Micro Record Label is a delightful new book from James Norman of Brian Records fame. We’ve reviewed music from his label before, which earns us a mention at the top of page 106 and makes this book one of our favorite books of all time. Yes, James, you may use that as a quote. In an instance of serendipity, one of the few places the book is still available is Norman Records (also Rough Trade).
The main draw of the book might not even be the subject, but the tone. Norman’s approach is colloquial throughout, which is why we’ve adopted it here. While reading, it seems as if he is right in the room speaking. This is not a dry, exhaustive, in-depth look at specific micro-labels, but a colorful celebration of their existence, coupled with a primer on how to start one’s own. This being said, Micro Record Label is chock-full of information that may prove invaluable to artists, labels and promoters, regardless of genre or label size.
Every few years at A Closer Listen, we’ve revised and republished an article titled, How to Get Noticed In … We’re excited to be on the same page (literally) as Norman. For example, deep in the book there’s a page on font, which one would think is unimportant until one remembers that just last month a font issue caused us to temporarily lose a quarter of our readers. Norman includes advice on appearance, which shouldn’t matter but does as we do judge releases by their covers. One example: last Friday approximately 100 instrumental albums were released, and there is no way the average fan had the time and inclination to play snippets from each. Our Submissions page provides guidance on how to be noticed as well, but 2/3 of those writing to our site ignore that page ~ and sadly are ignored in turn. Sections on packaging and format, which mirror themes in our annual Best Packaging article. (On a personal note, I was happy to see so many photos of releases in my own collection!)
Boomkat receives props as one of the few mainstream places where one can purchase these limited edition releases, defined as 200 or fewer, usually much less. In the old days, Cotton Goods would put up a release for pre-sale and only people who happened to be on Boomkat that hour would ever be able to procure a copy. Emba’s Paragraphs, from the lovely Handstitched* label, went up for presale on Bandcamp this past week with a release date of October 24, and the limited edition of 20 copies was sold out before many even opened their emails.
This begs the obvious question, “So why not just make more?” Norman addresses this question by mentioning that it’s not about the money. No one ever starts a micro label so that they will be able to retire on the proceeds. The collectors’ market loves micro labels, and there’s something incredibly special about getting even one ~ a rush of adrenaline and dopamine. As the physical music market continues to shrink, collectors feel a nostalgic love for the tactile, especially the handmade and (key point) unpolished. Those who purchase a “regular” CD without liner notes ask, “Why don’t I just go digital?” In contrast, micro labels keep the energy going. They may boast extensive liner notes or none. Many are recorded under pseudonyms, but some come from big-name artists who love being paid with a limited edition rather than cash.
Whether you enjoy reading about micro-labels, collecting their output, or are considering starting your own, Micro Record Label is a treasure: a condensation of all the advice and encouragement you’ll need. And in the most beautiful confluence, the book itself is limited: as the author writes in “the legal bit,” “this is probably never to be published again.”