“Music For The Other People Place” Box Set (2020)

This will be an unusual post because I’ll be writing about the recently released vinyl box set Music For The Other People Place, but I won’t be telling you about the music contained on the 11 12″ records and one 7″.

I first became aware of this project when I heard about the Kuldaboli album Lifsstill, which was released on Fundamental Records. A visit to the label website then led me to their Music For The Other People Place project, and I was quickly hooked by the idea. Six artists were invited to participate, but were not told the identities of the others. The musicians were given complete and total creative control to record and provide whatever they wanted as a finished project, which would ultimately be released on 11 12″ records and one 7″, both as individual stand-alone albums and in a very limited edition (of 111) box set. Not only would the artists not know the identities of the other contributors… neither would the purchasers. The records provide no indication whatsoever as to the artist or the names of any tracks. “The main aim of this project is, on the one hand, to provide the artist with complete anonymity in order to create in absolute freedom and, on the other hand, to offer the listener the work of the artist without any external distortions”, we’re told on the website. In an interesting twist, though, each artist is provided a code that they can release if they choose, and that in conjunction with the code on the record can be used via a web tool to identify him/her. As far as I know, no one has opted to share their code at the point.

I’ve described this project to some of my other friends who are also music obsessives, and the jury seems to be split – some people find the idea of buying a box set of something completely unknown as nonsensical, whereas others are immediately intrigued and think it’s a great idea. I’m sure this wouldn’t bother the label at all given that “other people” is right in the name of the project itself. They recognize it won’t appeal to everyone.

So, in keeping with the mission of the project, I’m not going to write about the music. However (and I’m sure you didn’t think you’d get out of this so easily), there is also a 10-point manifesto that guides Music For The Other People Place, so I thought I’d spend a little time reflecting on those points.

1. We protect the creators and their independence from limits or rules imposed by the industry.

The music industry is just that – an industry. Labels by their very nature are economic entities, whether they make their agreements with handshakes or lengthy contracts, and the vision of the artist isn’t always aligned with that of the label. There are thousands and thousands (and thousands) of stories of artists losing control of their own music, albums that were shelved and never released because they weren’t commercially viable, and all kinds of other shady shenanigans. Once you’ve signed a contract you’re no longer in control – the lawyers are. When you dance with the devil, the devil doesn’t change… you do. This project, as near as I can tell, does away with that power relationship. The artists agrees they’ll produce something of their own choosing, constrained only by the limitations of the medium, and the label in turn commits to putting it out, no matter what. That’s a risk from the label’s standpoint, since they’re the ones sinking money into creating the physical product. But it puts integrity at the forefront.

2. We also protect the listener by offering the work of creators without any information that can alter or taint a pure listening experience.

How often do you hear music without any context? I guess it sort of depends. But back in the day we mostly learned about new music by hearing it on the radio, which meant you automatically had a sense of the style since radio stations are format-driven. Plus you had a DJ who told you about it – the name of the band, the album, and the song. Maybe some info about the artist/band members. There weren’t a lot of surprises. Even on indie and college radio music would often be pre-categorized for you by the nature of the specific show, which was quite often genre-specific. Music videos put an even stronger contextual box around a given song. Spotify playlist? It’s still a playlist, so you sort of have an idea of what to expect. Even the streaming service algorithms are based on your preferences.

I respect the concept of going into this listening experience without knowing anything about the artists. Are they male or female or nonbinary? Is it a person or group? How old are they? We don’t know any of that. We can’t quite claim a pure listening experience, though, if only for the reason that if I know what kind of music Fundamental Records puts out I should at least have a rough idea of the kind of artists they like to work with, and that gives me just a sliver of info going in. Of course, given that the artists had total freedom, who knows, maybe one of these sides will be atmospheric black metal or Gregorian chanting. Which would be a super cool, and pure, listening experience.

3. Innovation is not the goal. The goal is to grant the creator and the listener total freedom. However, innovation can be a positive side-effect of creating in an environment of total freedom.

Innovation might be one of the most over and incorrectly used words in English today. Everyone says they want innovation until it’s time to put up or shut up, and then all of a sudden ideas are described as “radical”, which is code for “we’re scared of this change and what it could mean to the bottom line”. After all, freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose, right? And there’s nothing for the artist to lose here. They could turn in pure silence and that would become their contribution, and since they’re anonymous no one would know. Maybe they’ll be innovative, or maybe they’ll stick with their signature sound. It’s entirely up to them. Freedom.

4. The use of words to describe or define music is a senseless task. Most of the time the intention of descriptive text is not to shed light on the work of the artist, but rather to serve as a promotional tool to drive sales and increase recognition. This often has the unfortunate result of limiting the creator and his work and we do not accept this imposition of the industry.

