Shortly after moving to Portland I caught a set by Austin’s Tele Novella. I was so struck by their LP I felt moved to listen through the discography of their label, Yellow Year Records, and found an eclectic mix of quality music. My favorite songs can be found in the Spotify playlist above. Read on for some insights from label founder and manager, the photographer Angel Ceballos.
Spark & Fizz: What moved you to start a record label?
Angel Ceballos: I had been doing a lot of documentary work for a personal project called “Adventures in Killing the Radio Star” with independent artists & learning about the music industry. One of the artists that I was doing in depth filming with, had been on a large, high profile record label his entire career (12 years ) & wanted to leave that world and start doing something more pared down. where there was more freedom, more support from the label, and the ability to create without boundaries. So, I started Yellow Year with the goal to not only be unique in the relationship the label has with its artists, but to also inject an artistic sensibility whenever I can to collaborate with my artists on a visual aesthetic.
What are some of the biggest challenges of running an indie label?
Artist Perception. A lot of running an indie label is educating artists on the music business. There is a tremendous amount of work for the artist once they are signed. I have learned many lessons over the last couple years that help my ability to nurture incoming artists and prepare them for the work they have at hand, but it is still an ongoing challenge.
Financial expectation is another. I do not expect to make a profit. The best case scenario for me is to break even on my investment. It takes multiple albums from an artist and a heavy amount of continuous touring to start working into profit expectations. It’s a long-term relationship.
Touring is worth calling out as it’s own challenge. Bands that have day jobs, rent etc. find it difficult to dedicate time to touring throughout a 2 year span. It weighs heavy on their morale. No matter how hard we try to prepare them for this, it’s always a hit to them. Touring without a booking agent is rough and you can’t really get a quality booking agent without tons of touring under your belt. It’s a chicken or the egg problem, and the pain is necessary for the payoff. A big problem in this climate is venues not giving guarantees to artists. This throws off the balance of the dedication & money that an artist puts into their touring & their fans & can really cause negative feelings toward something that is imperative to their success. Yes having exposure is good, but I feel that artists are taken advantage of in this business when it comes to performing live. This is why having a good booking agent can really change the landscape for an artist.
PR can been rough. I use high profile PR agencies & we do get our bands amazing spots but, the outlets are playing it way too safe now. They used to be hungry for new indie music, but we get responses back that they are more interested in ‘mainstream’. They are missing out on so much fucking good music with this shift in coverage.
How do you fit the work of the label into the rest of your life?
It’s very challenging! I work a full-time day job, do freelance photography as well as run a KISS themed hotdog stand. My label manager Mark Lachar is my life saver here! The label is stitched into every aspect of my life, it’s very unlike a ‘job’ it’s more a labour of love.
What would advice would you give a young person looking to start a label?
Be ready to spend all your savings & max your credit cards. When you can, work with artists that have management and booking agents––they are important elements to success. High fidelity photos and videos are a must. Putting money into promotion versus an advance is key. Tour, tour, tour!
Yellow Year seems to span indie rock to electronica. How would you define the type of music Yellow Year releases?
We started with electronica but it has always been the plan to expand. 2015 & 2016 were such great years, we brought in so much new music developing our format. I want to continue to branch out into different genres, R&B, Hip Hop, Metal, however the transition has to be harmonious to the other artists we have on our roster. There needs to be a path that makes sense between artists. In order to keep very intimate relationships with our artists, we have to keep the # of releases at a limit each year, so this expansion will happen incrementally. We are currently exploring new music for 2017. I am bringing in an artist that is different than anything we’ve released. She’s dark, low-fi. I’m very excited