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by Andrew Duke
With releases as Rainfield, Niche & Neeper, and under his own name, Daniel Lui is quickly becoming known in Canada--and to those "in the know" throughout the world--as one of this country's best new electronic music artists. Not only is he recording his own brand of music, ranging from the sleek and minimal to tracky and more experimental techno, but he's also operating his own label, Chair Recordings. And in an age when so many small independent labels are fighting for distributors and customers to pay attention to their material, Lui's Chair is gaining much acclaim. Heck, he even has people in the industry who are happy to return his calls! Lui knows that it's not easy for any label or artist starting out in today's music marketplace; not only has he learned much through operating his Chair imprint (see the accompanying sidebar for some of Lui's lessons learned), but his dayjob at a music manufacturing company has him helping others get their recordings from start to finish.
Chair Recordings began when Lui found that it's not an easy process turning a label's interest in his own music into a final tangible product--a release issued by the interested label. Simply put, the logistics, or lack thereof, of dealing with a label operated by someone like himself--who also might have a dayjob to pay the bills and away-from-home DJ bookings to attend--makes communication difficult. When interested labels to whom he had demoed his material too often become the "it" in a game of phone tag, Lui spun the situation into a positive outcome. "If they thought my music was good enough to put on vinyl and release," Lui explains over the long distance line from his home in Toronto, "I thought, 'Why not give it a shot myself?'"
The label debuted with its first release late last summer and October of this year will see its fifth release--a split EP with artist Matt Thibideau after the first four were strictly Lui--made available. Critics and consumers alike have been drawn to Lui's deft use of space in his compositions; many musicians feel the urge to cram as much sound into their recordings as possible, but Lui knows less is often more in the long term. His music is "somewhat autobiographical", he says, in fact, the name Rainfield is derived from the two Chinese characters that make up his surname. Lui honed his skills on the live performance and DJ circuits and it is his continued perseverance and dedication to taking things slowly and as they come, instead of rushing to meet another's schedule, that have seen him continue his success as an artist and with his label. As the proverbial tale goes, slow and steady wins the race over the frantic and uppity hare. Look for a sixth EP release nearer the start of the year 2000, and possibly a full length album from Lui in the future.
Lui's 10 tips on starting and operating a successful label:
1. Have material--be it your own stuff or an artist you want to
sign. "I currently work at a company that manufactures vinyl
CDs, cassettes, DVDs, and CD-ROMs. Part of my job involves
talking to people who tell me they want to start their own label,
but sometimes they have not even began to prospect any talent--go figure?!"
2. Find a good manufacturer. "I did. I even got a job there too."
3. Believe in your music (see #1 above).
4. Be persistent and have a day job or access to lots of cash. It can be very expensive. "At my current job, I have seen many labels do one release and stop. Unless you're a superstar with a big name, it's hard to make one record and have it become a hit--even if it is a hit, or if you want a hit." You have to get exposure (see #5 below). The more records you have the more you can offer; it helps to have a back catalog in order to get the attention of some of the larger distributors. Distributors can play a vital role in your potential cash flow. "I have talked to many record retailers that say sometimes it takes 5, 10, even 20 releases to finally 'make it big.'"
5. Never underestimate the importance of networking, building your contact list, and doing promotions. These three are very important.
6. Have product to sell (see #1 above)
7. Get a good long distance plan from your phone company.
8. Make friends with your local post office, courier, and delivery guy. You'll be using these services more often than you could possibly imagine.
9. Talk to touring artists and DJs. "Most will be very helpful and friendly. Some will ignore you, some may try to attack you with their flight cases or throw picked-off-crusty-dried-up-from-under-the-mixer bubble gum at your eye, but its worth a try. Who knows, maybe they write for a magazine or know a distributor that you could get in contact with. And maybe they might even like your music!"
10. Stay true to yourself. "I have been told this by many other artists and DJs. Apparently if you do this and you have something good people will come around--and then maybe they will buy your records."
Chair 001 Rainfield--"The Climb" EP (1998)
Chair 002 Rainfield--"Wiggles" EP (1998)
Chair 003 Daniel Lui--"Calculated Misconceptions" EP (1999)
Chair 004 Niche & Neeper--"Fervor" EP (1999)
Chair 005 Daniel Lui/Matt Thibideau--"Surface" split 12" (1999)