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MalLabel Music - Riding Mal Harper's Bass Filled Platinum Unicorns
Monday, January 16, 2012

MalLabel Music has become quite the influential force in the EDM (Electronic Dance Music) world, with over a dozen artists on their roster, 25 albums released, 320 mixes on their site, and a recently released a compilation titled Platinum Unicorn Collection. Not bad for a label that’s only two years old. Yes, you read that right, the brainchild of Bay Area bass addict Mal Harper, MalLabel Music has accomplished in two years what most labels don’t accomplish in their entire lifetime.

Harper, a grad of Santa Clara University who is now working on her master’s degree at Mills College in Oakland, has been a woman on a mission, and a woman with a well thought out plan for that mission. This week I caught up with her to find out more about that mission and that plan. Harper also discussed what she feels is behind the sudden growth of the EDM format, how she went about putting together the Platinum Unicorn Collection, and why she avoids traditional spaces, such as nightclubs, when she throws events.

Adam Bernard: I gotta start this interview off by asking how on earth you’ve managed to accomplish so much in just 24 months.
Mal Harper: I’m really a type A person, and I’m very organized, so I plan pretty meticulously. I work with the artists several months out and really plan my release schedule. Right now I'm looking at it and I have into 2013 planned. It’s just really being on top of everything timing-wise, talking to all the artists months beforehand, getting it on the calendar, checking in about deadlines, and really pushing to make it happen.

Adam Bernard: This doesn’t sound like you woke up from a party one day and said “I’m gonna start a record label.”
Mal Harper: {laughs} No, definitely not. I started throwing events when I was in college to pay for basic stuff. I got introduced to San Francisco that way, and that’s how I became familiar with the nightlife scene here. When I moved here after I graduated I knew I wanted to be involved in the music scene. I started hosting small club parties in 2008. After a year of doing that, and meeting different producers and the many different artists that are in San Francisco, I decided I wanted to start a label because there were so many fantastic producers that didn’t have the business acumen to be pushing and promoting themselves. I really felt it was a niche for myself at that time and I had the ability to help my friends whose music I really liked. I also decided at that time to take a certification program at San Francisco State in music business and that really helped bring all the marketing stuff together. I had a great mentor named Gian Fiero and he took me under his wing and mapped out how to go through a whole campaign and brand yourself. He really helped develop the whole MalLabel brand in the beginning.

Adam Bernard: Did you expect to be doing so much so quickly?
Mal Harper: At the beginning I had four residents and I knew that I wanted to do a release a month, but as I started talking to more people, and laying it out, it became “let’s try to do this every few weeks” - give a full week prior promotion, two weeks pushing it, and then another week after, so giving each release about a month of my attention and then having my street team, and having PR, and other things, helping push it on the side, as well. So yeah, really at the beginning I knew that we wanted to build quickly and we were doing two releases a month. We kind of petered off at the middle, but now I'm back on that schedule again and it’s crazy because I’m getting so much material I really could be doing more than that, but I don’t want to. I don’t want to push it. It’s me really directing all this stuff and I want to at least give every release a month to really focus on.

Adam Bernard: Let’s talk about the Platinum Unicorn Collection. What makes this unique in the EDM landscape?
Mal Harper: I’m really looking for a type of sound that is catchy, danceable, and will crossover to many different people. I feel like the one talent that I have as a record label owner is that I'm not a producer, I just love listening to music, so I have less technical skill coming towards it, but a more general knowledge of what I like, and I know what will sell and what will work for a lot of people. I have a good ear for tunes and I think just taking in the sound I’m wanting to push, the west coast bass, with the idea that we want to have danceable, commercially viable, tracks, that’s how I went through my catalogue and really chose these tracks. Not only are they by bigger artists that people will recognize, such as Downlink and Mochipet, but they also represent my crew and this specific style and sound that we’re pushing right now. That’s how it all came together. Plus, it’s my catalogue, I know it the best, and it was relatively simple for me to go through and choose what I knew would work best, from seeing, historically, what would sell, and seeing what audiences responded to on the dance floors.

