Meet the Magicians: Doug Fearn of Outer Marker Records

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with none other than Doug Fearn. As an audio engineer, founder and owner of D.W. Fearn, and most recently co-founder of Outer Marker Records, Doug has a toe in nearly every pool of the music world. It was a blast to speak to him about his life in music, and I hope you all enjoy taking a look behind the curtain to meet the magician that is Doug Fearn.

*Please Note*
This audio is only the Zoom Meeting recording and does not accurately reflect the gear that Doug Fearn used during the interview

David: Well, thanks for joining guys. Here speaking to Eric Larsen and Doug Fearn. Am I pronouncing it right? Fearn? 

Doug: It’s Fearn. [pronounced like Fern]

David: It is Fearn, okay. The ‘a’ throws me for a loop. 

Doug: I know. It’s Scottish.

David: Scottish. Okay, right. Yeah, but wanted to talk to you about Outer Marker Records and about your businesses even before Outer Marker was started. But maybe you want to start with a little background for us, Doug, kind of what you’ve done with your career. It’s spanned quite a long time and with some impressive accolades. So for the people that don’t know you? 

Doug: Sure. Well, you know, my early influences, which I didn’t realize at the time, of course, were with classical music, you know, un-amplified classical music in a concert hall. My father played in the Philadelphia Orchestra. And he would take me to rehearsals. I also went to concerts, but the rehearsals were my favorite part because I could wander around the Academy of Music in Philadelphia and listen to how things sounded in various places in the hall. I was equally interested in all the backstage stuff too. And I had an interest from when I was seven in electronics. So seeing my career path was kind of established by that point because, you know, the recording world uses music and technology. So that’s what got me started. And I’ve had a studio since 1969.

Prior to that, for a few years, I did some location recording. But since then, I’ve always had some form of studio. The studio I have today is the best sounding studio, but it’s also quite small, which has its limitations. But, you know, I’ve learned to work around those things. So I had a commercial studio for many, many years, recorded lots of stuff with big artists, major label projects. But for the most part, I was just the engineer on those projects. But for my own stuff, I enjoyed producing artists. And I’m at a point now in my career where I don’t have to take in any paying business. I can just work on the projects I want to work on. And, you know, that includes several projects for Outer Marker.

Well, that’s a nice cozy place to be, I guess. It must feel good to be at that point in your career. Are you sitting in your studio right now? 

Doug: Yeah, I am. I’m in the control room. 

Yeah. Nice. I see lots of fun gear behind you.

Doug: Right. A lot of red boxes in back of me.Those are all the products that my company makes, D. W. Fern.

Yeah, that’s what I was going to ask. I mean, apart from doing the actual recording, you’ve been making gear for years now already.

Doug: Right. 30 years now since we introduced the first product. So that’s been a total change in direction for me. Although I had always been building stuff for my own use in the studio. It wasn’t until 30 years ago I decided to see if there was a market for this gear. And as it turns out, there is. 

And was it gear that you were making differently to other manufacturers and something that was unique? Is that why you were curious if there was a market for it?

Doug: Yeah. Well, everything I design uses vacuum tubes because I just think that sounds better. And that was a little bit challenging because that’s a technology that hasn’t really been much used in the last 60 years. But the statistics say that over 90 percent of all the records you hear have gone through at least some vacuum tube equipment. So it’s still a big factor in the recording end of things. And, you know, I’m fortunate that I can do sessions here where virtually everything that I record is going through vacuum tubes, except for the converter stages. And the analog converter stage, which are solid state. But everything else is vacuum tube. And it’s all gear that I designed. And I designed it to match what I wanted to hear. And it’s just been very gratifying to find that there’s a lot of people in the world that appreciate the same sound I do. 

Well, for those like myself who aren’t super gear savvy, especially as for what’s sitting in a recording studio – I mean, I understand that amplifiers often use vacuum tubes – but are you saying you built other pieces of gear other than amps and preamps using vacuum tubes? 

Doug: Yeah. Well, we basically have three product categories. The first product we made was a microphone preamplifier. And you’re listening to that right now, of course. And following that, I came out with an equaliser, which, you know, for the layman, that’s a really fancy tone control system. You can modify the frequency response. And actually, what you’re listening to now is going through one of our equalisers. The only thing it’s doing is cutting out some of the very low frequencies. Because with this ribbon mic that I’m using, it has a lot of proximity effect, which means the closer you get to it, the more bass response it has. So by rolling off a little bit of that bass, it gives it a more natural sound. And after that, it goes through our third category of products, which is a compression amplifier, which, you know, reduces the dynamic range. And that’s an advantage when you want levels to be reasonably consistent throughout. So in that case, I’m not using very much, just a couple of db of compression on my voice, just to keep it a little more even throughout. Makes it easier to understand. And especially if people are listening in a noisy environment, it helps get above the noise. 

