With the current situation being complicated for the music industry, it was an opportunity for me to highlight some DIY punk labels around the world. Here’s the US punk label Jetsam-Flotsam, managed by Dane Erbach.
Could you please introduce yourself and present your record label to our readers?
My name is Dane Erbach and I run Jetsam-Flotsam, an indie label based in the Chicago suburbs. We release music digitally and on vinyl and cassette. The records we release all fall under the broad punk-rock umbrella ranging from roiling noise rock to catchy acoustic indie rock, melodic punk-rock to smoldering post-metal. I like to call our label a family label because my wife Emily helps steer the ship and our children sometimes help pack and ship records. One day, they will be inheriting a lot of cool looking records and cassettes.
What made you concretely get into the music industry and how did you start this label?
Growing up, I was in a few local bands, but made a conscious decision away from playing music and toward writing about music. I wrote for enough websites and ran a couple music blogs long enough to get a sneak peek of what it looked like on the back end of a record label. In 2014, my wife and I put together a business plan and talked to as many label people as we could as we led up to our first two releases, a seven-inch and an LP. The thought of working with artists we believe in and helping them pursue their passions really appealed to us at the time, and the reality is sort of intoxicating. Though, it’s financially draining and can be hard to keep up with the speed of social media and release cycles, it’s been a fun ride and has allowed us to make a lot of friends.
With a worldwide pandemic going on, how have you handled the management of your label over the past few months?
Honestly, it hasn’t changed that much. Our artists live all over the US, so we’ve always had to communicate remotely—via email or text message. If anything, I’ve had way more Zoom meetings than I ever have had before. Social distancing hasn’t really changed the way we order records, sell records, or pack orders. That said, it has made it harder for our bands to practice, tour, and record. Thankfully, our bands are seeing the light at the end of that tunnel.
How does a label develop its roster? Do bands approach you directly or is it rather the other way around?
It’s a mix. Some bands we had preexisting relationships with; maybe I wrote something for them or worked with them previously in some way. Some bands are passed to us through friends or other bands on the roster. But I’d like to think that, even as a millennial approaching middle age, I still have a pretty good vibe for smaller bands that are making a name for themselves. One of my favorite ways of discovering new bands is by seeing who our roster is playing shows with.
Has the pandemic strongly affected the production of your merchandising and the pressing of CDs / vinyls / tapes of your bands?
At first, not really. We pressed a 10″ and a 12″ last spring that arrived earlier than expected, and we were pretty excited by that. But we recently did a couple of cassettes that were delayed by months, and that was a drag. Apparently, the manufacturing plant was shut down for a few days because of COVID. Thankfully, people are pretty forgiving these days. We all know how it is.
If you had to choose between a vinyl or a CD, which one would you personally pick and why?
I used to be a CD apologist, but then I bought a car without a CD player, and that changed everything. My only means of playing CDs was now gone. I definitely don’t buy CDs any more, which is a bummer because I don’t think they are a forsaken format. This is my long-winded way of saying I would pick vinyl. In addition to not having an easy means to play CDs any more, I listen to vinyl at home in my living room and around the house while doing dishes or work at my dining room table. Vinyl has a time and place in our home, so I reserve our turntable for special albums and artists.
Out of all the experiences you had with your label, has there been one that has stood out to you?
So much of what we do at the label is virtually, via text or email or something like that. The most memorable moments happen in person—meeting fans of the label at record conventions or having food with one of our bands as they come through town. These are pretty rare, but they are meaningful.
To finish, what is one lesson you’ve learned that you think is important to pass onto other label managers?
This is terrible business advice, and I know it will elicit some eye-rolling, but I think that the music business doesn’t have to be a business. It’s important to make some money; otherwise, you aren’t able to keep releasing music. But a desire to release music with the most hype or a trendy sound gets labels into trouble all the time—either because their bands were flash bombs that go off loud and disappear quick or because, you know, the band is full of jerks. I’m thankful that I work with people who I respect as people and musicians. We don’t sell thousands of records and we don’t make tons of money, but I’ve learned that these relationships and the amazing music that comes out of them is more valuable to me personally.
Thanks for your time!
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