You would think that as a music blogger I’d object to this. And I guess I do in a way. This seems to be mostly aimed at press releases and other ways intended to package the artist as a commodity in order to sell a product. One of the interesting things about writing Life in the Vinyl Lane is that I end up on a lot of label email lists, so I receive press releases from time to time. And what I started to realize is that most of the short “reviews” posted about upcoming albums on various sites draw very, very heavily (sometimes entirely) from these professionally crafted marketing documents. Have I gleaned info from a release on an artist that I used in a blog? Of course. But I try to still write my own impressions of the music. Even then, though, it can be tough when someone has already planted a term or two into your mind, like describing it as “Sabbath-like” or even by providing a genre like IDM or grunge. Which kind of gets back to point #2 above – once those little pieces of info have been dropped into your brain you can’t listen to the music without that piece of pre-contextual contamination.

As for using words to describe music, it’s definitely tough. I wouldn’t call it senseless though; when done well it can be meaningful and help connect the dots. But I also know many of these words are open to interpretation and that can drive artists nuts. A perfect example was the resistance against the term grunge back in the day. This also reminds me of a story I’d totally forgotten about. Holly and I were eating out our favorite neighborhood pizza joint years ago and there was an intense conversation happening in another booth between a guy and a woman who had apparently written some kind of review of his band’s live show. She couldn’t figure out why he was so upset, and the thing he said that stopped both of us mid-chew was, “We’re not a band, we’re a group. We don’t band“. We still say that to each other sometimes when someone seems obsessed with a minor detail. Words matter. Choose them carefully.

5. Today, music or audio can be made available for listening without the need for explanatory text or any additional information about its creator.

This is certainly true given that there are so many ways for artists to get their music directly to listeners without the need of gatekeepers like labels or DJs or tastemakers. You can get it in front of people with as much or as little context as you like and let them decide for themselves. This is a positive in that it removes so many of the obstacles that have existed for decades. On the other hand, it’s hard to break out of the sheer volume of what is now out there and available. How does one find new music these days? There are more ways than ever, but sometimes too much choice has the opposite effect. Psychologists have shown that people like to have some choices, but when presented with too many that at best they stick with what they know, and at worst give up completely. And make sure people in the other booths can’t hear you.

6. This manifesto is created with the absolute certainty that there is an audience fully capable of discerning what music they want to acquire for their personal enjoyment without any superfluous contextual information other than what is provided by the music itself.

I agree with this, though I still suspect this audience is the minority of all music consumers. And yes, I realize I wrote “consumers” and not “listeners”, because we’re talking here about acquiring it. Yes, you can acquire music for free. But this project is created in part around a tangible object, released on a fetishized format (vinyl), in very intentionally designed packaging including a slipcase, with a t-shirt included, all of it hand-numbered and with a certificate of authenticity. It is in most respects a product. And this too is the beauty of the internet, because a label is able to send its message out to the world and can find that niche audience that exists and thinks that this is a tremendous idea and something they want to support. In the pre-internet days the only way I’d have heard about this is if I saw it at Tower Records or knew someone who had a copy. In other words, I wouldn’t have had an inkling that such a thing was even possible, let alone that it existed.

7. The music industry is based on labels, names, scenes and genres. The current boundaries are imposed by an industry that was created with the sole purpose of selling massive amounts of copies of an artist’s work. Categorisation facilitates sales because it identifies or creates markets that can cater to a supply and demand model. It also imposes limits. Our goal is not to sell records and it is definitely not to enforce restraints. Our objective is to provide a safe, creative and completely anonymous platform for artists who want to share their work through a new paradigm. Selling records is a positive side-effect which ensures that the artist’s music reaches the right ears.

This is by far the longest of the 10 points, but maybe also the most straight-forward. While I realize that the label indicates “our goal is not to sell records”, they know their audience. You have to fund projects like this, and if you aren’t able to sell the records then the money needs to come from somewhere, and most of us don’t have thousands of extra dollars lying around for vanity projects. That being said, clearly this isn’t about getting rich and moving units. You produce a specific number, get them in the hands of the people who want them, and now have the money for your next project, the way DIY labels have been doing it for decades. The artist gets a forum (and compensation), the audience contributes, and the label is the intermediary that ensures everyone is happy in the end. Which is certainly different than the typical industry approach, in which the label is concerned about the label first and foremost.

8. The Music for The Other People Place, is music created by people who do not need presentation or information about them or their work.

9. The Music for The Other People Place is music created for people who do not need presentation or information about the artist or his work.

10. The Music for The Other People Place is independent art aiming to inspire true underground evolution. It is music for the sake of music.

These last three go together in my mind. It’s an indie project for artists and music fans who agree that its goals are meaningful. And we can thank Music For The Other People Place for making it happen.

I’ve been listening to Music For The Other People Place while writing this – it took me three records to get this far. But I’m not going to tell you which three, or which one I’ve enjoyed the most. Because that would completely go against the intent of the project. You’ll need to find that out for yourself.

I know a box set like this isn’t in everyone’s budget. Hell, just the shipping to get it from Madrid to Seattle was a lot of money, though kudos to the label for THE BEST PACKAGING JOB EVER. Even the USPS could damage this one in transit and everything showed up intact and in great condition. So… you can also listen to much of the music on the label’s website HERE. And if you were too late to get in on this first offering, the second box set just got underway and there are still copies available for ordering now, though keep in mind you won’t get you box set until all the individual records have been released. You can find out more about that HERE. It’s a great idea, and one I’m glad to be able to support.