Label Love: Brutal Panda

With Record Store Day reminding us why physical music still manages to get us all worked up, Bearded crossed the Atlantic to talk business with one of the purveyors of physical records, and all things heavy. Get acquainted with Brutal Panda Records.

Posted on Apr 15th, 2011 in Features and Interviews, Brutal Panda / By Peter Clark
Label Love: Brutal Panda Based deep in the heart of Philadelphia, Brutal Panda Records are on a mission; to give music lovers what they want. Specialising in limited, glorious specially packaged vinyl from some of the most exciting heavy acts around, the duo of Mike and Bob are carrying the dream of producing high quality products for high quality music, and doing it all for you, dear music lover.

Bearded have fallen head-over-heels once again.

Hello. Firstly, who are you and what do you do?
Our names are Mike Lara and Bob Lugowe and we both work at a well-known independent record label in the US. We have each worked in music since graduating college and will continue to remain broke while doing so.

Where does the name Brutal Panda come from?
A lot of pot and whiskey. We wanted a name that people would remember, wasn't too serious, yet was clearly synonymous with heavy music. We're proud to state that our website is banned in China, as they don't take too kindly to their national animal being ridiculed.

"We're proud to state that our website is banned in China, as they don't take too kindly to their national animal being ridiculed."

How did the label start out?
BP started in the summer of 2008, a few months after we met at our full-time jobs. We were both through with buying CDs and aggressively growing our vinyl personal collections so it was decided we wanted to be a part of this timeless format. This was right before the massive surge in vinyl production began so the timing was impeccable.
We were big fans of Fight Amp and heard they had no one to press their new album on vinyl so we just jumped right in to it. After obtaining some much needed advice from a few trusted peers with experience, we just dove in head first.

How does the average day/week pan out for you?
It really depends on where we are with the cycle of a record, as the busiest times are the weeks right before and after a release. Some days are spent assembling and shipping hundreds of records while others are spent writing press releases, contacting distributors, doing online promo, etc. Most of our work is accomplished on lunch breaks, weekends, and late nights.

How has your job changed since you started?
We are proud to say that our profile and those of the band's we have worked with has definitely risen. Demos and inquiries from bands are constantly flooding in and the next project is now always lined up. The rest of our 2011 release schedule is already planned and we've unfortunately had to turn some great ones down, which is a welcome sign of growth.

You seem to like your music loud and heavy! What drives you to keep pushing and promoting new music? How do you measure success?
Heavy music is without a doubt our favorite style of tuneage. To be a part of the scene, no matter how large or small the role, is the true motivator. Metal is in the midst of a veritable renaissance so it's a truly exciting time to be pushing newer bands. We don't necessarily quantify our success but thus far we've sold out of a majority of our presses, helped launch bands towards bigger labels and tours, and impressed fans with some innovative packaging. Needless to say, we're quite satisfied thus far.

"...the idea is to keep innovating and giving the fans a reason to shell out their money for an album that is worth holding on to"

In an ever changing world of music formats and distribution, how do/are you evolving and keeping current with the current scene, and where do you see the future of Brutal Panda Records heading?
On each new record we try to push ourselves creatively and experiment with new, unique styles of packaging. The latest release was a 5" record by Megasus that features a six panel die-cut jacket and two 5" art prints signed by the artist. It's something we hadn't seen done before and people were really excited about it. We did a three way split between Ladder Devils, Kowloon Walled City and Fight Amp that was a clear record in a see-through polybag that really complemented the album art. It was a bit of a new-school meets old-school merger. Our next record will include a gorgeous 20 page 11" x 11" booklet and embossed cover art, so the idea is to keep innovating and giving the fans a reason to shell out their money for an album that is worth holding on to.

You say that you ‘strive to keep music lovers interested in physical music’. Do you think this is a battle you’re winning? Will the love of possessing a physical copy always outweigh the cheaper digital version?
There will always be a market for physical music as long as there are musicians who care about their art. What self-respecting musician wouldn't want their vision realized onto a tangible format that others can appreciate? The majority of music consumers may not feel this way but that is why they are labeled as consumers and not fans. If you treat your music as an art form instead of a product, it will be treated the same way by those who are listening to it and they will want to hold onto it for years to come. Whether this is in the form of a record, cassette, CD, or whatever the future may bring, physical music is the most intimate means of connecting the listener with the performer apart from a concert.

Can you see a resurgence in independent record stores, or have things changed so much that there’s no going back?
A resurgence seems almost impossible since such a large amount of stores, both major and independent, have shut down. But that's not to say that independent music retailers will go the way of the buffalo. There may be fewer stores now but those that remain are there for a reason. Most likely they are selling a large selection of vinyl, rarities, used albums and other merchandise. Diehard record collectors will remain extremely loyal to their favourite stores and the experience of sifting through records has been passed down to each new generation of fans. These stores transcend the sale of product and ultimately offer an experience along with being tastemakers. Even if they cease to exist in physical spaces, there will remain a market online for fans to shop from a like-minded music retailer. We've been pleasantly surprised at how many records we sell through our online store and we only have eight products.

What have been some of the highlights and lowlights of your time at the label?
Putting out our first record was a definite highlight as it was our first major accomplishment. Also, staging record release shows in our hometown of Philly and one in Brooklyn have been great experiences. Essentially every time we sell a record, raise a band's profile, or satisfy a music fan, we feel warm and fuzzy inside. The lowlights (sick word by the way!) are dealing with fucked up records, delayed shipments, and any intangibles that are out of our control. That and being limited financially to put out any project we want.

"There will always be a market for physical music as long as there are musicians who care about their art."

Any advice for someone wanting to set up their own label?
Most importantly, do it because you love it. If you're working in independent music, expect lots of hours and very little money. The rewards come from being a part of something greater and playing a role in breaking new bands. Do your research, stay passionate and don't be afraid to experiment with new business models and tactics. Without being constrained by the archaic rules of the industry, the sky is the limit. Good taste helps as well.

Do you carry an ethos or mantra?
We'll leave you with a quote from the legendary Viv Savage "Have a good time, all the time"