Interview – Sorry State Records

Sorry State Records is an up and coming independent label, keeping the D.I.Y. spirit of 80’s hardcore punk alive in the digital age. M3 had a chat with the label about their recent foray into digital releases….

M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about Sorry State Records, and what it is that you do?
SSR – Sorry State Records is a DIY (do-it-yourself) punk label based out of North Carolina in the United States. I mostly concentrate on releasing vinyl by punk and hardcore bands, but I have made some effort to push more digital releases in the past year or two.

What inspired you to start the label? What is your own musical background?
When I went to graduate school I got more student loan money than I really needed, so I put the money in the bank with an idea of maybe releasing a record… after a couple of years my friends started a great band called Direct Control, and they had a few outtakes from their debut LP session that they wanted to release as a 7″ EP. That was my first release, and it sold a few thousand copies, so I took that money and released another record, and then another after that, and so on. If the first record had not done so well I doubt I would still be doing the label today.

I am not much of a musician, though I have played in a few bands and continue to do so. The bands came after the label… I never picked up a guitar until after I had several releases out. Primarily my background is one of a music lover… since I was a child I loved records and music.

What was the reasoning behind making many of the label’s releases available for free or ‘pay-as-you-please’ download?
I think the best advertising for a band is not print ads or online banners, but the music itself. If the music is good, then people will want to buy it. So for me, putting up releases for free or pay what you want download is a method of letting the band speak for itself. If the music is good enough, people will want a physical copy or want to pay for the digital downlaod.

What benefits and/or disadvantages have arisen from this distribution method?
The advantage is that more people get to hear the music, which is always the goal, even more than making money. The disadvantage is that people don’t give the same amount of attention to releases they download for free. When you spend money on a piece of music, I think you are more apt to sit down with the record and digest it so that you are “getting your money’s worth.” Giving something away for free tends to devalue it, which is why I tend to think of the digital releases as part of the physical release rather than something distinct from or parallel to it.

On average, how many people would you say still pay for a release when given the option to download for free?
According to my statistics, about 1 person pays for every 100 people who download for free. Those are not good statistics for those who want to pursue “pay what you want” as their sole revenue model.

Would you say this method is a realistic possibility for the future of music distribution?
Unless the culture of music consumption changes across the world, I don’t think so. Thousands and thousands of people download or stream my releases, yet I only see a few hundred dollars per year of revenue from digital distributors. This is hardly even enough to pay for a band’s recording, much less promotion or any of the other things a label does.

What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
Vinyl! I love the big artwork, and I like sitting down in a comfortable chair and really listening closely to a record. I listen to mp3s much of the time, but usually when I’m doing something else like working or driving. This is not the ideal way to truly appreciate music.

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?
I don’t think so. Maybe sometimes people put their iPods on shuffle, but most people who download my releases want the entire album. This is different for different genres obviously, but I don’t think the album is going away as an art form.

What is your take on the current SOPA/ACTA controversy?
I think this is really the industry’s problem. When presented with an option for a high-quality, officially-sanctioned download, people will inevitably choose that over a terrible-sounding rip of a record from Mediafire or some similar web site. I think the industry is concerned more with making money than delivering a good product… if you make a download of something someone might actually want, with good sound, correct artwork, etc., I think people will buy it. The major record labels seem to want to do the bare minimum and still make a profit… this started with CDs and continues to get worse with the transition to digital.

Finally, what does the future have in store for Sorry State Records?
I will keep doing the same! Releasing good music and trying my best to sell it in a difficult environment.

For more information about Sorry State Records, check out their website, follow them on Facebook and Twitter, or head over to their Bandcamp page to sample the label’s roster of bands.

About M3 Event

The music industry is rapidly changing. The internet has enabled widespread piracy, as well as a variety of new business and distribution models. We want to offer an engaged audience in and around the Euregion an opportunity to develop a coherent and detailed picture of the future of music distribution. On the 31st of May 2012 a music conference in Maastricht, consisting of oppositional debates, creative workshops and lectures, will provoke opportunities for intellectual stimulation, debate, as well as networking. We hope to utilise the skills and ideas of some of most forward thinking minds and operators in the industry in order to highlight some promising new ideas and areas which can be improved upon.

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