2L, A New Norwegian Label that Aims to Bring Down Barriers
BY MARTIN ANDERSON  
Copyright ©2002 - Fanfare, Inc.

  It’s a bold move, these days, to start up another record company, when cries of doom, falling sales, and shrinking markets assail us from every side. Common sense would suggest that your best bet in such circumstances would be to identify a specialist area—the piano, the Baroque, vocal music—where you know where you can rely on a regular audience and to pursue that line assiduously. 2L, the new label just founded by Norwegian producer-engineer Morten Lindberg, will have nothing to do with that: The aim, Lindberg says, is to break down barriers, not erect them; the label proudly proclaims that it is “free from the strains of genre.”

            “There are many models when you start building a label,” Lindberg explains. “You have Naxos at one end, mainly concerned with building a repertoire within rather narrow genres. What we try to focus on is that you can have a musical experience and the feeling of a musical mood independent of what kind of genre we’re talking about. Let’s take it a little further back. We started up as a production company back in 1992, doing recording and editing for classical labels, mainly in Norway but also for Naxos in Sweden. Then we worked it up and have evolved the tools that we saw were needed around production—not only recording and editing, but also graphic design, a CD agency for a CD factory, presentation, and marketing. These are services we’ve provided, in the ten years we’ve been working, for the existing labels, mainly in Norway. We felt a need to do something with our own minds, as a sort of mental hygienics; when you’re working very hard to serve other people, twelve, fourteen, sixteen hours a day just to fulfil the needs of others, then you feel the need to do something on your own. So we started up the label 2L.”

Where did the name come from? “It’s our company name, Lindberg Lyd [Lindberg Sound], double L. Easy enough, and since we use a digit at the front, we end up at the top of all the lists! Anyway, we took a closer look: OK, what do we want to do? We decided that the frame for the label should be the craftsmanship we have the competence for, and that’s acoustic recording and acoustic production. We have two mobile recording rigs and an editing and mastering studio, and we do not want to work in a studio environment but to go out to churches, concert halls, and do acoustic recordings. The frames are exactly those; within them we feel we can do folk music, acoustic jazz, crossings between pop and jazz and folk music—and classical repertoire, of course. We feel that this label could hold all of these musical experiences; we don’t feel the need to tell the listener what to hear.”

            The first eight releases from 2L prove that Lindberg means what he says about repertoire. One or two are relatively orthodox: 2L1, entitled Melankoli, is a recital of music for viola and piano by Kodály, Britten, Pärt, Joplin, Kvandal, Bloch, and Liszt, beautifully played by Morten Carlsen and Sergej Osadchuk, joined in Dowland and Brahms (op. 91) by the mezzo Marianne Beate Kielland; and 2L2 brings Vol. 1 of what promises to be a complete violin-and-piano Wieniawski from Piotr Janowski and Wolfgang Plagge. Then things begin to get less predictable. Vintermåne (“Winter Moon”, on 2L3) is a jazz-tinged album of Norwegian folksongs from Anne Gravir Klykken, variously accompanied by saxophones, keyboards, with percussion and flute; and 2L4 is an excellent recital from the violinist (and hardanger fiddler) Tron Steffen Westberg, joined on the last two tracks by Magne Haugom and Jan Frostvoll. 2L5 and 2L6 contain classical music inspired by the Middle Ages from the composer Wolfgang Plagge (b. 1960), ranging in style from the new-agey to the stiffly contrapuntal; the first disc features two of Norway’s most highly esteemed musicians, the soprano Solveig Kringelborn and trumpeter Ole Edvard Antonsen and includes Plagge’s Trumpet Sonata and a couple of song-cycles, and the second has his Concerto Grosso II for two pianos, brass quintet, and timpani, and the Music for Two Pianos. Three Beethoven cello sonatas (op. 5, No. 1, op. 69, and op. 102, No. 2) are given alert and communicative performances by Bjørn Solum and Kristin Fossheim (playing on a fortepiano) on 2L7; and 2L8 is an album, Spill (“Play”), by a folk-trio called Flukt (“Flight”)—an instantly catchy blend of Norwegian, Scots, Irish, and other influences.

            What governed the choice of material for those first releases? “We are very concerned with building a product from the bottom, and that means not just finding a repertoire and a musician, and hiring the musician to do the repertoire—that’s not our way of working. All the products on 2L are the result of a situation where we had started to work with musicians on another project and then evolved a common sense of what a musical experience is and what it takes. And then, as you see on the label, we have also done a lot of work together with the composer, as we have with the pieces of Wolfgang Plagge, where we start from the bottom, when this is composed, shaping a product together with the composer and the musician. So we have a situation where no musician is just hired by the hour to deliver a job. As I said, it’s a kind of mental hygiene. As a production company you have a budget: You have to finish in six sessions, within thirty or forty hours of editing, and that’s it. We are not aiming to do more recordings for 2L per year than that we can afford to use all the time needed to reach the result we think is optimal. And that goes for the musicians also—they are into the project with a spirit of ‘We’re coming to do the job and we don’t leave until it’s done; we’re not counting hours for the work.’ That’s the philosophy behind 2L.”

