Ghostly International, a record label that calls Ann Arbor home, turns 11 this week. Despite only being in its adolescence, it has a lot to show for its time here, boasting a wide range of music, musicians and even some art that lies outside the realm of music altogether.
Ghostly International Anniversary Concert Feat. Matthew Dear
Monday at 9 p.m.
The Blind Pig
Tickets from $12
Monday night, the Blind Pig will host an anniversary celebration concert featuring three Ghostly artists: Matthew Dear, Mux Mool and Osborne. Their styles are diverse, but are only a glimpse of the dynamic output Ghostly has managed to foster. The label is a continually evolving entity, and its business today is as vibrant as the genres it records.
Ghostly’s beginnings, however, were much more modest.
“A long time ago in a dorm room in Couzens Hall on the hill, I had the idea to start a record label,” said Sam Valenti, the founder of Ghostly International, during a TEDxUofM presentation last April.
Much to the benefit of Valenti’s dorm room dream, he met Matthew Dear, who would help bring Ghostly from concept to reality. The two began working with a local DJ called Disco D, and their collaboration resulted in Ghostly’s first release, a 12-inch single called “Hands Up For Detroit,” in 1999.
Valenti wrote in an e-mail interview with the Daily that he and Dear were still undergraduates in their dorm rooms, and the recording process was as erratic as would be expected, requiring several different kinds of equipment in various locations.
After that 1999 release, Ghostly continued to expand. Tadd Mullinix, who makes music under many different aliases including Dabrye, was one of the next artists to join up with the group. There wasn’t a specific direction in which the label was headed and Mullinix helped cultivate the wide breadth of music that Ghostly would eventually be known for. He was initially approached by Valenti for house music, and responding to the request, Mullinix gave him demos of his house music as well as other styles he had been experimenting with.
“I’m not sure if (Valenti) had a strict plan for how the label should sound,” Mullinix told the Daily. “And after that point, when he came back to me, he said, ‘I want to sign these other styles.’ And that’s where the label branched out to be sort of a multi-genre label.”
Valenti’s senior art project at the University was “Disco Noveau,” a compilation album of electronic musicians that was orchestrated in part by Mullinix. This, accompanied by Mullinix’s and Osborne’s solo work, fully established Ghostly as a major player in the electronic music scene. As the Ghostly crew left the University, instead of relocating to a big metropolitan area, it set up shop as close to home as possible, here in Ann Arbor.
The expansion of Ghostly has been substantial, but not without careful consideration. Jeremy Peters, Ghostly’s Licensing Manager, spoke with the Daily about the label’s growth in response to its success.
“There have been opportunities for us to follow a trend,” he said. “We have sort of shied away from that in order to grow more steadily and more organically.”
With a changing marketplace, Ghostly has not only remained constant with its loyalty to its home town, but also with its relationship with its artists.
“(Valenti) has been consistent in terms of what he likes to do with me. He’s very open minded and listens to my ideas,” Mullinix said. “The way that (Ghostly) has changed is that I’ve been able to see (Valenti) execute his vision and fine tune what he wants Ghostly to do and how it responds to things like the digital market.”
There is a relationship between Ghostly and its artists that provides a lot of freedom, and it can be heard in the variety of styles explored.
As the label grows, Ghostly does not intend to sacrifice its initial goals and foundations for short-term success.
“We try to keep the roster small so we can really focus on each release,” Valenti wrote. “It’s a new era where the label is more of a partner with the artist, less of a parent.”
Ghostly’s success has led to the opening of offices in Los Angeles and New York, but its heart still remains in its home town.
“Ann Arbor has been a part of Ghostly for over 11 years now,” Valenti wrote. “There are new students coming (to the University) every year, who I think would love what we and our artists are about. A lot of Ghostly started as late night library sessions, coffee shops and spending time at the record stores. It’s been a perfect place to grow in.”