Things change. Since the last time I looked around which was a while back now many labels have become either dormant or fairly inactive.
One thing is for sure, however, is that online tactics are more important than ever. Offline is nowhere, just like print magazines are now overshadowed by their online counterparts.
If a label does not put up a promo track and just lists tracks then it will not get written about as much as those albums which are listenable, at least in part. We like to try before we buy now more than ever and the technology enables this better than ever.
Some labels put the whole album up for a short time beforehand for a limited period and I can see the merit of this particularly if the release is avant garde and hard to sell. After all tracks can be made unavailable again when sales kick in.
A few thoughts: Babel: very quiet at the moment. The new Emilia Mårtensson record coming up should re-ignite interest in the label. Basho: not much output now, just a few records per year. The latest Trish Clowes album was excellent. However, the label could do with a better online presence, maybe using YouTube and Bandcamp more. Blue Note: most of the interest this year has been on the heritage of the label. The signing of Joel Ross however has picked up a lot of attention. Don Was and co also love their veterans at the label and I would love it if they could bring back Herbie Hancock and release his next album, especially as he turns 80 next year. Universal have the big bucks to do this. Brownswood: at the heart of all the hype about UK jazz dominated by Gilles Peterson’s DJ-centric beats laden taste. Cleanfeed: could do with more public-facing promo tracks. Otherwise a reliable avant garde label. Concord: far more active recently on the jazz side and excellent at getting the word out. Can be too stodgily mainstream at times however. New albums coming up by Hiromi and Jazzmeia Horn. Criss Cross Jazz: pretty invisible online in terms of buzz. Not always that interesting a label because it tends to stick to the same sort of thing all the time but Noah Preminger’s After Life was a revelation recently. ECM: Not a great year so far although the Touchstones reissues have delighted fans of the label. Many releases however fall into a nebulous folk or chamber no man’s land and this has been more to the fore in recent batches. However, on safer ground albums by Giovanni Guidi and Bill Frisell/Thomas Morgan were superb. The label has also become far better at using YouTube to its advantage. Edition: lots of new signings including a foray into US jazz this year with albums by Chris Potter, Jeff Ballard, Dave Holland and Zakir Hussain etc. Also interesting to note that the label is reissuing Julian Argüelles’ superb album Home Truths, originally out on Babel, soon. Gearbox: It gets better all the time. Albums by Dwight Trible, Theon Cross and Abdullah Ibrahim have all succeeded. The label probably has the best sound of any UK indie, has a firm graphic identity and is web savvy. Gondwana: Quiet at the moment. Could do with some new signings. However, I really enjoyed their release by the unknown Hania Rani this year. Impulse! Well, this is as much part of internal big record label branding (as part of Universal) and how they deal with the classic past as anything. However, bringing some of the various groups of Shabaka Hutchings on board (Sons of Kemet, The Comet is Coming) was a masterstroke. Contrast that with how Verve is still not branded correctly to align with its heritage. Jazz Re-freshed: Fashionable UK label which has made giant strides this year. Loves EPs. Jellymould Jazz: gone dormant this year, which is a pity. Lyte: inactive mainly this year. Mack Avenue: Could do with better online promo, I do forget about this leading US label a little too often. Good to see Herlin Riley on the label recently. Motéma: Hasn’t been the same since Gregory Porter left! However, Melissa Aldana has done the label proud this year. OKeh: what’s happened there, then? Sony seem to have lost interest. Sunnyside: could do with some videos [even audio tracks put on YouTube at a basic level] to promote their output. I did enjoy their Lucian Ban record earlier in the year. Ubuntu: Signing loads of new artists, taste chops seem to be improving, and their strike rate is getting better. Very good at promo via social media and online but could make better use of Bandcamp. Whirlwind: lots of activity. One of the best at promoting their wares via news items on their website. I am surprised how few labels do just that. However, their output is quite variable in terms of quality at the moment with the exception of the recent Partisans album Nit de Nit, which was a blast. Stephen Graham