Releasing Records in 2011

This Friday (11/11/11), my label Mammoth Cave Recording Co. is releasing our first LP: The Famines – The Complete Collected Singles (buy it today!).  This might be a weird choice for our first long-player – a singles collection for a band in a weird place (Garrett living in Edmonton / Raymond living in Montreal) who don’t have a mountain of buzz. Are we worried? No. We have a few philosophical guideline that help us make decisions: release good records by good people. Don’t rely on tricks to sell records, false pressing sizes, limited “colour” variations (etc). Release records by those left out due to geography.

The Famines easily meet all of our criteria: when I first met Raymond and Garrett, it was clear since day one that we were all on the same page, and in the years that have followed, we’ve become good friends. The Famines have blown me away live every time I’ve seen them. As a singles collection, every song on this LP is a hit. This is good music. These are good people. This record will last.

As we all know, there is no “sure thing” in music these days: people aren’t buying records! Everyone downloads everything for free! No one cares! In this climate, releasing physical records still matters. Now is the time to double-down on the things we love. Instead of closing shop, now is the exact time that new models for making/releasing music can actually be given a chance to succeed.

  • Hype is fleeting and temporary. Nothing is being built in favour of quick profits.
  • Genre is dead. Genre obsessions/popularity are fleeting and temporary. Lasting music is hard to categorize.
  • Disposable music is easily disposed of.
  • Physical records are emphasize time. Mp3’s emphasize space. True music appreciation finds a balance between the two.

Harold Innis wrote a book in 1950 called “Empire and Communications” that I find useful when thinking about releasing music. Innis says that every medium has a bias of either space or time. The dominant medium in a civilization determine the nature of that civilization. Media that emphasize time are durable in character – stone, clay, parchment, and these media favour decentralization. Media that emphasize space are less durable and light in character – papyrus and paper and favour centralization. To increase stability, Empires need to balance time and space, but within Empires, monopolies of knowledge form that favour some media over others, balance is threatened. This leaves the door open for new forms and leads (ultimately) to the collapse of Empires.

The failing music Empires of the 20th century became entirely ‘space-oriented’ , with no inner coordinating principle and with no organic conception of ‘lived tradition,’ time, succession or duration. Music became all about turning quick profits, running artists into the ground. Biases of time somehow got lost, which is why there will be no new U2, no new Radiohead, no new Bruce Springsteen, no new Rolling Stones. Those bands were given time to grow, to experiment and to FAIL. Touring circuits that Bruce Springsteen developed in simply do not exist anymore.

If we are going to make music matter again we need to find balance between space and time. We live with the space-based orientation of Mp3 culture, which is no-longer novel nor desirable (nobody is going to their grave happy that they spent a chunk of their life downloading/organizing Mp3s), and physical artifacts are necessary to achieve balance. One result of this space-based Mp3 culture is abundance sickness which numbs us, and stops us from caring. Instead of endlessly shuffling 10,000 mp3s, why not spend some time with one record.

Mp3s still have a purpose, they successfully abolished the monopolies that major labels once held (and to a degree, still hold), but if any of us still care about music we need to slow down, to buy records that matter to us, to stop trying to hear everything and re-focus.

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