Kranky Records Interview by Louis Rastelli

Kranky Records
Interview by Louis Rastelli
From Vol. 3 No. 1, 2004

Our interview with Joel Leoschke (JL) and Bruce Adams (BA) of kranky records from Chicago was conducted by email.

FP: How/why did you decide to start a label?
JL: Labradford. Nothing else need be said.
FP: How many people work for your label (full-time, part-time, etc.)?
JL: Two full-time employees.
FP: Have you given yourself a mandate, i.e., to put out just certain types of music?
JL: We release what we like. Everything beyond that statement should be self-explanatory by way of listening.
FP: Do you get flooded with demos in the form of cassettes, MP3s, CD-Rs etc.? If so, how do you deal with them all?
JL: I’m sure our mailbox is no more or less full than any other label of our size and notoriety. We don’t accept mp3s or downloads, which is our first line of defense. We do listen to everything we receive in the mail or that is passed along by a friend of the label. Sometimes it only gets 15 seconds if it is obviously wrong, but we do listen. If something catches our ear, we get in contact with the artist.
FP: Have you ever signed an amazing band just based on a demo playing in the office that everyone got excited about?
JL: Sure.
FP: Have you ever been stuck with tons of CDs by a band that broke up and/or never managed to tour?
JL: Sure.
FP: Do you set aside a percentage of sales to cushion possible losses of this kind?
JL: That depends on the artist and the release. Usually not.
FP: Is it important for you to sign bands that are able to tour and/or promote themselves?
JL: I would like to say yes, but the answer is no. A lot of what we do does not get supported by any extensive touring, and I don’t know that it would help in most of those cases. We don’t release “rock” music.
FP: Does it help the label and the bands on it when one band becomes a big seller ?
JL: I guess so. We’ll let you know when it happens.
FP: Have you ever benefited from an artist jumping to a major or doing well elsewhere?
JL: Hmmmm… no.
FP: Have any of your bands tried to bring their back catalogue to another label?
JL: No. All of our releases remain in print and all of our artists are paid their full royalties in a prompt and honest fashion. You can ask them.
FP: How would you describe the importance of distribution to the success of a label?
JL: Of course distribution is important, but this is a “chicken or the egg” question. Interest breeds demand. Good distribution should come with demand. It’s all part of the same equation.
FP: Have you ever gotten screwed for a lot of money by a distributor?
JL: We have been very lucky, our losses have been minimal.
FP: Have any of your distributors tried to make you stop dealing with other distributors?
JL: No. It’s against our religion and is related to the first of the kranky kommandments: Thou shalt not make exclusive distribution deals.
FP: Are most distributors good at letting you know where they sell your releases in?
JL: Not specifically, but we know what each of their strengths and weaknesses are.
FP: How important is college radio in playing/promoting your artists? What about small press and fanzines?
BA: Freeform college radio is really important to us as a label and individuals. Unfortunately, the number of stations playing a wide range of interesting music is limited.
Small press has been important for us since the get-go. And kranky is lucky to have had good writers as advocates for our artists over the years. A similar process has begun with webzines in the last few years, though I have trouble gauging the impact they have. We occupy a niche market, to say the least, so there is a relatively small number of radio stations and writers spreading the word.
And now I would like to add something personal. When did “fanzine” become a dirty word? Is it because everyone who publishes or writes aspires to a lucrative career as a High Powered Rock Critic? Or is it that in these times of rampant irony no one dares to admit that they unreservedly like something? Or is everyone too sophisticated now to call themselves a fan? I’m only asking.
FP: Do you put out any vinyl (45 or LP)? Is it possible to make a profit selling vinyl, and if not, why?
JL: We do less and less vinyl as time goes by. I love vinyl as much as anyone, but if you can’t sell a decent quantity (1000 or more) it’s a huge cost with little reward. As the cost of manufacturing CDs continues to drop, the cost of manufacturing vinyl continues to rise. Draw two lines on a graph going in opposite directions.
FP: Do you have any intent of selling songs on a “legitimate” file-sharing network?
BA: We have begun the process of getting kranky releases online and available through mercantile file-sharing services. We’ll see how that turns out.
FP: Has file-sharing hurt sales of your bands? Do you think it affects some kinds of music or markets more than others?
BA: We have no way of knowing. I would suggest that anyone who says they do know is talking out their ass.
FP: Do you have any issues with your bands posting free music on the internet?
BA: None.
FP: Do you think putting out DVDs, video extras or other such things can help keep people buying music instead of downloading it?
BA: We just released a DVD with the new Pan American CD ‘Quiet City’ and an upcoming CD from The Dead Texan will have a bonus DVD attached. The DVD releases were primarily motivated by the artists, who were interested in working in the visual medium. We are hoping that the added material will encourage people to buy the CDs, of course.
FP: Is there anything new coming out on your label that you are excited about?
BA: This fall we’ve got a new CD by Growing called The Soul of the Rainbow and the Harmony of Light, a CD-DVD release by The Dead Texan (aka Adam Wiltzie from Stars of the Lid), a new limited edition LP from Keith Fullerton Whitman called Schoner FluŸengel and new CDs from Greg Davis and Dean Roberts. News, sound samples and streaming video are available on