Ipecac Recordings is an independent record label, founded by Greg Werckman, ex-manager of legendary punk label Alternative Tenatacles, and Faith No More frontman Mike Patton. M3 caught up with Greg to discuss the label’s ingenious policy of only signing bands for single album contracts…
M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself and what it is that you do?
Greg – My name is Greg Werckman. Along with Mike Patton I own a record label called Ipecac Recordings. I also manage Mike.
What inspired you to start the label? What is your own musical background?
In 1998 we were looking for a home for a new project of Mike’s called Fantômas. We spoke to some big labels and some small labels and did not really like what was being offered so we decided to do it ourselves. My musical background is that I worked in radio when I was young and have loved music my whole life. I met Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra in the 80s and in 1989 I moved from New York City to San Francisco to manage Jello’s record label, Alternative Tentacles Records. I was in a horrible punk band called Duh. I met Mike and started managing Mr Bungle. Did I mention I love music?
Ipecac differs from most labels in that its bands only sign contracts to produce one album at a time. Could you tell us why you decided on this policy?
We still like to believe in music as a form of art. So when starting our label we decided that it did not feel right to “own” the artists on our label. Instead we would rent or license records from artists that we liked. In the same spirit we decided that we would do it on a record by record basis so the relationship would not feel forced. If the artist is unhappy with us or gets a better deal, they can leave. Likewise if we dont enjoy working with an artist or want to try other things we are not forced to release anything we don’t want to. It makes perfect sense to us, but 5 or 6 years ago a bigger label inquired about buying our label. We laughed and explained that they would not get ANY of the artists since we did not have any under contract. They thought we were idiots. Which is just as well since we were not looking to sell anyway. So this policy is mostly about artistic freedom.
What benefits and/or disadvantages have arisen from this policy?
The benefit is creating an atmosphere where there is not as much pressure and the focus is on the creative process. I guess the disadvantage is that at any time any artist could leave if they wanted, but really, so what? There are tons of great artists out there that we would like to work with, not to mention if we do it right, most artists won’t want to leave.
Would you say this method (as opposed to million dollar, multiple album contracts) is a realistic possibility for the future of music distribution?
You know what, that is where it gets strange. Our system works for us and makes perfect sense to us, but others have systems that work for them. It might be tougher for someone that invests millions of dollars in an artist to know that that artist could leave. We don’t invest that kind of money into releases.
Recently, there seem to be a large number of bands offering their releases for free via sites like Bandcamp. What do you think of this distribution method, do you think it is an effective solution to the problem of illegal downloading?
No, I don’t see it that way at all. But once again, to each, his own. We are never going to say the way we do it is the right way or the way others do it is wrong. However, I think it is easy for a HUGE band of millionaires like say Radiohead to give away their record. They might not need the income from record sales to continue to create their music. But others do! I don’t think it helps that we create an expectation that the music fan should be able to get any music they want for free. We need to support music they same way we support movies and books. At the same time for up and coming, unkown bands, giving away their music is a great way to gain exposure, you have to start somewhere. Bandcamp is GREAT!!!! It truly supports the art of music. I found it absurd however that Metallica was demonized when they took on Napster back in the day. All Metallica was saying was we spent time and money creating OUR music so we should be able to decide what we charge for it. Sure, they are billionaires, but that does not give anyone the right to steal anything from them. Places like Napster were inherently anti artistic rights. Illegal downloading is a part of life, nothing anyone can do about that, but it does not make it good for the art of music.
What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
Right now? I guess CD. I have gotten used to it. I like holding it. I like tracking through a CD and I like deciding which tracks to transfer to my digital devices. Sounds fine too.
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! The attention span has been shortened, but this change began with the explosion of music videos. A band can become very popular now with one song or one music video. Of course those bands are forgotten about shortly after their peak of popularity. The age of disposable music?
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?
Yes, I believe the digital age contributed to death of the record store as did the economy and greed. I do think it is a tragic loss and not just as a business owner but mostly as a fan of music. A record store was like a library. A place you could hang out, meet people, learn about music and share music. I guess it was inevitable, but now more than ever, a record store would be so useful. The internet is vast and navigation is random.
What is your take on the current SOPA/ACTA controversy?
Well, I hate politics. Seems like that is what it was and truthfully what they attempted to do was impossible.
Finally, what does the future have in store for Ipecac Records?
I hope the future is bright and that we can survive and continue to offer artists a place that they can feel comfortable and offer the music enthusiast a place where the can discover and enjoy some music that they might not be able to find elsewhere.