OTHER SIDE OF THE TRACKS Q&A with Jack Talty, Raelach Records

We spoke to Jack Talty of Raelach Records, ahead of Raelach's presentation at the National Association of Record Labels Ireland (NARLI)'s Annual General Music on October 11th. The NARLI Annual General Music brings to the table Ireland’s leading independent record labels for a real-time musical discourse about where music is at in this country. Right now. Each record company will be represented in live performance, with their music and their images speaking on their behalf, in a discussion chaired by Kenneth Killeen, artistic director of the Improvised Music Company.

Raelach Records is an artist-run, traditional and folk record label based in county Clare, on the west coast of Ireland. Founder Jack Talty is a graduate of UCC and UL, was awarded a Government of Ireland research grant for his PhD research, and is currently a research consultant with Traid Éireann. He has released critically-acclaimed albums as a solo concertina player and with groups including Ensemble Eriú. 

Q. What’s your favourite thing about recording music in the Irish scene?

I find the process of working directly with musicians on a recording project particularly enjoyable. Running a label is a diverse endeavour by its nature, and I also enjoy things like working with the label graphic designer to witness the development of a design concept as it grows in parallel to the recording project itself. Although I feel that the recording process is secondary to live music, I believe that the album is still a significant artistic statement, and I feel privileged to work closely with great artists and help shape a project in whatever manner is appropriate. There are a number of less exciting elements involved in recording and releasing music in Ireland but spending time in the studio or on location with other musicians continually reminds me of the value of working in this area.

Q. What changes would you like to see in the Irish music scene?

I think the arts sector in Ireland is quite fragmented at present, and I feel that advocates for specific artforms experience the wider arts scene in very diverse and different ways. As a traditional musician, I believe that the publications ‘of record’ are not doing enough to promote the traditional arts. Unfortunately, management in those media do not seem to appreciate the popularity of the traditional arts. In this case, I think coverage is too infrequent. In other cases, I feel publications that do cover the traditional arts on a more regular basis, do so through a lens, or editorial agenda that conflicts with my experiences as a practitioner. I sometimes wonder who such publications are targeting.

Also, I think there are insufficient funding opportunities for record labels in Ireland. Although label outputs can actually align closely with the types of projects that are funded by institutions such as the Arts Council, there is no effective infrastructure that directly funds the general album production activities of a record label in Ireland, despite the fact that comparable non-label arts organisations can avail of various funding streams to finance the activities that they engage in.

Q. What’s the most important thing to you deciding to work with an artist?

Naturally, it is essential that I feel excited about the quality of the music involved, or about the potential that I believe it has. I’m also influenced by an artist’s philosophy about an album. Because Irish traditional music has enjoyed considerable international commercial success in previous decades, the album is frequently conflated with ‘the business card’, or something that needs to be produced for an upcoming tour, to maximise sales. This conflicts dramatically with my vision of a recording project, and I enjoy working with artists who appreciate the less ephemeral nature of the recording process. Also, it is important to me that the artist understands the ethos and artistic mission of Raelach Records, and that there is a certain sound and look to our catalogue that may differ to conventional recordings of Irish traditional music.

Q. What would you like audiences to understand about the recordings they hear?

I would like audiences to hear an album as an artistic statement that entices a listener to undertake a particular journey, or even a leap of faith. While I wholeheartedly value the multiple layers of personal interpretation and nuance that listeners quite rightly experience when listening to an album, it is always really rewarding when a listener mentions how they perceive a specific artistic ethos or production decision.

Also, it is important to me that audiences can trust the label to curate/produce recordings of Irish traditional music that have a personal authenticity (let’s not discuss the purism/innovation debate in the traditional arts), and that offer an alternative to the Irish traditional music that is aimed at the tourist industry. Instead, I would hope that audiences appreciate that the music that they hear, even if mediated/curated by a record label and producer, allows traditional musicians the freedom and platform to express their creativity on their own terms, and in a way that reflects their own artistic identities. 

Q. What do you think is important for musicians to consider as they share their work?

I think musicians should reflect on the fact that albums are relatively permanent, and certainly in the case of the traditional arts, have an international community of listeners. Therefore, I think artists need to be completely satisfied with a recording project before releasing it, and the release date (especially if a self-produced album) should not be dictated by a touring date etc. Also, I would recommend that artists work with a producer to avoid that lack of objectivity that creeps in when working intensively on your own recording project.

Although there is a vibrant and exciting DIY album production scene in the traditional arts sector, I think that some really important music is failing to optimise how listeners engage with it. This can be due to a number of factors but central to this issue is promotional work and PR. I like that there is a DIY scene, so I’m not suggesting that record labels should monopolise the sector but I think that something is compromised when artists try to micro-manage all aspects of an album release by themselves.

Thanks Jack!

Hear Raelach Records artists in a FREE performance at the
NARLI Annual General Music
Friday 11th October, Record Fair 6pm / Performances 7:30pm
IMRO, Pembroke Row, Lower Baggot St, Dublin


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