Label head: Mike Schulman
I first met Mike Schulman when he was recommending spot-on records (such as Juvenilia and “100,000 Fireflies”) to me at Vinyl Ink Records in Silver Spring and the other folks who were involved with early Slumberland were Pam Berry (chickfactor’s cofounder and Black Tambourine singer), Archie Moore, Brian Nelson, Kelly Young, Rob Goldrick, Berny Grindel, Bridget Cross, Dan Searing (of Black Tambourine, Velocity Girl, Whorl and other bands). I wrote a story about the label for Washington City Paper 30 years ago! before our zine was formed. They’ve been a prolific and excellent label ever since and we did a label spotlight on them even though everyone reading cf already knows all about them! Meet Mike Slumberland…
What year did you start a label? Where? Why?
We started Slumberland in 1989 around Washington, DC/suburban MD. A small group of us knew each other from high school, U of MD and the MD radio station (WMUC) and were into a lot of the same music—Postcard, Creation, K, Rough Trade, C86, shoegaze, lower east side NYC noise rock, the Mary Chain, etc.—and decided to start some bands in that vein. Eventually we decided to put out a few records to document what we were doing and it just grew from there.
What has been the most fun bit about running a label?
It’s the absolute best feeling to hear some new music that you like and being able to help get it out there. It’s why we do this. Of course it’s *especially* fun when a record resonates a bit and reaches a wider audience, but even so there’s nothing like that moment when you open the box of a new album, send some to the band, send out the first mail orders… It’s great.
What have been the biggest challenges?
The biggest challenges are rather connected: a) the financial side of keeping it all going, and b) getting enough visibility for the records to create enough demand to drive enough sales to satisfy a). It’s always been hard to get press for the kind of records we put out, and without press it’s equally hard to get into the shops. While internet sales and the demise of traditional print music magazines/zine have leveled the playing field a bit for the really small labels, it’s also meant the overall sales are down which just makes everything harder. And of course we take no pleasure at all in the challenges that have beset traditional music press and record retail—in a lot of ways I wish it was 1995 again, but with the press actually liking what we do, ha ha.
How have things changed over time in terms of marketing and distribution?
The rise of digital media—downloads/streaming, online zines/blogs and social media—has changed a lot of the specifics of how we get the music out there. While it’s great that music production and distribution has been demystified and democratized by platforms like Bandcamp, it’s also true that there is more music than ever and it becomes harder and harder to capture a little bit of attention for any given band or release. There is a tangible desire for the new and novel, and albums seem to have a much shorter shelf-life now. Catalog sales are barely a fraction of what they were before downloads and the retail apocalypse, so one feels compelled to push even harder during those few weeks before and just after an album release, and we’re increasingly resigned to the fact that we’ll need to let more records go out of print sooner.
What new stuff are you working on now/soon?
We have a new album by SF project Chime School (totally classic Rickenbacker-fueled jangle) along with a new pressing of the East Village singles comp. Farther in the future we’ve got new records by The Reds, Pinks & Purples, Artsick, Kids On a Crime Spree and Jeanines all in production, plus some *super* cool reissues we’ve been working on for ages.
What other merch do you sell?
Every now and then I do a batch of shirts, but TBH I’d rather spend the label’s money on new releases than merch.
What labels have inspired you?
Creation, Postcard, Bus Stop, K, Sarah, Rough Trade, Factory, Fast, Subway.
How do you find new records (not on your label)?
I keep an eye on Twitter and Instagram to see what people are talking about. Sometimes if I have a bit of time I’ll check out the Bandcamp profile pages for people who have bought SLR stuff and see what else they’re listening to. I listen to a bit of online radio, mostly BBC 1Xtra while I’m getting Prince SLR ready for school in the AM. I’m sure I’m missing a lot of new bands that I’d like but I’m also still buying loads of jazz, soul, techno, etc. and there’s just not enough time to listen to everything.
What are some great record stores and mail orders still operating?
Monorail, Jigsaw, Norman, World of Echo, Government Center, Belltower, Dusty Groove, Sounds of The Universe, Juno, Econojam, 1-2-3-4-Go, Bleep, Boomkat, Stranded. So many!
Can people get your releases outside the U.S.?
We have worldwide distribution, but of course the records are more expensive outside the US and it’s even harder to get stores to commit some money and rack space. Unfortunately overseas postage rates skyrocketed several years ago, which all but eliminated what was until then a pretty consistent overseas mail order biz. We’ve recently been experimenting with having our friend Alvaro at the excellent Meritorio label in Spain fulfill mail orders in Europe, which helps with costs and delivery times, but since it costs a LOT to get records over to him it really only works for records that we press in Europe. Still, it’s something.
What would you like to say to Louis DeJoy?
We see you.
What bands/records are you really excited about?
There’s been so much terrific music coming out of the bay area over the past few years—The Umbrellas, The Reds, Pinks & Purples, Cindy, Tony Jay, Chime School, Blue Ocean, April Magazine, Seablite and on and on. If it wasn’t for COVID, we’d have amazing gigs to go to every week! I quite like the US Highball albums, the new Ducks Ltd album is amazing, The Boys With The Perpetual Nervousness, the new Massage LP, the Dummy LP, the new Saint Etienne LP!!
What are you drinking, eating, listening to, reading, watching these days?
Somewhat surprisingly my alcohol & food intake seemed to actually go down during lockdown, and we’ve gone mostly vegetarian at the urging of Prince SLR. I’ve always got a few books on the go—usually non-fiction science writing or political theory, but I’ve been adding in some fiction now and again too. We have a hard time scheduling blocks of time for movies so we watch a fair amount of TV. We’re watching Back To Life and Pen15 right now, recently watched and liked Don’t Forget The Driver, Motherland, The Detectorists (finally). There’s just too much to watch, I don’t know how some people seems to get through all of the prestige TV happening today!
Has the vinyl supply-chain bottleneck affected you?
YES, and it’s an ongoing nightmare. Albums are being delayed over a year, planning and budgeting is almost impossible. Getting represses in a timely fashion is impossible, so we can’t respond to demand if a record does well. It’s just a mess and TBH it could be fatal for some small labels. I’m still trying to get my head around how to make it work.
Do you have a day job? Are you in a band? Do tell.
I’m between day jobs right now, which was actually pretty helpful during lockdown and home schooling. I’m the shouter in a punk band called Hard Left that is intermittently active; we released an album in 2015 bookended by a handful of singles, and we’re (VERY) slowly working on our long-awaited (ha ha!) follow-up.
Hobbies? Interests? Pets? Kids? Fave record stores?
Leftist politics, tinkering with computer tech stuff, our two cats, my lovely family, record collecting.
Anything else you would like to add?
When SLR started over 30 years ago, I couldn’t really imagine getting past the first few releases and now we have over 250 and are still counting. Running a small label is awfully challenging right now and the rewards are quite scant, but I still love to hear new bands and help them get their music out there. Now more than ever we need beautiful music and art in our lives!
Listen to Slumberland bands here.