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Small record labels – heroes or fools?

An interview with the American singer Tori Sparks

Tori Sparks

“In my opinion, every heroic action has a fool side to it. Nowadays being a musician is exactly like entering a burning building with people inside and willing to rescue them all. Is this craziness or heroism? It doesn’t matter to us musicians if we burn completely, we shall go ahead all the same. It’s an urge.” This statement by Tori Sparks, an American singer-songwriter settled in Barcelona, summarises the current situation of musicians and record labels in a time in which the digital world coexists with the traditional music industry and the physical format. ¿How is this situation coped with in current Barcelona? 

The key for record labels: to adapt 
In the case of record labels, the step from physical to digital is just a reasonable evolution where survival means adaptation and considers the digital a complement and not an evil. The Barcelona label BCore is well aware of this, as for the last 25 years they have offered independent music – and reference music too, such as Juan Colomo, Alberto Montero or Futuro Terror. However, Jordi Llansamà, the person responsible for the label, confesses to using the digital format as well “to be able to listen to music while driving”. “We keep on editing and making records, bur our songs are also being uploaded to digital platforms and to all networks. This is done as a mere complement to traditional sales.” 
Somewhat different is the case with Bankrobber, a Barcelona label founded by Marçal Lladó in December 2001 (Xarim Aresté, El Petit de Cal Eril, Mazoni): “We were born when the digital era was in full performance, so we were never startled. In our case the Net is a communication channel and we try to take advantage of it so our music can travel as far away as possible.”

Is publishing records necessary? 
Tori Sparks says it is, because it is “a reaction against the idea that everything digital should be either cheap or free. It is necessary to publish records, vinyl records, and to play them, to appraise them… even though perhaps less copies.” However, independently from packaging, Lladó believe that what matters is the content: “It is worthwhile to go on publishing vinyls, cassettes, CD, Mp3, whatever. What’s important is that the music is good, the rest is packaging.” 
Physical publishing has a romantic side too. In the words of Josep Xortó (a self-publishing musician who has sung with the mythical Critters) “it means a personal satisfaction, a dream, an adventure”. Ramon Aragall (Els Amics del Art, Outer Space, and by himself in a record published by Discmedi) believes that even though the prominence of social networks is overwhelming, belonging in a record label continues to be useful: “Social networks have grabbed everything. Perhaps belonging in a record label is somewhat prestigious, and perhaps some of them are so exclusive that they help identify the style of their groups. But Spotify and YouTube have changed everything, and this will not go backwards.” 

Record labels as selectors 
Llansamà speaks precisely about that prestige. “Most times what a record label offers is support, a circuit and a brand, so it is easier for a new group to become known and recognised everywhere. Of course, it is essential that the group is good. But the self-publishing option is also a valid one. as shown by many groups”, and such is the case of Adam Giles Levy, Ljubliana & The Seawolf, Elora, El circo de las mariposas or The Lucies, just a handful as an example within the Barcelona scenario. 
Lledó believes that we have quite a good bunch of record labels. “Starting with Bcore, the patriarch of them all, established 25 years ago, through do-it-yourself labels such as El Mamut Traçut, Famèlic, Sones, El Genio Equivocado, Foehn, La Castanya, Boira Discos...” However, and always according to Lledó, the local stage suffers from a basic problem that cannot be solved no matter how many labels or digital platforms may appear: “There are no new venues: there were four or five quite some years ago, and we still have the same”.

Paradise or Apocalypse? 
Is this physical/digital dualism a threat even for us? Is it possible that we can choke on such an enormous display of offer and be unable to swallow it? Let’s choose Josep Xortó’s conclusion: “Anyone can make their own selection, good or bad, in the digital era. This is like television in the 1990s: everybody ate the same menu because that was all there was available … Well, nowadays you can choose your own menu, but you should be careful because it may not go down well”. The alternative, of course, is that others choose for you. And that is why we shall always have the record labels.

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