David: I mean, how cool that these are all pieces of gear that you’ve created. Even without being a huge ‘gear head’ I can understand how unique that is. 

Doug: I know. I just feel so fortunate. 

So when you started, I mean, you said you built gear for many years for your own use, and then you thought, “okay, let’s see if other people are interested.” Was there a quick initial interest from the industry, or did it take a while to build up? You know, how busy are you really from when you started and to now with manufacturing and selling gear? 

Doug: Well the business started in 1993. I mean, I had a couple years of development before that, but products were introduced in 1993. And that was pre-internet. So marketing was more challenging than it is today. I bought mailing lists from some of the recording magazines and they would send me 10,000 names, and I couldn’t afford to send out 10,000 printed brochures. So I go through that list and pick out the ones that I thought would be the best prospects. I sent out maybe a thousand, and that sort of initially got things off the ground. All I had at that point was one product, one single channel mic preamplifier. Soon introduced the two channel version of it. And since that time, we’ve added a four channel version.

But, you know, it was slow going. I have to credit my wife with being incredibly patient and tolerant of living on one income for a few years until the business had enough revenue that I could pay myself. But sales have always increased. I don’t think we’ve ever had a year where sales were less than the prior year. 

Wow. That’s impressive. 

Doug: Yeah. So that’s good. But I guess it was about six years ago, I licensed the manufacturing of all our products to the Hazelrigg brothers, who you know as one of the artists on Outer Marker that’s distributed through NativeDSD. Geoff Hazelrigg was an assembler for me for many years, so he built these things. He’s really good at it. And when I got to be 65, I said, you know, I really don’t want to do this forever, and I’m looking for somebody to take over the manufacturing. I still want to be involved I just don’t want to build stuff and manage all that aspect of the business. Fortunately, Geoff and his brother George just jumped to the chance. And we had been friends for a long time so it was a very easy transition to put them in charge of the manufacturing and marketing. And then we brought along Eric Larsen, who was our marketing/sales/all around guy who also manages the Outer Marker label. He’s been a terrific asset to us.

So that’s left me with not only time, but room to do my own recording, what I want to do. The space where I’m in now, in the studio, you can see in back of me, was all manufacturing space. When that was moved out of here, I had the space available and I was able to make a more formal studio out of it. So my job now is basically to design new products, help with any technical problems that come along, and I’m involved in the marketing and all that. And I do a lot of speaking, I have a podcast that’s reasonably popular for its arcane topic, and I have a YouTube channel. It gives me time to do those things, which, you know, it’s great for me. I enjoy that. 

Yeah. That’s great. That’s my kind of segue question: how do you get from the D. W. Fearn gear manufacturing side of things, then you introduced the Hazelrigg brothers to take over manufacturing, you said about six years ago. But then Outer Marker, we know just got started within the last year and a half about now it’s been, so how do you get from the point of manufacturing gear to, “okay well, let’s start a label”? 

Doug: Well all three of us have been involved in the music industry for decades. Those guys are a little younger than I am, but they’ve had the same experience. And we just felt that we wanted to set up our own label that we could put out the music we wanted to put out and treat the artists fairly. We have a very generous deal with our artists so that they can actually make some money out of their creative work. And as far as the recording is concerned, we’ve established that all our recording will be done in DSD which I know Native DSD and your audience are completely familiar with. So everything we do is recorded in DSD and we use all our own gear for all the recording. And so we really have control.

This is a really important thing to us and kind of unique in the industry that we have control of everything from the production of the music through the recording chain, through managing the label. In my approach to designing gear, I want to eliminate all irritants in the sound. I work really hard to make sure that everything always sounds really good and natural, and not annoying at any time. The Hazelriggs share that with me, and we sort of apply that all the way through this process. So the artists we choose to work with are just excellent, excellent musicians, composers, songwriters. And they’re just really good at what they do. I’s like heaven to be able to have complete control from beginning to end of the product we put out. 

