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QRD #47 - Record Label Owner Interview Series
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Label Owner Interviews with:
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Record Label Owner Interview with Dan Beckman of Turned Word
January 2011
Name: Dan Beckman
Label: Turned Word Records
City: Belfast, Maine
Artists Roster: Caethua, Bern Porter, C-Section 8, Uke/Village of Spaces Corners, Flak Mask, Ancestral Diet, Impractical Cockpit, Bone Rattle, Shep & ME, Riff Visitors, & many more.
Websites: www.turnedword.com

QRD – When & why did you start your label?

Dan – We started our label in 1998, originally as a means to produce & distribute our own musical projects.  In 2002 we made it more official by starting to # our vinyl releases & picked the name Trd W/d records then.

QRD – Where did you get the money to finance your first few releases? 

Dan – Working in the service industry, washing dishes & cooking at the Seward Café in Minneapolis.

QRD – How many releases have you put out? 

Dan – Countless. As far as official vinyl releases, we have done 18.

QRD – How many releases would you like to do a year? 

Dan – 6-10.

QRD – How many hours a week do you work on the label & how many would you like to? 

Dan – We are presently working on the label 20-25 hours per week because we have some new releases coming up.  Ideally the label would keep us busy enough to spend 30-40 hrs a week on it.  Clare Hubbard of Sax Wand Records puts a lot of time into the web aspect of the label too.  Caleb Mulkerin of Don’t Trust the Ruin puts a lot of time into the label too.

QRD – What are the fun &/or rewarding parts about running a label? 

Dan – Doing layout for releases.  Seeing a record through to completion.

QRD – How have your motivations for having a label changed? 

Dan – More recently I personally have fantasized about trying to make a living off the label.  In the past the goal has been more to break even, which is more of a reality really.

QRD – What do you feel is the biggest waste of your time running the label? 

Dan – Having to work on the computer.  I would prefer to send in hard copy files of music & art work over sending digital files to production any day.

QRD – What are some labels you admire or feel a kinship to? 

Dan – Don’t Trust the Ruin, Mississippi Records, Domino Sound, Sax Wand Records, Fusetron Sound, Time Lag Records, Breaking World Records, Yeah Tapes, Father Yod Records, Friends & Relatives, Feeding Tube, DeStijl.

QRD – What other work experiences prepared you to have a label? 

Dan – Working retail.  Also, I have curated art shows in the past, which is somewhat related to doing the label.  For almost 10 years I was the editor of the magazine Full Gallop, which periodically produced audio zines.

QRD – What makes you label special & unique? 

Dan – We are a 3 person team, comprised of Amy Moon, Dan Beckman (me), & Andy Neubauer.  Each of us bring a very different element to the label, so that diversifies our output & keeps things fresh.

QRD – How has your physical location effected your label? 

Dan – We are located in a small town in midcoast Maine.  I think the label has a bit more of a rural vibe these days as we are living very close to the land, growing most of our own food.  Also, Time Lag Records is close by & they give us lots of record mailers to re-use & turn us on to sounds that we might miss out on.  We live with Clare Hubbard who does Sax Wand Records.  She developed our website & has helped us to reach out more as a label in the digital age.  Without her help we wouldn’t have been able to have a website, so that has influenced what we do too.

QRD – Do you enjoy music as much now as you used to & how has running a label effected how you listen to/hear music? 

Dan – We all still enjoy music a ton, maybe more than ever.  We do lots of trades with other labels so our house is filled with records, which I’m very grateful for. Touring with our bands keeps us deep in the used record bins too, so we are frequently getting blown away by random stuff that we might not have gotten to hear if we never left the house.

QRD – What’s your demos policy? 

Dan – Send us your demo, & if we LOVE it maybe we could release it.

QRD – How do you find out about new artists for your label? 

Dan – We do shows in our barn & I co-curate 2 music festivals per year. Also, as I said before, we tour often so are exposed to a lot of new bands that way. That said though, we generally try to stick to releasing records by bands that we are friends with or that are friends of friends.

QRD – How do most fans find out about your label? 

Dan – I suppose by picking up a record that we released at a live show.  Also work of mouth.  Word of mouth is big.  We do some minimal advertising & have a newsletter.

QRD – What’s been your biggest selling release & why do you think it was? 

Dan – The Uke of Spaces Corners releases are our biggest sellers.  Next is Shep & Me.  C Section 8 is a good seller.  Impractical Cockpit is next.  We sell more of these records because these aforementioned bands have been putting out interesting quality records & touring for almost a decade now.  Actually, Impractical Cockpit just turned 12 years old.  Also, Mississippi Records distributes the Uke of Spaces, & Shep & me releases & that helps a ton.

