Flake (CTD) interview
So I suppose most of you don't recognize the name Emily Flake or even Carrot Top Distribution. Well the story goes something like this, in the United States there's one distributor that consistently pays small labels & is willing to deal with people who only move a few hundred units & they are Carrot Top Distribution. It would be great if more stores used them so more labels could actually end up being sure to get their money. Emily works there & she's the buyer/seller for Silber Records along with loads of other labels.
QRD What do you see as your job as a distributor, to help make better record stores or to just make records available to record stores?
Emily Well, idealistically, of course it's wonderful to think we're helping record stores to be better informed, carry a more diverse selection of music, to generally be the kind of resource one hopes a good record store can be. Yeah, I would say this is something we try to do. But it's not, obviously, just some exercise in altruism; we like to sell records, and it keeps us alive. It's a business, and I guess the loftier aspects of it come and go in our feelings as much as they do at anyone's job.
QRD What do you think is the most important thing to get units to move? Is it actually the music?
Emily No. It's not the music. maybe in some very very rare cases where a band is just so good that they were able to generate this magical buzz and suddenly boom, everyone wants them - sort of like Broken Social Scene, say, but even they had the Do Make Say Think Canada hoo-ha factor going for them - and it's the buzz that sells records. I don't care if you've created some amazing tour-de-force masterpiece, if nobody's ever heard of you, and has no reason to care, forget it. There's about a billion bands out there, and sure, some of them are making really wonderful music. Good for them. if this sounds cynical, it's not - just, uh, a little bleak. Word-of-mouth sell records. Associations with bigger bands sells records. being Death Cab for Cutie sells records. Maybe giving lapdances sells 'em too, I dunno.
QRD Do you feel like the musician-label-distributor-store-consumer chain is threatened by digital distribution through the inernet? Why & why not?
Emily Hmmm. There are a lot of ways to look at this problem. On one hand, the internet and its attendant musical outlets create a wonderful way for people to be exposed to music that they never would have heard, and I think in that sense it's a great, erm, tool for expression and getting your music out there - but you know, fire good, but fire hurt sometimes too - and yes, people downloading entire albums, over and over, it's stealing, and it's very harmful. Not just to the bands, but to retailers, to distributors, to a sense of community. I think a more ethical way, on the consumer end, to use the internet is on a site like Epitonic, who lets you download a couple tracks here and there to see if you like it, but not the whole damn cd. Hopefully, the number of people who just wanted a track or two and might not have bought the cd anyway is counterbalanced by people who hear the mp3's and want more, and who will go out and buy the cd. One hopes. But how do you stop it? How do you get people to be nice? I mean, the genii's obviously out of the bottle, and I think it'll be very...interesting to see what goes down in the next ten years or so. For majors especially, I think they'll have to come up with a whole new paradigm for starmaking - and I don't think they've shown themselves to be the most agile or quick to embrace change folks.
QRD Why do you think so many record stores have been closing over the past few years?
Emily See above - in times like these, an average record store really can't float on its customer base, on simply being a place where people can buy records - there are simply too many other places people can buy things, or steal them, plus you have to factor in the problem that most people just don't have enough money right now to walk around dropping it on records. I think to stay competitive, a store really has to be sort of a community hub - it pains me to talk of such things as "selling" a sense of community, but really, people have want to come in, and spend time, and hopefully money - and clearly retail's going to have to do some paradigm shifting as well, to compete with the internet, with the Best Buys - it's an extremely difficult time.
QRD From a distribution standpoint, what is the easiest & most difficult format (vinyl, tape, cd, dvd) to deal with?
Emily Eh, well, cd's sell the most, I'd say; a 7" is a tougher sell, and tape? what? As far as easy vs. difficult, I'd say it's more about if you put it some foofy-ass packaging that makes it an impossible pain in the ass to pack and ship safely.
QRD How has being involved with music as a day job affected the way you are able to listen to music on your own time?
Emily Hasn't. I've always been very much a creature of habit when it comes to music; I will listen to the same cd, sometimes even the same song, many times in a row, and that hasn't really changed. it's not like I get home and cannot bear to listen to music, and put on soothing rainforest sounds instead.
QRD What are the best things a label can do to make your job easier?
Emily Okay, kids, listen up - onesheets. Need. This: Contact info. Price - meaning what you're selling it to us for. Catalog number. Cogent, helpful description. The CTD website has a very nice manifesto on this: www.ctdltd.com/vendor.html
QRD Who's harder to deal with, stores or labels & why?
Emily Oh, you know, I love all my babies. Honestly, it's two different jobs, and each has its joys and its discomforts. It can be very hard, given how busy buyers are and how many distributors they have to deal with, to get them to talk to you, let alone buy something. I'm sympathetic to that, because given the volume of label stuff we get in here, I know it's very difficult to get to all of it.
QRD Why is Carrot Top so much easier to deal with & so much more organized & so much more willing to work with young labels than other distributors?
Emily First of all, it's really sad that, because we actually do what we're supposed to do, i.e. we pay people and don't act like total dicks, that we're something of a rarity. And I hope that's not just the hubris talking, but you're not the first to say this. I think it's because we all really care about CTD, and we all work hard to make sure it's as good a company as it can be. And Patrick, the owner boss-guy, has seen enough of people doing shit the wrong way to know not to make those mistakes, He's also an absolutely sterling human being, and he has more integrity than probably anyone I've ever met. He runs a very tight ship, he treats us much better than he has to, and I can't speak for the rest of the office, but I know that I personally am far more inspired to do a good job for and with him than I would be for a lesser person.
QRD Would you recommend people to try start stores & labels as potentially successful business ventures or would you suggest they only do such things as a hobby?
Emily Do it as a labor of love,
especially if we're talking about a label. If we're talking about a store,
the amount of startup capital and work and responsibility that entails
pretty much impels you to try to make a solid financial go of it, but a
label can be run on far more modest means - so by all means, if it's something
you believe in, and you love it, do it. If you can turn it into something
that makes money, terrific. But it's not like, say, going into nursing
in terms of good practical ideas. Which doesn't mean you shouldn't do it,
or that such things can't be successful, but don't expect the baby to go
to Harvard or become President. Just be happy if it does.