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Label Report: Broken Clover Records

Mickey Darius of Broken Clover Records

Broken Clover Records is a new underground label run by Mickey Darius from San Francisco, California. Apart from its very cool and extremely diverse roster I was drawn to find out more about Broken Clover Records because of their policy. They strive to be very honest and clear about their relationship with their bands and pay 100% of the royalties up front. I was curious to find how Darius was doing with such a progressive way of running a business. It turned out a fascinating moment of getting to know one of the true originals in underground independent music today.

Hi Mickey! How are you doing these days? How was the pandemic for a small-ish label like Broken Clover?

These are 2 seemingly innocuous questions, but they have countless (complicated) answers, depending on the day/hour.  As long as we’re acknowledging that humans are treating each other and the planet worse than ever before (and potentially irreparably) and that’s our bar, then my day-to-day is OK.  I’ve got my hurdles (mostly financial and emotional), but with my little family and my music and work and soccer and the other joys I can find, I’m faring pretty well.  My pandemic experience, specifically relating to how BCR is doing, is hard to qualify.  We had only put out 3 releases before COVID hit and I was really just getting my sea legs.  The following 17 releases came once we’d embarked on this new reality, so I don’t really have a comparative frame of reference.  I can say that I think we’d have fared a little better if we’d been able to have release shows AND weren’t battling for attention…and by that I mean that we’ve been steadily fighting for column space from journalists, since there is not only a lot happening in the world, but also A LOT of music coming out.  We are then also fighting for social media space from fans, as everyone has so much more to process and share.  Beyond this, from what I hear, the journalistic competition is crazy fierce right now and everyone just wants to write about a safe/sure thing.  What we’re doing at BCR is certainly not safe or predictable, so it’s been hard to gain momentum.  All this said, because we’ve stuck to our guns and just do what we do, it seems that the tide is starting to slowly but organically turn.  It is also helpful when folks share our releases or posts through word of mouth, reviews or their social media channels.

Tell me something about yourself! What is your musical background for instance, and how did you get involved in music?

I have always been involved in music.  I don’t say that facetiously.  With both parents being musicians, our house was a noisy one since I was a baby.  Early photos show pianos and shakers and microphones and drums and harmonicas and anything else I could play on or sing along to.  The same went for my brother (Charles Darius), who is 5 years my junior.  The only difference was/is that he is wildly talented and can somehow seem to master instruments and scales he’s only just discovered.  Anyhow, from early bedroom recordings to school bands to organizing shows to DJing to starting my own bands to recording other bands to starting a label (where I am owner/operator) to starting a booking agency (where I am owner/agent) to managing a venue and a lot in between…I was called in to this music world and don’t know if I could really do anything else.  This is my happy place and this is the language I speak and this is where I feel I can do the most good.

I have to say I am very intrigued by the set up of your label; can you explain your vision when you started Broken Clover Records?

This is a hard question to answer, as there are myriad ways for me to answer.  In a nutshell, I saw things that I wished other labels would do/avoid and decided to try and lead by example.  Some of these things are around streaming, artist payment, promo, album-oriented music and the general care of curating a roster/catalog.

Can you take me back to the start? When did you start and how? What were some of the highlights/lows?

I wouldn’t be here, doing this (or anything), if I hadn’t stopped drinking 5 years ago.  As I was freshly navigating this new alcohol-free landscape, I was working with a therapist who had also become my friend.  It started very much as patient/client, but after connecting over a lifetime love of music, we slowly became pretty close friends.  At one point, it came up that he had a significant sum of money that he wanted to invest in a music project.  I’d long had the idea of running a label, but that was really just a way for me to think about artists I like and would love to meet/work with in any capacity.  I now had a very real way of making this half-baked dream a reality and after discussing things, it seemed that he was willing to bankroll a new label and let me drive…which I quickly realized I wouldn’t feel good about.  If I am steering the ship, I needed to feel free of shackles or responsibility to anyone other than the artists and fans and myself.  I quickly told him thanks but no thanks and then committed to BCR001 with my own savings.  

With each new artist relationship and release, there is a new high.  So much of this job is incredibly rewarding.  Even (and sometimes especially) the hard stuff.  My 3 biggest lows are…

1) Turning away cool/interesting projects due to financial concerns.

2) Having to deal with damaged shipments and a lack of responsibility from manufacturers/shippers.

3) A new album not landing/resonating with people in the way we’d hoped.

What is your opinion about how the music industry evolved until now? Are we heading in a good direction with streaming and wide accessibility of music to pretty much anyone?

