The story of Bedroom Community is one that began in search of a home.

After setting up his own studio, Greenhouse Studios, in Iceland in 1997 and years of working with other artists (Björk, Feist, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy to name but few) in the studio in producing, composing, mixing, engineering and mastering, Valgeir Sigurðsson decided it was time to work on his own album.

When it came to the practicalities of releasing his own record, as well as Nico Muhly's debut and Ben Frost's Theory of Machines whom he was working on at the time, he was recognized that a label did not exist for the style and quality of the music they were making. The three were tired of the way classical and ambient music was being framed and sold to music listeners, typically enclosed in glass at the back of a record store. Together with Muhly and Frost, Valgeir undertook the mission of setting up his own label which would provide a space for classical music to be created and a platform for it to reach listeners.

Bedroom Community was set up in 2005. Valgeir built the label's foundation on the belief that musicians with classical interests should be heard in the same way people greet indie or electronic artists. The disregard for music labelling led to the release of the label's first three records (Nico Muhly's Speaks Volumes, Ben Frost's Theory of Machines, Sigurðsson's Ekvílíbrium) which made a clear statement of the label's approach. They set out to create a community of people with a connection musically and appreciate music in the same way.

In the ten years since, the label has accomplished their goal and gone from strength to strength. Bedroom Community has released albums by Sam Amidon, Daníel Bjarnason and continued to be an outlet for Muhly, Frost and Sigurðsson's own material. Recently, they signed and released new records by Emily Hall and Jodie Landau and wild Up.

One of the milestones of the label was The Whale Watching Tour in 2010, which brought its artists together on a special collaborative tour, as a way of performing the music and introducing new artists. To mark the 10th anniversary, Bedroom Community are now performing a new series of The Whale Watching Tour. Andrew Darley talked to Valgeir about how the label has grown and the service it provides in nurturing and encouraging the artists he works with.


Going back to the very beginning, why did you decide to set up your own label?

It's in my nature to think about things and then just do them. It grew out of me wanting to, first of all, put more focus on my music and then create a little community of people who I wanted to work with on their own projects. I was working with Nico Muhly and Ben Frost separately on their records at the time and they felt that their music also needed a similar platform that I was looking for myself. I threw myself in the deep end making these records with them which were quite different musically but also had a strong connection too.

I wanted to follow them through in a different way from how I had in the past where I was involved in the making and then they're released and that's the end. With Nico and Ben, I felt there could be an ongoing future exchange. Originally Bedroom Community was an outlet for these projects. It has over the years and quite quickly become the focal point of what I do.

Was it liberating as a musician to create and release these records on your own terms?

When I considered finishing my own album that I was working on, which I kept putting on hold because other exciting projects came along, the label gave me the kick in the ass I needed to finish it. It was liberating to get it out. I didn't want to shop it around to labels because it was daunting thinking about making that kind of relationship. Nico and Ben strongly encouraged me to set this up as well as other people I was working with. Of course, I had no idea of the amount of work that goes into setting up a label. We finished those three records and spent the next six months not making any music - the focus became setting up, learning about manufacturing, distribution, formats and promotion.

At that time it was still quite new to set up your own label whereas nowadays it's more common and accessible to do it.

You're right and even though it's only been ten years, music distribution has changed quite a lot. You can release music very easily now but setting up something meaningful is different. Bedroom Community wouldn't really exist without the Internet because we're all based in different cities and we do a lot of collaboration through it. Now it's easier with the likes of Bandcamp which came along just after we started and is now a very solid platform if you want to be your own label but back then nothing like that existed.

Figuring out how to do an online store was a bit of a mess but also meant we had to learn the old system which is still important to us. There is still physical manufacturing and increasing demand for vinyl so it's gone full circle. Four years ago I was saying that we were almost thankfully seeing the end of the physical product - I say that in terms of taking care of stock, manufacturing, and shipping which is such a pain. I was hoping we'd become a carbon-free, environment-friendly label not sending plastic back and forth but now the physical is back in a big way.

For you personally, has it been a challenge balancing between the actual making music and the business of the label?

Constantly. At the beginning, I was running things as much as I could myself which became impossible because I wasn't spending enough time in the studio making music. Now I have a label manager and people in the office so I can stay in the studio. I oversee everything that we put out but I don't do the day-to-day running of the label. It's quite a lot of things to think about. Our artists start with Bedroom Community as the centre of their creativity but gradually they grow up and they do their own things and may work with other labels. It was important to do all the digging in the beginning to know where all the pipes are in the house.

