For our second issue of Label Spotlight, we caught up with Strange Famous Records front man and lead artist Sage Francis, who founded the indie label in 1996 as a way of self-releasing his own material.
One Thirty BPM: First and foremost, could you briefly describe Strange Famous as a label? How many artists and releases are credited to the label, and how would you define its ‘sounds’?
Sage Francis: When I began pressing my own music I decided to use the name “Strange Famous Records.” Because, you know, having a label name makes a photocopied, hand-cut cassette tape cover look all that more official. I had to learn the business side of things through trial and error, but common sense and intuition go a long way. Eventually I had all sides of the business situated and I decided to start using my knowledge and resources to help out other artists I was working with. At that point, the SFR staff grew and the roster grew. I have no desire to expand into a monster company though. I want to keep things small enough where I can overlook each item and maintain as much quality control as possible while still having fun and doing interesting/unexpected stuff when I feel like it. I also don’t know if we’ll even be operating as a “label” down the line as no one knows how the industry will end up. To date, we’ve signed about 15 artists and we’ve taken on about 25 projects.
As for our sound, I suppose we’re mainly a collective of lyricists with an introspective lean. It’s underground emcee shit. We also have instrumental albums though, and some projects are just for fun. If you inspire and entertain me, and if I think you’re a trustworthy person who could benefit from having me obsess over every aspect of your art, you’re a good SFR candidate. Of course, you’ll eventually want to ring my throat or vice versa.
What was the drive behind heading up your own label?
It was basically out of necessity as there weren’t any labels checking for artists like me. Not until I proved I could build a strong fan base and, eventually, outsell most of the conventional artists they were previously jocking. Of course, at that point, after I had already done all of the dirty work, I didn’t really need a label’s help. What I mainly needed was distribution. I made some concessions along the way, working with various labels on various projects, but if I had enough capital early on I would have saved myself a lot of trouble. A lot has changed since back then, and I often feel overwhelmed with label duties, but it’s nice being able to make decisions to play the game or hate the game whenever I want.
What has surprised you most about running your own label that maybe you weren’t aware of as a signed artist?
I think I’m most surprised at how unreliable, lazy, and shady people are on all sides of the business. People are so desperate to get what they don’t deserve while doing as little work as possible. From “publicists” to “promoters” to “distributors” to “managers” and on and on and on. I know this shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it still blows my mind. Honestly, it doesn’t take much to move up in the system if you’re a competent and trustworthy person with a good work ethic.
Are there any unique release methods that Strange Famous either has pursued or is currently pursuing, be it digital or physical?
Everyone is obviously moving toward digital now, which means a lot of the old school methods of releasing albums are going the way of the dodo bird. Honestly, it bums me out. I like physical packaging. I enjoy the process of creating it, putting it together, handling it, and everything else. I don’t want to come up with digital package deals or thinking up innovative ways of pushing digital media. That’s not how I grew up experiencing and appreciating music. Alas, that’s what we have to do. In the meantime, I’m still going to come up with ways to make physical product enticing and available, even if it means going back to jailbreaking Kinkos machines. Currently I’m on a “personalize as much product as possible” kick.
What can we expect from you in the next few months? Long-term?
With the holidays coming up we’re going to be putting together specialized package deals which is usually what we do at our online store. I haven’t talked about the SFRstore yet, but I’ve found that dealing directly with our fans has been essential in keeping afloat as an indie label. This has been increasingly important as all the indie stores close down. Other than that, I’m working on a mixtape as well as an official album for 2012. Same with B. Dolan. We expect a collaborative album from Prolyphic and Buddy Peace. Cecil Otter is still working on his follow up album to Rebel Yellow which he says should be ready by next year. There are a couple other tricks up our sleeves as well, some crazy videos in the works, but nothing I can divulge at the moment. I expect next year to be very busy for us as far as music and shows are concerned.
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