If you are familiar with the music covered on this blog then you would be very much aware about both the 12k label and it’s owner and artist in his own right, Taylor Deupree. Without being overly hyperbolic the influence of both 12k and Deupree cannot be overstated. From the principles that have guided him for the past twenty plus years, the minimal design ethic that makes each release a work of art as well as the curation of a catalog that includes the likes of Marcus Fischer, Simon Scott, Federico Durand, Stephen Vitiello, Seaworthy, Gareth Dickson and others, the influence of the label, it’s ethos and it’s genre defining and genre bending music have made a notable imprint on Ambient/Sound Art/ Electroacoustic/ Minimal/ Experimental music. Taylor kindly took time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions.
*The 12k 12 principles were inspired by the bad experiences you had with a previous label. For principles which are over twenty years old they are very prescient in this mindful/minimalist age. Running a label is it difficult to stay true to them when you see the potential to rapidly grow or expand?
I wouldn’t say the 12 principles were inspired by the bad experience I had with another label, but rather the impetus to start my own label was. But, no, I don’t find it hard to stick to these principles, nor do I even need think about them too much in an active way because they are so core to my beliefs of how to run a label that I just stick to them naturally. I’m not worried about “the potential to rapidly grow” because, well, if the label hasn’t grown much in 20 years then I don’t think it will grow very much in the future! It’s not my desire to have a “big” label or even a label with employees. But, pay attention to #12… “Everything Will Change”…. that’s there to remind myself that while something may be relevant today it may not be tomorrow.
*At the turn of the decade it seemed that sharity blogs or people who uploaded music for free were a threat to labels. Has this time passed or has the threat been changed to the increase in postage costs?
Sadly, the threats to small labels have only increased, not gone away or lessened. There are still too many illegal sharing sites to count, I’ve simply given up. But now we’re faced with a listening public that is being raised to think that music should be free. We’re going to see a massive generational shift in this regard. Music will only get cheaper. Also, the US Postal service has made it nearly impossible to be a small business who wants to ship one-on-one to customers overseas. It’s really a terrible time to run a label, but our devoted listeners and the great artists out there keep me motivated.
*In the past you have had sub labels like .term, Happy, 12k Limited Series and Line. With the exception of Line (now owned/run by Richard Chartier) do any of these still exist or were they absorbed into the fabric and ethos of 12k?
For the sake of streamlining my daily label tasks, and for the fact that I felt that 12k could incorporate any style of music that I wanted, really, it just made more sense to fold the side tables into 12k. The limited series, however, wasn’t a “series” as much as it was just a way to make other releases outside the graphic template of “main” 12k (CD) releases. The “limited series” (I don’t call it that anymore) is just any release that’s not a templated, white-bordered main CD release. This covers all vinyl, all cassettes and any other special CD packaging.
*What are you favorite aspects of running a label? Being a label boss, mastering engineer and designer does it take away time for your own artist endeavours?
Favorite aspect of the label is definitely growing and fostering a community. Hearing the amazing music these people create and especially getting people together for recording or touring and igniting new friendships. It’s been such a joy.
Running the label and designing doesn’t take too much time away from my own musical creation, as I’ve got that down to a science. However, mastering, especially in the last 2 years, has been so demanding and busy that I’ve barely had time to work on my own music. It’s great that I’ve been so busy with mastering and all of these artists and clients find it in their budgets to choose to have their releases professionally mastered, but it does take most of my free time. I’m working to better manage it and to make sure I make the time for my own projects. I’m planning on finishing a new album by the end of this year, which would be great.
*Aside from releasing and recording music you a prodigious masterer (alongside James Plotkin, Rafael Anton Irisarri, Lawrence English and Ian Hawgood). When work comes your way you would get first chance to hear their music. Do you keep notes about artists that interest you and have any releases come from an artist who sent an earlier mastering job?
I’ve heard so much great music from being a mastering engineer, but I make a conscious point of keeping the mastering business and label businesses separate. I don’t want people to get the idea that having me master their record is somehow a way to have me hear a demo or to get an “in” to get a record released on 12k. There are artists whose music I’ve mastered that would be great on 12k, but my release schedule isn’t so big and I already have enough artists to work with that I’m not thinking too much about this idea when I’m mastering.