QRD – What release that you’ve done was the most important & special to you personally? 

Dan – I would say the Impractical Cockpit 12”, “Facilidad?”  Andy actually put this one out.  Load Records was supposed to do it, but flaked.  It seemed like it was never going to see the light of day & I personally think that it is Impractical Cockpit’s magnum opus, so I’m glad it came out.  Glad we could make it happen.

QRD – What are some things that make you want to work with a band? 

Dan – They have to be nice ya know.  We have no time for jerks.  It helps too if they are going to be around for a while.  If they are motivated & passionate about what they do.  & then they have to make music that is exciting, new, innovative, & be able to communicate those ideas on to tape so to speak.  A lot of the bands that we work with are artists & musicians, so that adds up to a really complete & positive experience & makes for a nice release in the end.

QRD – What are some things that would make you stop working with a band? 

Dan – If they were unhappy with what we could do for them.  If they were making music we didn’t like.

QRD – What is the thing all releases on your label have in common? 

Dan – They come from a DIY perspective.  When I say that I am mostly referring to the fact that most of the records we release are recorded by the bands.  Intimate home recordings.  Produced by the musicians that write the songs.  Along with that I’d say that most of the bands are motivated completely by the love of music & the desire to communicate their ideas.  We are here to help get those ideas out there.

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? 

Dan – Generally a band creates an album & we release it as created verbatim.  There are exceptions.  If the music needs mastering there are various mastering & post production artists that we work with, depending on the sonic aspects of the material. 

QRD – How involved do you like to be in the artwork design for a release?

Dan – It’s fun to do the art & reproduce it.  The three of us do a lot of the art & reproduction.  Band members have printed a lot of the art as well & my mother has done some of the art.

QRD – How long is it from when an artist delivers an album to you until release date & why?

Dan – Can be 3 months or 3 years. Almost all the aspects of making a record take 3 times as long as you would think. There are a lot of people involved through out every step.

QRD – If a band breaks up between the recording of a release & the release date, how does that effect what you do? 

Dan – It never has effected what we do.

QRD – What do you wish bands on your label would do? 

Dan – Make new & beautifully challenging music.

QRD – What’s a record you’d like to put out that you’ll never be able to? 

Dan – Harry Partch & Moon Dog Collaboration.

QRD – If you really like a band, but aren’t sure you could sell many copies of their record; what do you do? 

Dan – In the past we’ve put the record out.  We will probably continue to do this.

QRD – How is financing of a release split between artists & the label? 

Dan – We normally give the band 10% of the copies of a record.  If they make & reproduce all the art they get another 1/3 or 1/2 of the copies.  It depends on the circumstances.

QRD – How do you split profits from a release between artists & your label? 

Dan – We’ve never done better than breaking even on a release.  I’d love to be able to pay bands, but at this point we just aren’t that financially successful.

QRD – Do you have written contracts with your bands or handshake deals? 

Dan – Handshake deals.

QRD – Do you take a cut of a band’s publishing? 

Dan – No.

QRD – How important is it to you to have touring acts on your roster & what do you do to encourage it? 

Dan – We prefer if bands we release are touring; it helps sell records & get them out there.  Often if someone is touring, they are playing a lot & thus turning out solid releases.  We help our bands book shows & make connections with venues.

QRD – Do you handle promotions in house or hire out & why? 

Dan – We send out review copies to radio stations, record reviewers, etc.  That’s the extent of the promotion we do, because we don’t have time or monies to do more.

QRD – How do you maintain contact with your fanbase?

Dan – Touring, releasing music. ESP! 

QRD – Do you have intern & street team programs & if so, how do they operate? 

Dan – No.

QRD – How big of a staff do you have & how big of one do you need? 

Dan – 3. 3.

QRD – What do you do to build relationships with record stores? 

Dan – By traveling & visiting.  Playing shows in record stores.  Mailing posters & ads to stores.

QRD – What do you do to build relationships with radio stations? 

Dan – Turned Word bands play live on the radio & we also send music to stations.

QRD – What do you do to build relationships with magazines & websites? 

Dan – We trade records with other labels & send promos to magazines & websites, blogs, etc.

QRD – What do you do to build relationships with bloggers? 

Dan – We just started doing a blog. http://ukeofspacescorners.blogspot.com

QRD – Do you view advertisements as a way to generate interest & revenue or more as a way to financially support magazines & websites you like? 

Dan – Both. If we could afford it we would do way more advertising, as a way to communicate & advertise.

QRD – What is the job of your distributors? 

Dan – Get our records out to the world. 

