Music by August Prum December 11, 2017
In the current landscape of the music industry, indie labels find themselves in an interesting, and complicated, place.
As the glossy veneer of a major label deal slowly crumbles away, aided by streaming services and emerging platforms like Steve Stoute’s United Masters, what exactly is the place of indie labels in 2017?
I spoke to Captured Tracks label founder and owner Mike Sniper, whose experience as a musician and A&R informed his own business decisions and ideas on how to run an indie label.
Captured Tracks got off the ground in 2008 while Sniper was working at Academy Records. Sniper was also playing as Blank Dogs, the stage name for his post-punk, multi-instrumental project.
Sniper explained that Captured Tracks basically just came out of a release of his own as Blank Dogs,
“I started the label in 2008 while I was working as a Buyer/Pricer at Academy Records and also touring/recording as Blank Dogs. I’d been sort of doing A&R for some friends labels, just suggestions of who to do records with really. At some point I decided to start my own label. It was named after a Tour CDR I’d released called Captured Tracks Volume One.”
Captured Tracks’ roster and reputation has grown massively since that early CDR.
With artists like Mac Demarco, DIIV, and Wild Nothing, as well as the exciting country blues musician Molly Burch, whose debut album Please Be Mine was one of the best releases of the year, Captured Tracks boasts a pretty diverse collection of indie rock sounds.
From Mac Demarco’s ambient stoner rock, DIIV’s shoegaze revival, Wild Nothing’s alternative synth-pop, and Molly Burch’s bluesy country rock, Captured Tracks occupies a massive swath of space in independent rock and roll.
This is an interesting trait for a record label that doesn’t see itself as having any unifying aesthetic or sonic vision.
When I asked Sniper about that unifying vision behind Captured, he told me there isn’t an effort to have a cohesive sound, but there’s an active intention to be an ‘A&R label’ that’s constantly finding new acts:
“Not really sonically or aesthetically, though soon after we started, maybe 2 or 3 years after, we decided to only sign new artists, one’s with either no LP’s or a ltd. self-release LP we could reissue. I just wanted to be an A&R label 100%.”
Signing new artists is an especially notable mission from a record label in the current musical landscape. It means that Captured Tracks is especially good at identifying young talent, supplying those artists with a platform, and properly packaging their music in exciting ways.
But the diversity on Captured Tracks’ roster comes from Sniper and his team’s own taste. And when looking to sign a new artist, it’s really about their own drive:
“Sometimes I’ll seek something out that’s different from the current crop of artists on the label, but I won’t let that keep me from signing anything I think is really good. Mostly we need to find artists who will put in a lot of hard work and touring.”
Another aspect of the Captured Tracks business model is Captured Tracks Shop, a brick and mortar store where customers can buy and sell used vinyls and cassettes in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Sniper described Captured Tracks Shop and the label itself as “totally separate entities,” but the creation of the shop establishes a sense of community with their listeners. This goes in tandem with the idea of Captured as an A&R label with a passion for music discovery as intense as their listeners.
Mike Sniper has been on many different sides of the music industry as an artist, A&R, and label owner. This gives him an interesting perspective on monetizing art and giving a platform to artists that have yet to make a cohesive project.
I asked Sniper about his advice for young artists trying to get indie label shine, he told me it’s ultimately about live shows and being proud of their work:
“[Emerging artists] need to play as many shows as possible, have a fully realized idea of who they are as a band and wait to send us music until they’ve made something they’re fully proud of as opposed to a work in progress.”
As independent and major labels alike find new ways to operate in the changing music industry, Captured Tracks has carved out a niche centered on music discovery and giving young, emerging artists a platform.