I can trace my interest in record labels back to my late teens, when I begun to work with a friend on his independent label. It didn’t quite align with my tastes (it focused on extreme metal; my new label focuses on world music - so a slight difference) but I got invaluable experience in press engagement, digital marketing and event production.
Eventually I decided to start a label of my own, Art As Catharsis, which celebrates Australian music that is progressive, psychedelic or thoughtful. I was particularly interested in looking at local music with an experimental edge. We have released a wide range of styles in an attempt to represent the ingenuity of local artists. After seven years of running Art As Catharsis (and gathering a small but loyal following), my personal musical tastes began to shift away from heavy, progressive sounds and more towards the classical, instrumental music of the Afghanistan, Turkey and Iran. Worlds Within Worlds, my new label, is a response to that interest - one that continues to expand the more I hear and explore.
The catalyst might have been a trip I took through the Pamir Mountains in Central Asia last year. With so many hours spent rumbling along in a Jeep with a few friends, I was exposed to a diverse range of music. We also attended a three day music festival in Khorog, on the border of Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
Those conversations really inspired me, and I suppose they helped light a flame. The classical music of Persia grabbed me straight away. It seemed to share elements that already interested me in other forms and genres - playing with a sense of time; odd metres; and an instrumental musical tradition that takes listeners on an emotional journey. Persian classical music has some similarities with Western classical music, but it has more freedom because of the focus on improvisation. There are interesting juxtapositions which are intriguing as a listener - the melodies are ornate but free; there are interesting uses of microtones and complex composition, and yet the music can be dramatic and tragic. I always prefer to listen to albums from beginning to end in one sitting, which is how I would recommend anyone listen to music on my label. The individual tracks are placed together to create a singular work, more often than not, so it is nice to sit down with an album and experience it as a whole.
Digital media and streaming has shifted this focus of the industry - which is fantastic in some ways and challenging in others. The internet has really shaken up the power of distribution; promotion and marketing has changed as a result, but so has the actual process of recording and production. When I started Art As Catharsis, we used Bandcamp, because of the platform’s focus on paying artists reasonably, while offering flexibility and discoverability. Finding out about Bandcamp shifted my approach as both a consumer and a promoter - now my listening habits include a significant amount of streaming services. When I was growing up I spent so much of my income on CDs and records, but things are changing!
There are challenges to running a record label that produces music that is not traditionally considered “commercial”, but then again, my aims are not commercial. I’m hoping to build communities and break barriers with fantastic, sometimes challenging music. I’ve seen how the internet can help unite diverse people from around the world, and allow listeners from all walks of life to discover and explore music that they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to access. The most important thing about my job is to maintain relationships - with artists and musicians, with media contacts, and with our supporters. It’s crucial, regardless of where you sit in the industry, to learn about and try to understand the people around you. I wish I’d known that sooner!
I’ve found it important to recognise the power of the internet, and using that to your advantage rather than railing against it. You can target audiences and find people that are interested in your specific niche; the opportunities are boundless. I’ve been blown away by the number people I’ve met - both in real life and over the internet - who appreciate the label. I’m touched every time someone reaches out to tell me about their personal experience with my records. It’s pretty cool to have made something that encourages people to sit down and listen to challenging music. It’s even better when they love it!