“Shhhh-it!”: Idolator’s Super-Secret Music-Biz Interview Series Reborn

Sep 25th, 2008 // 10 Comments

When I joined the Idolator Army of Champions, the first thing I asked Maura was whether I could revive the “Shhhh-it!” AnonIMous Super-Secret Music-Biz Interview Series (how many names does thing have?), which is one of my favorite old Brian Raftery (RIP) features. In case you aren’t familiar with the series, one of our editors interviews–via the power of instant messaging, warts and all–a grizzled music industry veteran about their job, the state of the industry, and what have you. This week, we interviewed an indie label owner who asked to be called “Andy Capp.” Capp runs a burgeoning indie label with artists that are regularly covered in the Stereogums and the Pitchforks of the world, and who occasionally appear in larger, more mainstream press outlets. The label has an indie-beloved roster, but is still hunting for a true sales breakthrough. It hires publicists and, in many ways, operates like an old-fashioned label, with an emphasis on artist development. In the interview, Capp is fairly pro-Pitchfork, stresses the importance of booking agents, and laments the state of distribution:

i also love that many of the big distributors are now asking for a cut of digital sales….’umm, no thanks, this is your detention for being late to class’

Good stuff! More after the clickthrough.

StumpyPete1975: so, with the economy collapsing around us, it must be an awesome time to have an indie label, no?
AndyCapp: Maybe the best ever…
AndyCapp: …it kinda seems like every step I’ve ever taken forward ends up just folding back on itself…
StumpyPete1975: yeah?
StumpyPete1975: how do you mean?
AndyCapp: well part of it is just the snake-eating-its-tail nature of the biz…things like – you need name recognition to get reviews & you need reviews to get name recognition // you need sales to get distribution & you need distribution to get sales // your artists need to be “a draw” to get a booking agent & you need a booking agent to get “a draw” …
AndyCapp: the difference these days is – who cares if you have distribution, because you aren’t selling any records anyway
StumpyPete1975: of those three you just mentioned, press, distro, or booking, which one being successful has affected the most change for your artists?
StumpyPete1975: (we’ll get to sales in a second)
StumpyPete1975: which one do you see as most important
AndyCapp: well, that’s what makes me smile….. as soon as we got a few reviews it lead to a slightly larger distributor which lead to enough sales to make me not just pack it up and quit which eventually lead to some booking agents….
AndyCapp: for the bands, having an agent means a helluva lot more than having their record in the shops, but i do know that it’s a big boost for morale to have their stuff in there…the bands are able to sell more records (and keep more of the money) by staying on the road – which becomes much more possible with an agent
AndyCapp: for me as the label, if my bands are on the road, they get more news, more blog posts, more reviews, more rapidshare album dumps, etc…
StumpyPete1975: haha
AndyCapp: eventually that all adds up to hype — which is what they all want
StumpyPete1975: but does hype=sales?
StumpyPete1975: you have some artists that are pretty beloved by Pitchfork and Stereogum and the like
StumpyPete1975: is that a magic bullet?
AndyCapp: well, right now, it equals more sales than not having that hype…as has always been the case: making incredible music / albums / live performances does not necessarily equal success…
AndyCapp: the press has to support you on some level…even if they are writing that they hate you
AndyCapp: even if everyone hates the airborne toxic event (great name, btw, guys) — i bet they sell more records than most of my dudes
StumpyPete1975: I know a lot of labels that have felt that before
StumpyPete1975: that there is this upper echelon of indie
StumpyPete1975: Merge, Beggars/Matador, Sub Pop
StumpyPete1975: and that you might dabble with them, but they are ultimately like an indie major label system
AndyCapp: well, i think it’s safe to say that at this point (especially after Spoon, Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend, Postal Service, Iron & Wine) they are two different leagues entirely
StumpyPete1975: sure
StumpyPete1975: those bands are really selling
StumpyPete1975: but do you think the public only has so much space for indies?
AndyCapp: we compete for shelf space / radio play / venues / booking agents and everything else, but calling up any of those places and saying “Hi, this is Bobby from Sub Pop/Merge/Matador/etc. we’ve got this KILLER new band, they’ve opened for “and blammo: they’ve got a way better shot at getting attention
AndyCapp: let’s talk about “the public”
StumpyPete1975: haha okay
AndyCapp: things have changed a lot over the last handful of years…bands that you or i would consider good (in the indie-snob way) are now playing shows like SNL, Letterman, Conan…that’s a big shift….it’s no longer the coffee shop singer/songwriter crap or the new band from the roadie of Velvet Revolver
AndyCapp: plus add in shows like The O.C. and major brands using “indie” artists in their commercials
AndyCapp: things have changed…
StumpyPete1975: someone said to me that indie is the new jingle
StumpyPete1975: look at that Chairlift song in that Nano commercial
StumpyPete1975: I looked that up when I heard it
AndyCapp: the good news is now i’ve got a much bigger chance of landing one of my band’s songs in a steakhouse commercial and paying off the label for a year
StumpyPete1975: bad news?
AndyCapp: the bad news is now you’ve got lots of people imitating that “style”…including needle-drop houses
AndyCapp: please tell me you’ve heard the Spoon rip-off on one of those Bravo reality shows
AndyCapp: i think it’s Top Chef
StumpyPete1975: I haven’t! I only watch Project Runway
StumpyPete1975: what’s your take on Pitchfork these days?
StumpyPete1975: pros/cons?
AndyCapp: I love Pitchfork, I really do….I love the idea that if one of my records is given the proper nod that I don’t have to really worry about selling it…and even better news, it will cover the lost sales on all of the other stuff I put out….it’s a one-stop shop…i just really wish they’d set up a lobbyist program…if i could devote a pushy, but attractive young thing to lobbying for our releases…….