*Japan seems important to the label with regular tours and the fact that you have released on the Spekk label. What is the importance of this country on yourself and the label?
When I first went to Japan in 2001 I was really blown away by the people, the passion and the aesthetics of their creative culture. I immediately felt at home and inspired and was determined to go back. All of these years later and countless trips and it really is a second home to me. I just relate to it on some really important levels and feel comfortable there. I have very close friends, great musical ties and more stories and memories than one should be allowed to have in a lifetime. I became heavily inspired by their aesthetic or view called Wabi Sabi, which briefly, is the belief that imperfection is beautiful and the appreciation of natural objects that only get more beautiful as nature wears them away. These ideas started to seep into my creative inspiration around the time I wrote my album Northern and ever since have been the single most guiding philosophy of my music. I suppose that reason alone is enough to endear me to a place.
*Community, creating and fostering relationships is very integral to the label. How important is it in both the success of the label and the artists to having a great rapport and being in synch?
To me, the community and family is probably more important than selling records. I mean, in the end, do you want to have sold a lot of records, or do you want to be surrounded by wonderful people? It’s the relationships that mean more, foster learning, foster creativity, support, memories and stories. Selling records is a bonus.
*What are the qualities that you look for in a release or artist to join the label? Do you offer suggestions / constructive criticism or let the judgment of the artist decide their release?
That’s a difficult question. For one thing, I do prefer to have met the artist in person. Although this isn’t always possible. Because of the friendly/community nature of the label I’d really like everyone to get along and be like-minded. But musically, sonically, I’m just looking for something that I’m interested in at that particular time, or something that is quite different for the label, yet somehow fits in. I think two of the latest artists, M. Grig and Gareth Dickson are both perfect examples of this. Nothing on the label sounds like either of these artists, especially Gareth, yet both fit perfectly and offer something new.
Over the last few years I’ve released a lot fewer “new” artists because the roster has grown to the size that the existing artists often have records to try to fit into the schedule. Also, because sales have been difficult, physical product difficult, it’s been much more of a risk to try a new artist, which is sad, because the label was founded on these discoveries, founded on great demos from people I didn’t know. I hope there comes a time where I can take some more risks again in that way.
*Instead of choosing a favorite release from the label, what release do you wish came out on 12k?
One of the earliest releases where I felt this was with Keith Fullerton Whitman’s “Playthroughs.” That’s one album I definitely wished I could have released. It’s one of my all-time favorite electronic albums. Same goes with Solo Andata’s “Fyris Swan” which came out on the Hefty label. In fact, it was that release that made me want to release something from them. It’s an amazing, unique record. Both of these records I’ve mentioned still sound so good today.
*What does the future bring for both the label and yourself?
I think if I knew that it wouldn’t be much fun running a label! I don’t think beyond a few months, or a year tops, so I have no idea. I would like to see a solution, or progress, or an answer, to the physical vs. digital conundrum, or a listening public who prefers a more sustainable path for the artists. But, sadly, I have no control over that, so I will just continue to go with the flow… and hopefully continue to release beautiful music and carve out a little niche of peace in the world.
Until the end of August the label has a sale with 35% off using the code 12ksummer19 at Bandcamp.
Twelve Principles Upon Which 12k Was Founded
1. Don’t tell listeners what they want to hear, let them discover that for themselves.
2. Treat your audience as they are: intelligent, passionate lovers of art and sound.
3. Evolve constantly, but slowly.
4. Stay quiet, stay small.
5. Strive for timelessness.
6. Never try to be perfect. Beauty is imperfection.
7. Simplicity. Anti-Design.
8. Never try to innovate, be true to yourself, and innovation may happen.
9. Explore sound as art, as a physical phenomenon — with emotion.
10. Develop community.
11. Be spontaneous.
12. Everything will change.
You can check out more about Taylor and the label’s fine works via the following links: