Matthew Baringer is the man responsible for Asaurus, one of today's
leading DIY record labels. With a slew of high quality releases
comprising its back catalogue, including some incredible compilations and
various albums and EPs, Asaurus has made its presence known on the lo-fi
scene. Doing most of its business over the internet, the label acts
as a hub for dozens upon dozens of bands and musicians, including
Baringer's own solo project, This Bank Holiday. I conducted this
email interview a few months ago to shed some light on the ins and outs of
the illustrious microlabel business.
How was Asaurus started? Why?
I started the label, mostly on a whim, to give a proper release for my
friend Coreyís album I Like How You Like Planes. I thought it could be a
nice hobby that wouldnít last very long. It seemed like the next logical
step, as I was no longer playing in any bands but still had a desire to do
something with music. Plus, we each had plenty of our own recordings lying
around to pad our catalog. I asked Corey to take on some of the workload
and co-run the label with me, despite the fact that during the majority of
our first year, we did very little business.
How long did it take before sales started to pick up? How did the
word get out?
It really wasnít until we released our first compilation, Finally
Something to Replace Bowling, that I noticed a surge in website traffic
and orders. It was released to celebrate our first anniversary in December
2002. Up until that point, the only records we had put out was music that
Corey or myself was connected to, therefore totally irrelevant to most
folks. But the compilation featured bands from all over the place and it
really helped to get our name out there. It is still one of our best
sellers, though itís been slipping recently. But thatís OK.
What is the label philosophy?
I feel it is important for me to offer people really good (and unique)
music at inexpensive prices. I want Asaurus to be a convenient and
reliable place for people to get new and interesting music where most of
the money made goes back to the bands. Oh, and everything needs to be
(efficiently) handmade in some fashion.
Have you ever considered using more complex packaging for a release?
Do you plan to explore non-CDR releases at one point? Perhaps tapes,
records, Edison cylinders...? How about professionally mastered CDs?
Well, we have released one compilation on cassette already, last yearís
ďA Tape Between Friends,Ē and we will be releasing our second cassette
very soon. It is a collection of indie-pop & lo-fi Smashing Pumpkins
covers which should not be misconstrued into some sort of tribute record.
I would like to one day release something on 7Ē vinyl, which may come
sooner rather than later. The one thing I am completely uninterested in is
professionally pressed CDs. And mastering? Címon!
Iíd like to someday start a second division of Asaurus that would
only release really limited edition records with extremely
handmade/elaborate packaging. I look at the stuff like American Tapes
(http://www.msu.edu/~olsonjoh/) puts out and I just start to drool. Iíd
love to have the time (and talents) to work on something like that, but
for the time-being, Iíd rather make records that, while still handmade,
Iím able to make enough of to keep up with the demand.
How much of a commitment goes into Asaurus, both timewise and
Time wise, I work on the label around 80% of the time Iím not at my
dayjob or sleeping. Iím constantly either filling orders, assembling
packaging, buying supplies, designing artwork, maintaining the website,
visiting the post office, sending emails, tracking reviews and radio
charts, or burning many many many CDRs. It is a lot for just one person to
do, but I love it and I canít see myself doing anything else right now.
At first, I had to use an awful lot of my own money (which there isnít
much of) to get the label going. Weíre finally at a point where we break
even, where we sell enough records so I can afford all the supplies
needed, the constant postage costs, and still be able to pay all the bands
without going into the hole. I know this because of my obsessive record
How do you get onto radio charts? Do you just send releases to them
unsolicited? How much airplay do the releases get, and do they help get
the word out? How long did it take for radio stations to start playing
We get onto radio charts? Yeah, maybe a few times, really no thanks to
me. College radio as a whole seems pretty unwilling to play anything
besides Ďmainstreamí indie music right now, with the exception of some
wonderful DJs. Iíve sent out a fair share of our releases to radio
stations, almost all of them unsolicited. Maybe 10% of those records I can
say actually made it on the air.
I think weíve only been charted 3 or 4 times, which is astounding and
quite awesome considering who we are. But again, its no thanks to me. I
send the records out, but the only reason it makes it onto the air is
because a DJ takes a chance on it. It also helps that the music is really
good. A problem I was only recently clued in on was program directorsí
dislike of CDs not in jewel cases. Well, that completely excludes our
entire catalog! I have a feeling the majority of the records I sent out
were sent directly to the trash. Thinking about it makes me sick since I
made all of them with as much love and care and time as I do every other
How much money goes into each release?
- It really varies, depending on what we decide to use for packaging
materials and such. I try to cut as many corners as possible without
taking away from the quality of our final output. What I love about doing
CDR only releases is that there are no large upfront costs for CD
manufacturing and sleeve printing and etc. I donít need to worry about
selling X amount of copies so I can just break even. I know people whoíve
invested hundreds and hundreds of dollars into releases, only to have
hundreds and hundreds of copies take up valuable closet space. Iím sure
you do too.
How many copies of each release are generally made? How does
production work? Burn-by-request?
I would love to be able to have the time to sit down and make 100
copies of a release, ready to go for whenever someone was to order it.
Unfortunately, it just doesnít seem possible. So this is what happens:
You place your order and when I receive it, I make up a nice invoice so I
can keep track of what I need to make that evening. I go to my closet
where I keep all of the supplies, run through the dayís orders and grab
what I need, i.e. 3 sheets of light blue construction paper, 1 brown paper
bag, 2 floppy disks. I generally spend the next hour printing everything.
I take a seat on my bedroom floor, watch some kung fu or a soap opera, and
cut, fold, and glue construction paper. I have this square piece of wood
that I rest on my lap and use as a tabletop. Iím not sure why I donít
just get a nice worktable. At the same time, Iím burning the CDRs.
Everything is made, placed in their envelopes, and taken to the post
office the next morning. So yes, each record is entirely made to order.
What is the artist/label "agreement" for releases?
I really like the honor system. Contracts, copyrights, and publishing
are over my head and seem totally unnecessary. I agree to be a nice guy
and do everything I can to promote and sell records for each band.
Sometimes it works out.
Do you sell your releases at cost-price? Do you make money on each copy
you sell? Do you send money to the bands, or is it not-for-profit both
ways? Like do you actually PAY the band MONEY, or do you pay them by the
fact that you're releasing and promoting their record?
Sometimes I daydream about a time when I can live comfortably and
support myself doing nothing but Asaurus full-time. If anyone has a
business model for doing so, please get in touch. For the time-being, I
like to consider Asaurus a no-profit label as opposed to a non-profit. We
intend to make money selling records, but itís not really the case. For
each bandís release, I keep a small percentage of each record sale to
cover costs and the rest of the money goes to the band. So yes, I give
actual money to each band. The profits from our compilations all go right
back into the label. Without those sales, there would be no label. Since I
currently have a day job, my only goal is to have the label pay for itself
and pass the rest of the money to the bands and to charities.
What is the experience of putting out a comp like?
It is actually a little heartbreaking at times. When you make an open
call for submissions to a compilation, you get all sorts of music sent to
you. The decision-making process of who makes the cut and who doesnít is
really really hard for me. I have a problem with saying Ďnoí to people
and as a result I either find myself making concessions or ruining peopleís
lives. Maybe itís not that traumatic for the bands, but I always picture
it as such.
The flipside to doing comps is being able to work with a ton of awesome
bands all at once, many of which you just wouldnít have the time to work
with otherwise. Weíve also discovered many on our roster from their
So you generally get more contributions than you can fit on a comp?
How do you get the word out about your "call for submissions" -
just by a notice on the Asaurus website?
Oh yeah, it really surprised me the first time we did a comp on how
many people sent things in. Besides our first compilation, the only
call-for-submissions advertising I do is on our website. But the word gets
out in some internet-y kind of way.
What are some of the funniest / weirdest demos you've received?
Unfortunately, I canít really think of any terribly weird demos weíve
ever received. I can say my favorite demos to receive are the ones sent
inside the folders with the glossy photos, their manager/mommyís
business card, and the one-sheet that proclaims how unique and diverse
their Ďsoundí is. It always perplexes me why these bands waste the
money sending this garbage to labels that clearly want nothing to do with
them. But I keep every one of them, just in case.
Ugh, I know what you mean... I'm thinking about hunting down all of
those promo glossies I have in my archives and making some sort of big
collage out of them. Isn't that a radical idea?
Also, you should recycle some of those press kits by sending them out with
Asaurus releases. Especially when you're mailing review copies. Assuming
you don't confuse the person on the other end, it could be pretty funny...
Yeah, I should probably start looking for a photographer who can
capture the many different Ďvibesí of all our bands, huh?
When did you start recording songs yourself? When did Monotone come
about? This Bank Holiday?
I started committing things to tape around 1994, with my first Ďbandí,
which consisted of me on the drum kit and a friend on guitar. We played
Nirvana and Green Day covers in my basement a few times a week. I
positioned a vocal microphone above the drum kit, which was responsible
for picking up the drums, vocals, and guitar. I was totally obsessed, as I
still am, with recording everything, so I have tapes and tapes of many
differently nuanced versions of ďIn Bloom.Ē
After that, I played drums in the band Bugg Superstar with some
friends, many times outside of my basement. We were your average high
school rock band, and once we graduated, the band was pretty much over.
But around the same time, I found my basement packed with all sorts of
musical equipment, and despite my lack of any real skills, I decided I was
going to start recording stuff, all by myself, because I had read that was
how Trent Reznor did it. I was never into NIN, but I remember being really
impressed with how he put his control freak issues to work. These
recordings came under the moniker Monotone, mostly because that was how I
was singing. I couldnít tune a guitar, let alone play a discernable
chord, but yet I managed to come up with 3 tape-fuls of material. When I
got to college, I took some music theory courses and it ruined Monotone
for me. Once I learned the Ďproperí way to do things, I couldnít go
back to my old ways of songwriting/experimenting.
I started recording This Bank Holiday material after Corey finally
flicked the switch that allowed me to get a grasp on how a guitar works.
