with Indie Label Owner Ben Link Collins of Silent Media
Name: Ben Link Collins
QRD – When & why did you start your label?
Ben – First I should mention that Silent Media isn’t really a music label. We’re a platform for limited edition interdisciplinary art projects, some of which won’t have any audio at all. I think the official “I started Silent Media” date is April 15th, 2011, my little sister’s (Lilly) 20th birthday. I started Silent Media because I’ve never felt like my own interests fit into one medium & for artists like myself, there’s not an avenue for interdisciplinary projects. Some record labels will do special releases with nice packaging & maybe some bit of writing or imagery as supplemental to the sound, there are a few publishers that will toss a CD in a book from time to time as a special freebee incentive to buy the product; but as far as I’ve found, there’s no one who will consistently choose a concept & see how that concept shakes down through different avenues of expression. Basically, I see a hole in the art world & I’m trying to fill it.
QRD – Where did you get the money to finance your first few releases?
Ben – Coupling: Dedicated to the Man & based on the Work of Stan Brakhage was almost entirely paid for with credit & a bunch of scrounging & saving. Imaginary magic money.
– How many releases have
you put out?
Ben – One: Coupling: Dedicated to the Man & based on the Work of Stan Brakhage. It’s a CD & book of images with work from 26 artists focusing their creative minds on the experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage. It came out beautifully, if I may toot my own horn a bit.
– How many releases
would you like to do a year?
Ben – At the moment, one release a year seems like it’ll max Silent Media out on money & able hands willing to put the love & effort into creating releases up to my standards. More would be good, but right now Silent Media is under a year old & it’s hard to say where we’ll be in a year or two.
QRD – How many hours a week do you work on the label & how many would you like to?
Ben – I really don’t consider it work, yet. Maybe it’s because I haven’t be doing it long enough, but I still get excited every time I sit down to broaden the scope of Silent Media’s borders. Right now I spend between 5 & 30 hours a week, depending on what’s going on otherwise. It’s a labor of love, really. I have so many ideas myself & others come to me with ideas all the time, so there’s no doubt I could spend upwards of 60 hours a week on it & would be perfectly happy as long as my pesky body & mind didn’t need rest & relaxation.
QRD – What are the fun &/or rewarding parts about running a label?
Ben – Creating something that I’m proud of & that other’s appreciate.
QRD – How have your motivations for having a label changed?
Ben – Well, I’ve definitely been focusing on the making money side of things as of the last month. Though, I think the root of my motivations are still generally the same. I was telling a friend recently that I feel like I’m pregnant with big ideas all the time. The most gratifying thing about Silent Media is having a means to give birth to those ideas & encouraging artists to think about how their art is presented to the world. It seems like such a tragedy to develop one side of a concept & then let the industry standards fill in the blanks for how your idea is presented. I like interacting with well thought out artifacts & it kills me to listen to a CD & then pop it back in it’s crappy jewel case, or finish a book & go stick it on the shelf with all the rest of the spines glaring back. I want to bring the art galleries to your home. That was my motivation when I started & less than 6 months later, that is still my motivation.
QRD – What do you feel is the biggest waste of your time running the label?
– The only time I’ve
felt like I’ve wasted my time is when I’ve not followed my intuition
tried to fill in the blanks with the traditional means.
Though, hopefully I learned my lesson &
that time will turn out to not have been wasted at all.
Ben – Crouton Music had some absolutely beautiful executed ideas. McSweeney’s has impressed me several times with their holistic approaches, too. Other than that, there are more artists that I feel a kinship to than companies.
QRD – What other work experiences prepared you to have a label?
– My time with SILBER
RECORDS!!! I put
compilations & did a lot of gathering of information for
& stuff like that. Brian
taught me a lot about what it takes to coordinate artists &
work so it doesn’t end up hanging out in my living room for a decade. Though, whether I really
lessons or not has yet to be seen.
Ben – That it’s not a label & that no two releases will be presented the same way. Silent Media looks at different means of creating & presenting ideas. Each release will be a unique work of art. Silent Media is unique in that there will be no recognizable pattern beyond well thought out projects that are a pleasure to interact with.
