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Hubro: Making Room for Marginalized Music

Jakob Baekgaard By

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AAJ: One thing is the attention span. Another thing is the belief in the narrative of an album.

AM: We are still dealing with albums. It's not playlists and this kind of music is not suited to the kind of things that playlists and Spotify want to do anyway. I really believe in the album format. I really want the listener to play it once more after having listened to the album.

AAJ: You said that you are a one-man operation. Are you basically taking care of almost everything?

AM: Almost. Of course, I don't do shipments myself and I don't do sales and I have PR agents that I'm collaborating with in different territories, but I do all the contact with the artists and the contacts with the designer and the distributers. So basically everything.

AAJ: Could you tell about the design? Your albums have a very distinctive style. How did this come about?

AM: When I got a go from my boss to start the label, my first thought was that we had to have an easily recognizable graphic profile. Since I had been running labels before, I had been collaborating with different designers and I really liked to work with designers who have a strong will. I'm also working with other labels under the Grappa umbrella and work with different designers and there are designers that are very professional and very flexible and there are designers that are artists in a way. If you ask them if they can move this letter, they just send you something completely different because they don't want you to interfere at all.

I knew about this design duo, Yokoland, which has designed a lot of album covers and book covers that I really liked. I knew they were artist designers and I really wanted to collaborate with them. The graphic profile needed to be different from other labels that we could easily be associated with, like Rune Grammofon or ECM. We needed it to look like a series and the logo had to be on the front cover and then they could do the rest. They suggested that we used another approach with different photos than many other labels so there is a lot of vacation photos and found photos from archives. I'm really happy about it, but there are two sides to it. Because we have a strong graphic identity, there's less space for the artist to say I want to do this and this. That's a bad thing for the artist sometimes, of course, but it's a good thing when it comes to being efficient because the processes can be very lengthy when many people express their meaning. It could happen in the future that we grow tired of the concept, but so far it has been a benefit for the label because it is easily recognizable.

AAJ: What does the name, Hubro, actually mean? The logo is an owl.

AM: It is an owl, yeah.

AAJ: Why did you choose that?

AM: I like owls and, basically, we needed a short name and something that could be nice on a logo and not look very corporate.

AAJ: Yeah, that's the thing. In a way, it is a nice counterpoint to many of the things you talk about. There is this beautiful aesthetic, there's this idea of the work and then you have this owl! It's both cute and kitschy and it kind of disturbs things.

AM: Yeah, it is a quite anti high-brow approach and that's how I approach music myself. I don't need to have a white shirt to go to a classical music concert. It's just about listening, an everyday activity. I want the label to be like that too. I don't have to signal that it is high-brow, important or pretentious in a way. It needs to be unpretentious.

AAJ: Do you find that you have found your audience, and do you have an idea who listens to the music?

AM: When the artists are playing live, they reach more people then they do when selling CDs and LPs because there is a more diverse crowd going to concerts than there is buying music. Nowadays you have to be a music fan to actually buy products, so I think they are many ages, but I guess that unfortunately there are more men than women who buy CDs. They are music lovers. I guess in all ages, but they tend to be men, grownup men.

AAJ: Norway is also a very progressive country when it comes to streaming. What is your take on the whole streaming movement? My feeling is that label owners are very divided.

AM: There is a strong ambivalence because of course it is fantastic to have access to all kinds of music, it is a dream come true, but there are also a lot of negative aspects. Apparently, people are taking music more for granted and take for granted that it is free or almost free, and, politically, the way that the royalties are split up from the streaming services is not very good. I strongly believe that if they had been using the user-centric model instead of the pro-rata model they use now, our reality would have been quite different.

AAJ: Could you elaborate because I'm not sure I understand. It sounds a bit technical to me.

AM: It is very technical. Let's talk about Spotify because that's the biggest platform. When you pay ten euros those go into a big bag and all the streaming on the Spotify platform gets this total number and this total sum of money and the money is split between all those streams so of course, Kanye West gets a lot of money and a release that has been streamed ten times gets no money at all. So, it's sort of like a winner takes it all situation. But it had been different if the money had been following the user. If you listen to John Coltrane and three other albums that you listen to that month then your money would be split between what you listen to. Then it would give more income to music that is not commercial, the marginal music, and it would not hurt commercial pop music either. So, to me, it doesn't make any sense that we still use the pro-rata system.


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