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interview

Gabriel Birnbaum

Clandestine Label Services

Gabriel Birnbaum is a songwriter/guitarist under his own name and for the band Wilder Maker, a touring saxophonist in Debo Band and elsewhere, a printmaker, and a music publicist. He has releases via Northern Spy, Arrowhawk, & Saddle Creek Records. 

Gabriel is Head of Publicity at Clandestine Label Services. 

Gabriel Birnbaum

Where are you based?

Brooklyn, NY – I live in Flatbush.

Where do you work? What do you do?

I work for Clandestine Label Services as Head of Publicity and as a music publicist. So, I sit in a chair and send emails to people about records, either to artists and labels about records they want Clandestine to work on or to writers and editors about records I am already working on.

What are you listening to?

At this exact moment I’m listening to a potential client, an instrumental band from Quebec called ce qui nous traverse, kinda psychedelic, post-rock. Lately I have been listening to Dougie Poole – The Freelancer’s Blues a lot, and a ton of Billy Woods (solo records, collaborations with Moor Mother & ELUCID). Plus this song “Sofian” by Payfone that Adam Downey from Northern Spy hipped me to that I can’t get enough of.

How do you discover new music?

So many different ways. I read tons of music press for work, so I see a lot of writing about music. I discovered Billy Woods (like 18 years into his career) when Lars Gotrich mentioned him in his Viking’s Choice newsletter. Aquarium Drunkard and Bandcamp Daily are places I trust highly. And then with certain writers I almost always want to hear the records they’re writing about – Fred Thomas, Marcus Moore, Jes Skolnik, Jesse Locke, Marty Garner, Mariana Timony, Zach Lipez. I check out releases by labels I trust (and labels I release my music on). Periodically I’ll make social media posts to gather new recommendations when my listening is feeling stale. Then I’ll put everything in a giant playlist and shuffle it and see what sticks. Or shuffle it and put on the full album of the first track that comes up. I really put a lot of energy into finding new music. As a musician I think I have to feel inspired by music in order to write my own. 

My other favorite way has been online DJ’ing with my coworkers during the work day on turntable.fm or JQBX – anyone with the link can stop in and spin tunes and you hear so many amazing things that way. Everyone working in music knows so much incredible stuff and we don’t always think to share it.

What formats do you usually listen to? LP, CD, Cassette, Digital, Streaming Services? Why?

All of them, actually. I stream a lot of music via TIDAL. I like to make giant playlists of things I kinda know that can function almost like my own radio stations when I don’t know what to put on but I want to hear new things. My girlfriend and I listen to LPs a lot when we’re hanging in the living room or cooking and cleaning. The stereo is the center of our living room. 

I also have some portable cassette players I play tapes on, on occasion, and a van with a CD player, so I have them all covered. I will say that since Apple self-destructed the user interface of iTunes I totally stopped listening to mp3s off my computer. 

Where do you do most of your music listening?

Most of it is in this old leather armchair in my study that I spend my workday in, on Beyerdynamic monitor headphones usually, so I don’t annoy the aforementioned girlfriend by listening to really weird music that stresses her out. Then a smaller percentage on the living room stereo, which is nothing fancy but still sounds nice and warm. 

If I want to do really focused listening I also spend a lot of time walking around with my headphones or driving around in my van. That’s what I always do with rough mixes of new work I need to edit.

How do you find and listen to pre-release music?

I don’t really listen to pre-release music unless it’s something related to work, in which case it’s a private stream on soundcloud or Promojukebox. I’m always way behind the high speed release schedule of the music industry, suddenly discovering a record from last year, or 40 years ago, so I feel like the brief window when I’d use another streaming service isn’t something I need to take advantage of.

What are your frustrations with listening to music digitally? Any benefits?

I like streaming music, aside from the ethical catastrophes. It’s easy and fast, and I do like that I can just hear the song, no video (usually), no complicated branded website. I prefer music on its own. I do not like downloading mp3s, as previously mentioned, and never do it. The ads on Soundcloud are annoying but they don’t seem to come up on private streams for whatever reason, which is all I use the site for. 

On a more philosophical level, I worry about the quantity and ease of access to music making music feel less special and less valuable. I can’t tell you how often I hear something and just wave it away within 20 seconds, because it didn’t hit me instantly and there are 100 records waiting for my attention. When I was a kid I saved my money to buy used CDs and if I didn’t like them I listened on repeat until I found something to like. I feel like I pushed myself more. Periodically I’ll do that now, listen only to really out music or a less familiar genre to try and push myself out of my comfort zone.

“I do not like downloading mp3s, as previously mentioned, and never do it.”

How do you keep track of everything you are listening to?

This is actually the biggest drawback of streaming, it’s so easy to lose things. I mostly add things to playlists, but it does get messy. “6 disc changer” is everything I’m listening to on repeat now, “things i meant to listen to” is records I was recommended or read about that sounded cool but that I didn’t have time to scope at the time, “waiting room” is any new song that struck me enough that I wanted to make sure I heard it again, “hip shit jukebox” is a huge composite playlist of playlists from people whose taste I enjoy. I also make playlists of things i want to explore, i.e. “what is chamber jazz” “backwoodz studios orbit” “sprechgesang.”

Discover the #HowWeListen Playlist

Listen to the #HowWeListen 2021 Picks playlist. Curated by this year’s interviewees.

Listen on Spotify

Do you tip other people off to new music? How?

Sometimes. Usually in person, by playing it for them while we hang out. I feel like the internet new music recommendation space is so jam packed right with voices that it doesn’t make much sense, but when I really fall for something I’ll tweet about it, partly just to tell the artist because I think they should know.

“when I really fall for something I’ll tweet about it, partly just to tell the artist because I think they should know.”

Anything you want to “promote”?

Sure. My own music is on my bandcamp pages: https://wildermaker.bandcamp.com/ + https://gabrielbirnbaum.bandcamp.com/. It’s a pretty wide range stylistically so check out a few things. I recommend “Zion” “Nightwater” and “Not Alone”

I’m working PR on a lot of great records right now but one I spend the most time listening to is by Michael Cormier – you can hear it here.

I’ve also had the privilege of working a series of excellent releases for labels who are well worth checking out: Mushroom Hour Half Hour, Forward Music Group, 11A Records, Dear Life Records, Egghunt Records. Sean Mullins, the drummer in WM, also releases beautiful instrumental music as Moon Mullins, and he just put out this 7” of Brahms pieces on synth that is so good.

"I really put a lot of energy into finding new music. As a musician I think I have to feel inspired by music in order to write my own."

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