The Madison punk rocker Kat Jesse Hall said he's thought about starting a record label for a long time. There's just one problem: from his point of view, the city is already reaching a saturation point for small, independent "vanity" labels.
"Every person that has a band and has a garage and has access to a computer will say they're starting a record label," said Hall. "That's why it's important to do stuff to make you stand out — do stuff that makes you march to different drums."
It's a big reason why Hall decided to go in a unique direction with his record label, MAD Records — short for Musical Addiction Disorder. The enterprise will use a cooperative model, in which artists can join the label by buying a slice of ownership in the organization.
"I guess I really got the idea of just other types of co-op situations, from the Willy Street Co-op and co-op living situations," said Hall.
Cooperative record labels aren't unprecedented, although they are rare. The most well-known label to embrace the co-op model was Blocks Recording Club in Toronto, which ceased operations in 2015. In Madison, it appears that MAD Records would be alone in operating as a cooperative.
Hall said he foresees the cooperative model as something that will help foster a community of artists that support and cross-promote each other.
Hall also sees MAD Records as a unique enterprise in that its focus isn't limited to music — that community of artists he hopes to build would be transmedia. He said the record label will launch a YouTube channel to highlight music videos and web series. On top of that, the label has already been promoting the work of graphic designers and has even helped highlight the novel of one of one of the co-op's members.
MAD Records, like many of the smaller labels in town, functions as a vehicle for local branding and promotion. If an artist buys into the model, Hall said, they'll be able to use the MAD Records brand, which comes with the "co-promotional" potential of having other artists in the collective rep their work. Plus, Hall said he'd be able to help artists access resources to do things like record releases on vinyl — a typically expensive endeavor.
He said that signing bands can be a tough sell, given the degree of independence that most local acts have become accustomed to.
"A lot of the time, bands aren't going the route of trying to get a record label. A lot of bands, that's not a goal anymore," he said.
Currently, the label has a handful of full-time members, including the experimental hip-hop group April's Kittens, the metal band Guilty of Destruction and Hall's own punk outfit 2leftshoes.
Launching the label, which is still in its early stages, has been a considerable undertaking for Hall. He's still attending the Madison Media Institute to get a degree in media business management, all the while starting the label from the ground up. In the short term, he's hoping to finish work on the label's website and continue growing the MAD Records brand. Eventually, Hall hopes to offer bands access to a home studio setup.
"I've been involved in music my whole life," said Hall. "This has always been a dream of mine in the back of my head."
MAD Records doesn't have a website yet, but in the meantime, it will be promoting its releases and events on its Facebook page.