With this new knowledge, I was eager to get back to the basement and back
to my love of multitracking. The first TBH EP I did, ďLonely People Read
Alot,Ē was the result of those first recording sessions after many years
away. With some distance, Iím really not at all happy with the results,
but the full-length I put out last year, ďHome Time is Safe Time,Ē is
something Iím ok telling people I had an involvement with.
So you feel your perspective is constantly changing as you go on...
where do you see This Bank Holiday going in the future? Would you consider
drifting away from the lo-fi formula if given the chance? Do you ever
wonder if, one day, these releases will be coveted in the same way Guided
By Voices' early Scat recordings are? Don't be modest.
Oh yes, definitely. The more I learn and experiment with songwriting
and recording, the more the songs will evolve/devolve. I donít
necessarily want TBH to always be recording similar sounding albums.
Someone may not like one record, but love another. I donít want to ever
feel like I need to write in a certain way to make some people happy. This
is all ridiculous for me to even say, by the way, considering nobody knows
who the hell I am.
I actually see myself getting more lo-fi, not less. I could never
record in a real studio environment, or at least not in the same way I do
things now. My songs really have no structure until I start recording
them. I like to let them write themselves during the recording process.
Mistakes are little presents from your own subconscious.
Itís romantic to daydream about such a thing, but no, I doubt anyone
will be purchasing Home Time is Safe Time for $6000 on Ebay someday. To
me, I think itís amazing that there are complete strangers out there who
own copies of my records and always will, even after both Asaurus and
myself are dead and gone. Itís the obscure and miniscule mark Iím
leaving on this world, and regardless of what thatís worth to people, it
is still magical.
Are there archives of recordings lying around somewhere, and, if so,
are they ever going to see the light of day?
Oh, there is TONS. The majority of the archive is Monotone material,
but there is also plenty of Bugg Superstar and This Bank Holiday noise to
go around. I put together a CDROM full of pretty much everything Bugg
related that I give to friends or anyone who expresses an interest. Iíve
contemplated putting together a TBH outtake/rarity comp, not because
anyone would want such a thing, but only because thereís so much
material, Iíd like to have it all in one place.
Well, if you do ever release anything like that, I'd like to hear
it. I think it's always fascinating to hear a band or artist's style
develop over time...
I will put you down for a copy, because if I know for sure at least one
person will be interested, Iím happy to release a record (with some
Got any neat stories? Interesting live experiences? Unexpected
peculiarities of the DIY label business?
I personally have not played live since playing drums with Bugg and
keyboards for Tune, which were ages ago. I would like to someday find the
courage and a backing band to do This Bank Holiday in a live setting, but
probably not any time soon. I was able to put together some shows for the
Diskettes and Pants Yell! in Detroit that were both really really good
times. But besides the awesome tunes, I canít think of anything
interesting happening. Iím just not very good at anecdotes.
Where and how did the Diskettes/Pants Yell! shows happen? Were the
venues open to them performing? Did the shows go over well?
Both shows were in the metro Detroit area, Ann Arbor and Hamtramck to
be more specific. Both bands were on tours put together on their own
accord and each wanted to make a stop in Asaurus-town (nobody actually
calls Detroit that). The Diskettes played the inaugural show at my friend
Amyís house, dubbed The
Hiscock House, which has since become a really awesome DIY basement
We set up the Pants Yell! show at a neighborhood bar, The Belmont, in
Hamtramck along with my most favorite Detroit (and quite possibly
all-over) band New
Grenada and the amazing Kiddo.
The owner was really nice and gave us free cheese pizza and insanely cheap
drinks. New Grenada ended their set with actual fireworks, a la Great
White sans the deaths and evacuation.
A lot more Asaurus bands are playing shows than when we first started.
Besides Pants Yell! and The Diskettes, you can also see Quiet Bears,
Patrick Porter, Colin Clary, Elliott the Letter Ostrich, and Sinkcharmer
playing regularly. Just not in Asaurus-town.
So why "Asaurus"? (DONT SAY "Why not Asaurus?"
Thatís a really good question. I can honestly say I donít have a
very good answer. I was bored out of my skull one day in some sort of
Anthropology or Psychology class, and as always, I was doodling in the
margins of my notebook. For some cosmic reason, the word ASAURUS appeared
in my mindís eye and I proceeded to jot in down. It was that terrific
suffix, made popular by the ďPizza-A-SaurusĒ and ďTennis-A-SaurusĒ
shirts from the 1980s. When I decided to start the label and desperately
searching for that super-clever name, I came across the notebook and the
Asaurus I wrote down. It seemed meant to be, despite many peopleís
troubles with the pronunciation. I just say ďItís A and Saurus, like
Wait... "A" as in "ay" or "A" as in
I pronounce it with the ďuhĒ. Some of my favorite mispronunciations
would be, in the rare case yr interested, a-sore-ez & a-source.
Perfectly reasonable mistakes.
What's your favourite colour?
Iím a big fan of green, all different shades, especially when they
are next to one another.
Have you got any advice for aspiring label creators?
Check your email often.
The Asaurus website is www.asaurus.org.
Indieville has reviewed numerous Asaurus records, including Matthew
Baringer's solo project This Bank
Holiday, which reached number sixteen on our Best
of 2004 list.