A Living Diary of a Dying Industry

Record Label Wants You to Go to Acupuncture School, Stop Pissing in Sandbox

By A Wolfe

I met Temporary Residence Ltd. owner, Jeremy deVine, at a friend’s weekend birthday get-together on the Oregon coast. All of us partygoers walked out to the ocean, huddled in warm layers, as the skies predictably drenched us, because it was, after all, fucking Oregon. I vividly remember Jeremy at one point staring solemnly out to the rolling waves, while the wind blew up his hair, like one of those contemplative, soul-searching scenes in a French No-Hap* film, and then it hit me that one of the most successful acts on his label is the cinematic-instrumentalist outfit, Explosions in the Sky, and I was like, Oh, god, that’s SO FUCKING perfect. In actuality, everything I’ve heard about Jeremy reinforces that he lives for this label, to artfully package and distribute the music he loves. And in the past few years, as indie labels shutter their offices in domino succession, Temporary Residence Ltd. seems to have become the go-to model for how to run a record label. But it seems the secret to his success is similar to those of our past interviewees: NEVER FUCKING SLEEP. He couldn’t even stay the weekend at the beach house. Dude had to work.

*Nothing Happens

VICE: First off, can you describe a typical workday?
Jeremy DeVine: I wake up around 9am, check email for anything that has to be taken care of immediately, then head to the office. How long I work per day changes drastically depending on our release schedule. Right now I'm working anywhere from 10-16 hours per day. During less hectic seasons, I get it down to eight hours per day.
 
Would you say that the majority of your work relies on email communication at this point?
99% of our communication relies on email, but I'd say less than half of my work is email-based. I handle all of the art direction and design, as well as accounting, both of which are solitary tasks.
 
At the time when you started the label, what was your main mode of getting publicity for your artists?
Well, when I started the label I wasn't really thinking of publicity so much as distribution. I just wanted to get the records in stores in the towns where the artist was touring. Publicity for me consisted almost solely of sending 50-75 unsolicited CDs to writers whose contacts I'd panhandled from other labels. Once I had distribution sorted, I started advertising a bit more, and expanded the promo list bit-by-bit. Then I got an intern to help assemble promo CDs. And help print record covers, since I printed most of those earlier releases on an antique letterpress at the school I was attending at the time.
 
 
Do you remember any of the early press you received?
Yeah, Baltimore City Paper did a piece in ‘99...That was the biggest press the label had probably ever received to that point. A local paper. The label was still very much just a guy surrounded by cardboard boxes in the living room of his decrepit Hampden house.                
 
You speak about the artwork you create for the label a great deal. Obviously, you love the music you release, but how much of creating the label was really about getting your artwork out of the decrepit Hampden house and into the world?                 
That was a huge part of it. Honestly, I always considered the label more of a communal art project. Which, when I say it out loud, sounds painfully hippie.                       
 
Do you think that if you'd considered it a "business" first, more than a communal art project, that it would have failed? How business-minded are you? Can hippies be business-minded?
Clearly hippies can be business-minded. Haven't you ever seen Baby Mama? Or Tony Robbins? Or every incredibly wealthy acupuncturist?
 
Acupuncturists are exactly what I think of when I conjure the meaning of the 1%.
I don't know if it would have failed if I were more "business-minded," as you say, but I certainly would have stopped doing it very early on if I was playing the numbers game.                       
 
Can I ask when you started making money from the label? Like, how far in were you?
From a business perspective, owning a record company has only become an increasingly risky proposition since we started. And 2004 was the first year we didn't declare a loss. So the first eight years were fiscally a wash.
 
 
You're careful to say that you "didn't declare a loss" instead of "made money." Where did the money come from to sustain the label?                     
I held down multiple jobs at the time. I would wake up around 8am, work on label for a couple hours, go to work until 8pm, get back to label stuff until around 4am. Repeat. I also had massive credit card debt, which took me almost a decade to pay down.
 
At any point in time after 2004, did it feel strange to be making money off of art?
Not really, because none of that money was disposable. We were still broke. I was able to finally hire an employee. And start aggressively paying off student loan and credit card debt.
 
So you're saying you're not "acupuncturist rich?"
Not even close. I'll settle for being able to afford acupuncture. My acupuncturist owns THREE houses in New York. That is a breed of ballin' I will never know. Nor do I need to know.
 
