John Zobele is only a sophomore in college, and when I spoke with him on the phone recently it seemed like the pressure of final exams and university life was wearing him down. That, or the fact that he runs a busy internet label, Business Casual ’87, all by his lonesome. It’s a tough job, but with a slightly cynical ‘tude, a film background and a musical project of his own, Zobele might just be the man to do it.
Business Casual ’87 (as of recently just Business Casual) will celebrate its one-year anniversary tomorrow, and the label has already signed more than 50 musicians and put out more than 40 albums, from the future funk of WΔll Flowers to the pixelated Tumblr dashboard dream themes of SYLLABUS. I called John to chat about the label, dropping the “’87” and what the future holds for Biz Cas.
Can you talk a little bit about why you decided to start Business Casual ’87?
Well, before that I had tried to get on another online record label back in 2010, and I had continued doing that until around 2013. I wanted to start something new. I saw all these artists just getting turned away from labels that were and are still popular, and I wanted to make something for the people who were just starting out. That’s the main reason why I did it.
What label were you trying to get on?
I was trying to get on Fortune 500 or something like that. And I remember not being the exact type of sound anyone was looking for. I decided to make my own label, because I thought, why not?
What was your process with getting bands on your label? How did you start out?
Well first I started out with a Bandcamp and Soundcloud account, Facebook page, Twitter account and Tumblr profile. I had the idea around April or March [of last year]. So I started asking a handful of people—at the start the original 12 people who were on the first compilation disc, Digital Office One—and that was released on the 9th or the 10th of May. So we’re doing something for that this year. And that’s basically how it started. I just contacted some people I knew, spent money on a domain name, Bandcamp downloads, I bought more of those most of the time. Sometimes we had to go and buy SoundCloud Pro because we ran out of free downloads.
So you’re coming up on your one year anniversary. Do you have plans for it?
We are going to re-brand the site, and I’m just telling you this right now because we’re updating the website really soon. I finally got ahold of businesscasual.biz cause that’s what I was originally going to call it.
You’re changing the name?
The name Business Casual ’87 to Business Casual.
Why are you dropping the ’87?
Because the whole entire vaporwave genre is slowly declining, and the new artists that are coming in are slowly becoming fewer and fewer. It’s moreso the sort of music that…it’s getting just old. I don’t want to sit there and judge, because I know some artists are changing their sounds, and I’m trying to find artists that have a somewhat different sound to them. So it’s a different sound. Sort of like AM B discs, I think that’s what it’s called.
So you feel like the ’87 is connecting you to an aesthetic that you want to push away from?
To a point, yes. Plus I feel like we may be taken a little more seriously, because I was happy with how well people have been taking it since last year, so hopefully they’ll be able to take us even more seriously because that’s something that I really want. There have been a few releases later last year, early this year that I kind of wish I had passed on. I’m too nice of a guy to say no to some things, and some things are not to the quality that I would like them to be. So in the future I would hope to be more involved in the music making process, working with artists to creating content that is truly great and not something that was made in a week and quickly released.
Are you looking to revamp your roster this year?
I’m starting to invite more people, and we do get quite a few emails a week. So I sift through them, we don’t let everybody on. It’s usually 25% that apply are contacted, and we go from there.
What are the challenges doing this as a one-man operation?
Just finding time. I’m currently a sophomore in college, this whole entire week has been really kind of stressful. I’m getting ready for finals week. Just finding the time to get everything done. Making sure everything’s online and uploaded to Mediafire and adding things here and there. That’s not too time consuming, but we will be officially rebranding and changing a few things. And we’ve got things planned for May 9.
How much of the business you do is over the internet? Have you met many of the artists on the roster?
95 percent of it is done over the internet. I have not met any of the artists, I have met a few people who have been affiliated with the artists. I know I’m into the community of vaporwave, so I’m connecting with these artists on Facebook and other networks. But I’d like to meet each of these artists, but some people are all the way across the country.
Do you seek out artists to put on the label, or is it mostly sifting through demos that you get, or is it both?
It’s half and half. We get a lot of demos, I get to hear a lot of music, different types of music, sometimes I’ll get the occasional rock band who’s sending it into every label they can find just to get their break. Then you have the people who are genuinely interested and genuinely want to be part of the scene. Less so now, but when we first started out I was on Soundcloud and Bandcamp just searching, searching, searching. I found someone who I really wanted to invite, but I was just trying to figure out if they were somewhere else, if I should even ask.
Have you found that people are pretty receptive to joining Business Casual when you reach out? Has it ever been a struggle to get someone on the label?
There were a few people who declined. I ask if they would like to be a featured artist on the label because it’s not like you’re signing your soul away. We are very relaxed. We get like a “contract” up, but that’s just something stupid. I don’t think anyone cares enough to really sign anything legal, because everything I’m doing is illegal. Laughs.
Everything you’re doing is illegal?
Technically, with the music I make, with the music a lot of the artists make.
Samples, stuff like that.
Yeah, that’s the thing. Also the music is free. If you want to donate…I use that money to make the actual cassette. And that is our bottom line I guess. We don’t make too much. I think over the past year we made 200 dollars, and most of that goes to buying the Soundcloud Pro account. We spent over 100 dollars in the past year on Bandcamp free credits, just because we go though them in two months, a month and a half.
I think all of the Biz Cas albums on Bandcamp are name your price. Do you plan on sticking with that platform, or will you start charging?
If people want to donate, that’s fine. They have the option to download for free via Bandcamp or even Mediafire which is totally free. It’s not like I’m forcing people to buy the music, because that’s just not how I work. I want to keep the digital stuff free. I make money on cassettes, and maybe CDs if we end up doing that.
Has making your own music affected your ideals in running a label? I guess you said that was kind of why you started it.
That’s kind of why I start anything. I’m not going to try to fit into something I’m not into. Maybe it’s a combination of that pissed off, “I can be better than you,” sort of feeling. Or maybe I’m tired, and I feel like there’re some people like me out there and I want to help them. I tend to go towards the help other people solution. I can’t say it’s all for everybody else, because I’m an artist on the side too.
Do you have any specific goals over the next year?
I would like to find some more artists that are more diverse in sound, so that we can potentially grow our audience. I do hope to do more with our YouTube page because it’s just like a desert, and hopefully I can get artists to make music videos. I make music videos.
I was going to ask you about that, do you think you would make videos for artists on your label?
I go to film school, I would love to make music videos for people. But the problem is finding time. Next year is going to be hell. I might have to have somebody come on to keep everything up to date that’s completely disconnected from me here. Because next year…woo. School is not going to be fun.
Your Business Casual motto is, “Music for the internet generation.” I was wondering if you could kind of describe to me what music for the internet generation is, either what it sounds like or how it’s going to change.
I put that there because the general populous of our music listeners are aged between 1985 and, I’d say, 2005. In between that range. Most of those people grew up with the start of the internet, and even towards having everything on the internet. As far as the sound though…I like change. I don’t like to do one thing for too long otherwise I will get bored. I really don’t know what internet music sounds like because it’s so diverse. There are so many types of internet music I think it’s too big to describe.