with Bryan Day of Public Eyesore & Eh?
Name: Bryan Day
Label: Public Eyesore / Eh?
City: Richmond, CA
Artists Roster: Many Arms, Toshimaru Nakamura, Tetuzi Akiyama, Anla Courtis, Jack Wright, Amy Denio, P-We Yoshimi, Period, Pretty Monsters, Normal Love, Cactus Truck, Jad Fair, Nels Cline, Elliott Sharp, Little Fyodor, Alan Sondheim, Monotract...
QRD – When & why did you start your label?
Bryan – I started the label in 1997 in Decorah, Iowa, soon after graduating high school & just after I started doing home recordings. I met a number of people who seemed interested in what I was doing through IRC chats about experimental music & while corresponding through mail order catalogs, so I decided a label would be the way to keep organized & so I would have something to trade.
QRD – Where did you get the money to finance your first few releases?
Bryan – I’ve almost always paid for releases from out of pocket.
QRD – How many releases have you put out?
Bryan – 130 on Public Eyesore. 84 on Eh? there was another short lived sublabel O.M. that had 12 releases. So that makes 226 releases.
QRD – How many releases would you like to do a year?
Bryan – Ideally, I’d do 4 or 5 CD/vinyl releases on Public Eyesore & about the same number of cassette/CD-R releases on Eh?.
QRD – How many hours a week do you work on the label & how many would you like to?
Bryan – I spend about 4 hours a week on it, unless I’m working on a new releases, which can take much more time.
QRD – What are the fun &/or rewarding parts about running a label?
Bryan – Listening to demos can be fun. I also like organizing tours & events. I’ve always had fun touring with & performing with people I’ve met by running the label. It makes it very easy to travel.
QRD – How do you feel labels are more & less useful to artists now than they were five years ago?
Bryan – I think that labels are not quite as useful these days, because many organizations that would historically deal primarily with labels are now working with individual artists as well. If an artist has a good strategy & the persistence needed to promote an album, they can be very effective. I also think that there are many ways, other than seeing what label an artist is on, to quickly determine the artistic merit of an artist or project.
QRD – How have your motivations for having a label changed over time?
Bryan – I used to use the label, more so than my own work, as a way of working with other artists. These days the label is very much in the background. It’s still nice to be able to have new albums to sell & trade, but I’m much more focused on my own artwork these days.
QRD – What do you feel is the biggest waste of your time running the label?
Bryan – Trying to get rock & popular music media interested in experimental music. I think it goes in & out of the public eye, but there will have to be a major cultural shift before it is really appreciated in the same sense as popular music. It’s still an acquired taste for most people. I can’t imagine many grandmothers in oven mitts playing Merzbow albums while baking banana bread for their grandchildren.
QRD – What are some labels you admire or feel a kinship to?
Bryan – ESP Disk, Cuneiform, Pogus, Zeromoon, Digitalis, Pilgrim Talk, Unread, Friends & Relatives
QRD – What other work experiences prepared you to have a label?
Bryan – Nothing really. I started when I was very young.
QRD – What makes your label special & unique?
Bryan – The amount of experimentation & persistence I’ve put into the label. I’ve released a lot of stuff by artists no one would really touch, just because there was something indescribable that made them feel like a perfect fit. I’ve released some first releases by artists who became rather well known & organized tours that really helped start or rekindle music careers.
QRD – How has your physical location effected your label?
Bryan – I’ve almost always lived in places far from any substantial music scene, in rural Iowa & in Nebraska. Because of that, I’ve never felt any pressure by peers to release anything from any specific genre of experimental music. That’s led to the label releasing things all over the avant-music spectrum, from conceptual works with very little audio to things more akin to black metal & avant folk. I really have a soft spot for crude home-recordings & artists who seem completely oblivious to their place in the music world. Plus, I’ve released a whole slew of free improv albums by communities of artists that were, at many times, unaware of each other.
QRD – Do you enjoy music as much now as you used to & how has running a label effected how you listen to/hear music?
Bryan – I’ve become a bit jaded & now that I live in the San Francisco area it has become a bit more pronounced. Yes, it can be a bit more difficult to be excited about music. The over-saturation of the music market really takes away the novelty & it’s the easy access to information that really kills the mystique of a lot of the music & art world.
QRD – What’s your demos policy?
Bryan – I accept demos, but for the most part I’ve only released music by people I already know.
QRD – How do you find out about new artists for your label?
