Indie Labels

Indie Label Asthmatic Kitty Shares “What Is Working?”

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In an ongoing series Hypebot has been asking
indie professionals: "In this fractured media landscape, what is
working?
What outlets and tools are helping your artists build an
audience? " Today Michael Kaufmann, John Beeler and the team at indie label Asthmatic Kitty (Sufjan Stevens, I Heart Lung, Welcome Wagon, Castanets, Half-handed Cloud) share their philosophies and methodology.

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MARATHON RUNNING –
The temptation is the glory hogging sprint, the
sweaty pride of a blast out of the gates and that debut artist getting
the gold. Sure, it is rewarding to have a debut artist be
significantly noticed, but the challenge and subsequent reward of
sustaining your roster artists through financial support, emotional
nurturing, and aesthetic challenging is a more satisfying mode of
operation. I imagine that there are plenty of super talented musicians
and bands out there who didn't hit on their first album and as a
result their label and support network dropped. But what if those
artists had had the opportunity to develop and hone their skills as
songwriters and musicians over several albums with the support of
their label?

"…people buy
records because they want to own them,

not because they want to hear
them."

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SELLING EXPERIENCE
– I operate under the conviction that people buy
records because they want to own them, not because they want to hear
them. It is too easy these days to hear a record without having to buy
it. I don't resent that fact, rather I feel we at Asthmatic Kitty embrace it through streaming albums and offering several free mp3s
(even whole free albums). And why do they want to own it? They want it
to illustrate to others their taste and identify who they are as a
person. I also believe they want to be part of something bigger than
themselves, they want to belong.

Our job is no longer to sell folks
things they want to hear. They want an experience and to identify
themselves as part of a community. Ownership then becomes a way of
them supporting your community through investing in that community.
Fostering that in an honest, transparent and "non-gross" way takes a
combination of gracefulness, creativity and not taking oneself too
seriously, while still taking art and music seriously.

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INFORMATION SAVVY –
In other words, taking on the responsibility for
being information savvy so your customer doesn't have to be. This
requires the creation or utilization of multiple contexts for
potential fans to connect with your music, which isn't limited to the
internet. It is shortsighted to limit this concept to how many social
networking sites you can sign up for. And

part of being information
savvy might have more to do with being selective, going for quality
over quantity. At some point the social networking game diminishes
each site's effectiveness if you are spread too thin across them all.
And beyond social networking our tech savvy pioneer John Beeler has
reached out to independent video game developers, has helped us
embrace opportunities like muxtape, and continues to seek out creative
and non-traditional marketing and/or collaborative art making
opportunities or venues.

The other side of this is internally. The
more we are able to streamline how we gather and then release the
information for a given album or project, the more time we have to
release more music, explore new opportunities for our artists, and be
more than just a record label that manufactures releases. There are
some exciting new tools out there that we have been utilizing to help
us in this endeavor. Some of them have been built internally by John,
but we have also integrated third party options such as flickr, vimeo,
artistdata, and wordpress. At the root of the external and internal
technological advances is the goal to build relationshiops with people
behind the technology rather than relying on the technology. The tech
comes and goes, but the players stay the same.

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MICROCULTURE ECOSYSTEMS –
In all of this, I think my driving philosphy
which I feel connects these three things is probably what is no more
than a fancy way of saying, DIY. We have tried to create our own
microculture ecosystem by working with friends while making new ones,
and striving for independence, while understanding the need at times
for interdependence (i.e. distribution through Touch and Go and SC
Distribution).

We have also done our best to support bands and scenes
through our Unusual Animal parties which celebrate and highlight local
art and music talent. We share information and collaborate with
like-minded labels. Through all of this, we hope at the end of the day
people look at Asthmatic Kitty and see a catalog of creative and
innovative music, an attention to details, and an integrity and
honesty in the way we do business.

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BE GRATEFUL –
We work hard, but we also know we are lucky to be alive.
That is why we still personally answer every email that
info@asthmatickitty.com receives. Our mail-order has the best customer
service in the business bar none. Responding to emails, managing
returns, and sending product quickly and smoothly are old-fashioned
concepts that lack a buzzword, but they have helped us bring customers
back to our website to purchase merch rather than send them to Amazon
or iTunes or big box stores. This kind of attitude also helped us
develop the brand, which gives us a certain amount of capital when
introducing a new act or even in selling grocery tote bags. And in
each communication with customers, artists, and the companies we
contract – each of us strives to maintain an air of graciousness
because we know that this whole thing could come crashing down at any
minute. It's good to live on the edge.

Cat ak

More about the Asthmatic Kitty Recrods and it's artists here.

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6 Comments

  1. Michael,
    You’ve done a great job of exploring and utilizing these tools always with the goal of engaging fans and providing improved experience rather than just to sell more records. Congratulations and we look forward to more in the future.
    Matthew

  2. Wow! Great post. Thanks for sharing your knowledge in plain english.
    Question: Who said “”…people buy records because they want to own them, not because they want to hear them.”
    I’d like to use this in a future post and give proper credit.
    Kevin

  3. Take art more seriously, what a concept. But the only way to do this is for musicians to get off this idea that art is subjective and there’s no good or wrong way to make it and we’re all just playing the “telephone game” rehashing randomness. Maybe “battle of the bands” is not the answer, but I think you know what I mean.

  4. Take art more seriously, what a concept. But the only way to do this is for musicians to get off this idea that art is subjective and there’s no good or wrong way to make it and we’re all just playing the “telephone game” rehashing randomness. Maybe “battle of the bands” is not the answer, but I think you know what I mean.

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