QRD – How do you decide how big the initial pressing of a release should be? 

Dan – Depends on the release.  Depends on how much $ we have at the time & how many copies of previous releases we have leftover, how much storage space we have.

QRD – What percentage of a pressing do you use for promotions? 

Dan – Roughly 20%.

QRD – Do you sell merchandise other than the music (t-shirts, etc.)? 

Dan – Sometimes we distro zines, art, stuff like that.

QRD – Do you sell music that is not on your label? 

Dan – We occasionally sell releases by Domino Sound & Mississippi Records.  In the past, Friends & Relatives as well.

QRD – How has running a label effected your own artistic career? 

Dan – I release more of my own music on the label, so it has become a good avenue for that.

QRD – Ideally, would you release your own material? 

Dan – Yes.

QRD – What do you do to try to build a sense of community within your roster? 

Dan – Really we’re all pretty much friends.  We release music by people that we are friends with or become friends with.  It’s all part of the communication & part of our business model so to speak.  Releasing music is a form of communication like speaking, singing, or sign language.  That’s why we release records, to build community, meet folks, & stay in touch with those we already know.

QRD – What’s your most common conversation with bands as far as balancing artistic integrity & financial viability? 

Dan – Basically we always tell bands that we will give them a cut of the vinyl or cassettes & that’s the best we can do.  We are doing such small runs, of pretty difficult music, so bands understand this.

QRD – How often do you look at your “return on investment” & adjust your business model? 

Dan – Rarely.  Maybe instead of pressing 600 records we would do 800, because the profit margin is greater with 800. Beyond that we don’t think about these types of things much. I suppose that’s why we’ve never been able to make a profit.  We try not to let financial woes bog down the artistic integrity of the label.

QRD – Do you worry about search engine optimization & website traffic? 

Dan – No.

QRD – What have you done to cut costs over the years? 

Dan – Make most everything by hand.  Use a cheap pressing plant.  Duplicate tapes & CDRs ourselves.  Reuse materials.

QRD – Do you think the album format is dead? 

Dan – Not at all.  We love making albums, we love listening to albums, holding them, enjoying them.

QRD – Do you think the return of vinyl & cassettes is a fad? 

Dan – Not really.  People have always made vinyl, at least for the past half a century.  It wanes & waxes. Sure you can sell more copies of both of these formats right now than one could 3 years ago; but honestly, in the past 12 years, we have never had a hard time selling cassettes.  People love them.  Tapes are still a relatively new thing in the grand scheme of recorded sound.  We have always made tapes cause they are affordable, the peoples format. Now CDs are kinda the peoples format.

QRD – Is it important to have physical releases over digital ones or does it not matter? 

Dan – Yes.

QRD – What do you think of ultra-limited runs of releases (less than 100 discs)? 

Dan – Sometimes it’s hard to find more than 50 people that want some of our releases. That’s mostly why we do limited releases.

QRD – What do you think of “print on demand” discs? 

Dan – They are good for some bands/labels.

QRD – How much content do you feel should be available free to fans? 

Dan – Whatever the label & bands can afford I guess. I personally don’t like staring at a computer so I don’t end up making much of the music I release free via the internet. I’m more interested in creating physical albums.  No one should have to owe anyone anything.  If fans want free music, then they should buy the record & make it downloadable for everyone else.  Long story short, people shouldn’t expect free downloads.  Nor should they expect free records.  Not that I’m opposed to our music being free to everyone, I just don’t have time to make that a priority.  I’d rather weed the garden.

QRD – What do you do about people distributing your music without financial compensation (piracy & file trading)? 

Dan – We don’t care. We encourage it.

QRD – What’s something you see other labels do that you think of as borderline unethical? 

Dan – I don’t really pay attention.

QRD – What changes in things would cause you to stop your label? 

Dan – If I couldn’t find a day job to support it.

QRD – What would you suggest to someone starting a label today? 

Dan – Go for it.  It’s fun.  You don’t need to make money to be successful.

QRD – Where do you think money is currently most available to labels/musicians & where in the future? 

Dan – At shows, live events.

QRD – Why do you think labels are still important to artists? 

Dan – Because not every band or musician has an interest in releasing a record.  For some people they might not have the time or money.

QRD – Music has had different hotspots on the internet over the years (newsgroups, MP3.com, MySpace, LastFM), but with MySpace’s decline, what do you see as the place where “normal” people go to find out about & get excited by new music? 

Dan – Bars, basements, live shows.

QRD – In 20 years what do you think/hope your label will be known/remembered for? 

Dan – Releasing inspiring music.

QRD – Anything else? 

Dan – That looks good & is affordable.