On the job: Keith Abrahamsson and Andrés Santo Domingo of Mexican Summer

We asked the two entrepreneurs what it’s like to run Brooklyn indie label Mexican Summer ahead of the company’s five-year anniversary.

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  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Keith Abrahamsson and Andres Santo Domingo of Mexican Summer

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Keith Abrahamsson and Andres Santo Domingo of Mexican Summer

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Keith Abrahamsson and Andres Santo Domingo of Mexican Summer

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Keith Abrahamsson and Andres Santo Domingo of Mexican Summer

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Keith Abrahamsson and Andres Santo Domingo of Mexican Summer

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Keith Abrahamsson and Andres Santo Domingo of Mexican Summer

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Keith Abrahamsson and Andres Santo Domingo of Mexican Summer

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Keith Abrahamsson and Andres Santo Domingo of Mexican Summer

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Keith Abrahamsson and Andres Santo Domingo of Mexican Summer

Photograph: Filip Wolak

Keith Abrahamsson and Andres Santo Domingo of Mexican Summer


This weekend, Mexican Summer celebrates an illustrious five years of record releases. Keith Abrahamsson and Andrés Santo Domingo, two longtime music-industry colleagues and friends, founded the label in 2008 as a way to expand on their hard-rock–focused Kemado Records imprint. Since then, it's served as a launchpad for acts like Kurt Vile, Best Coast, Real Estate, Washed Out and more.

The Mexican Summer roster is as diverse as it is forward-thinking and trendsetting. "I wouldn't describe [our music] necessarily as a sound; I would describe it as an audience," says Santo Domingo during a conversation in the company's light-filled Greenpoint headquarters. “A lot of our audience might listen to stuff that's more electronic, more psychedelic, more guitary—but they could find a connection between all the stuff that we release.” 

The Mexican Summer story has grown to include a brick-and-mortar record shop next door, Co-Op 87; an electronic-oriented sublabel with Dan Lopatin from Oneohtrix Point Never, Software Recording Co.; Gary's Electric, a self-sustaining recording studio downstairs; and a brand-new publishing company, Mexican Summer Music. We asked Abrahamsson, 37, and Santo Domingo, 35, what it's like to run an indie record label—here's what they had to say. 

Time Out New York: What made you want to start the company five years ago? 
Keith Abrahamsson: We'd been doing another label, [Kemado], for six years before we started Mexican Summer, the two of us and Tom [Clapp]. We had a couple other employees. We hit this point where we wanted to put out more records and underneath the Kemado model it just didn't work… That was more traditional: We did a lot of multi-record deals, fewer releases a year, and a lot more ramp-up and lead time. It was a more rigid time frame, it was more time-consuming, and we wanted to be a little looser with it. We wanted to work with more bands and develop them in a different way. 
Andrés Santo Domingo: We still ultimately do some records in the more traditional model, but we definitely get to do more types of music with Mexican Summer than we did in the past. That's really the main reason we wanted to do the label, because we like so many different types of music and there're so many bands that we run across that we want to work with. 

Time Out New York: How do you find the bands on your roster? 
Keith Abrahamsson:
People think of A&R as somebody who goes out to shows every night and is constantly in a venue, but it's not really like that anymore. We troll the Web—big-time. 
Andrés Santo Domingo: Friends, managers, lawyers and other people in our orbit that we work with on a day-to-day basis, they send us stuff. We get sometimes 150 demos a week, and of those I don't think there's ever really been a case that we sign someone. If you're really good and we like you, we'll probably find you before you find us. 

Time Out New York: You met working together at Astralwerks Records/EMI. When you decided you wanted to start your own label, what were the first steps you took? 
Andrés Santo Domingo:
Having music we wanted to release—that was the first step. 
Keith Abrahamsson: [We started with] one band called Elefant. 
Andrés Santo Domingo: We did the Fever and Lansing-Dreiden, who we've just re-released on Mexican Summer, and they're actually going to play our five-year festival. That was ten years ago, and gradually distribution deals have evolved from there. 

Time Out New York: What might a typical day be like for you? 
Keith Abrahamsson:
There's no typical day. 
Andrés Santo Domingo: Our most typical day would probably be Thursday, when we have label meetings. We do one for each label—one for Mexican Summer and one for Software. That's the most routine day we have. Everyone comes together and talks about the projects that they're project-managing, and publicity talks to us about what's going on with them.… As much as we have an open office, we do have a lot of bands and a lot of things going on at once, so you could very easily lose track of what's going on in the release cycle of a particular record. 

Time Out New York: What do those atypical days involve?
Keith Abrahamsson:
Typically, I come to work around 10, and then it's kind of like, you're in front of a computer, man, dealing with e-mail. I'm trying to make more time away from the computer. There are a lot of variables; if there is a band in the studio, you'd be downstairs in the studio a little bit, or for the book we're doing for the five-year anniversary, there was a lot of layout work and collecting of assets. When you first come in, that's when you deal with the international stuff, because we put records out overseas. You might have a premiere of a song that day that's going on Pitchfork, or a press release or newsletter going out. There's running social media, dealing with a band on tour, figuring out what's going on in terms of the marketing on the road. One project could have a video that's in production. Then, you're gearing up for a tour and need to make tour posters and those need to go out to venues. Each project has its own laundry list; it's an ever-evolving kind of thing. 
Andrés Santo Domingo: And when it's not work, listening to music. 
Keith Abrahamsson: Yeah—pretty much all day you're kind of filtering in and out music. 

Time Out New York: What's the most exciting or coolest thing about the job? 
Andrés Santo Domingo:
Probably the single most exciting moment [is] when a band you've been working with finally gives you the finished product. 
Keith Abrahamsson: That's great, and I think having the studio downstairs is such an awesome resource because you're able to be around things that are so spontaneous. We had Jorge Elbrecht and Ariel Pink do a single we put out a few months ago. I came here to hang out with them over the weekend and we had dinner downstairs and it was like hey, come listen to this song we made today! And it was "Hang on to Life" [see video below]. My jaw was on the ground. Immediately I was like, that's fucking amazing, just to be around that. Just working in music is a gift.
Andrés Santo Domingo: I don't think anyone would want to work in this business unless they really wanted to. 

Time Out New York: What are the challenges of running the business? 
Andrés Santo Domingo:
It's a difficult business because of the margins. People expect to get paid very quickly and you only get paid very slowly from the distributors. There's still quite a long distribution chain in the business, and at the same time it's a very quick business, so you have to be able to hustle a little bit. For the good, there's a lot more options that people have out there. You really have to make a huge effort to make yourself stand out, because there's so much stuff out there—a lot of it's shit, but a lot of it's good. People have a lot of choices of good music, so to make yours available and out there and accessible to people is the biggest challenge. That's the one that we really strive to [achieve] most, because we want to do that service to our artists. If they produce something that's really amazing, the challenge is to get people to be exposed to it.

Mexican Summer: Five Years, the label's fifth-anniversary celebration, happens tomorrow and Saturday at Pioneer Works in Red Hook, Brooklyn (Fri 11 at 7pm, $30, advance $25; Sat 12 at 3pm, $40, advance $35). Seventeen bands will play over the two days, including Ariel Pink, No Joy, Spiritualized, Tamaryn, Linda Perhacs and more.


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Be Snow
Be Snow

More realistic subtitle : "We asked the two entrepreneurs what it’s like to run Brooklyn's financially independent label Mexican Summer ahead of the company’s five-year anniversary."

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