AndyCapp: i love publicity / promotion, but it’s not the same thing as what those Beltway boys have going for them
StumpyPete1975: cons?
AndyCapp: hmm….i maybe miss the ridiculous edge of their old reviews….the really, really bad “conversation” style…or the review about nothing…
AndyCapp: couldn’t we turn this entire interview into 7.4 about the newest thing on Matador?
StumpyPete1975: what about the Best New Music/Recommended thing?
StumpyPete1975: I see plenty of 7.9s without recommendeds
AndyCapp: I think in the long-run the BNM/Recommended tag has hurt more bands than it helps….and this goes back to “the public”
AndyCapp: the Pitchfork-reading public determines what most stores sell (and i’ve had some long conversations with some of the bigger / cooler indie-oriented stores on this planet)
AndyCapp: they read about the newest 8.3 BNM and they go to the store and ask for it…over and over and over again….
StumpyPete1975: so what’s the downside?
AndyCapp: the shops used to also be tastemakers, and that’s gone away for many of them – which takes a lot of the fun out of it…
StumpyPete1975: why does that hurt bands?
AndyCapp: well, the other 99 bands reviewed that much don’t get asked for at the stores…the stores don’t have as much of a reason to bring it in….if the customers don’t respect their opinion, why would they offer it up through a shelf of their own recommended new records?
AndyCapp: (and this is coming from record store clerks and owners — not from me)
StumpyPete1975: yeah, I think a 7.0 doesn’t always mean a lot without enthusiasm before it
StumpyPete1975: (I should know)
AndyCapp: i love people that go to record stores still though…they are definitely more likely to seek out things, go to shows, buy records from the bands….
AndyCapp: they are at least being proactive about music
AndyCapp: 7.0? shit…an 8.0 with no recommended tag doesn’t mean all that much
StumpyPete1975: I think a lot of people only have room for so much music in their day
StumpyPete1975: so relying on the BNM and stuff is okay
is that why ipod sales are so high?
StumpyPete1975: nonono
StumpyPete1975: I mean, searching for music
well, that’s something that has changed
StumpyPete1975: and a lot of the services like Pandora, Genius, emusic, they are great, but they steer you towards your comfort zone
AndyCapp: and the internet is at fault for much of this….we are overloaded with information….music, politics, celebrity nonsense, movie trailers….
AndyCapp: i actually don’t have a problem with people’s comfort zone
AndyCapp: i think many of my artists fit in people’s comfort zones, they just don’t know about them because my label doesn’t hold as much sway with the bigger press sources (pitchfork included)
StumpyPete1975: you are starting to get the love from Pitchfork, I think…is it that essential?
AndyCapp: for my label and my bands…yes
AndyCapp: it’d be awesome if there were 5 Pitchfork type magazines, but there aren’t anymore
AndyCapp: god bless popmatters, tiny mix tapes, dusted, etc…
AndyCapp: but it ain’t the same
StumpyPete1975: have you found that band expectations have changed?
StumpyPete1975: I’ve heard the complaint from bands that labels don’t offer much anymore
AndyCapp: ah
StumpyPete1975: that bands give them turnkey records…what’s your response to that?
AndyCapp: umm…well, all I can say to that is:
AndyCapp: 1. there are no turnkey records
AndyCapp: 2. i think most bands who say that haven’t ever run a label – i could list all of the stuff we do if you like…
StumpyPete1975: well, you do publicity, artwork, production, that’s more than a LOT of labels these days
AndyCapp: random emails to everyone on the planet
AndyCapp: give advice to help artists avoid bad situations (“hey, we got asked to go on tour with string cheese incident…i think we’re going to do it…their crowd would really like our brand of minimal techno”)
StumpyPete1975: haha
StumpyPete1975: actually, I would totally take that tour
AndyCapp: (me too…shhh)
AndyCapp: production alone is such a big process — especially when you have big distribution
AndyCapp: TONS of deadlines for 15 different types of one sheets , all of which have to be written and designed
AndyCapp: i don’t know that we have a single artist on our label that would have the ability to get through that nonsense, especially dealing with the various production and distribution reps…those emails alone make me want to die
AndyCapp: it’s a lot different than pressing up some “cool” jewel cases on discmakers and having cdbaby handle distro
StumpyPete1975: how are distributors reacting to you?
StumpyPete1975: do you sense panic anywhere else in the industry?
AndyCapp: i sense panic EVERYWHERE in the industry…for a few years now…
AndyCapp: distributors are plodding along in their normal semi-ridiculous way…i would love to get an answer as to why i have to pay (on top of their massive cut) for them to actively promote my records
AndyCapp: i also love that many of the big distributors are now asking for a cut of digital sales….”umm, no thanks, this is your detention for being late to class”
StumpyPete1975: hahahaha
AndyCapp: ya know, i’d love to find someone who was all over the country/world who really felt strongly about the music i was releasing, who felt strongly about the people who poured their blood/sweat/soul into making it….and didn’t feel the need to charge for that
StumpyPete1975: pie in the sky
AndyCapp: mmmm pie
StumpyPete1975: so are you hopeful for the future or is it more doom and gloom? any one thing to look forward to?
AndyCapp: here’s the thing: for me, it’s not doom and gloom….it’s never been anything but hardships, a financial black hole, a lack of quality sleep, and paper cuts … so why would i ever expect that to change? however: i love what i do and will put out records as long as it’s actually possible…the things i look forward to are the amazing records that our artists entrust me with spreading the good word about…i look forward to getting the weird letter from a random girl in ohio thanking me and telling me to “keep going”…i look forward to knowing that when i get to the end of the road i’ll be proud of what was created…
StumpyPete1975: that’s sweet
StumpyPete1975: did you prepare that beforehand?
StumpyPete1975: haha
AndyCapp: nope
AndyCapp: i may talk a lot of shit, but i definitely give a fuck