Adam Bernard: It seems every year for the past 15 years the experts have said THIS is going to be the year electronic music explodes in the US. Last year they were finally right. Why do you think EDM finally broke through this past year and why did it take so long?
Mal Harper: The way I look at it is, where I came from, my history is I grew up with commercial hip-hop music and pop music, and that type of music is always really familiar to me, so I think when you have these bass driven forms of music that have more connections and ties to popular music it makes it easier to crossover for the general listener. The remixes have always had a good crossover appeal, when you’re remixing someone in popular music, but then when you have a form of music that sounds like rap, but doesn’t have the lyrics in it, I think it makes it easier for a listener to be like “I like this. This is something fun that I can dance to in the club that makes sense to me.” On the other hand, when you get someone like Skrillex that has so much appeal, I think it’s because there is a root of punk and heavy metal in our culture, as well, and this type of music really appeals to this younger generation that likes that form of music. So it’s coming from both sides. You’re getting the metal side of things and you’re getting the hip-hop lovers coming together into this one dance form, this one genre. I also think when you have someone like Skrillex that has gotten so much promotion and marketing behind him it’s really helped spread it, as have all the communications (capabilities) that we have. Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff has led to a point where now everyone is connected and we can push stuff a lot quicker than 10-15 years ago.

Adam Bernard: On your Facebook page you note you’re trying to “promote next level music in creative non-traditional event environments.” What are some of the non-traditional environments you’ve worked with and what did you do with them?
Mal Harper: Basically what I try to do is only do private event spaces. I do not work out of the clubs. I like to be 100% in control of the sound, environment, security, everything operationally, and everything on the production level, as well, which I feel is something very different than what I’d say 99% of promoters in this town do because it is relatively simple to book a club that already has all of that stuff and then focus on just getting a really good lineup. I choose to try to promote more progressive, up and coming, artists and then do it in these private event environments where we only do word of mouth promotion through my mailing list, and through connections with MalLabel, so we have more intimate type events. I generally cap it at 500 (people). I just did a New Year’s event outside at this private acreage in Gilroy. We built three big domes, we had a sound system, we had several big art pieces, we did bonfires, and had fire dancing. This was a 27 hour event, so people could come, camp out, and sleep, because it’s New Year’s so if you want to get drunk and have a good time you don’t have to leave, you can be safe and stay in a safe environment. That’s also something I 100% want to make sure of, that we have the safest event possible, as well as promoting and making sure it’s a really neat environment.

Adam Bernard: Speaking of neat environments, you’re located in an area well known for its progressive arts culture. Have you had the time to try to figure out where you fit into that history?
Mal Harper: When I first became familiar with the dance music scene here I knew going into it that I was relatively new to the genres that were coming out because I didn’t really feel a passion for drum and bass, or house, or electro. I came in really liking glitch hop, actually. Since it has such a relatively new history I knew how it grew to where we are, but it’s progressing so quickly, and changing so fast, I’m still, right now... we’re kind of building our own histories with this bass movement out of San Francisco, but MalLabel is also part of this huge, longer, history of production crews, nightlife events, and the electronic dance music culture that has been in San Francisco for 20+ years. It’s really just building on that scene, and what other people have done successfully, using that and pushing forward with technology, and the communication based technology that we have now, to really get the word out and progress faster. Labels and crews 10-15 years ago didn’t have this opportunity.

Adam Bernard: Finally, being that you’re an expert in the field of bass driven music, how much booty shakin is too much booty shakin?
Mal Harper: {laughs} Well I mean, God, there can never be enough booty shakin, man. I’ve seen people get crazy on the dance floor. It really becomes this tribal thing where it’s not even just booty shakin, it’s full body shakin, like gettin down. That’s what I love about it. We’re bass addicts, and that’s why we love bass music, we like feeling those vibrations on big speakers, so when people get on a dance floor and they kill it like that, when they actually are feeling the subsonic waves, they are getting down and it’s a full release and I think that’s why there’s so much love for it. You’re on the dance floor and you are actually feeling that music and it’s really an awesome experience.

Related Links

MalLabel Music website: mallabelmusic.com
MalLabel Music on Twitter: @MalLabelMusic
MalLabel Music on Facebook: facebook.com/MalLabel


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:30 AM  
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