AIMPOINT: Interview with Exquisite Noise Record co-Founder Jason McGathey

By Mick Michaels

AIMPOINT: Hello, Jason! Welcome to AIMPOINT. Thank you for taking
some time out of your day to chat with me, it's greatly appreciated.

Jason McGathey: Hey Mick! Good morning! We appreciate you contacting us as well.

AP: What do see that most artists expect from a record label? How different is their expectations to what really having a label is all about?
JM: I think we’ve reached a point where most artists out there seem to know what a label brings to the table in this modern era. They understand that there are endless options for distribution, including doing it yourself, so they can really take their time to do some research and find the best fit. So the artists these days are fairly educated about that stuff and mostly know what to expect. Although to answer the second part of your question, I do think people still have this image of this business being as centralized as it was, say, up to the 80s or 90s. They want to know what kind of “connections” you have to “the industry,” and it’s like, well, this stuff is actually extremely fragmented these days…

AP: Do you see such difference in expectation a point of contention on your part as it often tends to paint the label as the "bad guy?"
JM: It’s funny you would ask this, because I was just thinking a few days ago how we’ve had shockingly few disagreements with anyone who signed with us. We’ve only had, I believe, 2 artists asked to be dropped ever, and one of those was extremely amicable, even. I think the reason for this is we’re honest with them up front. We almost go out of our way to explain, hey, you are not going to get rich and famous signing with us. That’s probably never going to happen. But if you have realistic expectations, I would say every artist who ever joined our roster has been better off for doing so.

This is the complete opposite of how the major labels used to operate…and probably still do operate. They would basically tell every band, you guys are going to the top if you sign with us, but only if you sign with us! Then eat up your entire advance recording the album that they wouldn’t promote anyway, right before they dropped you. The problem with this is you create a lot of bitterness. You make the band believe they are stars, and therefore it’s the record label’s fault this didn’t happen. Sometimes you have to talk people down from lofty expectations like that, but they thank you for it later.

AP: Since there seems to be so much misconception as to what working with a label is all about, from your position, what can artists really expect a label to do?
JM: Yeah, I think the number one problem we’re running into still is they expect us to have better connections on the live music venue front. Obviously the landscape used to be much better with that back in the day. The guys running Merge or Drag City or even tinier indie labels were probably on a first name basis with every rock club in the country. I’m sure the more prominent ones still are. But it seems like for the most part, playing out live in this country has become completely inverted. You can probably thank the scourge of karaoke for that, heh heh. But it used to be bands would climb in a van and drive around to build up their name. Now it’s turned into you build up your name first and then go out to play.

AP: Jason, how has the model of a record label changed over the last 15-20 years and how does that altered model now fit into the modern music industry? Are labels becoming a thing of the past as artists are becoming more self-sufficient?
JM: I think we’re actually in a better place now than we were back then. Not just us but the independent landscape in general. The middle has been completely knocked out in the music business, but there’s not much reason for little guys to worry about that. You still have your mega stars, though that’s getting harder to achieve…but at the opposite end, it’s much, much easier for indie bands and labels to make some decent money at this and get their names out there.

Twenty years ago I guess we were still in the old model of trying to sell CDs or even tapes, and that was still working out okay. About 15 years
ago, though, that was kind of the rough patch where you didn’t know if this would even be feasible to survive anymore, in the digital era. Like you said, it looked like artists were becoming self-sufficient, to the point they might not need labels. Since that time, though, everything has kind of taken off in the other direction – there’s so much going on that the artists need a label to help them keep up!

AP: From a label's perspective, is physical media also a relic of the past now that digital has streamlined how the world does everything?
JM: Well, it looked like it was heading in that direction, for sure, but I think the industry’s rebounded nicely in that respect. Even cassette tapes are trending upwards, believe it or not! A certain segment of the population is always going to want physical objects. It’s kind of like they thought e-books were going to replace paper ones, but that market has completely bottomed out. People might pay 99 cents for a quick little business book, but for the most part nobody wants to read an entire novel on a Kindle.
Music’s a little different because it’s more of a passive consumption sometimes that you can have on in the background when you’re doing other things. But there’s always going to be a healthy segment of the population who still wants to hold or even collect these objects. You just have to get the album into their hands somehow. The added advantage of this is, I think those who want the physical artifact tend to be your biggest, most rabid fans. So they are easier to identify, and they can really make a difference in keeping you afloat.

AP: Jason, have the fans lost some part of the overall listening experience with the decline of the physical format of music in your opinion? Has the digital medium robbed us of such a vital piece?
JM: Yeah that part is kind of sad. I was pondering recently how I still have racks upon racks of CDs out in the open in my office, but no actual stereo in there. I have to pop the disc into my computer, which doesn’t exactly have state-of-the-art speakers, and this is pretty lame. Much of the time I’ll obviously just stream the music instead. So we’re all kind of guilty. In our defense, the landscape made this much more difficult there for a while, though I think the pendulum is swinging back a little bit. People were howling their heads off if you said you wanted to listen to a CD on a stereo, yet it’s slowly dawning on a lot of us that, hey, wait a second, I think something actually has been lost here. I do actually have this USB powered turntable in there, too, and some albums handy…but even then, yes, it’s flowing through the cruddy computer speakers.

