When many people hear screamo nowadays, their minds tend to jump almost immediately to the Warped Tour sensation bands such as Black Veil Brides. It is a term often abused by metal fans to describe simply anything technically in the realm of “heavy” music that they deem unsuitable to be called metal or hardcore; a derogatory term that is an easy way to say “I don’t like it.” However, this broad, negative view of screamo could not possibly be more wrong, as it is a subgenre within extreme music that many could easily respect. It is the most abrasive, raw, emotional punk out there, yet still melodic at many points, drawing from the post-hardcore/emo sound pioneered just a few years earlier by such acts as Indian Summer, Heroin and Rites of Spring. Sadly, however, after a quick surge in popularity around the time of its inception, screamo took a slight fall from grace within the extreme music community, making it more and more difficult to find new bands that were still popping up in abundance.
Partially, this is due to the strict DIY ethics of screamo. Since its inception, DIY and screamo have been almost synonymous, with many bands attempting to skirt labels entirely and present their product in the most purely punk fashion possible. However, even in a scene that takes its DIY politics as seriously as screamo does, there are still some independent labels that manage to pop up and stick so closely to their punk ethos that even screamo bands can’t complain. Such is the case with Middle-Man Records, an independent label based out of Lafayette, IN that specializes (though by no means exclusively focuses) in putting out screamo records from some of the scene’s most currently relevant bands, such as Ostraca from Richmond, VA.
I recently had the pleasure of talking to the label’s owner and primary operator, Shawn Decker, about what goes into running an independent label such as Middle-Man Records, as well as the challenges he faces running the label in today’s current music scene and just what he means when he says “Thank You For Not Twinkling.” Read the Heavy Blog interview with Sean below, an interview that made me appreciate independent labels in a whole new way.
Why Middle Man Records? What’s the significance of the name of the label?
When I was in high school, a friend of mine’s band asked me to help them put out a cassette. I had put out a cassette before, but they didn’t have the knowledge of duplication plants that I had. I jokingly said something like “So you want me to be the Middle Man, huh?” and it stuck.
How long has Middle Man Records been around, what’s the motivation to continue running an independent label in an age it seems so much harder to do so in?
Middle Man Records has been around for quite a while, but had some years of inactivity until 2010 when I started going back at it hard again. It sounds really cliche I guess, but the motivation for me is helping people. When I was growing up dreaming about playing music, the idea that my band would have music that people could listen to and buy on cassette or vinyl was just too much to imagine possible. Just being able to make that thing was all that mattered. To be able to do that is a dream come true, and I like to think that’s what we’re doing when we press a band’s record: making that dream come true for them. To be able to do that is amazing.
Could you run through what goes on during an average day of running Middle Man Records?
Middle Man Records is different than most DIY labels I think, in the sense that I handle a lot more things “in house.” When I do projects for other bands, it’s their call how they want to handle artwork and presentation, but when it comes to Coma Regalia, more often than not I do all of the packaging completely by hand. This means an average day doing Middle Man Records is spent gluing, screen printing, stapling, collating, cutting materials to form and packaging records from start to finish. I also record all of Coma Regalia’s stuff but that’s another story. Other than that there’s packing orders and a lot of discussion about projects, whether they’re currently in production or will be at some point in the future.
What makes a demo/submission worthy of a second listen? To me it seems as if you lean heavily towards screamo, is this just because of personal preference or do those demos just tend to impress you the most?
It’s hard to quantify what makes something worth a second listen. I don’t think about it too much. There are a ton of great bands out there, and unfortunately, I can’t help them all. So really it’s just a matter of that first listen. If it just jumps at me as soon as I hear it, I’ll have to make time for it.
As far as what I’ll release, I really listen to a ton of stuff other than screamo, but a lot of what’s coming out now that isn’t screamo doesn’t appeal to me as much. In the last couple years I released the Iris “Haunt Me” 10″ which people have described as shoegaze. I also released The Story Changes “Static + Trembling” LP which is just a really solid rock album (ffo Jimmy Eat World etc.) by some long time friends of mine. At this point, they spend most of their time playing in the band Hawthorne Heights, but if The Story Changes makes a new LP anytime soon I’d love to take part in that. Ultimately, screamo is my first love though, and most of my friends play in screamo bands, so there you have it.
Why run an independent label in the age of the internet where everything is so easy to pirate? Does this noticeably negatively impact you and how do you try to work around it?
I do it for the same reasons I’ve always done it; the reasons I mentioned above. As far as pirating goes, I don’t worry about it too much. I’ve had people complain that I don’t immediately release every record for free download. I have seen people say things about how they won’t even listen to an album if it isn’t up for free download. I wish those people would consider just how much money goes into making a record and how difficult it is to make that money back. For every record where you actually can make your money back (and I mean, make it back, not profit), there are 10 where you just don’t even make a dent. There’s a record I put out a couple years ago… I spent a ton of money on this record. The record came out and I sold 1 copy. One. So, if you see “pay what you want” under the download and you drop some $$$ or you see $3 or $5 and you’re cool with paying that, you’re doing me (and the next band I want to put out) a HUGE help. If not, that’s cool too. Being able to stream a record is pretty amazing in and of itself, after all.
I also couldn’t help but notice the “Thank you for not twinkling” posts on your wall. What do you think of the increasingly “twinkly” and indie leanings of emo, and where do you see your label and screamo in general fitting into this revived interest in “emo”? Is the anti-twinkle idea something you actually support and believe in?
I don’t know. I don’t think that a lot of people understand context when it comes to music. People would call Native or The Reptilian twinkly, but I wouldn’t. They might have some tapping parts or whatever like some bands, but those are just two solid punk bands if you ask me. Also, I think the people in those bands are fantastic songwriters. Time has a way of separating art with substance from that without, so we’ll see where that leaves a lot of bands. I do want to thank you for saying “revived interest in emo” instead of “emo revival.” Obviously the term “emo revival” is pretty inaccurate. Emo doesn’t now, nor do I think it’ll ever need, a revival. The “Thank You For Not Twinkling” thing was just a funny thing I made in Photoshop. I’m going to have stickers made of that.
Finally, what do you think of sites like Facebook making it increasingly difficult for bands and labels to reach their fans? How has it affected you and how do you try and work around it?
It’s obviously a pretty underhanded tactic. People come to your page to keep up to date on things, and then they make some algorithm that only shows it to a percentage of them. It’s like if a band got 100 people to come to a show and then someone comes in and puts blindfolds and ear muffs on 70 of them. You got the people there, but they provided the platform, so I guess it’s their rules. I guess we need a new platform. Some bands and labels do super well promoting themselves on tumblr, but I’m not one of them. I guess screamo isn’t as tumblr friendly.
Hopefully, in the years to come, we as an independent music community will continue to be lucky enough to see releases from Middle-Man Records. The level of devotion and difficulty it takes to run an independent, DIY label is truly astounding, and helps to solidify that every single dollar you can contribute to music does help and makes an immense difference. Feel free to check out Middle-Man Records on Facebook (or even tumblr) as well as checking out their merch, as there are more than a few shirts and records that are completely worth your money.