Why would anyone start a record label?
Michael, Filthy Broke Recordings
Editor's note: Starting a record label is easy. Keeping one step ahead of ruin is the hard part. In this article, Michael shares his thoughts and experiences on building, maintaining,
and growing Filthy Broke Recording.
'Risk' is a great word when talking music and labels. Nearly ten years ago, while living in AZ, I had remixed a song for 12" on a
Canadian record label. I was, and still am, mainly a DJ and producer beyond anything else I would say. The song was subsequently to be aired on Ben Watt's
(half of Everything But The Girl) UK radio program as he was running Buzzin' Fly at the time. The song had not yet been mastered. The artist that made the original
informed me that my remix was gonna be played but needed a temporary master for loudness reasons. I had no idea what the fuck I was doing but that in and of
itself, the "I don't know what I am doing," forced me to try to learn. I had become fascinated with post-production as the result of
this experience and just keep on trying to learn and get better to this day and likely will be learning forever.
I feel like I am finally at a point where
confidence is starting to build somewhat, however my early work is honestly just terrible! Happy folks stuck by me as I learned and finally made some
sense out of what I was trying to accomplish. I like dynamic masters. Not "overcooked" nor ear-splittingly loud. Somehow, over the last 18 months,
this has manifested into a client list I am so incredibly grateful for. We currently self-distribute
everything after letting our "Professional Disto Company" go... Even for our upcoming 12" by Molly Drag, I myself will handle all shipping.
As crazy as it sounds to deal with 250 records by hand, I have become so used to living at the post office it's just more comfortable. And that
process extends to the artists we release exclusively and artists that we are basically just creating physicals for. Every damn release is a risk,
and knowing that going into it definitely helps with staying sane. At least most mastering and mixing jobs for the label can be done in-house though,
which saves time and money. Jobs for other people help keep us going as well. One thing that has been refreshing and really great lately is that lots
of different styles of music come in. As far as post-production for other artists and labels. I've gotten a lot of experimental hip hop from the Bay
Area and am gearing up for a folk-punk job this week. As a fan of so much music, it's been great to have the opportunity to work in so many different genres.
How to not waste precious time:
These days I would say about 25% of time is spent in the studio mastering, 70% is dealing with orders/preorders/accounting/shipping,
and 5% is actually being able to sit down and write a song for my own well-being. I know we already went beyond 100%, but as of late shows
have been taking up a lot of time, (and I'm) incredibly thankful for this. Most folks we have worked with/for are on the road a lot.
It's wonderful because I am able to actually meet most of the amazing people that have
entrusted us to release their music. When someone is on tour in our neck of the woods I often get contacted about helping with show arrangements for
Providence/Boston, and also get to hang out with said person/people. One thing I value most about this aspect of the label is developing relationships.
Lasting, meaningful friendships with artists that we
have worked with.
We started just over three years ago, and in that time I have gotten to not only throw/play shows with Trance Farmers, Walter Gross,
Ceschi, and so many more from the early days, but also make true friends for life. Not just "internet music friends" either, but rather people I admire and trust deeply.
I am so lucky they waste their precious time being there for me. I hope I am providing proper support for them too.
My apartment is the place where anyone we are friends with, or work with, can stay as long as they would like, on tour or otherwise. I wanna thank Oliver
Booking Company for not only being a mentor as far as learning how shows and booking works, but also for being a huge pain in my ass daily and one of the best people
I have ever met. I'd take a bullet for him. So fortunate that when I moved back to New England both he and Ceschi became neighbors. Those two dudes are a huge part
of why I do this. Now that I think about these touring artists I realize I am pretty much the only one involved with FilthyBroke that is not really playing shows right
now and I'm like, "What the heck?" I mean, it's actually my own fault in that there simply is not time to practice the live set. For the first time ever, though,
I have saved stems and instrumentals from my own recent music. Usually when I am asked to play these days it is in the capacity as a DJ/music curator.
I love doing that, it's so much fun. Being able to get a live set going is the goal though and I guess I'm pretty much there. I hope to play some shows as One
Man Love Triangle pretty soon, sing my bad songs live to an audience that will likely be appalled.
The word "demo" sorta eludes me these days, like, I'm an older guy!
My first 12" came out in 1997 on some techno label and in those days we sent everything via CD-r. Demos, premasters, etc.
The digital revolution cut out the snail mail component for the most part and tons more music became available to all on many platforms.
These days a band or producer can immediately hit "send" and into the binary ether it goes. This is great and also not great in my opinion.
I speak to other people that say they don't even have the time to check demo emails anymore. Also, with social networking, "sending a demo"
in some folks' minds is tweeting: "Peep my music." Or a Soundcloud comment. I am not complaining at all, as this is just a product of the
times we are living in. I will say, however, that this crazy saturation of great music from all over can be impossible to keep up with. That
being said, I feel a lot of amazing music remains slept on and some music I consider kinda "whatever" is being lauded over by every blog in the universe.
