[sic] Magazine

Book – James Norman – Micro Record Label (Brian Records)

James Norman – ‘Micro Record Label’ (Brian Records)
Review by Paul Lockett

We don’t often find ourselves being asked to write about items of the literary kind, but this book really is something rather special. James Norman started the micro record label Brian Records back in 2010 and after promising himself for several years that he’d write about his experiences, he’s finally done it.

James initially asked me to proofread his book a couple of months back and what’s really clear from the outset is James’ obvious passion for music and how that later transcended into running a label. Moreover, his personal mission to recognise almost no boundaries is refreshing, not only because it widens the scope for the kind of music released on Brian Records, but also because it offers an almost-limitless choice in terms of the types of format adopted for the various releases – from the sublime (lathe-cut, CD-r, cassette tape) – to the frankly ridiculous (5.25” floppy disc, microcassette tape). Indeed, I once spoke with James and asked him if there were any formats which he’d wanted to release recordings on but which he’d thus far been unable to – and the answer was pretty much exactly what you’d expect – anything and everything was of interest – nothing was out of bounds. In fact, it’s his love of all things wacky that makes this book tick along effortlessly and makes reading it feel like you’re conversing with an old friend.


For those of you who are maybe concerned at this point that the book is purely about how to set up and run a small record label, it’s worth stating that although the book certainly feeds into that – particularly during the second half – it also covers a lot of ground in terms of describing literally loads of other interesting record labels, including the likes of Fluid Audio, Clothbound, Cotton Goods, Sonic Pieces and Static Caravan. James himself describes the book as “part how-to and part love letter to all the labels which I adore”, which I think is a completely fair summary.

One of the really interesting highlights of the book is James’ writing style itself. ‘Micro Record Label’ doesn’t attempt to come across as a hard-hitting synopsis of running a label – although the particular sections relating purely to this are certainly more open & transparent than I was initially anticipating (there’s a lot of detail, for instance, around finances and also how to go about negotiating a release with artists & other labels). Moreover, the book provides a really enjoyable summary of one man’s devotion to music and the gifts which it continues to present across the years.

I think that it’s also fair to say that James has a keen pair of ears – several early releases were from artists who have since progressed to much bigger things indeed – notably releases from the likes of Nils Frahm, Moon Ate The Dark, Peter Broderick and Machinefabriek. While it’s also true that some releases are quite understated, others are extravagant and completely over-the-top – but that’s exactly the point. The ‘Brian Box’ (catalogue number Brian 0000022 – note the inclusion of all those zeros!), for instance, included a 220 page book, two cassette tapes, a minidisc, a 3” CD-r, a booklet and a completely unique one-off microcassette recording!

The inclusion of lots of beautiful photos of record covers really adds a lot of value to the book. It makes for a lovely artefact to own, regardless of whether you plan on starting your own micro record label or you’re simply interested in how another person has achieved it. I’m personally yet to read anything like it – I’ve read lots of books from a musician’s perspective, but never one from a record label’s perspective. It’s refreshingly honest and frank. I would love to think that somebody out there will pick up the mantle and run with it.

The book is now available to pre-order at James’ Kickstarter page. A host of related packages are also available, including Deluxe & Digital versions. To make this happen, James needs to hit the magic £2,000 total – you know what to do people.