Colloquial Sound Recordings is an independent record label that focuses entirely on cassette tape releases. M3 asked the label’s founder about the beauty of the tape, letting blogs post his music for free, and whether the internet has devalued music as an art form…
M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
CSR – I am a North American male, between the ages of 18 and 30 interested in primarily in hardcore, metal and punk. Of course my tastes expand beyond that but listing out things is pretentious.
What inspired you to start Colloquial Sound Recordings? What is your own musical background?
Colloquial Sound Recordings was started in the spring of 2011, after years of conceptualizing and waiting for the right time. We all come from a hardcore punk background. Some of our other bands (not on CSR) were more active writing, recording and playing, so CSR based music took a backseat. Most of 2010 was spent mapping out a course of action for starting the label. It was a goal to make the label a sustainable business, not to be financially successful, but to be artistically successful. We wanted to be committed to being in existence for a long time. We didn’t want to be a flash in the pan. Lots of saving and planning went into place before CSR launched. Much of the music on CSR to date has been in existence for some time. Many of the bands and riffs that are on CSR releases have been around for 5+ years in some instances. In addition to having other musical obligations, we waited until the timing was right to start CSR. We are very happy with our decisions thus far, though we are always learning, adapting and changing.
What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
I have no allegiance to one format over another. It all depends on the music. Sometimes, like in the case of CSR, I think that the format can add to the aura of the music. When lo-fi metal/punk is recorded onto a cassette, it takes on certain sonic properties that allow the cassette to be like a member of the band. It shames and compresses the sound in a magical way. Metal and punk sound fantastic on cassette and vinyl. I have nothing against CDs at all. As a child of the 90s, I’m quite fond of them and have too many to switch over now. In the 90s, vinyl was worthless, as were cassettes. They were fetishized collector’s items at best. They couldn’t be given away. Of course, now, there is a lot of revisionist history, but many of the people now claiming to be “into vinyl” have been into it for no more than five years. There are exceptions, but that’s the general case. I prefer CDs for some things, such as the Blue Note Records releases of the 1960s. The CD masters are fantastic sounding. Far better than the vinyl of the day. I don’t buy digital music, but I don’t have anything against it. I like to hold a physical product in my hands, but if someone is willing to spend money on a digital file, that should be respected. Especially considering the rampant piracy in music.
Why did you decide to focus entirely on cassette tape releases?
Growing up in the 90s, cassettes were the ultimate throw-away. They were the quickly discarded stop gap between the age old classic vinyl record, and the shiny new CD. For me, the resurgence of cassette culture is an echo of what it felt like to be getting into underground music. It is inaccessible to some extent, a little out of vogue with trends, but very committed to itself. I love how cassettes aren’t permanent. They degrade over time. Each time you listen to a cassette you’re taking something from it. If you listen to a tape 1,000 times, it will certainly degrade and warp. It helps remind me that nothing in this world is forever, especially art – so, value it while you can. It will expire, as will you.
Frankly, I was thrilled to start seeing cassettes come back into popularity (as far as “underground popularity” goes). I have fond memories buying lots of cheap cassettes as a young kid as a means of discovering music. CDs were expensive, but tapes were very cheap. They represented an alternative path to a new frontier. A frontier where the people who are there chose to be there. They were not dragged there by the masses. I am a nostalgic person at times and remember cassettes fondly from my youth. That is also a factor. I should also mention their affordability to produce is a major benefit. If CSR was doing vinyl, we would not have 10 releases in less than a year. We don’t value quantity over quality, but it’s nice to get things out there to people. It’s an underground thing. We are spreading our art as fast as we are recording it. It’s a beautiful thing.
Why did you decide to let certain music blogs post links to free downloads of some of your releases (like Aksumite’s ‘The Gleam of Wetted Lips’, for instance)?
It was an experiment. I knew that if we took a hardline stance saying “NO BLOG WILL EVER BE ABLE TO POST OUR MUSIC. IT IS TOO PURE FOR THE INTERNET” then that would attract negative attention. It’s not even our feeling, 100%. We also don’t 100% believe that people should have a free right to music. They should have to invest something other than hard drive space. We sent the tapes to some blogs who we thought had respect for the music they shared. Blogs that encouraged people to buy and support the labels. It seemed to be a good middle ground approach. A lot of the people who found us via those blogs are now our biggest financial supporters. Not everyone that downloads from blogs is a leech, but many of them are. Blogs are about personal responsibility. Most blogs are just excited to share music they love with people who may also love it. The world is too small and this music to niche to keep it to yourself.
On average, how many people would you say still pay for a release when given the option to download for free?
I cannot even begin to estimate that kind of figure. I would say this, significantly more people download than buy. Based on responses that I’ve heard (I do not seek out these responses, people tell me), the support is overwhelmingly positive. That doesn’t necessarily translate to sales, but I’m fine with that. It makes us value those who do support us even more. We try to make a personal connection with each person who orders from us.
There are definitely a lot of people that seem to take access to free music for granted these days. Do you feel that the abundance of recorded music that is easily available on the internet has in some way devalued the art form?