Having a circle of friends that "do music" has been a lifesaver. Friends
are basically curating FBR these days. Many are artists we work with saying, "Yo, have you heard so-and-so?" Honestly that is all it takes sometimes for a
release to come to life. Friends connecting friends. One other thing that is an extension of this cooperative attitude is that labels help other
labels and artists help other artists.
I do believe we can do better working together as opposed to competing. Not just in music but in life.
For example, I have no desire to be "The Best" at anything. When I see artists or labels claiming to be the best at what they do, I kinda look the
other way and surround myself with folks that don't take themselves quite so seriously in spite of musical successes and critical accolades. I have
respect for anyone doing this and providing awesome content. However, on a personal level, after these many years I feel much "safer" when aligned with others
that have at least a minor sense of self-deprecation or self-doubt. Likely due to all of my own insecurities, being bullied really badly as a kid after moving, etc.
I can't lie though, sometimes flattery from the press, or other artists is quite nice! When Ged Babey named our Steve Cobby & Russ Litten release "Album of the Year"
at Louder Than War we were pretty chuffed. But we have no PR, so when that stuff happens it's just natural thus all the more exciting.
There was a point in 2016 that got pretty dark over here. My own frustrated brain developed a perception that the music business was no more than a
popularity contest akin to something we would experience in high school. I was jaded as fuck, felt entitled. I was jealous. That is the worst place for
me to be, feeling like "oh, poor me." It really boiled down to my environment, both online and offline, though. Rather than focusing on the things that upset
me, I started to reach out more. Talk to more artists and labels that I was becoming familiar with as well as opening up to label owners and artists all over
the world that I had worked with for years. I was honest about how I felt and got some wonderful direction, which was basically, "Stick with those that you feel
bonded to and filter out the rest." The result was a lovely burst of energy and feeling a part of something bigger. For FBR this is essential and I did not
realize how much so until this year. I may prefer being a loner when it comes to some stuff, mainly writing my own music, as I usually get a free moment to
write when I am super depressed. I have no idea what that's all about but the last three actual EPs I put out were written while basically in a state of miserable
isolation. Aside from that, though, it's a team effort across the board and this really means staying linked with other labels that also want to be a part of something bigger.
Labels that we joke with regularly, push their releases as they do ours, and just have an overall good time interacting with. There are tons, it's inspiring.
Doom Trip Records is a great example. Blackhouse Records is another, run by such a sweet and helpful guy. Fake Four Inc., obviously, as we even did a joint
release with them a couple years back. Verses Records. Oh, and I gotta say "Hugs!" to Fremdtunes in the Netherlands. Still such close friends and allies.
I owe them a debt of gratitude, as they released FilthyBroke- SketchyBook years ago before I had even decided to start the label. That provided the confidence I needed to say,
"I wanna give this a fucking shot." By the way, I am naming lots of people on purpose, as without them we would not even be talking. I love these people.
Organic distribution model
(Distribution is) mainly online, via filthybroke.com. However I gotta give a huge shout-out to the retailers that hit us up directly,
as there are some great shops that try to stock us regularly in the US, EU and Japan.
I am going to straight up admit that Balam Acab deserves a medal. Basically, after we did the All I Beg cassette by Balam, I found myself being introduced to
a ton of incredible music I was not yet familiar with. After some discussion we realized our shared love for Pavement, 90's Alt-Rock like Failure,
and just generally gut-wrenchingly sad music of myriad styles. I had wanted to do a "band" release, as much of what we had done until recently has been pretty
producer-oriented. However, because there is just so much music out there, I really did not know where to begin and was busy with mastering work. As with most of
our favorite releases, this just fell into place organically and through friendships. I think Balam had shared Michael "Molly Drag's" most recent EP on Twitter and
I was blown away. Fucking crying my eyes out every time I listened. From there, Michael and I started talking. Again, as with most of our best projects, a
relationship started to form. He is just a kind soul with amazing talent. After several days talking about everything from our favorite films to food and such,
I just knew I loved the dude. Aside from the music. His sublime LP Whatever Reason had yet to have proper vinyl release. Truth be told, had we not gotten to know
each other that well we still would have released the LP. However, Michael's awesomeness as a person is just an added bonus and I like that we can text each other
and have a laugh that has nothing to do with music. In short, a friend introduced me to a friend. We then decided to work together to put out the pink 12" and the
rest is history.
With Molly Drag it was already beautifully mastered and timed perfectly for 12". I think 18 minutes per side- so the fidelity is
really something, the entire record. The test presses, which I ultimately approved first round, had such depth and the stereo field was almost 3D.
I hate to use the word "warm," as it gets tossed around a lot, however- I feel the analog reproduction is best described as such. With this release, my partner
and our in-house art person Bambi, handled the lyric sheet design/layout, all 12" packaging templates, the 12" labels by font-matching from Michael's original art
manually, and the press pic. Usually I am more involved myself, typically at the artist's request. I did mastered the Balam album for
the cassette release and Bambi/Balam did the art together for the Jcard. I mastered our Walter Gross tape, did his latest on Sole's Black Box Tapes as well.
