The IMI 7th Jun 2022

‘Independents have as much power as we're willing to fight for’

The A2IM Libera Awards return next week, on June 16. In the lead up to this year's ceremony, The IMI will be sitting down with the people behind the nominees for Best Small Label. Say hello to Sundazed Music…

Founded by Bob and Mary Irwin out of their Coxsackie, NY home in 1989, Sundazed Music is an archival company specialising in reissues, with Bob having been a mastering engineer for Sony and a stickler for sound quality.

The first Sundazed releases were 1960s recordings by The Knickerbockers and The Five Americans, reflecting Irwin’s personal preference for garage rock and surf music. Later releases included albums from The Turtles, the Challengers, Liverpool Five, and Jan And Dean’s long-lost album Save For A Rainy Day.

“While we’ve always been vinyl-centric, a lot of the earliest years were spent getting overlooked gems onto CD for the first time too,” says Jay Millar (pictured), who runs Sundazed’s Nashville office and is himself a 20+ year music industry veteran, having spent time with Polygram, BMG, Sony, Universal, and United Record Pressing.

The IMI spoke to Millar about Sundazed’s place in the business today and its nomination at this year’s Libera Awards.

How do you define success from one release to the next?

Jay Millar: As an archival label, there’s lots of tiers of success in what we do. There’s the success of locating the artist or their estate, the success of tracking down the masters, the feeling of success when our postal carriers bring us packages that have our recently birthed babies in them, and so many more. So much of what we do is trying to preserve great music for future generations and turning people onto things we think they’ll love. So many of the greatest successes for us have nothing to do with sales. So as long as a project pays for itself, pays the band, and leaves some money left to build the next project we think of it as a success. I’m not sure we’ve had a project we wouldn’t consider successful, as long as we’re proud of it and we made the artist or their family proud we walk with our heads held high.

Why do you think you’ve been nominated for this award?

JM: I think we’ve continued to grow year over year and expand to new genres and even decades. This year found us releasing a chill inducing expanded edition of Colin Blunstone’s post Zombies debut, a trio of works from national treasure poet Nikki Giovanni, a release (Claudia Thompson – Goodbye To Love) that chronicles the white-washing that happened to album covers in the ’50s and righted the wrong by finally putting the correct woman, a woman of color, on the cover. We’ve released a lot of great music this year and almost all of them come with some amazing story.

"We've just got to stay smarter, fiercer and make choices with passion rather than piles of money."

Where do you see the label in five years?

JM: Lately we’ve been working on building brand loyalty on new and relatively new members to the Sundazed family of labels. We take great pride in the fact that when someone sees a Sundazed logo they have a pretty solid idea of what that project is going to be like – the quality, and the passion that went into it. The label has a devoted fan base that’s practically part of the company as they contribute ideas, suggestions, put us in check if needed, etc. We’ve recently done a great job of creating listeners’ confidence in our Modern Harmonic label for the Sun Ra’s of the world and BeatRocket for The Litter & The Sonics of the world. In five years, I hope that those three keep their momentum while bringing with them their newest siblings in Americana Anthropology and Dot Matrix Recordings, which is launching now with treasures from the not too distant past. Who knows, maybe there’ll be more, we love keeping the curation consistent so that while one might not love all of our labels we hope we can give them one that speaks to them and continues to speak in the same tone without losing their interest.

How much power do you feel independents have in 2022?

JM: In some ways, independents have as much power as we’re willing to fight for. But we have to be smart. We’ve had to adapt a lot over the years as major labels and almost major labels are vacuuming up catalogues and not treating them with the reverence they should be treated with. Similarly, while we had practically the whole Dylan catalogue on vinyl, the majors understandably decided to take back and control their catalogues. We’ve just got to stay smarter, fiercer and make choices with passion rather than piles of money.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

JM: I would like to see some sort of limits in place as to the amount of content one entity can control. I would love to see the laws helping artists get back their masters expand beyond the post 1978 releases and help out those who’ve had to endure the exploitation of major label practices the longest, pre-1978.

What advice would you give to other independent labels at your level?

JM: Follow your passions and you’ll never have to work in your life. I hope no one was silly enough to get into this business for money, so take pride in what you do, stick to your beliefs. There’s nothing better than a thank you letter from an artist… so give them reason to send you one.