An Interview with Keith Rankin of Orange Milk Records

Images courtesy of Orange Milk Records/Keith Rankin

Many of us music lovers often fantasize about things such as having our own music label. Many don’t realize how much hard work it is to run a music label, especially at the independent level.

Today we have Keith Rankin with us, one-half of the legendary Experimental/Electronic label, Orange Milk Records. While Keith has already been kind enough to sit down with us, and discuss his ventures as an artist, today we dig into his role at Orange Milk.

Keith has run Orange Milk for over a decade with his good friend Seth Graham. Orange Milk is known as one of the hardest working labels in the scene, putting out numerous releases every month in various formats. If you want to learn more about Orange Milk check out the interview below with Keith.

Joe:
What’s the story behind how Orange Milk Records was formed?

Keith:
We were in Dayton, Ohio. Have you heard much about Dayton? There’s a lot of Funk music and history there. Guided By Voices is from there. But it’s a pretty small town. There’s not much, you know, as a teenager to do. So, me and Seth Graham, who co-runs Orange Milk with me, we met just from being in bands when we were younger. Inevitably, if two people are kind of on the same wavelength musically, they’re going to cross paths in a small town like that. That’s what happened with us. We just realized that we were kindred spirits. I think Orange Milk started just for us to have some shared projects, and a way to keep in contact. Sometimes to foster friendships, you must have some shared goal. Do you know what I mean? I mean, it’s kind of weird that it’s like that, but I guess that’s just the way our society does it. I think partially, the label was a way for us to just stay in contact. Keep our friendship going, in a way. So, that was the start, around 2010.

Joe:
How did you guys decide on the name?

Keith:
I can’t even quite remember. I feel like somewhere I have our chat logs saved of where the name came from. I feel like it might have been from A Clockwork Orange. I think on the A Clockwork Orange soundtrack…I would have to double-check this, but I feel like it had an orange with a straw on it. It just had a big orange on the cover. That just made us come up with that name, just that imagery. That made us think of Orange Milk. I don’t know it just felt appropriate, I guess.

Joe:
Orange Milk has such a unique cross-section of artists. How do you guys find artists or projects to sign or put out material for the label?

Keith:
When we first started, there were small communities of Electronic musicians that were releasing a lot of music on cassette tape. We were interested in that music. There were all these small tape labels. We were way into the music on those labels. When we first started, we kind of just asked artists from that existing community. At the time there were a lot of synthesizer artists doing abstract, modular synthesizer work. These artists would release five records a year or close to it. They were just pumping out music. Which is, at least from the circles I’m in now, not quite the same. I feel like people are not quite as rapid in their release cycles now. Back when we started, some people were eager to put out music on any label. They would hear about the label and want to put their sixth album that year on the label. So, we just pulled from that scene. Any label sticks around and is consistent, things start to grow. We started to get tons of demos.

So, now it’s kind of a combination of just looking through demos and just asking artists were interested in. I still try to get on SoundCloud now and then and find some unheard-of artists. Then try to try to do something with them. I wish we did that more now, but we have such a queue of releases planned. We’re so backed up. It feels less free to just find someone and say we’re gonna do your album. It’s a lot of more planning now, I guess.

Images courtesy of Orange Milk Records/Keith Rankin

Joe:
When doing a physical release, how do you decide what mediums (as far as vinyl, CD, cassette, etc.) to use?

Keith:
Well, when we started it was, like I mentioned, very much a cassette label world. There was not even much thought, that’s kind of what was happening. So, we did that. But some of our early releases were vinyl just because a lot of artists value the format. They like the bigger presentation or there’s some perception of it being more legitimate. I don’t really agree, I think, you know, any format is just as legitimate as the next. It’s just how it is presented. If an artist has a preference, we just try to accommodate that. Obviously, vinyl is really expensive. It’s like $2,000 to $3,000 for just a single record with full-color art. It just goes up from there depending on what you add. Sometimes that comes into it. Asking ourselves, “Can we afford this?” We try to put small unheard-of artist’s albums on vinyl, just because we want to give them equal treatment as like more established artists. The money comes into it in some ways, but we tried not to let it like control every decision. We’ve done a few CDs, but no one seems to buy them. I’ve heard some people say that more people are buying CDs now. So, I don’t know, it seems like people buy a lot of tapes still from us. Digital as well. It’s kind of whatever people are interested in, we’ll go there. Ideally, I guess it would be all digital one day. I don’t know, we’ll see.

Joe:
I have often heard one of the toughest barriers in running an independent label is getting your name out there so that you can get people to listen to the music. What ways do you use to get people listening to the fantastic artists on your roster?