Bryan – It used to be that most of the people I released were connected to each other somehow. In the last 8 years I have done quite a bit of touring, so I have met a number of artists who ended up on the label that way.
QRD – How do most fans find out about your label?
Bryan – I think they hear about it through music reviews or being friends or fans of the artists. I get a lot of people coming to the site from scattered mentions on more popular music blogs.
QRD – What’s been your biggest selling release & why do you think it was?
Bryan – Either the Elliott Sharp/Nels Cline album or Pretty Monsters. The Nels Cline one because of his success in Wilco, the Pretty Monsters one because we had hired a publicist for that release. & because they are both really good.
QRD – What release that you’ve done was the most important & special to you personally?
Bryan – The album “Brand New For China” by the Dutch/American trio Cactus Truck was pretty important for me. After putting out the album I went on a long tour with them across the US, & got to experience them destroying venue after venue with their intensity. Soon after, I moved to San Francisco.
QRD – What are some things that make you want to work with a band?
Bryan – A connection to the music I make or the art scenes I am involved with.
QRD – What are some things that would make you stop working with a band?
Bryan – When the artists start displaying a ridiculous sense of over-importance.
QRD – What is the thing all releases on your label have in common?
Bryan – I think all of the music I have released has been adventurous.
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?
Bryan – I’ve been involved in the mixing & mastering of some releases & I have been asked to listen to rough versions of albums & help edit on others. I recently mixed down a three-hour session of Audrey Chen & Id M ‘Theft’ Able recorded at Steim in Amsterdam for an upcoming release.
QRD – How involved do you like to be in the artwork design for a release?
Bryan – Until recently, I did all the artwork on the label. Drawings & paintings. These days I do less than half, just to give the artwork a bit more variety & because my focus these days has been sculpture & multimedia pieces that don’t translate well into cover artwork. I still usually do the final layout & typesetting.
QRD – How long is it from when an artist delivers an album to you until release date & why?
Bryan – It varies a lot. Usually less than a year, but in the past when I made less money at my day job, sometimes it was longer.
QRD – If a band breaks up between the recording of a release & the release date, how does that effect what you do?
Bryan – I haven’t really had that happen, so not sure. I guess it wouldn’t make much difference because most of the ensembles on the label are pretty informal. I’d still try to get it reviewed & get radio play.
QRD – What do you wish bands on your label would do?
Bryan – Come up with a strategy for getting the album heard.
QRD – What’s a record you’d like to put out that you’ll never be able to?
Bryan – There are plenty of collaborations between pivotal figures in the avant-garde music world that have never been released because as a whole they aren’t really that great. But there are great parts of some of them. I’d love to put together a compilation of the best of those sessions. But I know from asking, that most of these sessions seem off limits.
QRD – If you really like a band, but aren’t sure you could sell many copies of their record; what do you do?
Bryan – Release it.
QRD – How is financing of a release split between artists & the label?
Bryan – It varies. Usually I pay for the whole thing, but lately I’ve been splitting the cost with the artists for some of the releases.
QRD – How do you split profits from a release between artists & your label?
Bryan – It depends on the amount of money I invest in it.
QRD – Do you have written contracts with your bands or handshake deals?
Bryan – Very few contracts, mostly handshake deals.
QRD – Do you take a cut of a band’s publishing?
Bryan – Nope.
QRD – How important is it to you to have touring acts on your roster & what do you do to encourage it?
Bryan – It’s not that important, but has happened frequently in the last few years. I’ve helped organize a number of tours for artists on the label. I make sure that they have CDs & merch & more if they need.
QRD – Do you handle promotions in house or hire out & why?
Bryan – I usually handle it unless the band has someone already lined up.
QRD – How do you maintain contact with your fanbase?
Bryan – Mailing lists & Facebook pages.
QRD – Do you have intern & street team programs & if so, how do they operate?
Bryan – Nope. Since I’ve lived in places without scenes, there hasn’t been much in the way of local promotion. Lately, I have been organizing a lot of shows separately from the label & have been doing most of the local promo myself.
QRD – How big of a staff do you have & how big of one do you need?
Bryan – Me. I’ve had some help at times, but for the most part it has just been me.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with record stores?
Bryan – I have a number of stores that will sell everything I send them. Some of them pay up front as well. But for the most part it’s a consignment kind of arrangement. Stores sometimes buy from our distributors as well.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with radio stations?