Since the music that you, Ben and Nico were making was quite different, was there much thought put into how you would reach an audience you believed would want to hear it?

We thought about this quite a lot and Nico had a very strong opinion about it. The way classical music was being released was very old-fashioned to him and us. Classical music was always found in an enclosure in music shops which was separate to all the others. We felt as people and music lovers it could reach listeners who would like it but wouldn't hear it because of the glass enclosure. We completely ignored the labels that were going on and decided to present it in the way you would with electronic or indie music. There was a shift going on too with iTunes in how people were listening using shuffle and to playlists that wouldn't be very obvious in the past. People were opening up to hearing classical music right next to electronic music and realizing there wasn't a world of difference.

Bedroom Community needed to be like a gallery with a curator - you go because you like the gallery and you'll discover other things you wouldn't seek out otherwise or think you'd like. You discover them because you appreciate the editorial taste behind it. You may be more willing to take the risk with people you trust because they brought you something you really liked in the past. I think that's one of the most important things for labels today is to be an editor because there is so much music out there.

When you've brought people onto the label, has there been a certain quality you've looked for?

Not really. There isn't a list with boxes to tick. It's more based on feeling. I need to feel I connect with the music and can take it somewhere, either in production or collaboration. It also has to be something we want to present under Bedroom Community as this gallery of things we like. It's about liking the music and getting on with the people. It's grown organically like that. We get sent a lot of demos and they sound almost finished and could fit what we do but if there's no connection I find it hard to release because we're not that type of label that just picks up great music - we want to be involved in building it from the ground up.

With the 10th anniversary, did it immediately feel appropriate to do another Whale Watching tour to celebrate?

Yes, and going back to your earlier question of how people discover our music, the first Whale Watching Tour in 2009/10 we learned that a lot of people came to the shows because they knew one of the artists. Someone who knew Sam Amidon's music then became the biggest Ben Frost fan. It was super rewarding to see that happen because it was my vision in the first place to surprise people in a good way. I see this Whale Watching Tour as a way of bringing in the newer artists. When we were booking these shows, people were asking for the old line-up but back then they'd didn't know who they were getting then. This time, it will be new people again and it will be just as good. I don't want to play it safe again - the whole point is to mix it up. It's like a little family but we're also rotating the cast.

What do you consider to be the milestones of the label?

Putting those first three records was a big statement to make and we had the ability to follow through on it. Also, the Whale Watching Tour did feel like a milestone or a moment things exploded outwards for us. A lot of people learned about the label and a lot of opportunities were created as a result for everyone involved. It was like a ripple effect. Every release is important to see what it does. Sometimes it happens the way we hoped and sometimes it doesn't. We expect things to take time. We never release a record thinking it will explode and go straight into the charts. It's always been a gradual build. For example, Ben's By The Throat album came out in 2009 but it was being picked up by every car commercial, or whatever, in 2012 so it took them three years to get it. I feel that's much healthier in a way.

That's great because music publications have end-of-year lists but it could be a few years before individuals hear something, but it's still as important no matter what time they discover it. It's about establishing a long relationship with an artist or an album rather than just listening to a record for a year and then forgetting about.

Exactly. I've always had a hard time with lead time for releases and press timeframes. I believe in putting the music out and people will start discovering it. You can have a review of an album six months after it's released and it's fine. It's as new to you when you listen to it as it is when it comes out. If you hear an album six months later, that's fine. The tradition of distribution and getting stock in stores means you have to build excitement which feels a little backward for me. Sometimes a record doesn't deliver the excitement you promise. I have an issue with the record release timeline someone decided 25 years ago that is still the way we release music.

Regarding your own material, are you working on anything at the moment?

I'm just finishing a new album which will be out in early 2017. It's been four years since I released my last album and since then I've done a bit of work with orchestras and mixing electronics. The album is called Dissonance and it blends those two worlds. It's based on three big pieces. It's an important record for me. I've exploded the scale with this one.

Going forward with the label, do you have anything particular ambitions?

Having come this far in ten years with 25 releases, I guess the ambition is to keep things growing in an organic way and providing the service to the artist that they think they need. I don't think we need to do much more or differently but the aim is to keep and increase the quality of what we do. The idea was never to become a big label, it was to be a quality boutique you could have assurance of some sort of quality. We also want to surprise people and ourselves. However, if we sell a million records doing it, that's fine but it's not the ambition!

More information on Bedroom Community and all their releases can be found here and tour dates for The Whale Watching Tour can be found here. Part 2 of the Bedroom Community 10th Anniversary Feature will be published next, which is an interview with composer Nico Muhly.