Excellent question – and I believe it ties into the previous. I think that it has made a generation of people lazy and devoid of loyalty. For example, someone might download an Aksumite record, like it and want to buy it, but forgets. Why? Abundance of other free music being thrown his way. When other people devalue their art and spam message boards and give their “art” away, it doesn’t devalue CSR’s art, but distances it. The person that downloads and enjoys Aksumite is in a sea of other people waving their arms, trying to get attention. Of course Aksumite will be forgotten.
I’m of the belief that if you spend money on something, you’re more inclined to give it an honest listen and look for good qualities. You’ve invested money and time into paying and waiting for the tape or record to arrive. You are open to it’s message. That’s not always the case… just because you buy something doesn’t mean you will like it. I bought the new Root record and I thought it sounded like As I Lay Dying at times. I was choking back vomit. That was $14 down the drain. But, I enjoyed many of their other records and spent time investing into their new record.
I looked at it objectively. I listened intently, several times. I found the things I didn’t like about it and formed an opinion other than “it sucks.” If there is one major crime the internet is guilty of it is the shortening of people’s attention spans. That ties into your question because I think people would be more apt to buy and support something they downloaded if they had a longer attention span. I feel conflicted about adding more bands and records into an overpopulated sea of mostly schlock, but I like what we do, and I really don’t care.
Do you feel the idea of an album, as a piece of art that people will listen to from start to finish, has been undermined or forgotten about in the digital age?
YES! I got into this in the previous question. The only sin of the album is length. An EP is like an album, just shorter. Should bands only release EPs? Maybe… it’s an interesting concept. I personally believe that the album should be cohesive in sound and vision. Not just a collection of songs. To notice that sort of thing, you have to be paying attention. My hardcore punk background tells me that 7″s and short albums are great. They’re quick bursts of speed. I like that. It’s not too much of a commitment. Sometimes when I listen to certain albums I feel like I’m running a marathon. It’s long, dragged out, self-indulgent, and more often than not, boring. Albums that are just collections of songs, not thematically tied together in sound or lyric also bore me. The flaws are quickly evident.
Much has been made of the supposed death of the record store in recent years. Do you believe the digital age has killed the record store, and if so, do you think that this is a necessary part of progression, or a tragic loss?
I am a buyer for an independent record store in business for over 20 years. I buy the punk, metal, hardcore and noise. The record store and the record store culture is 100% responsible for helping shape who I am. Record stores will never go away, the good ones will survive, if only barely, and they will just be shadow of their former greatness. That means that the burden is now squarely on the record store. The record store has to do things to make themselves relevant. People aren’t just going to walk in and buy a record. They need to foster community, have a knowledgeable, friendly staff. They need to carry new things along with classics. They have to carry a breadth and depth to their inventory and appeal to a wide cross section of people. It’s not easy. Now things exist like Record Store Day. It’s that day that helps keep my record store in business. It shows the community we are here, alive and there are lots of us. We have free pizza, free beer and bands play all day. Sure, lots of scumbags show up, drink our beer, browse the racks and leave, but it’s not a day for them. It’s a celebration of our customers. On a personal note, I’m 100% revolted by all these limited edition Record Store Day releases. They cost prices are outrageous and meant to gouge customers for a “special” day and 9 times of 10, they just end up on eBay being flipped for a profit. It’s like Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving). All of this greed and bullshit for a product that no one really needs. I want to see record stores be a viable business where people come in and take part of a special culture, not just come in for some stupid repackaged, dug up from the grave box set or limited edition vinyl thing.
Do you think that traditional copyright laws are still enforceable given the increasing digitisation of media, or do you think we will have to rethink the concept of copyright itself?
Law is there to provide people with direction. People violate the law daily, and usually of free will. Most of the time there are no consequences. Governments could re-structure laws and consequences, but it doesn’t matter. People will do what they want to do. I am as non-political as I can be. I pay taxes, etc. because if I don’t, I’ll get thrown in jail. I don’t do things that will hinder my freedom, but as a whole, I do not vote. I do not follow politics, and I truly hate all things political. Many people say they don’t believe in God. I say, I don’t believe in politics. It’s not real. It’s a system set up to sustain a system. These people have the right to walk all over us. Fuck them all. Anarchy doesn’t mean no rules, it means freedom from the confines of a system drowning in bureaucratic bullshit. I don’t know what copyright laws are, I don’t care. I know what is right and I know what is wrong. I read a Eugene Robinson interview (I’ll butcher the quote, sorry Eugene!) where he said that legalizing prostitution isn’t going to change the factors in a girls life that drove her to be a prostitute. Changing copyright laws isn’t going to do a thing. The only way things happen is if there is a paycheck in it for the right person. I’m not in that group, so my voice is silent. Which is fine with me.
Finally, what does the future have in store for Colloquial Sound Recordings?
There are a ton of amazing new releases CSR is working on. Check www.colloquialsoundrecordings.com for all the information. Four new releases will be available this May. This Station of Life will be doing a brief tour with Sutekh Hexen this fall, Aksumite will continue to write and record the best metalpunk in the world, A Pregnant Light and Obliti Devoravit will continue to expand the palate of metal and Dressed In Streams, et all will have new releases very soon.