Philly natives Michael McDermott and Megan Cauley started the record label earSnake as an outgrowth of their experimental band Gemini Wolf, in which they play under the names Mikronesia and Pandar, respectively. earSnake debuted last December with a holiday podcast called 12 Days and from there released material by the shoegaze-prog band Zelda Pinwheel, twee folkie Lillie Ruth Bussey, and the ambient musicians Carl Franke and Ben Fleury-Steiner as well as their own projects.
This year they're upping the ante with a holiday compilation and a live showcase that not only cap off the label's inaugural year but spell big things for 2009. As if its roster wasn't diverse enough, earSnake is planning releases from electro-pop guru Shawn Kilroy, the quirky psych-folk troupe Paper Masques, hip-hop artists JSIC and Solomon Slowburn, the immaculate retro-pop band the Circadian Rhythms, artist-musician-producer Bilwa, and the Balkan-inspired collective West Philadelphia Orchestra.
Listen: earSnake's Zelda Pinwheel, "Little Drummer Boy"
That'd be an impressive slate for anyone, let alone a fledgling boutique label. We chatted with McDermott and Cauley about remaining true to one's tastes and daring to found a record label in this uncertain day and age.
Is it daunting to be releasing obscure bands both in a recession and during a drastic transformation of the music industry?
Cauley: "I think it's no less daunting than if it was a good economy. We're more like an artist collective and a label, so we're more about having a vehicle to get the music out there."
McDermott: "It's like a traditional label structure [in that] we split the money between the artists and the label. Because we're starting out, we focus more on the digital side. With the music industry changing, that's kind of worked in our favor because it's obviously cheaper to release albums digitally. I think we've only had two albums that were purely digital. For other ones we do print up CDs, but most of the sales have been digital so far."
Cauley: "And we usually just print and produce the [amount of] CDs we know we're going to need. I have a background in design and Mike has a background in web programming, so for us to develop our site and make it easy to download [songs becomes] easy to accomplish."
Do you think being in a band yourselves helps the artists have more faith in the label?
McDermott: "Yeah, I think so. I think most of the people on our label have either done shows with us in the past or known us a few years. They know we're not just picking bands based on what they look like and if they have a lot of fans. We're doing it for mostly musical and artistic reasons."
Listen: earSnake's Lillie Ruth Bussey, "Always Ghost"
The label debuted this time last year with a holiday-themed podcast and now you're approaching the one-year mark with a holiday show and compilation. So it is like things have come full circle?
Cauley: "It's a time marker definitely. People view the end of the year that way anyway, to take stock and look back at things. It's more like a celebration too, to get everyone together in one spot."
Could you share some advice or lessons learned for anyone wanting to start a label?
Cauley: "I think the most important thing, and what traditional labels maybe lose sight of, is letting the music really dictate what happens and focusing on the music primarily. I know that sounds clich�, but if you really stick to what you genuinely like, you'll have a better label for it."
Listen: earSnake's Gemini Wolf, "Formation"
McDermott: "And also, even if you are just starting out and doing things in-house, just try to keep it as professional as possible. Megan is a really good artist, so all the releases have had a really professional look to them. Sometimes smaller labels think that the artwork and having a well-crafted press release doesn't matter. But just from the kind of music and artists we like, we've always appreciated stuff like that. Just having good artwork and making it sound as professional as you can, even if you're doing it at home basically."
EarSnake Holiday Party. Mon., Dec. 22, 9pm. Free. With Gemini Wolf, Lillie Ruth Bussey, Shawn Kilroy, Paper Masques, JSIC + Carl Franke. National Mechanics, 22 S. 3rd St. 215.701.4883. www.nationalmechanics.com