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  1. How do I say this ... THROWDINI!

    Good interview. I have no connection to the “music industry” other than as a cd-buying, concert-going, blog-reading fan and I find these peeks “backstage” fascinating. It’s really great to see this feature back.

  2. RaptorAvatar

    That was pretty great… Can we try to guess who it is?

  3. Anonymous

    Knew it all along — Pitchfork is mightier than God.

    Great interview. It just doesn’t seem that there’s any way launching a record label at this point in time is fiscally possible — particularly CD based. Have there been any success stories in the last few years?

  4. Mick Kraut


    I agree. That said have there been any sort of successes in purely digital distribution for a label?

    I to am a non-industry type…a mere consumer. I purchase all of my music from iTunes or Amazon’s MP3 service. I purchase new music nearly weekly. In the last 5 years I have only purchased 1 physical CD and that was only because the band specifically released it to indie record shops only. Digital only works for me but does it really work in the industry as presently constituted?

  5. Al Shipley

    Always liked this feature, glad to see it back and this was a good one.

    It’s funny, because even though I’m a total industry geek and have a voracious interest in this stuff on a pop music level, it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth when I see how much the music business hustle has seeped into indie rock, and it’s not even per se about selling out or cred or whatever, because I’m glad that people at any level are learning how to get their music heard and make a profit from it. But to me, a big part of the whole appeal of indie rock, whether listening to it, making it, or writing about it, is just liking what you like and not worrying about publicists or reviews or sales figures. I mean, even as a critic, it makes me squeamish to see what effect Pitchfork ratings have.

  6. Lucas Jensen

    @Al Shipley: Yeah, I agree re: the industry seeping into indie rock. I have seen, however, just as many bands get screwed in industry ways by indie labels as majors in my years in the biz.

  7. sicksteanein

    @Al Shipley: Agreed. I’ve always thought that it’s strange that indie kids think they are above the artificial inflation of mainstream acts with their payola and such.

    But they fall for hype which doesn’t seem like that much different in terms of its artificiality and effect.

  8. sicksteanein

    P.S. Great feature. Can’t wait for more candor.

  9. Anonymous

    let’s try to guess the label:
    the interviewee talked about being part of the minor indies, hating to deal with major distributors, and i’m gonna assume he wasn’t joking about the minimal techno artist on his label.

    could it be the DFA? (they have to deal with EMI, and I could see Prinzhorn Dance School opening for String Cheese Incident in a bad idea sort of way)

    probably not, but it was fun to imagine that instead of something boring like Secretly Canadian or Jaguwawawawawawar.

  10. DavidWatts

    @sicksteanein: I would say at this point there is actually more industry bs in the indie sector than outside of it – the people at indie labels are about to go under more or less every second of every day, and therefore need every single online review/sync license/tour preview/opening slot/amazon review they can get. At the majors, while everything is down, down, you’re still talking about raking in millions of dollars a year. There, it’s more like, everything is fine until half the staff gets laid off. There’s a lot more stressed-out industry hustling in the indie world.

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