It’s a flourishing phenomenon, due to the democratization of production tools that are increasingly sophisticated, fast and easily accessible via the Internet. Many Swiss artists have decided to dispense with the services of the professional music sector. This is sometimes done out of spite, after having abandoned the quest for a label to accompany them through their musical career. It’s also done for practical, modern-day reasons since our world now values multitasking and new online platforms are emerging every day, offering ridiculous prices for the pressing of records, putting music online and the printing of the various necessary media. Some musicians consider it a godsend, freeing up creativity from heavy constraints. Seeing one’s music projected around the world, even just by pure luck, but with the guarantee of having been able to do it exactly according to one’s tastes, (not just in aesthetic terms but also with regards to timing), is the argument that we hear the most often. It's an easier and more joyful process. Less paperwork, less trouble, more authenticity, but subsequently less financial returns. A reality and culture that’s tied to the state of the Swiss music business and that obliges everyone to support themselves via other means, often leading to the annoying question: "And what exactly is your proper job?"
Since these are personal, even intimate business ventures, the how’s and why’s are many, often depending on each person's background. Here are some interviews with three selected artists who self-produce their music.
Julian Sartorius, from A to Z.
The excellent Bernese drummer Julian Sartorius is parts of several platforms. Member of many groups signed to various labels, some internationally renowned such as ECM, but he also likes to produce things in his own independent way. Since 1st January 2013, he’s been feeding his Morph Blog, an evolving web project combining sound and image. It’s not uncommon for him to produce curious little objects, like an engraved flyer that can be played on his turntable. He’s also released some tracks on the site thunthunthun.ch, that can only be heard on the internet in the city of Thun via GPS.
"On one hand, if a label has a strong identity, it can reach more people who could be interested in your music. We really need this curator’s role, this specific know-how that can also be found in a good record store for example. What musicians look for a lot today, apart from a support system that helps them release things they couldn’t do on their own, is a structure that distributes their music well. Personally, I prefer to work with an innovative label, of course, and it suits me to be signed to different labels so as not to be too attached to just the one. Artistic freedom is very important to me. I like to self-produce some things because I can be quite stubborn with a very precise idea of what I want to do and this doesn’t always go in the direction of the label’s commercial stakes. But since I earn my living mainly from live concerts, that suits me fine!"
Ibn al Rabin, the lazy hyperactive.
The Genevan Ibn al Rabin, Maths teacher, illustrator and perennial tinkerer of music, crazy tunes, sound synthesis elaborated in biscuit tins in his kitchen, screen printed cassettes folded by hand. The man never stops. Since 1998 he has released "between 120 and 130 bits and bobs" called Me Myself editions that are not real in structural terms, "it's just an old silly name that I came up with years ago for a laugh".
The fact that he doesn’t like to delegate is mainly because it amuses him to create stuff with his own ten fingers: "There is something very satisfying in doing everything on your own".It's refreshing to create a physical object, even if it's just a vaguely photocopied fanzine. It might not be done very well, in fact it’s usually done quite randomly and possibly deliberately to protect me from criticism. "Ah, you think it's not done well? Yeah but it's like this on purpose! Easy. That said, I have cassettes that were completed 4 years ago and I still haven’t finished folding the covers. Distribution is done above all at concerts, hand to hand. This is another time frame that suits me, even if it’s a bit silly to keep everything stacked in the cellar". At the end of 2018, he co-authored with Rachel Sassi a beautiful screen printed vinyl record based on Renaissance tales, Les fortunes et adveritez de feu noble homme Jehan Regnier, and on the back claimed the credit for the instrumentation, programming, craftsmanship and cover art.
"Making a vinyl record is a Western hipster thing I'm part of". We're happy to do stuff like this because it reminds us of being young. It's for the few people who are like us. There’s no way of making money out of it. Cassette tapes are the worse. Who still listens to them? People who still have a car radio, like me. It's an activity I like to do, but I don’t expect to live off it. I’ve never asked for grants just because I can’t be bothered. I have a job at 50% that is well paid, I have deliberately organized my life like this because I wouldn’t want to live from what I create, because that would mean directing what I do towards being paid for it and I’m uncomfortable with this idea. I don’t do any promotion, I don’t have distribution, I don’t have an set price - it wouldn’t make sense! Anyway, the best part is when you start a project. To tinker away means starting anew all the time. Am I romantic? I don’t know. There’s the laziness factor too and the desire to be rather discreet on this famous quest for recognition".
Orlando, the free radical
For fifteen years, this musician has been jumping from one project to another, from one world to another, from the classical music stage to theatre, from popular choirs to contemporary performances. A path along which she has voluntarily left very few traces, whether sound or visual, echoing what Bill Drummond evokes in the movie Imagine Waking Up Tomorrow and All Music Has Disappeared, where he looks at the workings of the music industry and the relationship we have with music and its recording.
Adopted by La Chaux-de-Fonds, Orlando has just released her first digital EP entitled Anywhere road, seven harp-led ballads of stunning beauty, whose lyrics are taken from her favorite poets, (from Emily Dickinson to Henry David Thoreau). The work is self-produced on a shoestring budget.
"Actually, I don’t know the Swiss music market that well, and although I've been a musician for a long time, I've always just snuck by. The release of this EP is a dive into the unknown for me. I’m just going with the flow, rather like the slow development of these songs and see where the adventure carries me. Being self-produced is a choice by default: a homemade demo that turned into an EP thanks to lots of encouragement, and that could in turn become an album ... The advantage of this process is clearly great freedom. It’s also a way of escaping the very laborious requests for subsidies and an opportunity to fully appreciate the difficult, almost self-sacrificing conditions of making a self-produced album. In the future, I’d like to be able to lean on wise advice, the type of know-how that carries me and encourages me to dig deeper into my own furrow. But perhaps this is an idealised vision of the role of a label or producer? There is no doubt a beautiful ambivalence in our small artistic world, floating around, sailing somehow from one project to another. It’s therefore difficult to position oneself firmly and definitively. The various ways of doing things are adapted to the nature of the projects. If being signed to a label means having to contort myself to follow guidelines and limiting criteria, I know that I will continue alone. "