Keith:
It’s kind of tricky. We started inside a community. So, there was already that built-in number of interested people. Part of it, like I said, is just being around for a while and being consistent. It’s weird. Sometimes people just need to recognize your name, to click a link essentially. Right? They’ll be going through their Twitter feed, and you see so many links. What in your mind makes you click on one? I think a lot of time it’s just simple recognition. When artists hire publicists, I think the main value or purpose is just to get the artist’s name to exist in as many people’s minds as possible. This recognition then leads to the lowest level of interest, which if they like the music, leads to more intense interest. For us, it’s a long process because we don’t have the money or the connections necessary to jump ahead in that process. I feel like, for some artists, there are many ways to get more rapid attention. I don’t know the details of how to do that. For it’s just been about consistency and having releases every month for years. It just slowly builds from there.

Joe:
I discovered your label after I saw one of the Giant Claw albums posted somewhere. I saw the album cover and was taken with the artwork. It drew me into checking out the music. I loved the music almost as much as the artwork. At that point, I started to follow the label. Then you guys released a Fire Toolz album not too soon after, which I really dig. From then on, I just started periodically checking to see what new releases you came out with. I don’t know if that’s the same way with other people. Or if you have had similar experiences yourself with that kind of progression of discovering an artist or a label?

Keith:
That’s a good point about the album covers. I didn’t mention that. That is a good point. I think that having a visual that’s gonna catch someone’s attention is one of the quicker methods of attracting people. I remember being young, going into a record store, and just browsing. Looking for album covers that looked cool to me. That was the way I found out about a lot of music. If the album cover is doing this, then what is the music doing? I had to know. That’s a legit way to do it.

Images courtesy of Orange Milk Records/Keith Rankin

Joe:
What advice do you have for someone who aspires to start their own music label?

Keith:
As I mentioned, it is helpful to either be aware of a community or aspire to enter into a music scene. Maybe make friends who are part of something like that as well. Having that community support is a massive head start. Way less difficult than just trying to go in cold. I would say, don’t expect to make money. We still don’t make much and most of that money we make just goes back into records, and everything. You have to search your intentions and kind of decipher if you never make a cent would you still do this. Asking yourself that is probably helpful. There’s lots of technical stuff, I could say, but I guess that I’ll leave it there.

Joe:
Any exciting new projects that came out recently on the label?

Keith:
I make music as Giant Claw. My new album came out May 14th. We got a lot of stuff. There’s also a tape from this artist, DIDA. That came out recently. That one is really cool. We have two albums that came out recently from these Japanese artists. One’s name is Koeosaeme. His music is incredible. Kind of Hypermodern, Avant-Garde. Really interesting sounds and textures. It’s just beautiful music. Then there is this other Japanese artist, NTsKi, whose album I’m very excited about. It’s just an incredible Experimental Pop album. We have so much stuff. Then Seth Graham, as I said, co-runs the label, has a record that came out recently in collaboration with More Eaze. We pretty much have a release like every month. Oh, there’s an amazing Dance record from Woody. Woody is an underground Pittsburgh, kind of legendary, producer. Their stuff is incredible. So yeah, lots of amazing stuff out or coming out.

Joe:
Where do you see the label going in the future?

Keith:
We wish that we could make enough money for it to be our only job. We’ve been around for a long time, and I feel like people assume that it’s a bigger institution than it is. They don’t realize that it’s just two people that are doing it. Doing it simply for the love of it. We would love to grow to that point where we could just focus entirely on the label. Sometimes, releases are a scramble to get out. We can’t promote as much as we would like. It’s always a rush to finish the artwork. If we just found a way to make more money. Be able to take our time with everything and not always be so rushed. That would be great. Hopefully, if you check back in two years it will be different. We will probably be in the exact same spot but I’m also not miserable. I’m content to just keep doing what we’ve been doing, in perpetuity. No matter what, it still brings something positive to my life. So, I’m fine with that honestly.

Images courtesy of Orange Milk Records/Keith Rankin

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Records, Roots & Ramblings, by Joe O’Brien, here: https://vwmusicrocks.com/records-roots-ramblings-archives/

About Post Author

Joe O'Brien

Joe has always been a huge music fan. Growing up on Long Island, NY, USA, Joe did chores and dumpster dove for bottles with his best friend Andrew to trade bottles for money to buy vinyl. Joe is a Registered Nurse in the ER by day, and a life-long music lover by night. Having been an avid consumer of all things music since he was a child, Joe’s diverse collection of over 3,000 vinyl albums, plus several hundred tapes and CDs, tells the story of a man who simply loves music. Joe’s goal is to write about what he is most passionate about and share new and exciting music. Joe lives on Long Island, NY with his beloved dog Scarlett.
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