Yeah, that’s pretty impressive to have created that amount of control over the music that you’re putting out into the world. I mean, I think the most unique part comes down to the gear. You’re using gear that you’ve also built. I mean, that’s really that kind of extra uniqueness that you don’t hear about from anyone else. 

Doug: I haven’t used any other gear for the last 30 years. It’s just like, why would I? It’s actually what I want. And the Hazelriggs, in addition to building the D. W. Fearn gear, they also have their own product line which are all products I designed. If you look, let me see if I can point to it here. See, everything’s backwards. [Doug points to a couple racks sitting behind him on screen] Yeah. Right there, those brown boxes up there. Those are Hazelrigg Industries products, which I designed for them. So they have their own product line, very similar to my products but sort of aimed at a slightly different demographic.

 Hazelrigg Industries VEC – Everything Chain (VLC, VNE, VDI, VPH)

And what would that demographic be if you could state it plainly? 

Doug: Well it’s still a highly professional customer because the gear is expensive. The stuff we make is the most expensive stuff on the planet. We just can’t get around that. That’s what you have to charge in order to build stuff at that level of quality. The Hazelrigg Industries products are more compact, so they’re more appropriate for touring musicians and for producers and engineers that travel around to studios. Most of our products [D. W. Fearn] are 25 to 30 pounds. The Hazelrigg products are smaller and they’re lighter, so it’s much easier for somebody to take them on the road with them. 

Did they have that kind of idea in mind because they themselves are working musicians? That they thought, “okay, we could use something like this, but that’s easier to take around with us”. 

Doug: Yeah, absolutely. I don’t have that much orientation in that direction. I mean, the D. W. Fearn gear gets a lot of use on the road with some pretty big name artists, but I was never part of that scene, except for the people I was producing being involved in their live productions and so on. But the Hazelriggs have been performing all their lives so they had a much better handle on what the on-the-road recording situation or performing situation required. 

It’s really interesting to hear the background history of how it all happened. I’m curious, though, at what point and whose idea – or perhaps it was a group idea that you needed Outer Marker – that you needed your own label as the last piece of the puzzle? 

Doug: A lot of the things that the Hazelriggs and I independently have done over the last 30 years or more – 50 years in my case – for our own productions, we tried to find a label and often it was a frustrating experience. It was not comfortable to us. And then when it became feasible to be an independent artist and have CDs and vinyl albums and streaming and all that, then I think we saw that as an opportunity. But we also recognized that there’s an audience out there that appreciates the audio quality that we were able to develop in the studio, but wasn’t really accessible to the ultimate listener. Especially with streaming which is very low res compared to the rest of the world of professional recording. Sadly we have a couple of generations now of listeners who think the MP3 is good quality. And although it’s amazingly good considering all the data they’ve thrown away, it’s still not the same experience as hearing it the way we hear it in the studio. And so we made the transition to DSD, which we found was a superior way to record and to listen to music. It was just important for us to be able to provide the ultimate listener who cares about that stuff with the really good sound that we’re accustomed to, that we’ve worked for decades to achieve. 

Well, that’s why we were excited to start working with you guys and to get Outer Marker artists and albums on Native DSD. 

Doug: Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, we couldn’t be happier with the arrangement. It’s just been a perfect collaboration. 

Well, that’s great to hear. But we’re also no strangers to the trials of what it means being dedicated to this goal. A majority of people want their music on the move these days. That’s kind of the whole gap between what we want to do with high res audio and how people consume their music. The good news is I think that’s starting to merge a little bit. You know, that gap is getting smaller and smaller as the years go. So who knows, we might not be far from DSD music being easily accessible out of your pocket. A good pair of headphones, always very important. But I think that’s the future and I think it’s on its way.

Doug: Well the technological structure is all there to provide listeners with high quality. Back in the days when storage was limited and expensive, it made sense to develop MP3. Today storage is essentially free. I mean, you can buy a TB hard drive, solid state drive for what, $50? So there’s really no limitation there. And with streaming there was a problem for many years because people’s internet connections didn’t have the bandwidth for high quality audio. Well, for the majority of people all over the world now, that’s no longer an issue either. So there’s just no excuse. One of our goals is to – as much as we can – educate the public, the listeners, the music lovers out there that there’s a better world. It may take a little work to seek it out right now but as you say, I think the pieces are falling into place where that’s no longer going to be a limitation.

