What’s behind the name of your label? How did this name come about (by accident, a word game)? Or does the name express or reflect the philosophy of the label?
It’s pretty straightforward really. I knew from the outset that I was going to limit the label to 12” releases, strictly for club use. It’s music to be manipulated by the DJ. Tactile music.
When was the label founded? And who started the label?
I started the label in the summer of 2001. I closed the label at the end of 2004.
What was the intention behind starting a label? Did it start as a "witty" response like, "Let's try out to run a label," or was there kind of a business idea right from the start?
The label was really born out of the deep disappointment and paranoia that were the result of my split with Planet E. After getting ripped off by Carl Craig, I was very apprehensive about signing with any other label as I feared finding myself in the situation again where I’d sold my tracks off only to never be paid for what had sold. I also wanted to be in full control so as to be able to make sure that the manufacturing end of the process did justice to the music. I was frustrated that my records never sounded as good as what I’d delivered on DAT. By doing everything myself, I could retain ownership of my material as well as put the most care into the actual physical product being manufactured within the budget I’d set myself.
One additional reason was a result of the frustrations I’d faced while shopping material prior to being signed by Planet E. Absolutely nobody would pick up the tracks I was sending them, or else they said they’d release them with no contract and no advance. However, once Planet E had released some my material, so many labels were hitting me up for tracks and didn’t even seem too bothered about checking them out first. I was quite struck by what to me seemed like hypocrisy, namely being more interested in my general popularity than the quality of material I was delivering. When I set up Tactile I, obviously naively, had a stronger sense of the record label as engaged in something artistic rather than it being a commercial endeavor. As such, I hoped that the label would be a means to give new talent an avenue through which they could release their music.
Do you also run sub-labels? Why and when did you add them to your label
How would you describe the style/sound of your label (sublabel)?
What are the musical boundaries? Which musical "drawer" do you like to fit
most of your label's music?
I didn’t really set out with a specific sound in mind as I think I never wanted the focus to be that narrow. The bottom line for me was to release material that would work on a dance floor and yet was still interesting musically. I didn’t want it to be a straight house or techno label, but rather something in between, although the small number of releases didn’t flesh out that vision.
Which kind of media do you use for your releases (MP3, CD, Vinyl...)? Are there any plans in the near future to add new media formats? Which media formats are definitely uninteresting to you?
I only ever released vinyl. As I was doing everything myself, I didn’t want to make my life any more complicated than it already was. As such, I never intended to do full albums as the whole marketing and distribution network for CDs is quite different.
Do you own/run a shop or web-shop? How important is owning a store for you?
In which countries do you distribute your records? Do you work with a Distribution? Or do you manage the distribution by yourselves?
I did a fair deal of research into this before starting the label. The best advice I got was from a friend of mine who works at NEWS Distribution in Belgium. He compared the distribution game to a circle that goes around into which you can either add small quantities in lots of different places, or large amounts in fewer places. By selling larger amounts to fewer distributors, I’d have a better relationship with them, spend less time chasing money up, and save myself time and money on the initial mail outs of promos. As such, I ended up working with two domestic US distributors (Downtown 161 and Syntax), two others who both export and distribute domestically (Watts and Unique), and one German distributor (Word & Sound). The only store I dealt with was my local shop here in Chicago (Gramaphone).
How do you become interested in new artists?
Either by waiting for demos or checking out new releases at the record shop.
What do you think about the range of artists a label should sign? Less is more? Or does a big range of artists help to get more attention?
I never really got to a point where this was an issue for the label.
Do you have a demo policy? Who listens to the demos and decides to take new artists onboard?
I took care of all that myself. Unfortunately the majority of the material I was sent was pretty miserable. Furthermore, a lot of newer artists have an unrealistic impression of how much money there is to be made. It was frustrating to put a lot of energy into coming up with a deal that was fair to both the artist and the label only to have it turned down because the artist thought they could do better elsewhere, especially as this was almost never the case.
What about the number of releases in one year. How many releases do you usually have in one year? And how much ahead do you plan your releases?
