Words by Dina Amin
Photography by Indya Connley
Imagine the number of music submissions a popular street press would receive weekly. Imagine the number of pitches a major record label would receive daily. Imagine if both the street press and the label responded to every single submission and pitch with feedback and suggestions. Impossible. There would be too many to listen to, let alone reply to. In an era where niche labels and blogs are abundant, it’s much easier to develop a rich two-way relationship with a smaller, specialised support business.
Melbourne’s Uncomfortable Beats are that niche label. Formed in mid 2010, the label has been responsible for releasing obscure electronic and hip-hop unsigned-artist driven compilations, EPs and albums. The label’s director Dave Di Paolo – better known as Able8 – will try and respond to every single artist submission. Not only will he do his best to reply, but he will provide feedback to both the successful and unsuccessful applicants. The themed and specialised compilations enable this personalised interaction; a service that is quite unrealistic in mass music-driven support businesses.
Originally a Perth-based MC and events curator, Di Paolo moved to Melbourne in 2009 and began producing. Still keen on curating, Di Paolo formed Uncomfortable Beats in 2010 and began throwing weekly and monthly beat nights at venues like Bar Open, Black Cat and Section 8. The events were a chance for Di Paolo and his friends to showcase their passion for left-field electronic and hip-hop production.
“I think beat makers, producers and DJs are drawn to Melbourne because diverse music is more well-received here. People appreciate the deeper side to music more. A lot more ears are open to diversity and there are a lot of venues that cater for edgy music.”
Rather than limiting Uncomfortable Beats to event management, Di Paolo decided to launch a niche label that would help to expose left of centre beat makers that weren’t being heard. The last release – the seventh compilation from Uncomfortable Beats ¬– featured several Melbourne beat makers alongside various global artists. Each compilation has a theme with the seventh leaning towards jazzy influenced hip-hop and electronica. Prior to the forthcoming release Di Paolo will encourage artists – via social and online media promotion – to submit a track that complies with the compilation’s particular theme. Past themes have included boom bap, grime, future hip-hop and ambient electronica.
The last compilation – Natural Selections – had little over 60 submissions and only 20 or so were selected. “The successful track has to fit somewhere within the theme of the compilation. Secondly, it comes down to how good the mix is, because there’s often people who have really good ideas but the quality of the sound is not there. If I want them to tweak it a bit, I’ll say ‘I think this track is great but you could mix the drums a bit louder or you could adjust the bass frequencies a bit. If it’s an easy fix I’ll send that through (suggestions) and then they’ll normally re-submit one.
“When it comes down to mastering, if there’s huge inconsistencies in the mixes — it’s hard to fix. So yes if it’s an easy fix we encourage artists to go back and tweak it.”
Allowing tweaking enables these artists to get a second chance with their submissions; a generosity that wouldn’t even be considered in most call outs.
Di Paolo will go even further by often providing suggestions as to how a track could be improved.
“I tread lightly. I might say ‘I really like this song, could you think about adding this in there or removing this?’ but it’s obviously their decision if they decide to go with my suggestions.”
The advantage of receiving a smaller pool of submissions means that Di Paolo can respond and offer genuine feedback to nearly all of them.
“I have to tell a lot of people, ‘thank you for submitting but unfortunately your track didn’t make it this round.’ Sometimes I’ll keep their beats on file for future compilations if they let me. I try to contact everyone, giving them feedback as to why their track wasn’t chosen.”
After the compilation is released Di Paolo does a bunch of promotion via social media and email.
“There’s no point in making and releasing music if it’s not going to get heard. All of these artists have put effort into these songs; I feel like it’s my duty to actually try and get them heard. I’ll spend time sending the music to DJs, doing mail outs, etc.”
The Uncomfortable Beats compilations are available through various online digital stores including Spotify, iTunes, Boomkat and Bandcamp; the latter being one that Di Paolo highly recommends. “Bandcamp’s great. You can see all the stats of what tracks have been played and where those stats are coming from. The money comes directly to you. It looks good and it’s easy to find music on the website too; you can search easily through hashtags.”
The event curation side of Uncomfortable Beats comes in various weekly and monthly beat nights. At the moment Di Paolo has partnered with Blend Corp and Sinister Jazz to host Subjackt, a monthly electronic beats night at Melbourne’s Croft Institute.
Di Paolo will mostly hit up his friends for these collaborative gigs, however he is open to pitches — it all comes down to whether the music fits the vibe of the night.
The rise of niche record labels has provided a home for artists who transcend genre; obscure unsigned acts that are impossible to homogenise. A smaller roster and fewer submissions means that the label can have a richer, more genuine relationship with their artists. Uncomfortable Beats exemplifies this; offering effective and organic recording, marketing and live opportunities.
For more information, head to www.uncomfortablebeats.com