Label Owner Interview with Sarah Hughes & Patrick Farmer of Compost
Label: Compost and Height
QRD – When & why did you start your label?
Sarah & Patrick – It’s original conception was thought up in November of 2007, though it was February 2008 when we launched the site. Both of us used to promote shows in separate cities in the UK & when we moved to the same small town, we realised we couldn’t carry on doing what we had done; but still wanting to help out, we started the label with small ambitions.
QRD – Where did you get the money to finance your first few releases?
Sarah & Patrick – We initially started as a download label so this wasn’t a concern, when we later decided to make a series of physical releases we kept the packaging affordable & recouped the money from the discs sold.
QRD – How many releases have you put out?
Sarah & Patrick – We’ve put out around 40 downloads, 12 split series releases & we’ve also released a CD & book in collaboration with Q02 in Brussels. We also host projects such as Michael Pisaros Only [Harmony Series #17] which was realized by 20 musicians around the world during the month of August 2009. We’ve also released a few very short run compilations for a concert we organized at Café Oto after our first year.
QRD – How many releases would you like to do a year?
Sarah & Patrick – For the download part of the label we’re happy to put up as many as we come by, but for physical releases we do very few. The initial split series was really a sort of introduction, we have a few things in mind for future releases but nothing concrete.
QRD – How many hours a week do you work on the label & how many would you like to?
Sarah & Patrick – It is very much dependent on what we have on, we’re both studying in Oxford at the moment & we both have arts practices &/or play a lot as well. The split series releases were all handmade so that took a lot of time, but the download site is a lot less time consuming, which is great because it means we have the time to do more.
QRD – What are the fun &/or rewarding parts about running a label?
Sarah & Patrick – Meeting people through the label is definitely one of the most rewarding aspects.
QRD – What are some labels you admire or feel a kinship to?
Sarah & Patrick – Richard Pinnell at Cathnor has always been really supportive of us as has Simon Reynell at Another Timbre. Wandelweiser & Organised Music from Thesalonikki are also two labels which we have long admired & are doing some really wonderful things at the moment.
QRD – What other work experiences prepared you to have a label?
Sarah & Patrick – We both promoted shows, in Sheffield & Nottingham before we met, which obviously helped in some ways, & between us we have had a good number of releases & shows with other promoters & labels so we also have a good idea from that.
QRD – What makes your label special & unique?
Sarah & Patrick – We’re not sure that we think of it as such. It’s great that we are able to offer the site for musicians & artists to make things available that may otherwise not get heard & that people know that they can find that stuff at Compost and Height. Other net labels like Homophoni which offer downloadable albums are brilliant; we wish there were more.
QRD – How has your physical location effected your label?
Sarah & Patrick – Again, being a download label we’re pretty portable. Though living nearer a DIY store whilst doing the split series would have been appreciated. Also, we both moved to Oxford in September & living closer to Richard Pinnell (owner of the Cathnor label) & Dominic Lash (improvising & everything musician) has been super.
QRD – What’s your demos policy?
Sarah & Patrick – We’re always willing to listen. We don’t get many people sending us demos & the ones that do almost always end up on the site in some form.
QRD – How do most fans find out about your label?
Sarah & Patrick – Through the artists & musicians on the site I think.
QRD – What’s been your biggest selling release & why do you think it was?
Sarah & Patrick – All of the releases on the split series sold out very quickly, perhaps because they were such small runs (50 of each), we have since made it available for download for a small donation & these have been selling rather well too. We don’t have a download counter on the site so we have no indication of what is downloaded the most.
QRD – How involved are you with a band for acting as a producer as far as hearing demo ideas or selecting tracks to be on a release or mixing & mastering?
Sarah & Patrick – Most generally not at all, Patrick will sometimes edit or master something if necessary or if asked. We’ve also set up a few recordings for tracks, Angharad Davies’ Atal was recorded in an abandoned aerodrome that we’d visited a couple of times & thought would work well for a solo track of hers.
QRD – How involved do you like to be in the artwork design for a release?
Sarah & Patrick – The whole split series had a uniform design which we worked out early on, though //2009// was designed by Q02, so really it depends on what’s suitable. For the download page we simply ask for an image & text of any length.
QRD – How long is it from when an artist delivers an album to you until release date & why?
Sarah & Patrick – Completely dependent on circumstance.
QRD – If you really like a band, but aren’t sure you could sell many copies of their record; what do you do?
Sarah & Patrick – With downloads it’s not such a concern, though if we felt something really deserved a release & were in a position to do it I think we would without concern for sales. Up to now we have only worked with short-run releases, so it becomes less of a concern.
QRD – How big of a staff do you have & how big of one do you need?
Sarah & Patrick – We are 2.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with record stores?
Sarah & Patrick – There a small number of shops & distributors that we deal with & they are all wonderful. The split series was only distributed through Sound 323 in London, though //2009// has a wider distribution & it has been super to be in contact with new people in relation to that.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with magazines & websites?
Sarah & Patrick – For this music there are, that we know of, a small number of review sites, predominantly blogs & the like, that are superbly dedicated & knowledgeable in this field. Brian Olewnick at Just Outside, Jesse Goin at Crow with No Mouth, Richard Pinnell’s The WatchfulEar website, & then of course there is The Wire magazine. Each & every one of these sites has proved invaluable & can often serve as a site for people to discuss their views in relation the review posted. This is something that can often bite its own tail, but more often than not provides wonderful fruits.
QRD – Do you sell music that is not on your label?
Sarah & Patrick – We don’t, there are a number of good distributors for the sort of music that we release & enjoy & the majority of these do it with lots of time & perseverance & little financial gain, we would always encourage people to support these shops & small distributors when they can.
QRD – Ideally, would you release your own material?
Sarah & Patrick – We have made some of our own material available for download & we did release one split series of a recording of ours together with David Dunn.
QRD – How often do you look at your “return on investment” & adjust your business model?
Sarah & Patrick – I guess we do this quite often, but not in economic terms. We have both gained a lot more from the label than the sum total of what we have put in.
QRD – Do you think the album format is dead?
Sarah & Patrick – I think it has evolved into an art form.
QRD – Is it important to have physical releases over digital ones or does it not matter?
Sarah & Patrick – Both are equally important, the free downloads on C&H offer a platform for tracks that are too long or short for release, or live tracks that are too “messy” for release, as well as albums & tracks that are simply preferred as downloads.
QRD – What do you think of ultra-limited runs of releases (less than 100 discs)?
Sarah & Patrick – They’re great.
QRD – How much content do you feel should be available free to fans?
Sarah & Patrick – All of the downloads on C&H, with the exception of the split series, are available for free download. We didn’t start a record label to make money, which enabled us to keeps costs low.
QRD – What’s something you see other labels do that you think of as borderline unethical?
Sarah & Patrick – Excessive protective packaging!
QRD – What would you suggest to someone starting a label today?
Sarah & Patrick – Do it without ego.
QRD – Where do you think money is currently most available to labels/musicians & where in the future?
Sarah & Patrick – From our point of view, & for this type of music, mostly private income. There are a few venues, festivals, & labels that are funded publicly or privately (Arika, Café Oto, i & e) which is really super & we hope it can carry on in the future.
QRD – Anything else?
Sarah & Patrick – Thank you to everyone
who has visited or contributed to our site.