QRD – How has your physical location effected your label?
Ben – I can’t say the home base location, small & rural Taos, NM, really effects Silent Media much. The internet getting information around the world in the blink of an eye.
QRD – Do you enjoy music as much now as you used to & how has running a label effected how you listen to/hear music?
Ben – Absolutely, I enjoy music & art just as much as before, if not more. I’ve always felt that I had a purpose for searching out new art. Now I call that purpose “Silent Media.” I search for new art more vigorously, in fact!
– What’s your demos
Ben – I don’t have one. Nor have I really started receiving any. Mostly, the plans for future releases have been through friends & friends of friends & so on. In fact, the next two releases, that will most likely take another year & a half, are already lined up & I can’t really see doing more than that in the next two years. A few folks have contacted me since Coupling came out wanting me to release their next CD, but usually they have no idea what sort of projects Silent Media is looking for. So, if I were to lay down a policy now, it would be to give Silent Media the consideration you, as an artist, expect from Silent Media. Look at what we’re interested in & then decide if you think you have something to offer. We won’t re-release your CD. We won’t publish your novel & organize your book signing tour at Barnes & Noble. Silent Media does interdisciplinary art projects. That’s our “policy.”
QRD – How do you find out about new artists for your label?
Ben – Internet, word of mouth & generally pursuing my own interests.
QRD – How do most fans find out about your label?
Ben – Word of mouth, right now. Hopefully through reviews & media coverage, in the future.
QRD – What’s been your biggest selling release & why do you think it was?
Ben – I only have one release & it’s sales really aren’t anything to brag about… yet.
QRD – What release that you've done was the most important & special to you personally?
– Well, since Coupling is the only
important to me because it’s the first, & because I’m so proud
of how it
Ben – Their approach to sound & their openness to other mediums.
QRD – What are some things that would make you stop working with a band?
Ben – They will all be something to marvel at & show to your kids in 30 years. Or, if you don’t have kids, you can show them to yourself again & crack a satisfied smile.
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?
Ben – As active as I need to be. For now, there are really no boundaries beyond time & energy. I’ve been helping artists whose work I like to book shows, find galleries, get in touch with other like minded artists, all with nothing for Silent Media to gain other than to help those artists feed their means. For Coupling, I did all the graphic design, & involved myself in as many ways as I saw necessary & interesting. Other people, my brother Josh, Jerstin Crosby, Joel Fry, Shalis (my wife) & countless others helped me enormously, too. The bottom line is, Silent Media is just as much about being involved with the art world & making things happen, helping artists find avenues to reach others, & generally furthering the growth of art in our environment as it is about putting together releases & selling them.
QRD – How involved do you like to be in the artwork design for a release?
Ben – See previous response.
QRD – How long is it from when an artist delivers an album to you until release date & why?
Ben – As long as it takes to make it good, because it’s not worth doing unless it’s done well.
QRD – If a band breaks up between the recording of a release & the release date, how does that effect what you do?
Ben – Depends on the band & how much money has been put into the release. I’ve never experienced that, but I would imagine it would be a case by case basis.
QRD – What do you wish bands on your label would do?
Ben – Make more, think more, listen more, try their hands at other means of expression, & find value in what they do.
QRD – What’s a record you’d like to put out that you’ll never be able to?
Ben – This is a hard question because I can’t see myself re-releasing anything. There are some that are inspiring to me that I wish I had thought of. Runar Magnusson has a beautiful little bamboo box containing a bamboo encased flash drive on which is loads of amazing music, videos, & some pretty hilarious images. I wish I had thought of that format & might use it anyway. I’m always enamored with the production that goes into the The Hafler Trio pieces. I also think it would be a cool idea to put out a book of images from some of the experimental architects & theorists that I like with a CD of audio compositions composed to be played in some of those selected spaces.
QRD – If you really like a band, but aren’t sure you could sell many copies of their record; what do you do?
Ben – Release their music on a DVD with stop animation videos to accompany the sound, & every year, on the summer solstice, place one copy in a sturdy space traveling vessel & shoot it at the stars...duh.
QRD – How is financing of a release split between artists & the label?