Bryan – I have a number of friends who have been in the business for a long time that I send music to. Every so often I go through the radio station listings online & look for new places that might be interested in the label. I helped run a radio station for a while, so I know how it goes.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with magazines & websites?
Bryan – There are a few magazines & online sites that have been around since I started. The label & certain magazines used to be really connected. I used to discover artists to work with just from reading music reviews in these zines & they would feature those artists after I released albums by them. These days, not so much. Most of the more organized publications are fizzling out, I think the music critics are struggling to find new things to say about a scene that has become over-saturated with a lot of the same old things.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with bloggers?
Bryan – I’ve been pretty bad at this one. I have a handful of bloggers that have reached out to me, but it’s hard to keep track.
QRD – Do you view advertisements as a way to generate interest & revenue or more as a way to financially support magazines & websites you like?
Bryan – I think it’s pretty random. I don’t think it’s likely that a random visitor to the site will remain engaged & buy something from a scene they know very little about.
QRD – What is the job of your distributors?
Bryan – They get some of the albums into stores & try to pump up the ones that might sell. & the online ones get it into the online retailers.
QRD – How do you decide how big the initial pressing of a release should be?
Bryan – I always start at 1000. I’ve repressed only a few.
QRD – What percentage of a pressing do you use for promotions?
Bryan – 20%.
QRD – Do you sell merchandise other than the music (t-shirts, etc.)?
Bryan – Every now & then I’ll make t-shirts for an artist or the label. The last one was a Dennis Palmer designed t-shirt we had for sale last year.
QRD – Do you sell music that is not on your label?
Bryan – Not really. I think the last time I got something to sell for another label was a huge pack of CDs from Koji Tano’s MSBR & Flenix records back in 2001.
QRD – How has running a label effected your own artistic career?
Bryan – Dramatically. I started my art career going into the field of illustration. Soon after starting the label I started getting involved with sculpture, sound sculpture, installation art, with my focus moving away from sci-fi surrealism & comic art to Dada, Fluxus conceptual art... The label has really served as guide for my own artistic practices.
QRD – Ideally, would you release your own material?
Bryan – Only now & then. For me, part of the idea of a label is to serve as a critical filter. Encouraging the flow of better art & preventing the dissemination of lesser works. It seems like a conflict of interests to regularly release my own material.
QRD – What do you do to try to build a sense of community within your roster?
Bryan – I used to frequently try to arrange for collaborations between artists on the label. I tried rather frequently in the early 2000s. The Jorge Castro & Carlos Giffoni album was a result of that. But recently, with Facebook & the internet, most of the people I release albums by are already somehow acquainted with each other.
QRD – What’s your most common conversation with bands as far as balancing artistic integrity & financial viability?
Bryan – I don’t really feel there is ever much of an issue with artistic integrity versus money with Public Eyesore. I typically spend most of the money & make only a fraction in return.
QRD – How often do you look at your “return on investment” & adjust your business model?
Bryan – It’s hard to get much of a return these days. Online distribution pays so little & CDs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. My business model is pretty much: release albums when I can & don’t expect much back.
QRD – Do you worry about search engine optimization & website traffic?
Bryan – I keep track of website traffic after new releases, but after that I don’t pay much attention. I get a lot of visitors from articles relating to new albums & from the better music reviews. I also get a lot of random Google searches that hit my page. The most popular being a porn search for “Public Fuckers” usually from South Asia or the Middle East. My site pops up because I released an album by the Osaka scum band Ultra-Fuckers in the mid 2000s.
QRD – What have you done to cut costs over the years?
Bryan – Not much.
QRD – Do you think the album format is dead?
Bryan – Perhaps, but I don’t think that the kind of stuff I release is really catering to the type of person who cares.
QRD – Do you think the return of vinyl & cassettes is a fad?
Bryan – I think it all is a fad. I think that people’s tastes change over time based on what is perceived as popular. I think that tapes & vinyl have been hyped quite a bit over the last decade. I think vinyl is more impressive than CDs in its artwork & packaging & tapes have a retro nostalgic quality. The sound quality differs in such a way that people appreciate the difference. People are always looking for novelty.
QRD – Is it important to have physical releases over digital ones or does it not matter?
Bryan – I think it did matter. I think that supplying more art & a tangible object gives a more substantial impression of the artist’s statement, whether honestly or not. I think people have adjusted to not having packaging for their releases.
QRD – What do you think of ultra-limited runs of releases (less than 100 discs)?