            Doesn’t that sheer catholicity of approach present 2L with marketing difficulties? “Marketing wise, it’s been shown up as a genius thing to do, because you can aim at a lot of different people. The marketing difficulty is created only by a lot of genre-narrow magazines—like Fanfare! That’s where there’s the difficulty in marketing. But as long as we use open media as marketing channels, then it’s rather a strength. We find them on the Internet, in general music magazines; radio and TV are very open media.” But that’s not where 2L will find the buyers for its Wieniawski or Beethoven recordings, surely, and doesn’t that make life difficult for 2L’s distributors? “The distributing of a label like this is a challenge in itself. Our main distributor is Musikkoperatorene [in Oslo], and we began using them in a kind of exclusive deal. What we experienced is that they had good coverage in the Norwegian market, but the Norwegian market is too small. We had a choice when we were starting out: Are we going to make the kind of products we believe in, or are we going to make the products we think the audience wants. If we make the product that we believe in, we have a smaller percentage area who are interested in it, and then we have to expand the area. That’s the way we have chosen, and the solution was the webshop. For example, we had a very good review of the Wieniawski CD in The Strad. The strength of a small label is that we can turn around quite quickly. We had started to get in the e-mails from the Strad review and people were saying ‘Oh, we can’t get the CDs here in Australia’ and things like that. And so we turned around and the webshop with credit cards was up and running within a week. And then within fourteen days we sold 500 copies through the website, just of the Wieniawski, and that was because of the review in The Strad. So we have to work on that direct line with our customers. Of course, we will keep the traditional distribution, and in the USA it’s Qualiton that’s handling the import.”

            Can one find a unifying philosophy underlying the apparent diversity of 2L’s first releases? “We have no main philosophy that we are going to do this or that. Our only concern is that, when you go into a project, that specific project is going to contain its own values, without looking to the whole shape of 2L. The shape of 2L will then be that the listener can pick out a 2L recording and expect a musical experience. That’s the only criterion; we don’t want to set any other frames on the label. So each volume from 2L should be an individual experience, independent of the other 2L editions.” I’m still not convinced that Lindberg’s stylistic openness won’t create practical difficulties: Doesn’t he run the risk of failing to establish a readily recognised profile for 2L? His answer is straightforward enough: “No. Everybody else has that, and you can identify most international labels from their profile. If a company goes off that track, normally it makes a different label again. No, we would like the listener to be surprised by what he finds. Actually, we’ve had two independent feedbacks from shops in Norway. When I spoke to them, I asked: ‘What kind of labels do you bring in?’ ‘Oh, it’s only jazz labels—and 2L, because that’s a total experience.’”

            How, then, does Lindberg expect to get potential listeners to make that leap of faith? The average Fanfare reader, for example, might well enjoy, say, the Flukt folk-album Spill enormously (I certainly did), but how is he or she ever going to come across it? “What we have experienced—especially on the web-shop, where we can read directly what individuals buy—is that a classical buyer normally buys two classical CDs and then adds a test of one of the others. Then he comes back with a fantastic report and wants some more of that other stuff. Of course, we have sound samples of all the tracks on all our editions on our website [www.2l.no], so people can go in and listen to the stuff before they decide whether to buy it. And also we have tried to make a small description on the cover of what kind of mood and experience people can expect.” Hold on: take the Tron Steffen Westberg CD—it’s entirely in Norwegian. Obviously the major market is in Norway, but if there’s nothing in English how is someone in Arizona going to be enticed to acquire it? “You have spotted a weak link! [Laughter] As we’ve started to build 2L, we’ve discovered a lot of things during the editions we’ve made over the last ten months. Tron Steffen was originally intended mainly for the Norwegian market, but then it turned totally around and in Finland and, especially, Australia that recording has been very well taken up. So we’ve made an English translation of the whole booklet which is available on the website as a download. And Tadaaki Tsuda at Nordic Sound Hiroshima has translated all the booklet entries of our entire catalogue into Japanese [to be found at http://home9.highway.ne.jp/nordic/].” But then take Vintermåne (2L3)—there isn’t even an explanation for the potential Norwegian buyer. “But it is explained on the website—‘The magnificent steel-blue of a winter moon—an eerie warm light on the cold snow.’” I’m not sure that helps much, but let’s carry on.

            Assuming that 2L sees much of its trade coming over the Web, how is Lindberg going to drive potential customers towards his site in the first place? “That’s the challenge! That’s why we’re putting an ad in Fanfare magazine. The whole music industry is turning over enormously, and has been for the last five years. We have started a label in the middle of this upheaval, and that means we have to explore different channels for distribution and for marketing. We don’t have any guarantees for what will work and what won’t, but we have the ability to turn around quite fast, combined with the patience to see what works. So we have the possibility of putting quite a lot of measures into action, to see what we can do to market this. Of course, the distribution and the marketing is our main concern—in addition to making good products. Fanfare is the first tool we use in the American market. As we’re based on a Web presentation, it’s very easy, when we come to November and December and Fanfare magazine hits the streets, to measure the statistics of our visitors to the website and the webshop, and then we’ll have an immediate feedback on whether this measure is working or not. One thing that we have not yet solved is how to reach the audience that is not a part of the Web society, and if you, or anybody you know, or the readers of Fanfare, have any good ideas, please come with them—we are very open. Actually, as a small label we are very open to a lot of thoughts on how to reach a genuinely interested audience with these products.”

            Is Lindberg also open to repertoire suggestions? “Definitely.” He has a stable of Norwegian artists at the moment, but if someone approached him with a fantastic blue-grass fiddler from Kentucky, would he be interested in that? “Yep—because, as I said, what we are interested in is a musical experience within an acoustic world, and there is no limit, we don’t have any limits.”



Nov/Dec 2002