We hope so. And we’re trying as much as we can to also get that message out there to everybody. So that’s why it’s great to work with you guys and other labels such as yourselves. I wanted to ask how busy are you guys with projects right now? And is there some stuff we can be excited about hearing in the near future? 

Doug: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we’re producing content all the time. One of the recordings which I think will be out this month is a recording I made a few years ago of spring birds. I live out in the country surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of acres of nature preserve farmland. And it’s just the home for so much wildlife. And I’d always thought that I wanted to capture the sound of a spring morning, which the birds are getting up and, you know, and just making an incredible amount of noise. But it was challenging because even though we’re out in the country, you know, we’re only 30 miles from Philadelphia International Airport, so there’s airliners passing overhead. And even though it’s mostly farmland, there are roads with trucks and there’s farm equipment and all that. So I just, you know, despaired of ever getting it quiet enough to record that.

An opportunity came along in 2020 when the COVID pandemic basically shut everything down. And that May, I said, it’s going to be now or never. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. So for two days in a row, and had to be specific, very specific conditions for this because there couldn’t be any wind and couldn’t be raining or anything like that. I was setting out $8,000 microphones outside.

And so I saw the opportunity. I saw we had a stretch of a couple days where the wind would be calm, the weather would be very benign. And for those two days, I got up at four in the morning, I had everything set up, placed my microphones outside and just hit record, recorded it in DSD, recorded about three hours each morning. And from that, I edited it down to about 55 minutes of, you know, the best of, best of the bird song. And so that’s something that when people hear it, I haven’t played that for anybody when they weren’t just totally amazed. Because when you listen to it, you feel like you’re there. And the DSD capture is just so pristine. And you hear details you just wouldn’t believe because some of these birds are a couple miles away. And you know, you have a feeling of space, you know, we’re in the woods. So the woods have a particular kind of sonic signatur, you know, a very beautiful diffused reverberation. And it just works perfectly for that recording. And, you know, it amazes me, it’s just two tracks, just stereo. But you actually even in stereo, you have a sense of depth, you hear certain birds that are above you, certain birds that are down on the ground, lower than you, you hear them passing by. It’s quite an immersive experience. So we’re, you know, I was amazed by it.

I’m just delighted that we have an outlet for it now that everybody can share in that. And I think anybody that wants that relaxing kind of experience of just being able to put this on in the background, they don’t even have to listen to a loud it’s just, it’s a calming kind of feeling that you get just from hearing these birds. And for those that are really want to get into it, you know, you can put on a pair of headphones, turn it up a little bit more. And you’re out there in the middle of the woods with these birds. It’s pretty amazing. 

David: I’m definitely gonna have to try that. That sounds super interesting. And we’ve got a perfect place for it. We have a whole section of meditation and relaxation music. So that’s already gonna have some interested people for sure. 

Doug: That’s great. And along those same lines, we have another project which is recorded, it still needs a little mixing and editing. But an incredible artist who plays singing bowls, you know, the glass bowl, you know, there’s a sort of a wand thing that you run along the edge of them. And she’s just a master at, you know, starting these bowls from like inaudibility all the way up to the peak and doing the same thing going down. And when we recorded, she must have had 20 different bowls, different sizes, different characteristics, and some little percussion instruments as well. And we just spent the day recording, you know, whatever she wanted to play. And out of that, we have a good hour of that, which is, you know, a very, very calming thing. And I could see people, you know, with yoga studios or Tai Chi or other kinds of meditative activities like that. It would just be a perfect background. I mean, you can’t listen to it and be tense. It just calms you down. 

For that kind of recording, does she come with prepared pieces or is it more improvisation the whole time? 

Doug: I think she has a notion of what she’s going to do, but I don’t think she would ever play the same piece the same way twice. She just, I mean, she’s really into it. When she feels something, you know, that needs to be done, she shifts and changes. And it’s pretty remarkable. And I think on all the pieces that we did, there were only two of them that we did more than one take because she just nailed it right from the beginning. It was just gorgeous sounding. 

Nice. I had a question about something I found on your website. It’s a quote from kind of one of your remission statement on there. But part of it says, “We exist to offer records that mainstream labels are unable or unwilling to produce.” And I kind of wanted to go into the unwilling side of that because you mentioned that the whole point of Outer Marker was because you wanted to make music that you’re interested in making the way you want to do it with no restrictions. And we kind of heard already how you do that in the production side of things, but about the music choices, about which kind of projects you choose. I mean, from what we’ve seen already, we’ve seen solo piano music, we’ve seen a jazz trio do the police, we saw a disaster artist, which yeah, everybody who hasn’t listened to that needs to go listen to it. It’s amazing. And now we’re going to hear an album of birds and an album of singing bulls. So the variation, the projects you choose is quite out there. And I’m just curious, how do you, where does it come from the music that you guys want to make?

