With an uncompromising attitude and an aim to release high quality ambient and downtempo electronica, Synphaera Records have charged the fringes of the sonic arena armed with a vintage intergalactic glow and cutting edge pyrotechnics. Igloo Magazine caught up with Chris Bryant and Don Tyler, the two driving forces behind the young promising Californian label and its first project, Ascendant, to talk about inspiration, vision and some of the difficulties in operating a record label in 2016.
When did Synphaera Records start up and what was your inspiration?
We launched Synphaera in mid-2015 with Ascendant’s Æthereal Code – Ascendant being our electronic ambient project with which we’d previously had a couple of independent releases in 2014.
We were quite fortunate with Ascendant in that, along with net radio like SOMA.FM and DI.FM, syndicated radio shows like Hearts of Space, Star’s End and Echoes had picked us up right at the beginning, and sales were beyond our expectations. We were handling everything ourselves:promotion, CD manufacturing, shipping, dealing with retail, accounting, videos – all of it. The business side of things began to get overwhelming for just the two of us, so naturally, we went hunting for a label to take some of that strain off, and while we met some nice people and made lots of friends in the process, we couldn’t quite find the right fit.
We then decided to do the unthinkable and start our own label. The inspiration for Synphaera was born out of need. The need to be organized on the business side, and then be able to offer what we’ve learned, and what we can do, for other artists that fit in with the Synphaera sound and vision. That’s what really became clear after we decided to go down this path – that there would be other artists out there that could be a part of Synphaera aside from Ascendant, and that things would grow naturally if we opened ourselves to it. So far we’re right where we want to be and it feels great to be able to share what we’ve learned with other artists.
Who were some of your initial artist relations and did your location help or hinder progress?
We started the label with our own project Ascendant. That was the main asset for the label to begin with. And through our previous label hunting we’d made lots of friends at other labels, like Sandrine and Vince at Ultimae, Gabriel at Altar, and many others. Sandrine, especially, was like a guru, always there and very generous with her wisdom.
We knew though, that we’d have to broaden the roster at some point, so we started with a various-artists compilation called Starseed. It was a matter of reaching out to artists whom we thought would fit in musically and be open to the concept, and who would also trust a young label with their music. We’re thrilled to have artists like Martin Nonstatic (Ultimae), Chronos (Altar), Motionfield (A Strangely Isolated Place) and Germind & Fourth Dimension (Cosmicleaf) participate in the project.
Location, as far as the label goes, which is California in the US, is not especially relevant in this day and age, maybe aside from shipping costs, which always seem to be creeping up.
What were some of the challenges (if any) starting up a label? …and how did you envision the label to stand apart?
Neither one of us have a background at record labels, so we are still learning that side of things, the practical things especially, just learning as we go. Dealing with distribution, or retailers. Every day there is something new to learn. We’ve found though, that if you’re honest with people, and are always direct and shoot straight, people will want to work with you.
So that, basic Record Label 101 stuff, and then here in California, there are a bunch of hurdles to start up a business. Nothing major, but some hoops of fire to jump through and many forms to fill out for business licenses and such. Paperwork… which is kryptonite to creative types, but we made it through that labyrinth and all that is behind us.
Our vision for Synphaera started with Ascendant. Much of what Ascendant is all about, conceptually, carries over into Synphaera, but in a broader sense, and it’s much more inclusive. I think we naturally stand apart, simply because we’ve got a unique point of view on things, and that aesthetic continuity carries all the way through the music and into things like the graphic design for our cover art.
One thing that we’re dedicated to, and that’s absolute top quality. We’ve limited our release schedule to six albums a year, so we don’t do filler or half-measures, and we only release music or artists that we stand by 100%. We’re building Synphaera like an extended family as well, so there’s plenty of camaraderie and collaboration – we try to keep things fun and positive in a business where there can sometimes be lots of insecurity and stress.
What is your motivation in keeping the label moving forward into the next decade?
We are really so anxious to share our vision for the label – and the music that comes with it. That’s a huge motivating factor for us. As of October 2016, we’ve had four releases so far on Synphaera, and our release schedule is full through mid-2017. We’re just getting started!
Tell us more about how you (and your staff?) take the label’s “sound” to the listeners and fans. Distribution, campaigns, live shows, word of mouth etc.
Synphaera started with the band Ascendant, which is Chris Bryant and Don Tyler – also the founders of Synphaera – a name which comes from an old Klaus Schulze track. We’d only use that title for our label if he’d give us his blessing, which he did, as long as we spelled it right!
The sound of Synphaera is about the feelings you get when you hear certain pieces of music – that feeling of space – and when the music happens in the space between notes, or between levels of harmony. We take a nod from the early electronic pioneers like Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream, but contextualize everything in a completely modern ambient/electronic style.
Since we are just two people, we do wholly depend on word of mouth and radio support to spread the word. We’ve been hugely fortunate on both those fronts, and for that we are grateful.
We’re currently distributing through Bandcamp, iTunes and Amazon among others. We offer a mix of physical and digital-only releases. Currently the CDs (and things like t-shirts) can be ordered through Bandcamp, and are also available at shops like Ultimae (Lyon) and Jama-Music (Zurich). Ideally, every release would have a physical option, because the demand for CDs is still very high, so we’ll definitely be adding more and more physical releases as soon as we acquire more retail partners. For Youtube promotion, we have an exclusive deal with Glide Bros., which is part of the LEV Media Group, and that’s been fantastic. Everything else we do ourselves. :)