Nowadays most small labels, which are operating in basically any genre, are actually non-profit initiatives. All the money they might be able to make from the support of dedicated listeners, collectors or just curious music fans are reinvested in new releases so they can make the ends meet and survive. That makes the concept of keeping record label operations non-profit not really a novelty. There’s however a way you can even turn this non-profit principle in an ideology as well and lately there has been one label, which has been dragging my attention for it brought non-profit to a whole new level while in the same time keeping an outstanding level of quality for the releases it’s been producing.
I’m talking about Oaken Palace Records. Yes, you probably remember the article about “The only record label in Europe to donate all of its proceeds to environmental charities”. In case you missed this one catch up here and come back to DIY Conspiracy as I recently approached Sven Lohrey, the label founder, to get a grasp of what’s going on in the Oaken Place camp a year later after its official appearance.
Hey there Sven, first of all I find it proper to ask you to briefly present yourself and all personal background you consider relevant to that moment when you realized you have to start Oaken Palace.
Hi Angel, thank you for this opportunity. When I started Oaken Palace Records back in November 2012, I had just begun my PhD here in the UK, and felt financially secure enough to realize this project. The idea for starting a charitable label is considerably older and is a result of my spiritual practice. The element of giving is an important part of this practice, and an element I always felt challenged by. So starting and running Oaken Palace Records is as much a means for my personal spiritual advancement as it is a means to support environmental organizations.
Have you ever tried to raise funds on similar causes in a different way than via music and art in general, and if yes how did that go?
No, this is my first experience of raising funds.
Why did you decide to focus the label on releasing ambient, drone and psychedelic music?
This decision was definitely influenced by my personal music taste, but also by talking to and socializing with other music listeners. I just got the feeling that people who are concerned about the future of our planet and all its creatures seem to be drawn to particular music genres, and I am talking here both about music listeners as well as the artists themselves. While this is by no means restricted to drone and psychedelic music (Black Metal would be another example) and I am obviously generalizing here, I felt that the connection between nature, music, and spirituality was especially important for artists and listeners of these genres. Music is not seen as an end in itself, but as a means for transcending the self and venturing beyond, however each individual would define that. It’s certainly what music does for me. So it just seemed natural and appropriate to focus on drone and psychedelic music.
Do you think you’d be able to raise more funds if you decided to let’s say put out some more mainstream music or just music that’s easily digestable?
That might be the case, but I see several problems connected with releasing more ‘mainstream’ music. Firstly, I perceive the motivation of ‘mainstream’ versus ‘underground’ artists to be different – again, this is my personal experience and I’m not saying this is absolutely true, but for basically all the artists/bands I have worked with so far, money is only a secondary concern. Their main motivation is to push the boundaries of music, express themselves and their views, and develop as individuals in the process. This is further reflected in the fact that artists who release music via Oaken Palace Records receive none of the profits made by selling their releases, but only get a small share of the print run for free, which is often just enough to cover their own costs. Nevertheless, so far I didn’t have any problems of finding new artists who are interested in participating in this project, which speaks for itself. Other things that keep me from releasing music from more well-known artists and bands are more practical in nature. It’s much harder to get in contact with them, and in many cases they are already signed to a big label that owns the exclusive rights to releasing all of their stuff. I tried to get in touch with some of the big bands in the scene, but had no success whatsoever – in most cases I didn’t even get a reply.
Most of the time running a charity initiative requires to make a compromise of your own personal tastes and focus more on popularity, in your case you’re both satisfying your musical tastes and supporting causes you believe in. Did you have to ever decline to put out a release by an artist who might be more popular, but didn’t fit your label aesthetics?
No, but the reverse scenario happened several times. I regularly receive emails from less well-known artists who do great stuff, but have to decline their offers because the label is not yet big enough and does not get the exposure needed to sell enough of the respective releases. This is one reason why I recently introduced tape releases, as this will allow me to release albums in smaller runs and with less financial risk on my side.
Many smaller labels (and not only) are lately expanding their activities outside the musical aspect. Do you think you might at some point let’s say start publishing literature, photography or any other type of arts?
I didn’t think of this yet and it depends on a number of factors, like the future success of Oaken Palace Records, the time I can spend on it (after all, I run the label in addition to a full-time job, like most owners of independent labels), and the costs involved. But I would not rule out this possibility.
If we are to talk in numbers can you say how much money did you manage to raise for your first year of existence as a label?
In the first year (2013), Oaken Palace did not make any profits. However, last year three out of five releases, namely Caudal’s debut album “Forever In Another World”, Nadja’s “Flipper”, and Eternal Tapestry’s “Guru Overload”, started making profit and in total we donated over £2500 to the Austrian Union for Nature Preservation, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, and the Orangutan Foundation. Our very first release by Parallel Lines is very close to covering costs and I hope we will be able to donate some money to Polar Bears International soon.
Many people would say my 5 euros won’t change a thing in animal or human’s life, what’s your message those people?
I would say they have to abandon their individualistic perspective and perceive themselves as part of a growing movement that can have a massive influence on the future of our planet. It’s a no-brainer, really. It’s the basic decision between living a passive and reactive life or choosing to approach things creatively and with an optimistic, engaged attitude.
Most of the issues as far as I’m aware are environmentalist initiatives do you think any more human-related actions might be supported at some point. For example there are many charity compilations dedicated to cancer studies or patients, the victims of the Gaza conflict etc.
You’re right, there are many causes worthy of support, but Oaken Palace Records focuses exclusively on the protection and conservation of endangered animals and their habitat. It seems to me that in the public discussion about the future of our planet, be it with regards to climate change or sustainability, people often forget that there are other beings on this planet that have the right to live a free and unrestricted life, just like we have. According to current predictions, we will have 9 billion humans on this planet in 2050. At the same time, the current version of the IUCN red list includes almost 20,000 species that are threatened with extinction, and almost 2,000 new species were added to this list between 2008 and 2012 alone. These numbers show that something is going really wrong, and I want to make people aware of this. I strive for treating all beings equally, and helping animals appears much more urgent to me than helping humans.
What has been the feedback from the start and after one year and where your supporters and contributors mostly come from?
The feedback has been extremely positive! All of the contributing artists and bands were (and still are) very enthusiastic about the project, and always happy when I inform them about a new donation. There is a number of supporters who buy every single release on Oaken Palace Records, and I am immensely grateful for that. More and more people get to know about the label, and I receive orders from all over the world – from USA to Japan, and from Norway to Chile. Overall, I would say that I shipped the most records to Germany and the USA.
What’s in for Oaken Palace in 2015, feel free to share something that nobody knows yet!
We just released the first tape on Oaken Palace Records, which is a live recording by thisquietarmy, entitled Insect Kingdom. As the name suggests, all profits will be donated towards the protection and conservation of insects. Next up is the new album by UK drone and psych band Blown Out, a side-project of Bong, which is dedicated to the Aye-aye, a lemur with a freakishly long finger that can only be found in Madagascar. And then we have another vinyl release coming up, which has not been announced yet. What I can say is that it will be brand-new material from a very prolific drone/psych artist from the USA, who has released almost 50 albums since 2003. That should give you a good indication!
As the tradition goes the last one is on you, you are free to add whatever we might have missed.
I would like to thank you very much for this interview and hope that it will help to spread the message I am trying to communicate through Oaken Palace Records. Thank you!