We spend a lot of time talking to artists—whether in blog posts or in each month’s issue—and rightfully so. After all, they put their blood, sweat and tears into making the music that brings us together. We haven’t necessarily dedicated a lot of space to the people actually putting out those releases, however, so we figured we'd pick the brains of the men and women behind some of our favorite record labels. A couple of weeks ago, we spoke with Shelsmusic's Mehdi Safa (you can read that here and here). This time around we've connected with the good folks at The Mylene Sheath. Besides putting out killer stuff from the likes of Junius, Constants and Beneath Oblivion, Lindsay and Joel provide a personal touch, whether via a handwritten "thanks" on each and every order or the entertaining newsletters and email updates that they put together. So we sent the duo—whose label is now based in Athens, GA (home of R.E.M., RIP)—a bunch of questions that they were kind enough to answer, the first part of which you can find below. Stay tuned for part two next week.
What person/people are involved in the label and how did it get started? Did you have any experience in the industry, whether on the artist or business side (or otherwise), before things began? Currently, the day-to-day label operations are run by the two of us, Lindsay Palmer and Joel Proper. We also have vital help from our publicist, Derek Meier (of Solid PR) and our art director, Nate Shumaker (Northern Lights Industries), plus our distributor, Redeye. The initial ideas for The Mylene Sheath started in 2004, when Lindsay and I lived in Orlando, FL, but it was actually going to be a record store. After we relocated to Cincinnati, we decided instead to put a record out and see how it went. Neither of us had any experience releasing records, we were just serious vinyl nerds that learned how to sell records from previously buying so many of them, haha. By being loyal customers of record labels like Dischord Records, Hydra Head Records, Robotic Empire and others, we took inspiration from those guys. Ultimately we wanted to be able to provide the same cool records to fans of bands that weren't having them pressed for them yet.
In general, how do you go about finding new acts to sign? Is there any general aesthetic you try to adhere to? Most of the bands that we work with have been introduced to us by other bands we've done stuff with. There's a very natural and organic process that seems to unfold over time, and the more bands we put out records with, the more great bands we meet. We have only released one or two albums from receiving a demo. We don't have a certain genre or anything that we try to stick to. The first handful of records we released were of the instrumental/post-rock variety, and we still work with a lot of those bands, but we dig all kinds of music and will put out anything that is blowing our minds...as long as they want to tour, haha.
What have you found to be the most effective means of communicating and interacting with fans of the music that you put out? Well, this is the most important thing to us, and it's one of the motivating factors to why we started the label. Not to be mega-cheesy, but we really wanted to form and develop a community that we could all feel a part of. So we try to be as available as possible at all times. We have a message board that provides the most direct communication, and we try to jump on there at least once a day and make sure everybody is taken care of and having a good time posting. We also do our monthly newsletter, which gives everyone updates on all the pertinent stuff going on with the label, from preorders launching to preorders shipping, as well as contests, sales, tours and updates on all the bands. We try to make it as personal as possible because we want everyone to share this with us, and hopefully it's not too horribly unprofessional how personal we get, haha. We also communicate with everyone daily on Facebook and Twitter and try our best to reply to anyone that reaches out on those social networking sites. Continuous open and honest communication with everyone from the customers to the bands is the most important thing to us, especially given the preconceived reputation that record labels have. We want people to feel that they can trust us, that's the one of the most important things to us.
The Mylene Sheath is known for putting together some awesome vinyl releases, particularly in terms of packaging and limited edition colors -- tell us a little bit about what kind of work goes into putting those together and your views on vinyl as a medium to distribute/package your music. This goes back to just being record collecting music geeks for the past twenty years, haha. We love the convenience of digital music, but at the end of the day, you want to EXPERIENCE an album, not just "hear" it. There's a ritual that goes into a vinyl listening session, everything revolves around what you're listening to. As a part of that ritual, the packaging of the vinyl should enhance the experience. The work that goes into it varies wildly from release to release, sometimes the bands like to design the artwork and lay it out themselves, sometimes there's a graphic designer hired to handle it, sometimes our art director Nate Shumaker will take care of it, but the CONSTANT headache is meeting deadlines. Turnaround times with vinyl can sometimes be unpredictable, so you're constantly stressed about getting product to bands in time for tour, or product to your distributor in time for the street date. You eventually get ulcers and get put on medicine for acid reflux disease, haha.
And of course, any sort of profit margin for a vinyl release is much thinner than with the CD and digital parts of the release, so you have to find the balance between "we're vinyl nerds that want this to be the coolest looking record ever" and "we're a record label and an operating business that needs to stay on the budget." So you want to make your records as cool as possible, but it can cost a lot of money and you'd still like to make a little money from the project so you can put out more records after that one too! Finding that balance is important when releasing vinyl.
We also handle our own mailorder, we don't outsource "direct-to-consumer" order fullfillment. So logging, packing and shipping orders is a full time job in itself. But we treasure that direct, personal connection with the buyer and developing a long-term relationship with them. We can probably rattle off a few hundred regulars' names that we know by heart, and that is really special to us.
Stay tuned for Part 2 next week! In the meantime, check out The Mylene Sheath here!