“Just like a new-born child does for a parent, every new record equals a hope, a dream and a future for an artist. That is what music does for us here in Detroit.”
Those are the (edited) words written by The Unknown Writer on a record sleeve in the Detroit techno museum housed in the building of Submerge/Underground Resistance on Grand Boulevard in Detroit, Michigan. Ever since I visited that place these words are constantly resonating with me and what I do in music. Releasing records from me, my friends and from artists whose music I wanted to share with the world has been an extension of my love for music, which is of course also reflected in my DJ’ing. Ever since I started my We Play House Recordings label back in 2008 releasing records was however always a means to an end, by which I mean that I released records because I like them first and foremost, but also because it is a calling card for the artist and label. A calling card that – if distributed and picked up widely – could lead to gigs and as such could allow the artist to make a living from music and dedicate all his or her time to it. Making a living just from releasing music is considered a thing from the past and any small profit you can make from a record is a true victory over modern times. We released records, got some gigs and carried on.
But these modern times have now thrown something entirely different at us. Something that has taken gigs out of the equation and made releasing records as a calling card seem slightly at odds with reality. This led me to reflect on things and has made me decide to try and make releasing records more important again. To make it a thing on its own and not just a means to get more gigs and more attention. I am not naive and I know that releasing underground records that cater to a small part of the worldwide audience can never fully cover the financial gap made by the loss of gigs, but I am convinced that if people really know the effort that goes into releasing music, they will think about it and they might be convinced that spending a bit more on music is a good thing. That is why I am sharing with you the story of one of my upcoming releases. WPH U.S. #2, the ‘Cassette Cuts E.P.’ by Brian Kage, which will be the second release in my ‘U.S. Series’. This is a series dedicated to artists from across the pond, artists born and raised in those cities that defined my taste and the taste of millions of lovers of electronic music around the world: Detroit, Chicago & New York. For those of you who are not familiar with music production and pressing up vinyl I will try and explain the different steps and terms to the best of my ability.
I have known the name Brian Kage (pronounced Kagee) for the better part of 15 years. When I joined the roster of Deep’Art Agency Brian was on there as well and my booker suggested meeting him during one of my regular visits to Detroit, because he was sure we would have a lot of common ground. For some reason this never happened till my last visit to Detroit, when I decided to meet up with a whole bunch of people whose music I like, to see if they would be up for doing something for my WPH U.S. Series. Brian and I did indeed get off to a good start and one thing leading to another he started sending me some tracks for a possible release in my U.S. series. We sent some messages back and forth and quickly decided on a four track 12” release, with three original tracks from Brian and one remix of the main track ‘Werkit’. Brian did not ask for any money for his music, because he runs an underground label himself and knows that financially there is not really any profit to be made from pressing up a couple of hundred vinyl copies and some digital sales and streaming. I did not offer any money for that same reason and as always I felt a bit bad about that, but I moved on, because that is the state of things I have come to accept. A contract was however drawn up and agreed on, because even if there is almost certainly no money to be made, I still believe a contract is a token of trust and I still want to put in writing that IF I make any money from a release I will split it evenly with the artist(s) involved.
Remember we wanted to have a remix of the main track on the release? In line with the idea behind the series I immediately thought about Detroit’s Patrice Scott, one of my favourite music producers on this planet and someone who I have had the privilege to get to know personally during my many years dabbling in music. Patrice was up for it and we started discussing his remix fee. Patrice also runs his own underground label called Sistrum and he is aware that there are no profits to be made, just like I am aware that spending money on a remix simply means even less chance of breaking even on this release. But it is common to pay a flat fee for a remix and with us being friends we quickly agreed on a modest fee, to at least cover some of the work Patrice is putting in daily. A couple of weeks later Patrice delivered and sent me a deep reworking of Brian’s track, so the four tracks of the release were now ready. Or not?
When sending the different parts and sounds of Brian’s original track to Patrice in order for him to do the remix my mind zoomed in on a little vocal snippet saying ‘Work It’ and I fired up my recently acquired Moog Little Phatty synthesizer to see if I could do something with it. Over the next hours and days the little vocal snippet turned into an electro version of the track, with me grabbing the mic and laying down some extra vocals about ‘working it all day and night’. I had fun doing it and then did not go back to it until my friend Nicolas aka San Soda came over and we jammed a bit in my studio. He really liked the basic track I did with the ‘work it’ vocal snippet and gave me some extra pointers to make it better and provided with what I always call ‘extra musicality’. I worked on it some more in the days that followed and after a couple more studio sessions I decided to send my version to Brian to see what he thought about it. Brian loved it, but we both knew that there was some work on the final sound, so I went back to my studio to tweak it a bit more and then finally I sent it back to Brian who spent some hours on the final mix. Being happy with the final result I decided to include it on the release instead of one of the other original tracks by Brian. Me being the one running my own label I did of course not get paid to do my version, but it is my calling card as well right?