My plan was always to release material as it became available. In other words, I was only going to put a record out if I had a strong belief in the material, whether it was mine or another artists. I think this hurt the label as it’s really quite important to have a steady stream of material being released, both as an artist and as a label. I really think that quantity often trumps quality in this business.
Is there a connection between the hometown of your label and the label itself? Do you think if you would move to another city your label probably would lose his identity?
I think living in Chicago doesn’t have a great deal of impact on where my head is at musically. It would be different if I were either more involved in the local scene or if I was releasing material by local producers. Unfortunately, Chicago has by and large slipped into irrelevance when it comes to production nowadays. I don’t think where I lived would have a huge influence were I to still be running the label.
Which of your releases would you name as the most successful release?
“The Pull” EP I recorded with Steve Bug.
Besides the sales figures which one is your personal number one?
I’d say “The Pull” again. I’m usually fairly ambivalent about my own music, so there’s a certain freedom from my self-criticism when I’m not wholly responsible for the record. And I do think there really are some tight tracks on that record.
Nobody likes to talk about failures, anyway, how much time must pass until you would call a release a “flop”? Any records which hadn’t any success in the beginning and after you named it a flop it became successful by accident?
The only record that was disappointing from a sales perspective was the last release, Timo Anttila’s “Package Delivered” EP. I both underestimated the difficulty of selling an unknown artist on what was a relatively young label and was also misled by the high preorders I got for it.
Your feelings about the music market: Would you say things are getting harder for record labels through things like p2p, mp3….?
I don’t know how good of a sense I have of this as I’m no longer running the label and so am more removed from this end of things. However, my impression from what everybody tells me is that things are pretty bad. I can only think of a couple of people I know who make any real money off of record releases as opposed to performing.
Which kind of medias/press do you use for promotion? How do you select the media you work with? In general; how important is the press for electronic music? What makes you really upset when you work with the press? A bad review, no response…
Promotion was the only aspect of the label I outsourced as I really don’t like dealing with people. It mainly consisted of mail outs to DJs and magazine reviewers. Although I got a fairly good deal, it was a pretty large expense for a small label like mine. To this day, I honestly have no idea whether it made the slightest bit of difference when it came to sales. I think that the press is less important than it was a few years ago, although I don’t know if I’m a very good judge of that.
Music is business, like every other business. With that in mind, how important is "friendship" and "trust" to you when you work with artists, promoters or distributors? Or do you separate things?
Due to my experiences, it’s difficult for me to trust most people when it comes to business. The worst thing someone can do is tell me that I should trust them as I immediately ask myself what reason they could have for feeling it’s necessary to spell that out. I do prefer working with people I know well as it reduces the number of unknowns that you face. A person’s reputation also says a whole lot. If someone has problems with everyone else, it’s more likely that they’re the problem. You can also tell a great deal by the length of people’s working relationships. For example, a label that still puts out records by the same artist for many years most likely does a good job and pays what is due to the artist. If a label only ever puts out one or two records by each artist, then most likely there’s something dirty going on. This is business, so it’s also important to me that the people I work with are on top of things and not always sloppy and late. At the end of the day, I’d say contracts are more important to me than “trust”.
Although your whole day is centered around the music business, do you
sometimes walk into a recordstore to buy a record?
I work in a record store as I prefer having a steady income that also gives me the flexibility to work on music and travel for gigs. We don’t sell any new dance music, so it leaves me somewhat removed from my particular niche. Having worked in a dance record store, I prefer where I work now. I do also visit my local dance store every week. It’s the only way I can stay on top of new releases, and I think it’s also really important to support what is in effect the front line for what we do.
I closed the label just over a year ago. The main issues were that it left me with almost no time to work on my own music and that it was not profitable. I pretty much broke even on the whole endeavor, which really wasn’t good enough considering the amount of time that I was putting into it. I also realized that I wasn’t prepared to make the necessary compromises to make the label profitable. At the end of the day, I was more interested in indulging my own artistic pretensions than making money.
Interview Michael Mück/Spring 2006
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