There was once a time when you had to sit or stand in a recording studio, carefully position expensive and fragile mics in front of amps and drum kits, then actually slice the finished recording onto slabs of vinyl so other people could hear it in the comfort of their homes. That time has passed. Now, any goon with an instrument, a dream, and a USB port on the laptop can toss off a Bandcamp masterpiece. And they do, for better or worse.
The democratization of music online has changed the demands on record labels, especially small, independent ones—if someone's going to sign with a label instead of just uploading your songs yourself, there better be a good reason. Wiener Records, an offshoot of popular garage rock label Burger Records, has hatched a scheme to change the entire dynamic of independent record labels.
It's a simple idea: Instead of putting together a roster of likeminded bands, Wiener lets anyone join the label—the artists just has to cover the cost of manufacturing cassette tapes. The packages range from 100 tapes to 500, and cost as little as $250. The label's motto is, "Everyone's a Wiener," and it's pretty much true—its business model allows musicians access a physical product they can distribute, as well as giving them a label family to be a part of, for less than a week's worth of wages. It seems like a pretty cool thing. But historically, record labels are tastemakers who curate a tight-knit community of excellent bands that the label can stand behind. What happens to that when anyone and everyone can buy their way onto Wiener? I called up the label's head guy, Danny Gonzales, to talk with him about it.
VICE: Hey Danny. How did Wiener get started? Where'd the idea for an egalitarian label come from?
Danny Gonzales: It was mostly Burger Records founders Lee and Sean's idea. They had a full schedule and bands were still asking them to put their tapes out. There were some really good bands that they just didn't have the time or the resources to put their tapes out. So Lee and Sean had this idea that if the band paid for the pressings, they'd do everything else. They would provide the manpower, time, and hype. They'd be treated the same as a Burger band, but I would release it on Wiener Records.
I like the slogan "Everyone's a Wiener."
They'd always forward me demos being like, "This could be a Wiener!" We'll reach out to bands and say, "Here's what we can provide," but anyone who emails us can totally do it.
What's the deal with promotion? You release a lot more albums than a traditional label. Do you have to dilute your efforts to accommodate that many bands?
It's a big family. When a band pays for the pressing, we get all their files and art and promotional stuff—it's very in-house, especially when it comes to booking shows. We have a list of bands, their locations, and what type of music it is. If we have a tour going through town, we'll reach out to Wiener bands and offer them a spot. That's a benefit we try to emphasize—we can say to a Wiener band, "We're coming through your town with Pangea or Audacity and we want you on the bill." And if you're touring through Orange County, we want you to play our shows and festivals.
Do you find that most of the bands who approach Wiener are Burger-vibe garage rock bands? Or is there a more diverse group of musicians?
We have a crazy diverse array of bands. There's plenty of the garage rock/surf/mellow stuff because that's the usual Burger thing, but there are some weird noise projects and stuff coming from out of nowhere. We just put out a tape from this guy in San Diego named Solitary Debate—it's just him making weird dark ambient music. It's really spooky and rad.
One of the common criticisms of Burger is that it has so many similar-sounding garage bands. This seems like a great way around that, because it allows anyone who's willing to pay to take advantage of your audience and potentially expose them to something unusual.
That's the great thing, literally anyone can do it. You pay for the pressing and we do the rest. We have Solitary Debate in San Diego and also some guy in Argentina called Satanoise TV putting out a weird kraut rock-sounding album. It's all random. You'll get garage, but you'll also get stuff that Burger wouldn't necessarily put out.
These days, since you can make and release music for basically free, it means something when a musician has taken the financial risk to put out a tape or a record themselves. It shows a level of commitment that isn't necessarily hard to come by, but is certainly getting rarer.
Right, when people see a material item like a tape these days, it has a certain impact. There are thousands of URLs and Bandcamp pages. If you give someone a tape, it means more. They'll be more inclined to play it.
Would Wiener ever take on bands that you wanted but didn't pay for the pressing?
I've done that before. Wiener profits are very slim—everything the band pays goes to pressing, shipping, and promotions. Extra money goes to the website maintenance.
I put out one tape with my own money. It was by Mens' Club, a side project by the guys from TSOL. They made a synth-pop group in the 80s and their album was never released, so I paid to release it.
For a young musician in the middle of nowhere, Wiener seems like a great opportunity.
Some of the kids who are putting stuff out on Wiener are from places I've never heard of in the USA. There's also lots of stuff from out of the country. The most peculiar was a band from Israel, which was really cool. We're helping expose people who may otherwise be left unknown.
Imagine that there's a guy who is choosing between Wiener and a traditional independent label. How would you convince him to choose Wiener?
I'd just tell him the benefits. If he can shell out the bucks for the Wiener package, there are some real benefits and good exposure—we sell tapes at the Burger Store and pop-up shops around the world. Anyone should be able to put music out. There should be no one stopping them.