With the final four tracks that would make up the release now decided I sent them to my mastering engineer Marcos Salon. Mastering is the final step to getting the overall sound of a record ‘right’. I guess the job of a mastering engineer can be compared to the chief editor of a book or newspaper article. He or she puts the final touches on the sound of the tracks and can make the difference between a record that sounds good and a record that sounds amazing. Marcos has been doing my mastering since the start of my label, because he has spent a lifetime making music and crafting sound. I consider him to be one of the best ears in the business. Marcos also knows the financial reality of releasing a record and is happy to master our music for a very modest fee.
I always believed that if you make the effort to release a physical copy of your music you should not only make it sound good but also make it look good. Enter Mayz, my designer since day one (and before). Mayz is another expert at his craft and another artist that I trust blindly. I provide him with some info on the project at hand and he delivers. Fast, reliable, always on point and always surprising me time and again. Mayz knows the reality of releasing music and he has always worked way below his normal fee.
With music and artwork in place it is time for the next step: getting the record pressed on beautiful pristine vinyl. For that I have always been working with Jeff Diki, a true legend in Belgium’s electronic music scene. Jeff used to run Diki Records in Mouscron, a record shop and label that was the main reference for hundreds of DJ’s and producers alike back in the 90’s. When the record shop business started to fade Jeff opened a vinyl pressing plant in Mouscron where I pressed my first WPH releases and later on he started to work as a vinyl broker: the middle man between a record label and the record pressing plant. Simply put: I send all my music and artwork to Jeff, I tell him what I want and he finds the best solution for me. Jeff also knows what it is like to release music nowadays and he works at a minimum margin.
Jeff is aware that I always want to have the best quality for my releases and at this point in time that quality is only right for me when pressing my records through Deep Grooves in The Netherlands. Deep Grooves is a fairly new vinyl pressing plant with an emphasis on eco-friendly materials and processes. For those of you who do not know how a vinyl record is made, here’s a very brief breakdown. Just like when printing a magazine or newspaper you need a printing plate to press the individual copies. For vinyl this is done by first cutting a lacquer, a crucial step into how your record will sound. Since recently my lacquers are cut by Manmade Mastering in Berlin, another company that knows the reality of releasing a record and who deliver stellar work at very fair prices. Their lacquer then goes to Deep Grooves who finally use it to create the stamper, which is the printing plate that is mounted on the vinyl pressing machine. Deep Grooves invests a lot into their eco-friendly approach, but still manages to keep their prices competitive and in touch with the reality of releasing records.
The total cost for pressing 250 copies of WPH U.S. #2 comes to €1631. This includes some €150 for Sabam as well. Or did you think they would forget about us? This means that the cost per record for this project is €6,5.
Once the records are pressed Deep Grooves packs them up and sends them to my distributor Rush Hour in Amsterdam. They contact stores around the world and let them know the record is available. Rush Hour pays me a certain amount per record they sell to the shops. That amount is decided by the worldwide market. A worldwide market in which the customer is used to pay anything between €10 and €15 for a new house music 12” vinyl release. My cost price per record was €6,5. It takes little imagination to know that neither Rush Hour nor the shops can work for free, but they too have to accept the reality of the situation and keep their margins to a minimum.
Basic math will tell you that I cannot make any money from selling 250 vinyl copies through my distributor and a network of shops. The direct selling of records through Bandcamp helps to even things out a bit and the digital distribution of my releases (done well by Clone in Rotterdam) to download and streaming platforms like iTunes, Beatport, Traxsource and Spofity also brings in a welcome little extra to get to that goal of all goals when releasing music at this point in time: breaking even.
If you have read this from start to finish you know that about 7 talented and passionate people and 3 or 4 companies run by passionate people have been involved in the making of this record, all of which are working for free or at minimum margins. None of us aspire to get rich, but we all love what we do and we know that we can bring you joy through our work and passion. I would like you to think about this when you are listening to the music you like.
If you are curious how this particular record sounds...it will be out officially early August and it is already up for pre-order on the WPH Bandcamp page.