I think this retro thing with vinyl and even some of other formats is cool, but I don’t believe that’s going to rule the industry again. But this streaming thing as we know it has kind of reached its saturation point as well. So I don’t know what the next breakthrough’s going to be…probably something in the middle that doesn’t even exist yet. Where you have the artwork and the liner notes and some kind of physical object, with a top notch sound…but then can also integrate with the rest of the world out there somehow.

AP: With so many songs releasing daily, over 22,000 a day, what are labels looking for in new artists? Is it more than just trends and copycats?
JM: Pretty much the only thing you have to go on is whether you like it or not. Sure, if you’re some industry mogul at Warner Brothers or whatever, it’s probably different, where you’re sitting there puffing on a cigar and wondering whether “the kids” are going to be buy it, and what kind of “demographics” this speaks to, et cetera. But that doesn’t really apply to indie labels whatsoever. Granted, you have to kind of stay modern with your own listening to some degree – you wouldn’t want to crank out nothing but 1940s swing music, probably. That might not be too profitable. But if you’re a music fan at heart, you’re always checking out new stuff anyway.

So we don’t worry too much about whether something is or isn’t too trendy. I will admit though, and this has only become somewhat of a concern for us in the past year or so, that we’re getting more and more curious about how connected the artists themselves are with things. It’s kind of a tiebreaker, so to speak, if we’re on the fence about someone. Because the market has gotten so glutted in some respects, that if it seems like this artist isn’t even going to stay connected, then it might not be worth anyone’s time. What I mean is that, for example, it almost never fails that if someone is busting our chops about his Spotify numbers, then you look into it and it turns out that he isn’t even following his own account. Or the playlists we’re tweeting with his music on them, et cetera. Whereas the bands that are actually doing better numbers, they get it, and are way more on top of things.

AP: So much music is available for free today thanks to the accessibility of the internet. Do you feel artists can still earn a living making their music?
JM: Yeah, I do think it’s actually much easier to make a living with music than it ever would have been 15 or 20 years ago. The particulars of how you do that are different is all.

AP: Even though we are in the digital age, is touring still a vital part for an artist or band?
JM: That’s definitely the biggest difference maker, but – like I mentioned with karaoke really taking off there in the 90s – it seems as though that environment of little rock clubs that bands could just roll into without a major name, that’s dried up in a big way. Nowadays even in major cities you see these constant scenarios where 4 bands will split a bill and play for free, or maybe just some skunky draft beer, and the clubs get away with that all day long… because if you turn it down, there are thousands of other bands in town who will take your slot.

AP: Jason, are labels as well, struggling to find an audience much like the artist struggles to find theirs?
JM: There are definitely a ton of parallels there. But you have to just kind of have fun with it, seeing how many places you can take your brand or whatever, and think that even if someone turns you down for something, that’s still somebody else now who has heard your name, nonetheless. Like everyone else, I’ve been in bands, too, and would have to say running a label is just as fun, but a different kind of fun. There are more things and more angles to promote to where it never gets stale, instead of just talking about yourself all the time.

AP: Recently, it was said to me that back in the day an artist would tour to sell albums....but now they make music to tour. Is that an accurate assessment?
JM: That’s funny, I didn’t realize this was going to be one of your later questions...But yeah, that’s 100 percent true now, in my experience.

AP: What advice would you give to a new artist who may be looking for a label to connect with? What should their game plan be?
JM: I think you should have a game plan of what you’re trying to accomplish in particular for the next year or two. Worry about future years a little later. Have realistic expectations, but at the same time, investigate every platform out there, but then if something seems to be working, hit it hard until that maybe dries up. It gets a little overwhelming trying to keep on top of every development. But upload a song here, a video there, and if it’s not working, move on. Don’t stress about trying to cover every single avenue right this second. You can definitely steadily put together a solid career with this approach.

AP: Thank you again Jason for spending some time talking and sharing with
our readers. I wish you all the best and continued success.

JM: Thank you as well, Mick! It’s been fun. Best of luck for you and your many projects, too!

Check out Exquisite Noise Records at:

Like The Cosmick View on Facebook at:   

My name is Mick Michaels...I'm an artist, music fan, songwriter, producer, dreamer and guitarist for the traditional Heavy Metal band Corners of Sanctuary. Writing has always been a creative outlet for me; what I couldn't say in speech, I was able to do with the written word.  Writing has given me a voice and a way for me to create on a multitude of platforms including music and song, articles, independent screenplays, books and now, artist interviews. The Cosmick View is an opportunity to raise the bar and showcase artists in a positive and inspirational light. For me, it's another out-of-this-world adventure.

Want to see your logo here? Contact The Cosmic View for details and rates.