Doug: Well, that’s a really interesting question. And it’s not one that we ever particularly discussed among ourselves because it was sort of self-evident to us. Both the Hazelriggs and I have done a lot of pop music in our career, and we can do it. They know how to play it. I know how to record it. We can make pop records all day long, but it’s not us. It’s really not what we do. We can certainly appreciate great pop records. We enjoy listening to all the great stuff that comes out. But for us, personally, that’s not really artistically satisfying. And our tastes tend to run to stuff that’s a little less mainstream or some cases very much non-mainstream. And we have to be true to ourselves. We have to do the music that appeals to us. We’ll do the best job with that music because we’re inspired by it. We’re inspired by the people we work with.

I mean, uniformly, all the artists we work with are not only excellent at what they do, but they’re also really fine individuals that are very easy to work with. And we don’t want conflict in the process because that doesn’t make good records. We want a situation where everybody’s totally comfortable with what we’re doing. So who knows what else we’ll come up with? I mean, we have another project in the works, which is an Appalachian singer-songwriter. And I think that that’s going to be another totally different direction for what we’re doing. And we’ll do whatever comes along. I mean, we have a… It’s a bunch of American but Indian heritage musicians who have done a couple of albums here that we’ve done with them. And we’ll probably do more with them. And in fact, the woman that did the Singing Bowls project also plays with that group. And we use the violinist from that group on some of the other projects. So that’s in totally different directions. It’s very traditional in many ways, Indian music, but it’s got a real 21st century take to it. Yeah. So we’ll probably get that done this year as well. 

Yeah. Cool things to look forward to. So this sounds like you don’t restrict yourselves by genre. You more go based off the project – Who was the artist? Is it a good fit together with you guys? And does the music speak to you?

Doug: Exactly. And sometimes we push ourselves a little out of our comfort zone, like with disaster artists. I mean, I recorded a lot of punk records. They were called New Wave back in the 80s. And so I was familiar with the high energy that you need to capture and just the kinds of sounds you need, which is very different from anything else that we’ve done for the label. And so that was recorded here. And it was, you know, in the one hand, a little bit challenging, but I pretty much knew what I envisioned the sound to be. And the guys were just great at providing, you know, the basic musicianship to give us what we needed. And, you know, you’ve heard it. It’s pretty amazing sounding record. 

Yeah, it is truly. But let’s take that record, for example. How did that one come into being? You know, was that based off of a relationship that you or one of the Hazelrigg brothers had with the artists? Was it they came to you? You know, I’m curious about that.

Doug: Well, actually, that came about because an intern that was working for us suggested that we listen to this band that there are two twin brothers that we should listen to what they do. And he made a little recording of it at a rehearsal. And we listened to it say, wow, these guys are great. They’re wonderful musicians. They’ve got a real sense of precision. And they have that sense of total abandonment that you really need for that style of music. And we hadn’t really met them except talking to them about this project. Until we were in the studio, we found that they were just the easiest people in the world to work with. And it was so easy to record them. I mean, the biggest challenge on that project was their stamina, because it’s just such a high energy music that, you know, after two hours of recording, they’re taking off their shirts because they’re sweating like crazy, because it’s a lot of work to produce that kind of music. So and, you know, I wanted to capture that kind of raw energy. And so it took me back 40 years to when I used to record that. And now I have better tools to capture it than I did back then. So it was really better than I’ve ever been able to record that kind of music. 

Yeah. Yeah, well, it is really, really an awesome album. So I urge everyone to go listen to that one by Disaster Artists. Do you think you’ll do something with them again in the future?

Doug: I think it’s possible. You know, those guys are very up for whatever it takes. So hopefully we’ll do some more with them. Because we did, you know, we did that whole project. Everything you hear on Native DSD was recorded in one day. Yeah. Yeah, as opposed to a larger project. So it would take, you know, multiple, multiple sessions to complete. 

Yeah. Well, like you say, I mean, with that kind of music, it kind of it needs to be that sort of raw, almost like live take, because that’s where the real energy and the emotion is. 

