Mississippi CSR (Community Supported Records)

As I continue my journey through the ever evolving world of record subscription services, Mississippi CSR (Community Supported Records) stands out as one of the most unique.  It stands out for its unrelenting mission to support the those who have been blatantly screwed by the music industry.  It can’t be easy to not be part of the industry that you really are part of – kind of.
The Mississippi CSR operates a bit differently than many other subscription services.  According to their website, ” You send us any amount of money, between $68 & $300 (sorry not paypal – you actually mail us a check or cash). In exchange, we will send every Mississippi/Change Record that comes out until that amount of money is tapped out.”  Once you’ve used the credit you have, you can choose to end your subscription or send another check to continue the experience.
LP’s cost between $10 and $12 with some very limited editions costing up to $13.  Shipping is an additional $3.50 to $5.00.  7″ records are only $5.00.
International orders are available too, but shipping costs are higher.  Because of the higher international shipping costs, you can add up to $500 to an international account and this can be done by PayPal – but Mississippi CSR is VERY clear, that PayPal is only acceptable for international orders.
If there is money left in your account that is not going to be enough for a subsequent shipment, your final record will include a check for the balance of your account.
Mississippi CSR does NOT adhere to a specific release schedule.  They usually release three records per month, but have also been known to release nothing for a couple of months and then drop ten titles.
I love this statement – “If this type of chaos scares you more than it frees you, please please please do not sign up to be part of the CSR. ”  Kind of sums up the philosophy behind the label.
 Even with all of the info on their web site, I had a few more questions so Eric from Mississippi Records kindly agreed to fill me in.
VC:  From your website – “The CSR also gives you an opportunity to support our label in its mission to keep prices low, to make important cultural information available to those who care, and to support artists and their ancestors who have all too often been screwed by the mainstream record industry.”
Can you elaborate on this?  I sense that there are many stories that you can share.  I’m also sensing that there are some pretty significant racial issues too – is this true?
MCSR: We work completely outside the mainstream music industry and release mostly marginalized old music.  The music industry has a history of exploiting artists (from every race, including poor white people) by making complicated contractual deals that end up not being in favor of the artist.  Mississippi does very simple deals with artists where in we produce a small amount of records and pay the artist a one time fee for licensing on that limited edition.  The contract is about half a page, or most of the time just a hand shake.  Mississippi does not want to own the rights to anyone else’s music. So – no exclusivity, no digital rights, and no loopholes.
Of course, minorities have been exploited in the music biz more than white folks.  We hope our label works a some small force for reparations.  We generally do a 50/50 profit split with artists.
The downside of being an artist on our label is we do no tour support, no promotion and only produce small amounts of each record.  We are in fact a terrible label for a current working musician, but a great label for archival stuff.
I hope we don’t sound self righteous.  I am sure we have not done everything perfect and best – but we are trying very hard.
VC: Can you tell me about the founders of Mississippi CSR and those who are now part of the organization?   How did the organization and come together?  Can you share your personal journeys to Mississippi CSR?
MCSR: The CSR was started by Raff Spielman, at my request.  A few fans of the label asked me to do a subscription series so they could keep up on releases, and that sounded like an interesting idea.  I asked Raff to head the project and he agreed to do it as long as he was allowed to keep track of everything on paper instead of digitally.  He still does so to this day.  The CSR is just Raff working alone in our warehouse at all kinds of weird hours packing boxes and writing people.
VC: Where did the $68 – $300 range come from?  You accept up to $500 for international subscriptions?  Why the upper limits?
MCSR: The upper limit is set so that we do not become dept slaves to our subscribers!  The international rate is a bit higher because shipping can add up and those folks have a harder longer road to ride to get us paid.  We set the bottom at $68 because it is a mystical number and it also happened to be the amount it cost for our first shipment.
VC: Why the upper limit of 300 members?  Can you share what your membership is currently?
MCSR: We currently have around 175 – 200 members.  We set the limit at 300 so that, if we ever reached it, we could start making limited editions of 300 copies of things that are only available direct to subscribers (300 is the smallest amount of vinyl you can press without it getting prohibitively expensive)  Unfortunately, we have never hit the 300 membership mark so there has never been an exclusive subscription piece of vinyl. Members do get first crack at a lot of our more limited stuff, the cheapest price online, and free records here and there.  So – it’s still a killer deal.
VC: From your website (I guess I don’t really need to tell you that, do I?)  –
“Ultimately, it’s more political than anything else. We try to not  support industries that create nothing & do nothing but charge people to buy & sell.  We believe a cultural shift against the banking industry is a good idea & encourage all our customers to cut those monsters out of their lives as much as possible.  Beyond that, not using these “convenience services”  helps us keep costs low & helps us keep track of your money much easier.”
This probably covers everything you need to say, but is there any more to this sentiment?
MCSR: That’s more or less it.  Paying 3% to jackals just because we are too lazy to put a check in the mail is stupid.  $9 on a $300 charge is a lot of money for a little guy like us.  I could buy a really nice lunch for that!
VC: Can you tell me about the process of releasing an album from choosing what is released through mastering to creating the stampers, cover design and production, liner notes and extras to the actual pressing and distribution?  Who does what?
MCSR: I do the cover design with my friend Brian.  I also do the curating, production management, editing and contracts with artists.  We have a guy named Alex who does all our general distribution.  Raff runs the CSR. Tim Stollenwerk does all of our mastering.  The lacquers are cut by Adam Gonzales.  Cascade Pressing here in Portland presses the vinyl.   A to Z media produces most of our covers.  We are a VERY small operation with virtually no staff!  We do work with a lot of other small labels who share the work load.
VC: How and where do you find the artists and music that you are releasing and re-releasing?
MCSR: A lot of different ways.  Most of the time it is because they have released records we are aware of from the past that are no longer available.  We then go ahead and seek out the artists or their ancestors. Sometimes they or their families contact us. Sometimes random music head contact us with good ideas.
We work with a lot of co-releasers who do a lot of the heavy lifting too.  Right now we are working with Flippin’ Yeah records in Australia, who are scouring the outback for Aboriginal country musicians, Raw Music International who just went to Kenya to find all the remaining dry guitar players form the old school scene, Olivida records who are sleuthing on South African and Greek music endlessly, and Singasongfighter who just found some amazing music from Mali.  We are deeply dependent on our co-releasers for bringing time and energy to projects.
VC: Is this music available anywhere else?
MCSR: Sometimes – but usually not.  Some of it will have separate digital releases made available by the artists themselves or other companies.  Some of the records are just straight up re-issues of older releases that went out of print. (so you can find old expensive copies if your lucky)  Some of our blues compilations overlap heavily with labels like OJL and Yazoo.  We hope that most of the music on our releases gets to have a life outside of being put out by our podunk little company.  All the music we release is BIG TIME stuff that should be heard more widely.  We are just happy to get to do our little vinyl editions and hope they serve to propel the music to greater popularity bye and bye.
VC: I see Forced Exposure in MA carries many of Mississippi CSR releases – any special relationship between organizations?
MCSR: We’ve been distributed by them from the beginning of our label, around 14 years ago.  We are also distributed by Light in the Attic, City Hall, Japan Blues, Honest Jons, Clearspot, Revolver, Subteranian, Carrot Top, and a few other folks.  Our stuff is widely available!