Chimaira then they have with bands on Universal subsidiaries that they are often lumped in with.... who in turn have more in common with us.
Tell me about your bands though. Who of your bands should be in the national conversation?
I'm always going to say that whatever I'm doing is more important than anything in world (The Beatings, Eldridge Rodriguez) but we've gotten a fair amount of attention for 10 years (Village Voice, Magnet, Italian Vogue and GQ, NYT, LA Weekly, played KEXP, CMJ.com...many, many more). But Age Rings is a good as any band out there. Louder My Dear is vital. The Hands and Knees album we did got national press as did the Get Help disc. Greg Lyon is one of the most brilliant songwriters alive. Our whole roster should be championed nationally. But we are a tad older than what people talk about regularly. There are local bands currently getting national attention that are doing stuff similar to what we were doing years ago. I don't know that we'll get national attention because we skew a little too noisy and out of people’s comfort-zone before they are ready to accept it. Trust me the guy your kid buys drugs off of in high school is going to talk about Kudgel and The Beatings like they were Zeppelin.
Sat. 9/29 Night VIII Midriff Records vs. Boston Band Crush
The Daily Pravda
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About the authorJonathan Donaldson is a Boston-based musician, writer, and second-generation music junkie. An Ohio native who moved to Boston in 1998, Jonathan's musical loves include R&B, psych, punk, bubblegum, country, electronic, More »
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