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Origin Records: Creating Opportunities and Community

Jakob Baekgaard By

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AAJ: If you think about the development of the music business in general, how would you characterize the changes that you have been through and what do you think is the reason Origin is still standing after all these years?

JB: With all the advances from 1992-on in recording technology, printing, CDs, internet development, and the remnants of a powerful industry infrastructure, we definitely came along at the only time it was possible for novices with limited means to engage with the industry and be able to survive. Just between 1992 and '97, the costs involved to record, produce and marginally promote a CD dropped like a rock, while there were still distributors, retailers and audiences ready to respond. Us starting a label was a result of the situation at hand. It was possible, first, and then it just required skills developed from being a working musician who pays attention, which is why there was such a large spike in musician-run indie labels from '95-'07

As for being able to survive the decimation of the industry over the last decade, I think most of that has to do with us never really thinking of ourselves solely as a 'record label,' where the sale of a CD is the bread and butter. To me, it's about making sure you have some solid structure that can keep paying the bills no matter what happens, and then just work on building community and relationships with as many different artists, presenters, and business entities as possible. Our structure is built around musician services, some music sales, lots of community building, and then various other opportunities that come up along the way. It shockingly has worked out OK for us and seems to be a path we can stay on.

MJ: John and I started Origin to put out our own music and the music of our friends and peers and it has slowly expanded over the past two decades. We were just a couple of jazz drummers putting out music, so we had to create a business model based on the artist cooperative model because that was the only way we could afford to do it and we wanted to make sure we could last in this business. Now the business has changed so that almost all the record labels are doing some sort of version of the cost-sharing model. My joke is that John and I were broke before all the other labels were broke so we are best at being broke and running a record label.

AAJ: What is the label's approach to packaging and design? Is there a particular visual style you aim for?

JB: Since I'm designing all of the covers, one of the more important aspects of building a "brand," continuity, is taken care of. Even if I'm not trying to make any 2 releases resemble each other, there will be some aspect that ties them together that can hopefully be apparent at a glance. I'm always looking for elements (photos, art, text) that can live up to the music so the art builds on itself, but also imagery that reminds me of other records, movies, art, etc... that will hopefully conjure visceral memories for other people too. There are so many classic visuals that imply "jazz," and I'm intentionally designing to stay close to that umbrella, attempting to be a thoughtful continuation of the legacy.

MJ: For me I always say I came from the John Bishop School of Drumming and Design. John handles all of the covers and I handle all of the website design and the covers have influenced my website designs both for the Origin site and other artist websites. Being a designer, like being a musician, your style changes over the years and evolves. The design part is another outlet for me as an artist.

AAJ: Do you include liner notes and photography in your releases?

JB: If the music is sublime and beautifully crafted, it's not enough for the cover art and contents to just exist, they need to enhance the recording, so if we have great photos of the artists, engaging liner notes, I'll try my best to use them. Mostly it's a question of budget, but I always like to have action in a recording package. With the steady move to self-produced everything, it's imperative that the "creative class" keep an objective eye open to our personal skill sets and limitations, discerning when it's right to do DIY content or when it's best to pay money to someone who can add real beauty/integrity/perspective to one's project. I try not to get too precious about all that stuff, but I do think about it when going through elements for a project.

MJ: We see the entire package of a recording as an artistic statement and so the photography and cover artwork is an essential part of conveying the message of the recording. In the early days of Origin I would always bring my camera on tour with me and a number of my photos are represented on the early recordings.

AAJ: Could you tell about some of the studios you use? What is the perfect sound to you?

MJ: I think the "perfect" sound happens when everyone is comfortable in the studio and can focus on playing music and isn't worried about the technical aspects of working in the studio. There have been lots of technological advances over the years, but in the end, it is about capturing the sound of what is happening in the room and that is the special part. The great studios are the ones where the engineer can capture the sound that is happening in the room. That might sound simple, but it isn't.

JB: There are probably 10 or 15 studios and engineers around the country that will regularly show up on new submissions who just make the process so easy. You hear the music and the room and the vibe and it all makes sense. That's all I'm really listening for. An ideal set-up for one project can be the exact wrong scenario for another, so to me, the perfect sound comes from the engineer who makes themselves a member of the band, understanding that the music needs to guide their work. Real joy comes from hearing an artist who's not quite at the sweet spot of their development, recording with an engineer in the same place, but they somehow end up with a recording that's far greater than the individual parts. It lets you know that there's still magic out there!

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