The new Parlay Droner I did here a couple of weeks ago in a wicked rush. Yeah, I guess I do master most of our stuff unless it's something that we
release unmastered as a surprise for some reason or something. Our first 12" was mastered by a pro and I found it extremely heavy-handed. Too loud.
I did one of the six songs myself before knowing what I was even doing, due to time- but actually don't hate that one. I hate most of my early masters,
they are trash. As for artistic guidance? Nope, barely ever. We generally let an artist know we want them really involved in making their baby. Thus, artistic
and creative control is totally turned over to the artist and we simply help facilitate her/his idea.
Artist to artist "Holy Shit" moment:
I truly encourage people to not hire a pro! Take risks! At least try some stuff out and see what the result is. There are two things
that come to mind (regarding recording); first, record quietly. This was a game-changer for me. Also, using monitors instead of headphones if possible is crucial in my opinion.
I was, once upon a time, a real gear nerd. Like, I liked having all this expensive gear around to make/post-produce music with. Thought it made things "better" or something.
Of course a top-of-the-line studio with an SSL desk and all the hardware to boot is an incredibly awesome entity, however out of reach for most. Thus, I guess my point is that
we can absolutely make amazing recordings without a $10,000,000 studio at our disposal. I still am fortunate, in that I have some really great gear I love that gets
things shaped how I want them to be. The gear is less of a fixation now- all function at this point. And I have less than when I started. Headroom is essential and provides
myriad options for dealing with any recording issues at a later point. In short, keep those stems
and final premasters quiet, and also work at a fairly quiet level. This allows us to hear frequency rather than the room we are working in. As far as how this ties into gear?
I feel the most important things a DIY musician needs these days are a decent audio interface and decent monitors. That's it. Over a short period of time, I think we "learn"
our monitors in that we start to understand how the mixes made on them will translate to other speakers, headphones, etc. Things start to become consistent in that we know the
sound we are looking for that will best translate.
I mean, when it comes to certain aspects of mastering my answer would be a bit more detailed and complex. As far as recording goes? Not so much. A few simple rules of
thumb can facilitate a great piece of music, and the most important in my opinion is tracking quietly both for headroom reasons and mixing clarity. My recording process is
actually pretty hilarious these days. Simple as hell, whether working in the box or tracking through my console... Good monitors, good interface, good mic. Then I go from there,
not using much sampling or computer technology. I have a broken kid's guitar that I do not know how to play, a broken Casiotone with analog drum patterns that sound
like a 606, a couple old analog synths and drum machines, and then pots and pans and some random drums. I like the sound much better than when I was trying to
be all techy and using all this top-of-the-line gear. I still break out some "secret weapons" on occasion but really have been focused on this stripped-back approach.
I finally am able to write the songs in my head as I hear them in the mind. Which leads me to the second thing I wanted to suggest...
"Sound Like Yourself." No matter what, be you. Be authentic. It can be fun to practice and maybe emulate certain sounds, however at the end of the
day a person's music is a refection of who they are, to a degree. I think that is lovely, and I think most of my favorite music has that certain
vulnerability that makes me say, "Oh that's a Sarn song." Unabashedly himself. The result is something so pure and unique, it truly stands out to me. I got that
same feeling when I heard Molly Drag for the second or third time. Like, Molly Drag's song "Glass"? The final verse of this lush, beautiful piece has a "chipmunk-y" harmony
that comes out of nowhere for no good fucking reason other than it sounds amazing and totally makes sense in context. Shit like that is what moves me and I to this day ask myself,
"What made Michael decide to to that? It's perfect." I truly believe authentic writing cuts to the bone and catches the ears of many in ways "perfectly produced music" cannot.
Bambi is out in Seattle and is currently looking at properties with detached structures that could be mixed-use for recording bands,
mixing/mastering, shows, crash spot for touring artists, etc. I already emailed myself the three pieces of mastering gear I'd really like in the studio to take things to
the next level. So apparently yeah, that may be the long game. A big studio upgrade and
move across the US again is a huge risk, but we only have one go around so that very well may be the future of FBR.
In the near future though? We just wanna keep doing weird and
funny stuff. Whether it be 250 pink 12" LPs or a single CDr as a joke (we actually just did that). Currently doing pre-orders and promo for the Molly Drag release,
planning a new project with Balam Acab, and three non-FBR mastering jobs.
I think the final months of 2017 and all of 2018 will be dedicated
to taking ourselves even less seriously and making more friends that just wanna have some fun in this crazy business.
If I am not laughing at all of the craziness, I would be crying- so I think that this approach is best for us.
For more information on the catalogue and services- visit the Filthy Broke Recording web site or
@FilthBrokeRex on the twitter machine.
"I do believe we can do better working together as opposed to competing. Not just in music but in life."