Doug: Well, that was the goal. We wanted to capture their live performance because we had seen video of them performing live and the reaction of the audience and all that. So we we knew we had to capture that energy. And I think we did. I think if we did more with them, I think I can do even better now. 

Interesting. And in what roles then do the Hazelrigg brothers fill in a sort of production like that? I mean, you’re the recording engineer, typically, or are they assisting you? 

Doug: Well, you know, it’s a collaborative production. So definitely their input is vital. I mean, that’s what makes good records. The fact that we have, you know, pretty much totally congruent attitude and and goals for these things makes it easy for us to work together. We don’t really have to talk about it much. We just know what we want. And from their years and years of recording, I can say, you know, to Geoff, I said, you know, try moving that drum mic out another two feet. Let’s just see what that does. And he knows exactly what I’m talking about. You know, it just makes it really easy.

Now, on the Hazelrigg brothers trio album, they do that entirely themselves. Okay, I’m not involved in that. I’ve been involved in some of their projects like that. But that album and an earlier one, which I think will be out eventually, were entirely their work. They record those at Geoff’s house. You know, there’s been a lot of sort of cross pollination and techniques between the Hazelriggs and me. You know, I introduced them to ribbon mics, which I use almost exclusively, that’s what you’re hearing now. And so they’ve adopted that as their preferred recording microphone technology. And they were actually the ones that introduced me to DSD. Because they felt that that captured what they were doing better than regular PCM recording. And when I listened to what they did, I said, you guys are right, this is better sounding. So we went through a couple generations of DSD converters until we finally ended up with Merging Technologies as preferred converters for that, you know, which is what I’m using right now. And so, you know, sometimes they have miking techniques that I wouldn’t have thought of, and they become part of my work. Other times, I have ways I do things and they say, that really sounds great. How did you do that? You know, that becomes part of their technique as well. 

So it’s really an equal collaboration kind of between the three of you. And you don’t work on every project together, but the input is there from all three of you, I guess. 

Doug: Right. Yeah. We sort of have the projects they’re doing, the projects I’m doing, and the projects we do together. 

Okay. Gotcha. Yeah. I wanted to circle back one more time to that quote I found on the site that you mentioned some labels are unwilling to make certain records. And I think you sort of mentioned it before, when you said you guys would make records and then you would go search for labels to put it out. And I guess I’m just asking, how big of a struggle was it really? Did you run into lots of labels that just were not, yeah, willing to do certain stuff? 

Doug: Well, for sure. I mean, there’s certain labels that you could just tell right off, they’re never going to be interested in what we’re doing, you know, whatever the project was. And there’s others that you said, well, these people are probably open-minded enough to consider doing this. You know, I can think back in the 70s, Elektra, you know, was a label that was noted for its quest for things that were out of the ordinary, and also extremely high audio quality. I mean, they were just a pinnacle of that. And to some extent, I think we’ve modelled ourselves after that. I mean, I think I had more experience, because I did a lot of projects for Elektra, so I know, you know, how they worked. But, you know, for music that isn’t mainstream, it’s a hard sell, a lot of times to record labels. You know, they’re in the business to make money with music. And oftentimes something that artistically great, but not mainstream enough for them to see a profit, you know, they just were rejected out of hand. They wouldn’t even listen once they realized what the project was. So, you know, we’ve gotten around that by doing it our own way with our own label. You know, it’s the music we do is never going to be gigantic, massive hits. I mean, it’s possible, but that’s not our goal. Our goal is to put out good music. And we’re fortunate that we can afford to do that. We have the time, and we have the finances to do that on our own the way we want to do it. So we’re taking advantage of that opportunity.

Yeah. Well, we’re all grateful that you are. With that mission, though, do you find that there are artists that kind of come across you and then are approaching you as, hey, this might be that label that doesn’t really exist, or I’m having trouble finding a label to put my music out. Are people coming to you, like, interested that you’re more open to these kinds of things?

Doug: To a limited extent. You know, we haven’t been around long enough, I think, for that to break through. But I know people that, you know, I know in the industry, musicians that, you know, I sort of get the feeling they’d like to be on the label. You know, they won’t really come out and say it, but I know they’re sort of envious of our approach. And, you know, it’s possible some of those people will end up being on the label at some point. But, you know, they have to meet that criteria. And I think when I explain that to some people, they sort of get that right away. And they realize that this label is not for them. But, yeah, I suspect the more stuff we put out and the more our reputation grows, we’ll start to have people really interested in being on the label. But, you know, just interest isn’t enough. They have to meet all those other criteria. 