Evolved vs. devolved?  I dunno.  I kinda see running a label in our fragile music ecosystem like child-rearing…I don’t know that there’s a right way to do it (if there is, I haven’t found it), but you know right away when something feels wrong.  Specifically regarding streaming, my opinions are strong/loud.  First, I want to be clear that I have zero issue with streaming.  I love streaming music and being able to share tracks and add to playlists and all of that.  What I do have a huge fucking problem with is everyone’s sense of entitlement to instant AND free AND across all platforms.  Because of this, we hold off on pushing content to the major streaming sites until 6 months after the release.  I actually had initially set it at 12 months and then flexed to 9 months and have again recently shifted to 6 months.  We do this so that buyers can have the excitement of showing the music to people and feel like their commitment to the music is reciprocated.  There’s a relationship there and I don’t want to cheapen it.  This is not at all to say that anyone else’s method is wrong or harmful.  I’m just running BCR in a way that I think is helpful to the industry and in a way that I think is respectful to the art and in a way that honors the customers who support.  

Who are the most inspirational artists around these days in your opinion?

Anyone who is making challenging music.  In order to get through all the uncertainty that we face daily now, everyone seems to be leaning in to the classics and things that they find familiar.  I get it.  With the world on fire again/still, we find comfort in those friendly faces/sounds.  I’ve definitely found myself returning to classics like Midnight Marauders (A Tribe Called Quest-red)and Physical Graffiti (Led Zep-red) and Against The Grain (Bad Religion-red) far more than normal.  That kind of music (and security) is very important right now, but the folks who are really inspiring me are the folks who are creating music that requires a little discomfort or disorientation.  They’re likely to lose listeners – listeners that are at a premium these days – but they feel so compelled to create that they can’t help it.  That’s powerful to me.

What kind of artists are you looking for when you scout new music?

The criteria is pretty simple.  Does the music move me?  Are the humans that make it horrible people?  If it’s a yes/no situation, then we’re in good shape and can figure out the rest.  Make music I’d want in my collection and give a shit about people other than yourself. 

What should bands do that would like to be on Broken Clover Records?

I will listen to anything sent to me and will reply to anyone who reaches out.  That said, it behooves you to wait until the thing you’re sending is ready to be listened to without a bunch of explanation…ie: here’s a demo, but the hi hats on #2 are gonna be gone and the bassline on #6 needs to be tweaked or whatever.  I shouldn’t need a map to decipher how to navigate your demo.  Beyond that, be straightforward with what you want from the relationship and make sure you’re prepared to do some basic self-promo.  If talking about yourself and asking folks to buy your stuff really feels that terrible, then maybe I’m not the label for you.  I abhor the current standard means of promo on social media channels, but I’m not seeing other effective ways to get people to listen/buy, since folks also don’t want to make physical flyers or do mailers or anything like that.  Look at things though the eyes of a label owner…what would you want to see/hear and how would you want it delivered?    

Do you have a tip for other small labels and people who’s like to start one?

Only do it if it moves you…ie: don’t get in to it for $.  There will be a lot of thankless days and the only thing that keeps the fire burning for me is feeling confident that I’m putting out a quality product and treating people well and putting my best foot forward.  Think about being a fan.  Make the thing that you’d want to buy.  Your output will be amazing if you’re doing what feels good to you and it’s who you are.  I can not talk about authenticity enough.  If it really means something to you, it’ll show.  Conversely, if you’re just going through the motions of what you think you should be doing or what you think people want, it’ll also show…and that is not a good look.

What should the Weirdo Shrine readers do after reading this interview?

1) Please visit the Broken Clover Records Bandcamp page and check out the roster/catalog.    

https://brokencloverrecords.bandcamp.com

2) After that, please follow our social channels…

https://www.facebook.com/brokencloverrecords

https://www.instagram.com/brokencloverrecords

If I’m being honest,  while the past few years have yielded great records for our catalog, our business has been dangerously slow.  In order to keep releasing the diverse international content that we’re now known for, we need to sell records…accolades don’t pay advances.  I hope that doesn’t sound snotty.  I am being real.  Our catalog is pretty vast and I would bet that even the most finicky or adventurous crate digger/downloader/streamer can find multiple titles that do something for them.    

3) Tell someone that you love ’em and pet an old dog and play your favorite record LOUD.

Want to hear more about Mickey Darius and Broken Clover Records? Listen to this episode of West of Twin Peaks Radio
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