Let's talk about licensing. A few of my previous interviewees mentioned that the music industry isn't dying, as long as musicians retain ownership of their work and figure out how to do some savvy licensing. When I think of licensing, I always think of Friday Night Lights. I know you've talked about this before, but how did that happen?
Brian Reitzell contacted me back when I was living in Portland, Oregon. He's a music supervisor who works a lot with Sophia Coppola, and he said he was hired to supervise the music for a high school football film based on a book about West Texas high school football. The band were familiar with the book, as they were from Midland, Texas, and actually went to that high school. Licensing used to pay really well for us, but that gold rush created a typhoon of amateur music supervisors and hack bands low-balling to the point where major networks and corporations are offering shit fees for great music.  
 
 
Or shit fees for shit music (read: Pomplamoose in car commercials).             
Of course. And if the artist turns the offer down, the company will simply find some hack to rip it off. For instance: Beach House.
 
Oh, god, the Beach House hack! Loved that one. Bought the single on iTunes. Groundbreaking stuff. In that Baltimore City Paper article you sent me, they described some of your bands as "mercurial" and "ambient." What words do you wish people would stop using to describe bands on your label?
I stopped caring about that stuff years ago. Descriptors, that is. Pitchfork started calling Three Mile Pilot post-rock after we signed them, and that's probably when I realized it was all bullshit and not based in any sort of reality.
 
If you could name one single object that has been the most beneficial addition to the Temp Res office in the past five years, what would it be and why?
Two most beneficial additions to the office in the past five years: Alfie Palao, our Digital and Retail Manager. And our Poland Spring water cooler. It's a toss-up between those two.
 
God, you can afford a water cooler.
It's true. Best $40/month ever spent. Our Internet costs four times as much and isn't nearly as reliable as the water cooler.
 
Is the music industry dying? If it is, what can revive it? Besides a water cooler, that is.
I don't know if it's dying, but it's definitely changing. There's a huge communication problem between the various integral parts of the industry and its patrons. For example, a common justification for illegally downloading music is that they will "support the band by paying for a live show and/or buying a shirt." That doesn't work.

In all but a select few special circumstances, the label pays all recording expenses, all manufacturing expenses, and all promotional expenses for both album and tour. And yet, the label only receives a portion of the income from RECORD SALES. Ticket sales, t-shirts, etc. do not go to the label at all.

So labels are shouldering an increasingly financial liability despite diminishing returns. And streaming revenues are even worse, in my opinion, because it gives fans the sense that they are supporting the artists and labels in a meaningful way. In truth, companies like Spotify pay fractions of a penny for streams. If that model actually becomes a dominant format, then the independent music industry will definitely disintegrate.

Will labels still have a place in the music industry in five years?
I have a feeling the powers that be (major labels) will continue to battle consumers on legitimate means of music consumption until the industry reaches a happy medium with its patrons. I will not battle in that way. I'd rather cease operations if it came down to that. Independent labels are shutting down left and right, no doubt. It's a very difficult time to make it work.
 
Would you ever lead a campaign to educate patrons about the realities of their illegal downloading in a less douchey way than Metallica did? Could we circulate memes with your face and slogans from this interview?
Ha, no. It's very difficult to not come off as douchey in this debate. I stopped debating it.
 
I’m curious about whether you get into debates about illegal downloading within your own friend circle. I find this happens to me a lot.
People know that illegal downloading is wrong; they just don't care. Eighty years of ruthless, exploitative practices from major labels has given a lot of people the impression that illegal downloading is comeuppance. And now streaming services are campaigning to compete against all other formats that actually pay a fair wage. The music industry is a mess.
 
What does the next year look like for Temp Res?
This year was intense for us in terms of release schedule, so I'm looking forward to taking it a bit easier next year. There will be new albums from Eluvium, Grails, Coliseum, and several others, I'm sure.
 
What do you do to take a detour around the shit storm?
We just want to keep playing in our little corner of the sandbox (to quote the Coen Brothers). I'm extremely grateful for everything we've gotten to do, and all the people we've been able to support and facilitate. A lot of people rely on us, and we're just trying to keep it going.                       
 
Well, I hope nobody pisses in your sandbox overnight.
 
 

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