Part 1

Name: Dagobert Böhm
Nationality: German
Occupation: Guitarist, Label Founder of Ozella Music
Current Release: Benny Lackner Trio: Drake on Ozella
Recommendations: I don’t read very much but one book comes to mind: Popular Music from Vittula by Mikael Niemi, a fantastic book, I never laughed so much. The moment when the band is starting with their first show – on the stage of their school auditorium is amazing. Fantastic! This is written so well – very funny, not only for musicians. I have to read it again.

Together with sculptor Werner Schlegel we realised the Wood’n’Vinyl series: Werner Schlegel is doing a wooden sculpture while listening to one of our vinyl releases. A very unique and inspiring project, much of the music you can find in the wooden sculptures. A dream came true: we could bring art and music together. 

Website / Contact: If you enjoyed this interview with Dagobert Böhm, visit the online platforms of his record label, Ozella – on facebook or the Ozella Music website.

When did you start with your own label - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

Everything started in 1999. The idea was to have a platform for my own music. I was a bit frustrated at the time: So many things went wrong with my first CD releases, the cover artwork was always a disaster, promotion was sometimes not so satisfying. Ah, this is long ago: 1999 … Think about it: this was 20 years ago, it's time to celebrate (laughs)! Before Ozella Music I had a shy start with releasing my first vinyl record SOUND OF WOOD on my own.

One story of the early days has stuck with me:

In the early eighties I was in touch with Warren Peace from Height Ashbury/San Francisco, he was a big fan of SOUND OF WOOD and did some PR and promotion work for me in the States. I had released this particular album by myself, and in a way you can, looking back, see this as a first step towards Ozella. One time Warren called me and told me that he was listening to my album in half speed and the result was incredible! Next time he wanted to connect me with NICO – he knew her from Velvet Underground, he worked as a tour manager with them and said “you would be an incredible duo” (laughs) Unfortunately I haven’t heard from him again and had the feeling that he died from an overdose, like so many in San Francisco at that time. I really have to listen to SOUND OF WOOD in half speed, as I never did. Time is running out, however, almost all vinyls have been sold. There are only ten copies left ...

My early influences were singer-songwriters and acoustic guitar music. I was electrified when listening to a Joni Mitchell album. I wondered: What is this wonderful and mysterious sound? It really drew me in. It was the bass of Jaco Pastorius that led me to jazz and opened up new worlds for me.

For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as a label curator and the transition towards your own approach? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?

Windham Hill, the label of Will Ackerman was an early inspiration for me. But Ozella went in a different direction. The label was essentially formed by the musicians I met. It was learning by doing. It's hard to imagine today, but I had no idea how to use a computer before I started with the label work in 1999. The work is a mix of office work, but also a lot of creative things. Production work in the studio, also listening to demos and productions can be very inspiring (to mention the positive side). No honestly: I’m getting mostly extremely good demos and productions, not a lot that I don’t want to listen to.

What were your main label-related challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?

I just remember the beginning. I had no distributors and sold the first 500 copies of CIRCLE AROUND quite fast, only via mailorder. Today we have distribution partners all around the globe. The digital thing has changed the business completely. In the beginning I thought downloads and streaming would be bad for us, would ruin our business. Back then, for online purposes, I would only release an EP with extracts from the albums I had released, never the full album. But streaming brings other opportunities and we were lucky to have a few tracks in big playlists. Suddenly you get a whole different picture. And anyhow, streaming is a good promotional tool, at least that's how I see it. You can reach many, many people that way.

How do you see the role of labels in the creative process? What is the scope and what are the limitations of what you are capable of doing?

Music has so many aspects, so many sides, so I think it can help a listener very much to get music that is a bit “filtered”. I simply choose music that I like to listen to. Sometimes I have to refuse music that is good, but doesn’t fit my personal taste. I don’t want to listen to it more than once. I think that can be one important aspect: to be a “filter”. Good label work, a great selection of musicians and fantastic music help you to become a “trademark”, and so you can be a help for the listener.

Whom do you feel your obligation to – the artists, the buyers, your own demands in terms of quality?

All these three: the artists need help to find their way to the music lovers. The music enthusiast needs help to find the diamonds in the rough. I discover great music, not every day, not every week, but here and then. And it is fun to release this for the music lovers around the globe.

What are the most important conclusions you've drawn from the changes in the music-, music-PR- and music-journalism landscape? How do they affect labels in general and your own take on running a label in particular? What role do social media play for your approach?

We of course use all sorts and areas of PR, as wide as possible. I am as yet unsure about the value of social media. Does it really help when you're getting thousands of likes or is it a masquerade? Sometimes I’m missing real results after our social media campaigns …

How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?

Technology plays a vital role when it comes to the sound of our releases – quite an important aspect for Ozella, since many listeners appreciate us precisely for the quality of the recordings we release. That said, technology can never replace the trained ear, experience and intuition of a great producer or mixing/mastering engineer.

Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives, including the artists on your label?

Our graphic designers for example have a lot of freedom in their work. But, over the years, we have developed a lay-out or frame with them that covers our aesthetics - our sense of jazz (laughs).

Can you take me through your process on the basis of a release that's particularly dear to you? How do you decide to release it, what did you start with, what sources did you draw from for all tasks related to it and how did the finished product gradually take shape?

Benny Lackner Trio – DRAKE
Benny sent me the full production, including all audio tracks – not mixed and mastered yet. The music immediately drew my attention. Great piano playing, cool electric bass and drums. And very clever electronics. This all created an incredible ambiance. When listening to it again over the next days I was very unsure, I had other things to do and almost forgot about this production. Then I listened again a few weeks later and again the music really grabbed me. Very strongly, in fact. Sometimes you need the perfect moment or the music needs the perfect day to reach the listener.

Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do the label and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?

I actually don’t have many routines. Sometimes I'll start the day with an Italian coffee, listening to a demo or submission, on another day I'll do some exercises and drink a big glass of water, or I have a proper breakfast and play the guitar … It would maybe be smart to do all of this every morning … but it looks like this isn’t possible for me (laughs). I try to do a walk every day, but this is later in the morning. In the Summer, I’m sometimes up very early, with the first birds, to treat myself to some raspberries from the garden, sometimes with a flash light, because it’s still dark (laughs).

There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?

No I can’t answer this, I wish I could. Creativity comes and goes, you can’t catch it. It can be triggered by something that touches your soul, a poem, a picture, music, morning light, wind in the trees, the stars in the sky ... I think you can’t plan it, there is no strategy… In general I can say, that nature gives me a lot of inspiration and creativity, being outside in nature, the wilderness, is doing a lot. What is good for the soul – is good for creativity.

There has been an exponential growth in promotion agencies and there is still a vast landscape for music magazines. What's your perspective on the music promo- and journalism-system? In how far is it influencing your choice of artists, in how far is it useful for potential buyers, in how far do you feel it is possibly undermining your work?

Yes difficult times for record labels are probably golden times for PR agencies (laughs). There is so much music on the market, but how to sell it, who will buy it? There are so many agencies, and sometimes it’s worth it to hire somebody for promoting the new releases. Simply to have more time for the creative work. But especially in the jazz business, it is possible to do this work yourself. It can be good to speak with the editors of the magazines here and then, this can give you new impulses for your work (and save you a lot of money (laughs)).