Label Spotlight: Orange Cliff Records

On the first instalment of Label Spotlight where we profile some of the best local labels out there, we managed to sit down virtually with Anindito from Orange Cliff. Here’s our conversation with him:

Can you tell us a bit on the history of the label Orange Cliff?

Orange Cliff was initially meant to accommodate a single vinyl split release between Sigmun, Jelaga, and SURI back in 2012, but we did not plan on doing anything beyond that. The idea of the release stemmed from Sigmun as I was, loosely speaking, doing some managing stuff for them back then (from 2011 until I left mid 2020) and we were looking to do a proper debut physical release. We were talking to Faisal Yahu D from Slap Bet Records and Wan Hazril from Cactus Records (now Tandang), and they were doing a 7” co-release for Kelelawar Malam and Ghaust at that time so our feelings were leaning towards a vinyl release, but Grieve Records’ Kelelawar Malam 12” was what really locked our hearts into going for a vinyl release. 

Some of the guys from Sigmun were against it, which I admit was quite rational, but I was too sentimental to let go of the idea as, to me, Sigmun, at that time, was that band to die for. Their first drummer was a friend from Madrasah Aliyah boarding school and we were in the same department so I’ve been following them around since their early “LOUD” years, including that time when they played in front of an audience that were expecting qasidah music at Taman Ismail Marzuki in 2010 (most of them were  plugging their ears when the guys started playing), and they played just before Mbah Surip (he high-fived Haikal when they were stepping down the stage). 

Sigmun did not have any money when I pushed the idea of doing a vinyl release and we were not good at pitching our planned releases to labels, and on top of that, their artists’ ego demanded that they were fully in control so we tried to come up with a set of solutions. We decided to, still, self-release the vinyl but get other bands to pitch in on the production cost—which then came the idea of a split 12”. We asked Jelaga whether they were interested—to which they responded by sending us a couple of materials—and got in touch with SURI, whom we’ve been doing gigs with lately back then. But as the discussions progressed, we had this feeling that there might be limited intentions from the other bands to pitch in on the production and they thought that the project was entirely funded by Sigmun, which might be entirely my fault for not communicating our idea clearly. I was, and still am, a very timid person.

“So what’s the name of the label?”, Rito from SURI said back then. We had no idea we were even making one. But the guys were fixated that nobody would ever buy Sigmun’s vinyl release so having other bands joining in on the release is a good option for them compared to doing it alone. But the money issue was still there, so I sold my strat and pitched in, and I duped Rishad (my uni buddy), Haikal, Mirfak, and Madyn (who was Sigmun’s photographer at that time) into pitching in for the release too. The name “Orange Cliff” was just something that I thought would fit well with the title of one of Dead Meadow’s songs, “Greensky Greenlake”. I love Dead Meadow’s work. We looked for pressing plants in Germany, went with the pressing, held “From the Misty Mountain Top” at Bukit Moko, and decided that we should do another one. Plus we didn’t break-even so I thought we should look for the next opportunity.

What’s the most difficult thing in running an independent label?

I would say that being consistent might be the hardest thing. Keeping the end-products consistent in terms of its visual presentation and the audio production is one thing but being consistent in running the label itself is a whole other issue, especially considering the returns. We don’t really put much effort into thinking more ‘creatively’, so I guess we’re more on the conservative side because there are just some things that we believe that we must not do. There are these invisible lines that we must not cross in order to protect the ‘dignity’ of the artists’ works that we’re releasing, so I guess that’s also one of the most difficult things, straightening up the ‘do’s and don’ts’ for each of the artist’s works and standing up to, one might say, music-industry-peer-pressure and keeping from jumping on the bandwagon. We’re all for listening to new ideas, but not if we might lose our very selves in the process. Talking to new people is also hard. Also, whatsapp messages from strangers are pure nightmares.

Anindito (Photo by Nitya Putrini)

What’s your approach in running a label? Do you have a hands on approach to your acts or merely release their albums/EP? 

