Gatekeepers are an important thing in this industry. All the way from the hyper-press to the managers and PR outlets behind them. You - the fan, concert attendee, vinyl collector, message board griper - you are the biggest gatekeeper of all. You hold the real power over who gets heard, how much they get heard and how much support can be put behind a band to move from the house show to the 300-cap venue to the direct support on a stadium tour. You have that almighty power, no matter what other "hype machine" out there tells you differently. It's your money, it's your tweets, it's your conversations among friends.
Then there's the middle man. The label. The person doing all the work to even get this "thing" out to the public. In 2012, some might say that a label may be obsolete. Who needs a bank loan, when you can ask the public for a pre-order of charity? Beyond the monetary value of what a label consumes and distributes lies a "home." A label is supposed to be a community. It's supposed to be a co-op for not necessarily a similar sound, but like-minded bands. For a bastardized term, a label is a company that believes your band can supply quality goods for the greater output; it overseas how well that product comes out. In an overly driven digital world both legal and illegal, pushing people to buy physical copies of anything is sometimes selling a ketchup popsicle to a lady in white gloves.
Tuesday, one of the finest labels to exist closed down production. Hydra Head owner Aaron Turner posted a long farewell on the label's blog stating that Hydra Head's demise was imminent and that it was time to shut down the operation, sell off all the physical stock, repay debt and call it a day. In a industry of consumerism such as this one, one can't blame Turner for his actions. He hasn't exactly shelled out the most accessible music over the years. Take Old Man Gloom's latest, and strongest release to date. It's an album heavier, more progressive and more experimental than most. There are times on NO where even I scratch my cranium, trying to find some understanding. But Hydra Head's catalog is one large crate of just that. From Botch's We Are the Romans, Coalesce's Revolution in Just Listening and Jesu's self-titled to early Piebald and Converge releases. Few got it at the time, but many yearn for it now. It all came from a label that believed in the music when it hit the ears for the first time.
Then there's Hydra Head's packaging as well. If you own a piece of Hydra Head vinyl, you know it's durable. The sleeves are made from tough stock. The artwork and layouts speak volumes about the record within. It's hard to listen to Pelican's Australasia and not think about that melt of yellow and orange background that floats on the cover. There is detail within the grooves of the record as well as the package which protects it. Before vinyl was this cool new resurgence (that's not a hip jab, I'm stoked so many people are into it!), a lot of labels put a great deal into the physical medium, and Hydra Head is one of those kings that did it for years before vinyl was the "it" thing again.
Along with Dischord, Touch and Go and Kill Rock Stars and the now defunct Level Plane, these labels seem like relics of the past more than contemporary contenders with the likes of many greats today bringing back not only tangible goodness, but a feeling of community among their rosters. Beyond that community, again, there is a sense of style and a mission statement. Whether it's the powerful force behind Sargent House's climbing success or the smaller labels such as Topshelf, No Sleep, and Run For Cover that started in a dorm room and are now moved into actual warehouses. There are still little guys like The Ghost is Clear and Flannel Gurl producing their own small worth of music they believe in. Then there's Third Man and Paper + Plastick, working on physical mediums no other have thought of yet.
To the people who say that the physical medium is dead, I say it's just beginning. To the people who say interesting music doesn't exist anymore, stop being stuck in the past. There is a platform for both to coexist. To people who say that labels can be bypassed, that's up for argument, but there is no concrete small case in my eyes. Though Hydra Head Industries and its subsidiaries are now a moment in time, it is certainly petrified and everlasting. Contemporary labels - and the ones you want to start - should take a look at the core of what Hydra Head turned itself into. If you're signing bands for them to be the "next big thing," then you might as well subsidize out to the majors and take the beaten path. In 2012, you just have to believe in the music you're putting out. Listeners will attach themselves to that. They will attach themselves to the work put into your product. They will spend the money on quality, and they will trade in and sell the bullshit later down the line.
I may have not liked everything Hydra Head put out. I don't like everything my favorite labels now put out, but there's an integrity behind them that keeps me coming back, at the very least, to see what it is they are offering. I know the bigger message here is to support your favorite labels and put money back into them so they can help out the bands you love so dearly. That's a given. Hydra Head, again, didn't boast the easiest roster to understand, but I'm offering advice to the other side in this. Not the consumers. This is a blueprint for the producers. You can put a ton of money into viral campaigns and advertisements. Like certain bands, it's time to stop thinking in the now, and thinking about longevity. Though we're talking about a now defunct label, 15 years and a hell of a resume that will certainly last well beyond this moment of grief. That's a definition of longevity some of us tend to forget: constant refelection after demise.
Thank you Hydra Head. I'd play you that crappy Sarah Mclachlan song, but it never got pressed. Maybe one last thing to look into before you shut your production down for good…