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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.

Cat ak 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."

Cat ak 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.

Cat ak 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.


Cat ak 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.

Cat ak 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.

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

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