Pairing the word “industry” with the word “music” was probably the worst thing to happen to it. When music becomes a business, it can stifle creativity and lead to reheated pop garbage, void of any real substance.
That’s where Midwest Action’s newest series, Indie Label Spotlight, comes in. We’re not here to bitch about the record industry and tell you how exactly major labels are ruining music. Instead, we’re here to talk about the independent labels that are doing things right.
For our second edition of Indie Label Spotlight, we’re talking with John Praw of Madison, WI label, Mine All Mine Records. Founded in 2007, the label is just as eclectic as it is prolific. There are well over 200 releases in the MAM catalog, ranging from genres like indie and folk to jazz and experimental, with a large portion available for free download. Along with the label, MAM is the force behind Madison’s Lost City Music Festival. Having recently released albums from some of our favorite Wisconsin musicians, and showing no signs of slowing, we thought it was time to spotlight Mine All Mine Records.
Can you tell us a little bit about when and why you started the label?
I initially started Mine All Mine as a name to throw on my own little experimental CD-R & tape releases I was putting together for friends. I ordered a CD on eBay one day, and randomly got an album some guy had recorded on his own, and I thought, “I can do that.” After about 10 releases, I turned it into a netlabel, doing mostly free digital releases from people I met on Myspace. Eventually, it evolved into what it is now: mostly physical releases by friends of mine. We’ve put out material from all over the world, but it’s almost exclusively Wisconsin nowadays.
How many releases have you put out so far?
To date, Mine All Mine has released 253 releases, and we’ve got a bunch of cool things in the works for later this year. You can find them all here.
How do you decide which albums will get a physical release and which are digital only?
Since most of the people on Mine All Mine are close friends, it really depends on what they want to do. It also depends on our current budget. As a smaller label, I can only afford to put out physical releases I’m really passionate about. Some people just want their tunes to be free, and if I think they fit with what we have going at Mine All Mine, I’m happy to help.
It also really depends on how likely I think I am to get my money back. If you set realistic goals, you can make cool things happen. For the new Animals In Human Attire album, for example, we figured out how many we should make, and the band was able to return my investment after the release show. Now we have a cool artifact (the tapes & CDs), no one went broke, and we’re in a position to make more copies of the album.
Is there something that you look for in a band when you’re considering working with them? Do you feel like there is a common thread between all of the releases on Mine All Mine Records?
That’s a little tricky to answer, since the label has been host to a wide range of styles. In the first few years, I really looked for experimental music, and I still value some form of experimentation in everything we release. If I get bored on the first track, or I just plain don’t enjoy a band, there’s no way I’ll release it.
I also have to feel like I can do the material justice. If the music is great, but a complete departure from the stuff we’ve put out in the past, it’s probably not the right match. There can also be problems if I just don’t have time to make a decent swing at promoting a release. If I think an artist can get better mileage out of their release on another label, I’ll say so.
Then there’s the obvious category of “Me” projects. I tend to get a free pass. Most of the time.
How do you think that being headquarted in Wisconsin or the Midwest in general has effected the label?
It’s had a huge impact, for sure. I lived for a year in Norway, and you can see the differences between that time and my return. While I lived in Norway, I did pretty much exclusively online releases. It was cost prohibitive to try to release physical products from the tiny town where I studied.
Returning to Madison was a huge turning point for the label. After that point, almost all of our releases were local, with more and more physical things. When you’re out of college, working to pay the bills, you have to be pickier about what you spend your free time on. In that perspective, it makes a lot of sense to focus on the projects I’m most passionate about, and that usually involves the people closest to me.
I also think it’s a great time to be interested in music in the Midwest. We’ve got great new artists gaining national attention left and right.
If someone wanted to dive into your catalog and pick up something from Mine All Mine Records, where would you tell them to start?
While not really current anymore, Mine All Mine Two Hundred from 2011 is a cool snapshot of some of my favorites among the nearly 100 artists who have been active with Mine All Mine. I’m also incredibly proud of COLIAS 1, which I put together with Brian Grimm of GrimmusiK. We collected 25 artists from the Midwest, and gave them the prompt, “What is ambient to you?” A lot of them created wholly unique pieces, a number having never recorded that kind of music.
Can you tell us a bit about the Lost City Music Festival and how it relates to the label?
Lost City is an attempt to create a low-cost local-centric music festival. We’ve done two festivals and a winter series of shows under that name, all of which have had a surprising amount of support. In the past, Lost City has been booked and organized by my good friend Corey Murphy and me, with a lot of help from a rotating crew of friends.
We’re in a holding pattern here for a short while until we can build something even bigger, but I don’t want to make promises until I know I can keep them. We won’t do it again unless we can make it bigger and better.
Do you have anything in the works that you’re really excited about?
Always! There are a few personal projects that will be completed soon. Once my bandmate Pat finishes getting married, we have more than one Nude Human release to finish. William Z. Villain owes me a tape of avant-garde guitar compositions.
Some things are in the works that I don’t want to discuss too early, including some Cassette Store Day releases, and more.
Keep up with Mine All Mine Records on Facebook and Twitter, and be sure to stop by their website for a list of all 253 current releases including a pretty rad sampler for this year’s Breadfest that was just released yesterday!