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And now for some rare feel-good news about the recording industry: For what’s essentially the first time since it was founded more than 20 years ago in Silver Spring, venerable indie-pop label Slumberland Records is now a full-time operation. Slumberland’s owner and sole employee, Mike Schulman, quit his day job as a software engineer two weeks ago.
When I spoke with Schulman today, he was battling the flu but still working on upcoming Slumberland releases. “I can’t take days off right now,” he said, emitting a muffled laugh. “I can’t afford to—I’m self-employed.”
Slumberland was founded in 1989, and has been home to plenty of great D.C.-area bands—-Black Tambourine, Velocity Girl, Lilys, Lorelei—-and plenty of great bands, period—-like the Aislers Set, Boyracer, and Stereolab. You’ll find lots of variety in Slumberland’s discography, but most of the label’s acts have tended to balance a pop sensibility with a penchant for noise.
Which, of course, is an aesthetic that’s found purchase among indie-rock fans in recent years. Schulman says he first thought about taking Slumberland, which is now based in Oakland, Calif., full-time in 2008, when he released Crystal Stilts‘ debut full-length. Saleswise, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart‘s 2009 debut became the biggest album in the label’s history, Schulman says, and in the last year Slumberland has released well-reviewed albums by Weekend and Frankie & the Outs and reissued music by Black Tambourine. (Also, I thought the Procedure Club album was awesome.) “I’ve always sort of had this nagging feeling that if I was able to apply myself more to the label, everything will do better,” Schulman says. He doesn’t seem to be doing so bad, though.
And in an era in which Merge Records can have several No. 1 records and win a Grammy, it’s an interesting time to run an indie label, Schulman says. Labels like Slumberland or Mexican Summer can now have an impact on the broader culture, he says, while sticking to the kind of music they’ve always championed.
At any rate, this spring will likely be Slumberland’s biggest yet: Anticipated releases from Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Crystal Stilts, Brown Recluse, and others are in the pipeline. Slumberland currently has a part-time intern, and Schulman says he hopes to “staff up, one might say” down the line. As for staying a full-time label head: “I figure I’ll re-evaluate in about six months and see how it’s going.”