Halloween Is A Good Day To Die.
After twenty years of operation, and 200 releases, I am laying Arachnidiscs Recordings to rest. I talked about one of the reasons for doing so in this article I wrote for Now Magazine about how in the digital age a (mainly) CD-r micro-label simply doesn’t have as vital a role to play as it once did.
Tied up in that philosophical rationale were a myriad of more personal reasons I didn’t get into. To get to those, I have to first talk a little about why people, including myself, run music labels in the first.
The Four Motivations.
I see there being four basic motivations for a person to start a record label, be it a tiny underground micro-label or a larger cog in the capital-M, capital-I Music Industry.
1. To make money. This would be a more common motivation in the 70s or 80s when the possibility of making a living selling recorded music wasn’t so far-fetched. People still believe in the golden dream of the Music Industry’s pre-Napster heyday, but they often become disillusioned by the reality of the current industry landscape and they fold before ever releasing any product.
2. To feed the ego. Similar to motivation #1, but with less of an emphasis on monetary gain and more on status. To be the cool person running a cool label, hanging out with cool artists at cool places and be constantly told how cool they are. I’ve made this sound a little bit like a Studio 54 nightmare, but it exists in all music scenes from the executive working with pop megastars to someone running a DIY noise label. To adapt an idiom: Those who can, start bands — those who can’t, start labels.
3. Altruism. To help your scene, your community, your friends prosper and gain the recognition they deserve but may be eluding them. To add to the cultural landscape and clear a path for others to follow. You see this talked about a lot in the mission-statements on the “about” page of indie labels.
The tricky thing is Motivation #2 can seep into this laudable intention and taint the waters. And why not? If you’re doing important work and get praised for it, chances are your ego isn’t going to spit that out like it’s poison (unless you’re truly enlightened and then you’re probably not dabbling in worldly exploits like running a record label). Also—at risk of coming off as cynical, jaded, and pessimistic— on occasion you will run into those who claim Motivation #3 but are really exclusively #2, but dressed up to be more marketable to artists, music writers, and customers.
4. Fun. When you’re running a small indie, there’s truthfully not much in the way of reward. Whatever your motivation is, if your goal is to fill your tank on money, praise, or warm altruistic feelings, you’ll more likely than not find yourself running on empty. But whether your motivation is ostensibly 1, 2, or 3, having fun should be your overriding objective. And once it stops being fun, you should get out.
Before I talk about why I got out, let’s remember why I got in.
Arachnidiscs Recordings was founded in 1999 as an extension of the cassette label No Love Records which I started ten years previous while still in high school. I started Arachnidiscs for the same reason I started No Love: to release my own music. In reality, I wasn’t launching a new label so much as re-branding a vanity press which had been dormant for a couple years at that time.
Having made the switch to the then new CD-r technology, I wanted a name which reflected the format. It’d always bothered me I’d named a cassette label No Love Records. So I came up with Arachnidiscs. The “arachnid” part was an ode to the iron spider’s web front gate at my parents’ rural property (where I often found myself living in my twenties), and the self-explanatory use of the word “discs” created a portmanteau inspired by Sloan’s Murderecords.
The first release on Arachnidiscs Recordings was the debut recording by my own BABEL project in late 1999. The CD-r album was sold from the Nanaimo, BC record store Blackball Records, which was like a second home to me at the time. Soon friends and associates of Blackball were given releases on Arachnidiscs and the label made the leap from vanity project to independent label.
Not adherent to any one genre Arachnidiscs has released albums ranging from free-jazz to psychedelic rock to folk singers to electronic experimentalists (as well as more accessible electronic musicians) to harsh noise and any variation in-between. The common denominator has always been “music for and by weirdos” — the label’s slogan since around 2009.
And it was fun for a long time, until it wasn’t.
So What Happened?
It probably is obvious to anyone with a passing experience of human nature that my above four motivations are simplistic. To suggest only one of these motivations, or a combination of two, are all that comes into play when running a label would be reductive. In fact, shades of all four are always present and the ratios are ever-shifting.
Arachnidiscs, by design, has always hovered around the break-even point, often plunging into the red. This was part of my plan to keep it fun—I found it excruciatingly stressful trying to compensate artists fairly if there ever was profit (and keeping track of profits/losses was killing all enjoyment) so I budgeted and priced every release to break-even as a best case scenario.
About three years ago it wasn’t just becoming an expensive hobby, but all four factors began dipping into the red.
Ultimately, it was Motivation #4, to have fun, that had ceased to be sufficiently fulfilled. And since Arachnidiscs wasn’t breaking even—sales have steadily dropped every year since 2016, and production costs are steadily rising—it was only going to become a more expensive hobby.
