Luke Mosling: From Lead Artist to Label Honcho
GIM: How did you learn about the industry?
LM: By making lots of mistakes. My biggest mistake that will forever haunt me is pressing too many of [an album] because, in hindsight, you can always make more. You can’t make less. Once you’ve made it, it’s made. You’re like, ‘Oh, everybody’s going to want two or three copies of this! It’s so amazing!’ You feel like you have to prove yourself.
GIM: Where did you learn about pressing CDs and the logistics of it?
LM: That’s where having an art background helped, because I knew Photoshop and Illustrator. I was dealing with a good manufacturer, too. It wasn’t a really far stretch for me to do the layout. I was also familiar with what I liked or didn’t like in a CD.
GIM: What about the printing?
LM: A lot of times I would ask people who ran labels already, just [who I knew] from buying music. My friend who found the record he felt should be reissued, he used to work at Amoeba Records, so he knew people who put out stuff. He gave me a list. He was also friends with a distributor. It’s about connections, because it’s so hard to just cold-call people. You get blown off, especially if you’re an upstart.
GIM: What were the initial sales like?
LM: Pretty bad. There’s the whole chicken and the egg thing when you’re a startup. You can’t have a distributor if you don’t have anything to sell, but you need a distributor if you’re going to sell something – things like that.
GIM: Did you hire a lawyer?
LM: Yeah, somebody who was suggested to me. That’s why it took so long to get the label off the ground, because the person I was dealing with, who owned the original recordings, he ran the label as an independent label, too. So there weren’t any contracts drafted for any of this stuff. He didn’t really know what he was doing in terms of the contract he was looking at, either. There was a staring contest, almost, of, ‘What are we doing here?’ Terminology, royalties, things you don’t normally deal with as a music listener. So for the reissue side of the label, I pretty much deal directly with artists. It’s a lot easier. I’m dealing with Warner Finland … (deep sigh) … it’s just so much easier to deal with musicians.
GIM: I imagine it’s such a monolith.
LM: Yeah. I’ve dealt with EMI Finland and that went OK. Everything’s always a little bit different over there. The music I deal with a lot, there weren’t any contracts [at the time]. I’d always wanted to do new music, as well. I think the first newer music was Heikki Sarmanto. The next one was Indonesian gamelan music. I almost need a big chart, there’s so many connecting dots to all these people. It’s a huge spiderweb of jazz guys, modern composer guys who are friends with some of the jazz guys who are friends with an electronic guy over here. It gets kind of crazy sometimes.
GIM: You started out by seeking out these people. Did you notice a shift where people were asking you to put their stuff out rather than you asking them?
LM: Yeah, I don’t even solicit anymore. The only times I do is if I’m already dealing with an artist, like an old jazz guy and I’m like, ‘Hey, you remember that record you put out in 1943? Do you want to reissue those?’ That’s the only time I really solicit stuff anymore, ’cause I’m actually trying to slow down. When you run a record label and you’re dealing with musicians – and I’m a musician, too – sometimes they’re hypersensitive, so sometimes you have to be a cool-headed negotiator. Knowing what to say and how to talk. I’ve always thought of myself as an introverted, reclusive guy, but you have to be a salesman. You can’t be an asshole. You find yourself in awkward situations a lot of times.
GIM: What kind of awkward situations?
LM: Back in 1970 in France, there was a label called Palms. Byard Lancaster, who I’ve been working with closely trying to reintroduce his music … I think in ’73, he went to Paris with this guy Jeff Gilson, who ran a small label called Palms. They put out about 15 to 25 really solid jazz-progressive records, some electronic music, things like that I’ve been dying to reissue forever. And Byard used to live with Jeff and Jeff wanted him to marry his daughter and Byard was like, ‘I’m going to France!’ So at one point I got Jeff’s number. I gave him a call. And at the other end of the line – he’s French and not in the best health – and I hear a really weak ‘Hello?’ I start explaining everything and he’s like, ‘Yes.’ And I’m like, ‘I’m interested in reissuing your records.’ He’s like, ‘Yes.’ Then I started asking more and more questions, even questions that weren’t yes or no, and to every single thing he would say, ‘Yes.’ What do you do with that? I just walked away from it.
GIM: Was there a release that you thought was going to really catch on that didn’t?
LM: It was by a Polish musician, Dawid Szczesny. Maybe the name scared people off, but it’s really great electronic music and filled with all kinds of wonderful compositions and sound and feel, but no matter how hard I pushed it, they just didn’t pick it up.
GIM: What about the other end of that? Was there something you didn’t have aspirations for that really caught fire?
LM: The Sounds of Liberation, which is a reissue I did that came out in February. That really took off. It was Byard Lancaster from Philly and came out on his own label, maybe 500 copies. It was always one of those mythical records that people said was out there, but nobody could find. I had released one of the CDs of another guy in the band and he found the master tapes and gave them to me. That’s the interesting thing in the jazz world or the indie world or whatever. As soon as you get the greenlight from one musician, you kind of get it from the rest of them. I’ve been dealing with a lot of experimental indie stuff and a lot of those guys are all friends.
GIM: If someone wanted to start a label, what would you tell them you wish you’d known?
LM: You can always make more. If I had a time machine, I would so go back and only press 500 or 1,000. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s a lot. You have to put it somewhere.
GIM: Tell me about the next couple of years.
LM: I’m going to try to hold out for at least another three years and see where I’m at. People come to me now, so that’s cool. I’ve got a lot of interesting projects in the works, young composers, a lot of L.A. guys. I’m working with the Flying Lotus circle now. Hopefully what the future holds for me is slowing down. The other point is you start taking too much on; it makes it hard to concentrate on any one release. It makes it hard to focus on your PR. I’m trying to space things out now.
GIM: Is it a viable living?
LM: Right now? No. (laughs)
GIM: Expensive hobby?
LM: Yeah. I always joke with my wife that I went from collecting records to putting out records. It’s that elusive carrot.
Table of Contents:
- Luke Mosling: From Lead Artist to Label Honcho
- Next: Mosling finds and reissues a mythical record
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