Ben – Case by case basis, I suppose.
QRD – How do you split profits from a release between artists & your label?
Ben – I give the artists everything I can.
QRD – Do you have written contracts with your bands or handshake deals?
Ben – Usually I require either a right pinky toe, or 15% of their crops every year for 5 years.
QRD – Do you take a cut of a band’s publishing?
Ben – No, but I do require that they let me do a Balalaika solo on their next album if they make some money.
QRD – How important is it to you to have touring acts on your roster & what do you do to encourage it?
– It’s not
particularly important to me, but I encourage folks to do it if they
QRD – How do you maintain contact with your fanbase?
Ben – Telephone, e-mail, facebook, reviews, Saatchi, et cetera. Silent Media hasn’t been around long enough to have a true fan base. Beyond an e-mail list, I can’t say that I do any one activity specifically to maintain contact at the moment.
QRD – Do you have intern & street team programs & if so, how do they operate?
– I wouldn’t call
them programs, or interns for that matter.
As I stated above, I have friends & family
who have graciously help
me out from time to time. Though,
the deluge of work I’ve run into recently, I have considered starting
Ben – My staff is more of a collective, I think... friends & family. I need all the help I can get.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with record stores?
Ben – I buy things & annoy the people behind the counter about things they don’t carry. Record stores aren’t really a focus for Silent Media.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with radio stations?
Ben – I like to call in & request the studio recording of John Cage’s 4’33”.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with magazines & websites?
Ben – I’ve sent Coupling to several for reviews. There are also a few I’m looking at for ads, but nothing out of the ordinary.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with bloggers?
Ben – Bug them about reviews.
QRD – Do you view advertisements as a way to generate interest & revenue or more as a way to financially support magazines & websites you like?
Ben – Both, being I only consider the ones that I would be interested in reading, or at least do respectable work.
QRD – What is the job of your distributors?
Ben – To sell what I sell them & redirect buyers to me when they sell out.
QRD – How do you decide how big the initial pressing of a release should be?
Ben – I don’t really have a science for it, but partially based on how many I think I can sell, partially based on the undertaking itself, i.e. the more involved the packaging & production, the fewer I’m probably going to have made/make. I’d be a liar if I didn’t mention money as a factor, too.
QRD – What percentage of a pressing do you use for promotions?
Ben – Still figuring it out, really. Right now, I’m guessing around 10%-20%, but it depends on the release.
QRD – Do you sell merchandise other than the music (t-shirts, etc.)?
Ben – Some t-shirts are in the works, sort of, but, right now, no.
QRD – Do you sell music that is not on your label?
Ben – No.
QRD – How has running a label effected your own artistic career?
Ben – It’s put the heat on, for sure. I have less time to work on my own personal projects. Dividing my focus makes it a little hard. Though, I find that there’s a nice medium of activity in my life that makes my productivity peak. It’s somewhere below where I am now, & above where I was before starting Silent Media. Though, after I finish a few things in my near future, I think I’ll find a nice medium.
QRD – Ideally, would you release your own material?
Ben – Sure. In fact, the next Silent Media release is a collaboration between myself & the poet, Joel Fry. I feel like I’m going to have to pave the way for Silent Media a bit in terms of what it’s all about.
QRD – What do you do to try to build a sense of community within your roster?
Ben – Late night drunken phone calls & crude comments on their facebook pages.
QRD – What’s your most common conversation with bands as far as balancing artistic integrity & financial viability?
Ben – Do what interests you & to hell with what people want. If it doesn’t sell, we’ll send it to the stars!
QRD – How often do you look at your "return on investment" & adjust your business model?
Ben – I did it for the first time today. I’ll probably do it again in a month or two, when the burn from exposure dies down a bit.
QRD – Do you worry about search engine optimization & website traffic?
Ben – Yes, Silent Media’s website is probably the most struggling aspect of the whole enterprise, at the moment. I know almost zero html & most of the people I know that care about Silent Media’s efforts are equally oblivious or are just as busy if not more busy than I am. I tend to be all about “do-it-yourself” (thanks Collins Supply) approaches, but I might have to drop $50 to have someone spend the 15 minutes it undoubtedly takes to fix the stupid problems I’m having.
