In the age of streaming services, it’s easy to assume record labels are thing of the past. Artists have the ability to build their core audience like never before thanks to social media and streaming sites. But what about physical formats? Streams are convenient but with the popularity of vinyl, having a physical release could mean the difference between being perceived as a YouTube star or a serious artist.
This is where a record label can be the most valuable aspect of the relationship between artist and fan.
While the major labels are trying anything to stay relevant, indie labels are not only thriving but shaping the music industry. In many ways, these indie labels are just as interesting as the artists themselves. Without the pressure of deadlines and fickle markets, both labels and artists can keep the focus on what’s the most important. The music.
Velocity Of Sound is an independent label out of Pittsburgh ran by Darren Little. With the releases from artists like Hurts To Laugh, Shockwave Riderz, and The Lees Of Memory, Little isn’t afraid to think outside the box in terms of genre.
Even more interesting is his bold business model of selling Velocity of Sound releases at cost!
I had the opportunity to talk to Little about the inner-workings of Velocity Of Sound and why zero pressure from his label is a win for the artist as well as the consumer.
Aaron: How and when did Velocity Of Sound get started?
Darren Little: Technically, Velocity Of Sound started in 1999 with the Eohippus/Lonely Planet Boy 7″. This first release was born out of the idea of just wanting to add something to the “music stratosphere”. We wanted to make a record, just for fun. We were inspired by Guided By Voices DIY ethics, so we handmade 150 different album covers. Each single pressed was meant to have its own unique cover art, but the task was too daunting and eventually, we made the “baby sandwich” cover the official cover for the single and rolled out the rest with that uninformed artwork. We didn’t really have any way to sell the singles, so we just gave them away. We would go to bars and just hand them out, “Here, have a single, here, have a single”.
Do you think those singles are still floating around out there somewhere?
At that time, vinyl was as least popular as its ever been, so I’m confident that 95% of those original 150 were just thrown away. After that first single, we didn’t have any plans to make another one. Eleven years later, the Internet was in full force and the modern communication landscape made the idea of releasing another single sound like fun again. 110% inspired by Chicago’s HoZac Records, we decided to have a go with Velocity of Sound, and make our love for music a proper label.
When deciding on a band or artist to work with, do you have a certain genre you favor?
The only criteria we have is that we would need to be proud of our bands. We would need to be able to say to “this band is fucking awesome!” and we’re proud to have them on our roster. So far, we’re batting 1000.
The main focus of the music industry is profits. Even in the indie field. Why do you insist on selling your releases at cost? From a business standpoint, isn’t that kind of shooting yourself in the foot?
Basically, we’d rather sell out and break even, then to break even and still have 7″s left over. The goal is to have fun. The labels gets to release something they’re proud of, the bands get to release a single with complete creative control, and the fans get to buy a cool single for the same price as it cost to make one unit. It’s a win, win, win in our book.
So cliches aside, getting the music out there really is your mission statement?
Our mission statement is to just have fun with our release and put ZERO pressure on our bands or on ourselves as a label. Making records is the goal, selling the records is just icing on the cake.
All Powerful You by The Lees Of Memory is probably my favorite Velocity Of Sound release. Not only are the songs amazing, but the B-side plays from the label outward. It has to the be coolest 7″ I own!
I think the backward single idea came to be just by wanting to do something different. What could we do that (WE THINK) hasn’t been done before? The idea just kinda happened. It just popped up. We were fortunate enough to have The Lees Of Memory interested in the project and they NAIL IT!
Many indie labels seem to focus on 7″ releases. Outside of the financial aspect, what’s the appeal of 7″s?
I think 7″s are just good fun. You can pick one up for cheap and hopefully get a good sense of what the band is all about. The challenge of only getting 3-5 minutes per side, instantly turns the release into a “put up or shut up” type of situation. There’s no time to warm up the crowd on a 7″, you gotta make it count.
Collecting seems to be a big part of that. You had that extremely limited ‘Those Were The Lathes’ series that kinda catered to that aspect. To the folks who don’t know, what’s a lathe cut?
The “Those We’re The Lathes” series was just a fun idea we had. In addition to Velocity Of Sound veterans, The Lees of Memory, It gave us a chance to add two new bands to the roster. Hurts To Laugh and Wild Vagina. The lathe series was a great way to do sort of a micro-burst of releases for the same cost to the label as doing just one proper pressing. I say proper pressing because lathe cuts are not the same as a pressed vinyl. Lathes records are made with 1940’s technology that literally cuts sound waves into the record in real time. If you want to make each side 4 minutes, the operator has to sit there for the length of the entire song while the lathe is being cut.
What’s next for Velocity Of Sound? Anything planned for the rest of this year?
As of right now, nothing is planned, I guess we’re just waiting for brilliance to strike! (wink)
For more information on releases, check out the official Velocity of Sound website here.
Aaron (or Coop) is a freelance writer, multi-instrumentalist and overall lover of all things music. As an advocate for indie record labels and artists, he is passionate about local scenes and do-it-yourself artistry. If it’s good, it’s good. If it’s bad, he’s not afraid to explain why.