We’re quite in the middle maybe, as we always try to find a common ground when working with our artists. There’s no written standards whatsoever regarding how or what our releases should look or sound like, of course, but assuming that we like what we are listening to, we would have a few ideas on how it should look like. There are areas that we usually don’t interfere unless we’re asked to, such as the creative process of the music, and also we tend to ask whether the artists have any existing concepts or images that they have in mind, and if there’s a gap between our views and theirs then we sit together to discuss our options in going forward. Most of the time, we were quite involved in the process of producing our releases, especially for the visual aspects.

What kept you going from the first day of Orange Cliff up until today?

It’s all about the money, baby. Kiddin. We love music, and we genuinely love the music that we are releasing. Loving the music comes first, everything else comes after. I wouldn’t be sitting alone late into the night folding the inserts of our releases if I’m not in love with the music. We want to give everything that we have to the artists that we work with. I reckon that our true happiness as a label comes when people appreciate the music that we release.

We’ve seen some of your acts go on to a nation-wide stage, do you have any kind of feeling seeing the acts you’ve been grooming become so successful? Even leaving Orange Cliff in the process

Orange Cliff is a small label and we are aware of our limits to the point that we sometimes feel bad for the new artists that we work with. It felt like we were offering them a dead-end sometimes, but I guess that’s just my inferiority complex talking. Loving the artist goes hand-in-hand with loving the music. We would be beyond happy if the artists that we worked with before got their big break.

Ideally, what’s the scope of a label according to you? Is it okay to just release and print releases or do you see labels as a source of input for artists? 

I believe that it’s a two-way road where the artist and the label both learn from each other. We have our references and, as we’re usually the first one to make the move, we would have the advantage of compiling together a sort of our vision for the artist before approaching them. We’re not saying that it’s wrong to just release and print the releases as is. If the materials are coherent with the label’s direction then why not? Preferences aside, it’s just that it would be a shame if we do not muster whatever knowledge, energy, and resources that we have at our disposal for a given release and leave it half-baked for the world to hear/see.

We never had the trouble of fussing over the artists’ materials since most of the time we’ve listened to the artist’s music beforehand and then decide that we need to do a release for that said artist, it was mostly not the other way around at least until 2019 when we started working closely with producers and got more involved with the music production process. Trust and respect are also of the essence. We had artists who were quite keen on jumping to conclusions, and setting things straight was quite hard as the said artists did not see us as equals. Why did they even choose Orange Cliff in the first place?

Haikal Azizi & Rajin Sihombing, an integral part of the label (Photo by Robby Wahyudi)

Talking about the finances now, to be blunt, does it pay enough today to run a label? Is it a good job, financially speaking? Talk about your biggest source of income as an entity 

No, it does not. We make just enough to keep us able to release new things and pay the bills for the studio, and personally we’ve been living off our day job’s pay. Our biggest source of income comes from merchandise, I reckon, although our most regular income comes from Spotify—the amount is pretty much crap though. Second biggest comes from tape cassettes, but since we’re importing the shells from abroad and the economies of scale does not work quite significantly compared to CDs in terms of duplication, it tends to have a small margin but the relatively larger demand makes up for it.

As a label, you invest in releases, considering the high number of releases you’ve amassed over the years, is it a good investment? Do you get a healthy return from it?

Sadly, no. Although the total number of our releases is quite high, they are mostly discontinued (the real income comes from physical releases) and the digital releases that you can find on so-called digital stores and outlets such as Spotify are not being paid proper royalty rates.

Why did you decide to import all your releases to The Store Front? How’s your experience so far with the store? 

The Storefront struck a sentimental chord with me I guess. They have that genuine gusto that resonates with music lovers alike.

Do you see any changes in the future in terms of how to run a label?

I think that whatever changes the future might hold, the essence of a true record label would not change no matter what the medium is, although I have the feeling that record labels are going to be rendered as irrelevant soon…