Big Action Records talks about running an independent label

Categories: 5 Questions

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Founded in 1999 in Winona, Minn., Big Action Records has changed hands and migrated up the river, but it remains dedicated to the same essentials. Founded by Matt Semke and Hank Rothering, both in punk band Straight To Your Brain, to release their own music, the label found its way into Jason Zaborowski's hands when he later joined the group on bass. Fast forward eleven years and Big Action has 24 releases under its belt--not a lot, Zabby explains, but "this was never about quantity. This is a low key operation of one, just for fun."

Recent shifts in the music industry have seen the label going primarily to the 7-inch vinyl format with limited pressings.The label has released groups from across the country, with a blend of Minnesota and Wisconsin bands filling a sizable piece of the catalogue. With an upcoming release from Voytek, the Twin Cities will continue to be represented.

Gimme Noise talked with Zabby about the label's past and future.

Gimme Noise: How would you describe the label's identity/sound?

Jason Zabby: My goal is that it continues to change as my own taste's change and evolve. I think I've mostly released punk, rock'n'roll, garage-rock type stuff. That's what I enjoy as a listener.

How have you adapted to changes in the industry since the label started?

One major adaptation has been moving from releasing CDs to doing more vinyl. With the rise of digital music online, it just felt better to release vinyl. I have owned vinyl all my life and it's the main format I listen to personally. Vinyl is tangible and fun to purchase. You can hold it and admire it for its strengths and weaknesses. It's just more fun than some shitty music files on my PC or a shelf full of CDs.

What do you like best about the Twin Cities scene?

I will be honest, I've become lazy about going to shows as I've grown older. I feel guilty about that. What I like best is that, if you want, you can leave your house on any given night and see a band you already love or discover a totally new band you never knew existed. I also love the people in the scene: new kids and the older folks who've been like the glue for years. Most people are nice and willing to help each other out in lots of different ways.

How do you pick a band to approach about a record?

I like bands that get along with one another. I look to see if people seemed annoyed with others in the band. It's best to steer clear of those sorts of situations. Even if they're a great band, you run the risk of sitting on a ton of records if they break up. After that I only care if they rock and that I find some element or combination of things that make it a fun listening experience. Other times I've been lucky to have friends approach me about their own bands or bands in their towns. I really like working with people I've worked with in the past--those are the folks I respect and call my friends. Even if we're separated by distance, I know I can trust them.

What percentage of your releases break even?

Everything released after (and including) The Brokedowns' first record have at least broken even (the last 12 releases). Several are in a second re-press or completely sold out. That helps keep it going. I'm able to pay for advertising and release records using the money from past sales. It's all I can ask for, I guess.

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