Yeah. Yeah. And then it sounds like they, you know, they get a great team to work with, but they also get an honest and respectable deal with you guys. You mentioned it briefly in the beginning. What is the deal that you guys have with the artists? And why is it, how is it special or different than what a typical label would offer?

Doug: Well, let’s look at a typical label first, because usually with an artist, if they sign a contract with an artist, they may or may not give them an advance, you know, which is a significant amount of money just to help them get the project going. And then, you know, they may provide the recording studio and maybe even a producer or else pay, you know, whatever costs there are involved in that. But they’re keeping tabs of all that money they put out. Every penny that went into the advance, went into marketing, went into recording, in distribution, all that is on their ledger sheet. And that’s all going to be paid before the artist sees a penny. So that’s a bit of a problem for the artist. I mean, they may have the advance, but chances are that’s not enough for them to live on. So, and then what the amount that the percentage that they give the artist is relatively small, you know, in the 10% range. And what we do with our artists is we tell them right off, you know, we’re keeping track of the money we spent to make this, but we’re not charging it back to you. Maybe put some point in the future when everybody’s making a lot of money, we’ll do that. It’s in the contract, but we don’t do that. And we say, whatever we get in from sales, we split with the artist 50-50. So it’s, you know, it’s artists that are familiar with what the record business is like, you know, we’re just amazed when we tell them that. They’ve never seen an offer like that. So we’re glad to do it. 

As opposed to a typical 10%, like you said, a lot of labels. That’s incredible. 

Doug: Yeah. So the majority of records, you know, so the majority of records, you know, that get put out, the artist never sees anything because all that money that the label spent is being charged against their royalties. And, you know, 99 out of 100 records still don’t break even. So it’s unlikely that the artists ever see anything really. I mean, they do if they are the songwriters because they’ll get publishing royalties independent of the record company, usually, if they’re smart. And so they can make money that way. But from royalties for record sales, unless you’re a major artist, there’s just no money there. 

Yeah. Well, that’s, yeah, it’s commendable that you guys have a 50-50 split with the artists. Don’t hear that very often. 

Doug: Right. Well, it’s important to us. We know, we know, you know, we’re the artists as well. We know what a fair deal is. 

Yeah. Also. And again, it goes kind of back to what you said, you know, you want a nice environment when you’re making a record. You want everyone to be, you don’t want there to be any struggle, I think is what you said. And, you know, inevitably, that’s going to exist if from the get go, someone’s getting screwed. If it’s not equal, if you’re not there as equals, then it’s hard to feel that sort of respect through the process. I’m sure. 

Doug: Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, the sessions we do are fun. I mean, everybody’s having a good time because that’s an important aspect to making good music. 

Yeah. Yeah. And you can tell also when you listen, you can tell instinctually, was this made with joy? Was it made with love? Was it made out of fun and excitement? Or like you say, was it made out of struggle? I don’t think that the ones made out of struggle make it very far. 

Doug: It’s true. Yeah.

Nice. Well, I think we’ve covered most of the big questions I have. I’m super excited about the upcoming projects. Eric, do you have anything to add? I’m sorry. We kind of- 

Eric: No, no, not at all. I was here just just to support in case there was, you know, we went out to that direction. But obviously, this is so much centered on what George Geoff and Doug have done in the past. I think it’s just fantastic. Yeah. Yeah. I’m happy to sit and watch. 

Well, I really appreciate you guys being here. And I normally do a kind of final follow up question with these articles where I ask what’s your desert island top three records that you’ve put out. But you guys are so new, I can’t ask top three. 

Doug: Yeah. Well, since we only put out three, I guess we could say those are the top three at the moment. 

Yeah, exactly. Yeah. But I mean, it sounds like you got a lot of stuff in the works. Super excited to hear about it. Very excited to share it with all of our listeners. Yeah. And thanks so much for joining me for this chat. 

Doug: It’s been a pleasure, David. And thanks a lot for doing this. And we really appreciate the collaboration we have with Native DSD. It’s been a terrific company to work with. Thank you. 

Yeah, you’re very welcome. And likewise.

Written by

David Hopkins

David is NativeDSD’s Product and Communication Manager. He grew up writing songs, playing guitar and drums. Working with musicians in studio to produce records as a recording engineer and producer, he produced music for numerous commercials for Pulse Content, and organised numerous music events and concerts.


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