Bryan – I think they are valid. Especially if they are by artists whose work is in demand. They become collectors’ items. I’m not sure there is much point in limiting the number of copies of an artist that is unknown, especially when it effects the number of reviews & radio play.
QRD – What do you think of “print on demand” discs?
Bryan – I like that model. It means everything is always available, so people might accidentally pick up on the importance of an album later on if it continues to get mailed out. It does lack the boldness of limited edition releases, but I think they can be more useful as promotional items that way.
QRD – How much content do you feel should be available free to fans?
Bryan – I think it’s probably all right if albums become freely distributed a year or so after the initial promo blast. But then again I’ve never really been in it for the money or expecting to make anything back.
QRD – What do you do about people distributing your music without financial compensation (piracy & file trading)?
Bryan – Usually nothing. I’ve released albums where the artists were excited about the new distribution channel! It doesn’t happen that much with Public Eyesore & the times it has happened, I’m guessing it has been someone at a radio station or music critic.
QRD – What’s something you see other labels do that you think of as borderline unethical?
Bryan – No idea. I’m not sure that selling cheaply manufactured copies of art is ethical to begin with. Art as a calculated money-making industry seems dishonest to me. I like running a label as an experiment.
QRD – What changes in things would cause you to stop your label?
Bryan – Well, most of those changes have happened. People moving to digital, an overabundance of artists doing the same thing.
QRD – What would you suggest to someone starting a label today?
Bryan – Don’t expect to make any money on it. Don’t expect anything, just do it because you love the music & the artists.
QRD – Where do you think money is currently most available to labels/musicians & where in the future?
Bryan – Dance music, movie soundtracks, television commercials, television spots.… I don’t think there is much respectable money for artists in the future other than money from art foundations in the form of grants.
QRD – Why do you think labels are still important to artists?
Bryan – It’s a form of critical reassurance & labels generally help in the promotion & distribution of music. If I see that so-&-so artist is on such-&-such label it is an easy metric on their success & validity. It used to be that many places didn’t communicate directly with artists, but rather to labels & publicists, but these days many are going on their own.
QRD – Music has had different hotspots on the internet over the years (newsgroups, MP3.com, MySpace, LastFM), but when MySpace died there was no real space that picked up the torch, what do you see as the place where “normal” people go to find out about & get excited by new music?
Bryan – I know lots of folks who scour music blogs, or music blog aggregators for new music. They decide what to listen to based on what other people are listening to. It’s not so different than when I used to read about music in newsgroups, but the music is much easier to get these days. No more mailing 10 dollars in cash to Japan for a tape that might or might not come.
QRD – Spotify has become an undeniable force that has reduced download sales while (allegedly) fighting piracy. In the end what is good or bad about it for you as a label & do you embrace it?
Bryan – Bad - It doesn’t really pay. Good - It makes artist’s music quickly available to play on computers & portable devices. It’s really a matter of how successful of an artist you are. If you are already successful, then it is a rip-off. If you are just getting started, it means a little bit of exposure & makes your work accessible to new listeners.
QRD – What social networks are you active on & what ones aren’t worth the time & energy to you?
Bryan – I do a lot on Facebook posts for the label. I tried out Ello for a few months, but I think it really hasn’t caught on. They are very comparable systems, especially if you have an adblocker installed. But Ello just doesn’t have the number of active users as Facebook. Sad to say, when a person posts, we are counting on people who are addicted to the system to notice. People glued to their cell phones. I don’t think there are as many Ello addicts as Facebook. I’ve never really worked with Twitter.
QRD – With the rise of social networks & trusted download shops, has your own website become less important than it was a few years ago?
Bryan – Definitely. People see the Facebook posts & if they order, they go through Amazon, Spotify, or one of their cousins.
QRD – Do you think fan funding (e.g. Kickstarter) is the future, a fad, or an awful thing for the music industry?
Bryan – Yeah, that’s one way of doing it. I’m not sure if it is the future. I think we have been going a long time on this same chain of musical thought. It might be the future, but at the same time, I don’t think that there is much progress to be made. The world of music doesn’t seem to be progressing much anymore, just honing little details down to a perceived perfection. People still generally use the same kinds of instrumentation & structure that they have been using since the 60s & earlier. I think the future is studying & learning to mix different forms of music & the other arts together. Sound & light & other tactile experiences in different schools of thought. I think that this field of art is in its infancy, in a finger-painting & folk art stage.
QRD – In 20 years what do you think/hope your label will be known/remembered for?
Bryan – I’m still getting there. I’ll know in 20 years.