I’ve worn many hats at Arachnidiscs: A&R/curator, recording and mastering engineer, graphic designer, shipping & receiving, producer, and promoter/publicist. The problem is I’m a truly terrible publicist and to continue the label it was clear to me I was going to need to hire a pro in order to keep sales at a reasonable volume. And when you’re dealing in terms of selling as few as 25-50 copies of a cassette (in the last year Arachnidiscs’ average run on a album has been a mere 18 CD-rs, 8 of which go to the artist), hiring a publicist or PR company is prohibitively expensive. An already expensive hobby was only going to get ludicrously expensive and it’s one I was no longer enjoying ludicrous amounts. I think there’s nothing wrong with dropping the majority of your disposable income on a hobby—be it golf, knitting, snowboarding, building dollhouses, or collecting comic books and records—but only if you’re actually enjoying it.
So why wasn’t I enjoying it? As I wrote in the aforementioned Now article, seeing the vital role of a micro-label to bring underground music out of the shadows, when Bandcamp can put it into the light as well or better, Motivation #3 (to be an altruistic community builder) no longer felt a fulfilling or necessary goal. And tied to that, I’m big enough to admit, was my ego—Motivation #2 rearing its ugly head—began to question why I was sacrificing my time and money for no purpose and no reward.
Once I came to this epiphany, it was impossible to keep having fun.
But I did have fun, for many years, and I did have the pleasure and honour to work with many talented people from across Canada and the world. And I think, for a time (roughly 2010-2016), Arachnidiscs did play a small but important role in the Canadian underground music community. I have no regrets in running the label for a few years longer than I should have (my slight OCD would not let me quit before reaching the tidy accomplishment of 20 years and 200 releases), and I have no regrets in putting it to bed.
When I started letting people know I was ending Arachnidiscs, they all asked a variation on the same few questions.
Do you think you’ll start another label? Hard to say. Perhaps. But if I do it’ll be with a partner or partners and it’ll be run more like a business than a hobby.
That said, I’m not personally going to stop making and releasing my own music (though I’m planning on slowing that down too) and I’ll probably slap an imprint on anything I physically release. Maybe No Love Records? Maybe not.
What’s going to happen to the Bandcamp? It’s going to remain up and selling until there’s nothing left to sell. I’m considering re-branding it ArachniDistro for the purpose of selling any of my own music I personally release in the future or is released by other labels (for the purely opportunistic reason a lot of people subscribe to that account and I’d be a fool not to try and keep that revenue stream open). But this change will just be a new banner graphic, really.
Will you be selling off your stock? Yes, of course. I really want to clear out the basement of what’s left. But it’s not going in a landfill or being donated to a thrift store… yet. Watch for sales in the future around the usual capitalist sale seasons. Or, and this would be even better, don’t risk missing out on a some low-stock items and load up now. This would really help me recoup some of the costs of running this label. https://arachnidiscs.bandcamp.com/merch
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading the nostalgic ramblings of navel-gazing hipster. If you’ve ever bought anything from Arachnidiscs, THANK YOU (see the liner notes for Thirteen Exquisite Corpses for specific shout-outs). If you’ve ever agreed to let Arachnidiscs put out your music, THANK YOU A MILLION TIMES.
Anthony Teeth (Frederick Brummer)
Cellar Doors (Jordan McKenzie)
Amarillo Stars/Gown (Andrew MacGregor)
Mr. Zap (Eli Konsorado)
Down With Everything / Everything is Geometry / The Clap
Rubacuori (Tony Pucci)
Silent Land Time Machine
The Knot (Storring/Lewis)
Khôra (Matthew Ramolo
Mad/Mod; Totenbaum Träger/Projet Muet (Dominic Marion)
Partli Cloudi (Stephen Warren)
Muted Rainbow (Michelle Proksell)
Beard Closet (Phil Hamilton)
Primate Pyramid (Paul Manhas)
Chik White (Darcy Spidle)
Holiday Rambler (D. Alex)
(Colin) Fisher / (Mike) Gennaro
Hazy Montagne Mystique (Chittakone Baccam)
Ylangylang (Catherine Debard)
A Sacred Cloud
Heraclitus Akimbo (Joe Strutt)
Erm + Nickname
CHOBO (Ben Boles / Jessica Cho)
Radio Samson Di Maria (Luca Capone)
Eiyn Sof (Melissa Boraski)
Richmond Avant Improv Collective
Dark Bird (Roan Bateman)
Lusco e Fusco 13
Bullshit Dub Sound System
Eric Wong + Naturalismo + Sherman + Sin:Ned
Women of the Pore
The Side Eye
Lunakin (Quill Hardy)
A Half With Tinnitus
Building Castles Out Of Matchsticks
Brodie West (as part of the “Babel Ensemble”)
And anyone I missed, OMG, I’m so sorry.