QRD – What have you done to cut costs over the years?
Ben – Years? I recently found that I can get envelopes for much cheaper on e-bay. Thanks Brian!
QRD – Do you think the album format is dead?
Ben – Not to me & not to a lot of people I know. I think that value in artifacts is generally suffering. Typically people experience their music, their art, & now even their books through one medium, the computer. The recent surge of interest in vinyl & cassette releases is symptomatic of a backlash from people craving artifacts. I see modern culture experiencing an overwhelming acceleration of information & a resulting lack of emphasis on all but the most sensational portions of that information. The art world is being challenged to either adapt & in a lot of ways it has started, but nothing has really stepped out from the pack. I think (hope) that what we’ll find five years from now is that the internet will be utilized as a means of artistic expression instead of an avenue for people to homogenize their art made elsewhere; or a broader means of artistic expression will evolve that is capable of addressing the brevity of modern culture. To say the album is dead is really just saying that the means of addressing & interacting with music is dead. To re-address the question: Is the album dead, or is it simply evolving?
QRD – Do you think the return of vinyl & cassettes is a fad?
Ben – I suppose I’ve somewhat answered this in my response previously, but I will add that I don’t think that it’s a fad if you consider what’s driving it & the directional aspect of the big picture. CDs led to music being tied to the computer, for most people. The return to vinyl & cassettes is a backlash to the devaluing of a musical experience. Songs are passed around & change formats so easily that they’ve lost the sense of investment of time & physical interaction. As I stated above, music has been homogenized on the computer. I find it interesting that a lot of vinyl releases also come with a free digital download. This tells me that people want convenience, but don’t want to let go of the value inherent to the thing associated with their musical experience.
QRD – Is it important to have physical releases over digital ones or does it not matter?
Ben – Indeed, it matters. The question for me is whether the value in the thing, in the artifact, will evolve to a point that it can compete with the value of convenience & portability? Do they continue to grow in opposite directions & therefore to address an increasingly segregated audience or do they find common ground?
QRD – What do you think of ultra-limited runs of releases (less than 100 discs)?
Ben – I’m not sure. I have some that are very rare, but are boring & not worth listening to. I have others, that I’m about to wear out & I can’t get another copy. I think that limited edition releases can create a covetous response, but I personally put more emphasis on the quality of the work.
QRD – What do you think of "print on demand" discs?
Ben – I can’t say I have had much thought about “print on demand” discs.
QRD – How much content do you feel should be available free to fans?
– It’s a case by case
basis. I have no
means to quantify what
that is for everyone. So,
not so much
that folks just expect free shit all the time & not so little
can’t even get an idea about what you do before making a purchase.
Ben – I drive to their homes & film them while they sleep. Then I leave the video in their mailbox for them to view the next morning.
QRD – What’s something you see other labels do that you think of as borderline unethical?
Ben – I’m offended by any company that is more interested in making money than doing something they care about. Then again, I generally find their products uninspiring & don’t support them anyway.
QRD – What changes in things would cause you to stop your label?
Ben – Consider how you represent yourself & the work of others to the world. Never eat anything bigger than your head.
QRD – Where do you think money is currently most available to labels/musicians & where in the future?
Ben – Pop.
– Why do you think
labels are still important to artists?
Ben – Because the good ones allow the artist to focus on their art & encourage/enable them to present their art to the world with integrity.
– 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?
Ben – Is last.fm declining? I must be behind the times. Hopefully they start to value what labels & artists have to offer - good’ole research & keyboard pounding. If people are really interested in seeking out new art, they will do it by whatever means necessary. I watch favorite labels, read reviews, see who’s working with who, who got thanked where, & who’s touring with who... not to mention shows. I can’t really speak for anyone else.
QRD – In 20 years what do you think/hope your label will be known/remembered for?
– Can’t say I’ve
thought about it or even care. I
what I do because it’s an avenue for me to pursue my interests
& help other
people pursue theirs. I
guess you could
say that if Silent Media is successful, it will sustain itself
simultaneously remain Silent.
– Way to end on 69