Matt Wood is one of my favorite people in the world of Ripple and also the first person who we are profiling in what we hope is an ongoing series where we talk to some of the badasses who make this label run. Matt is not only a ‘master box folder’ but he has rapidly embraced a variety of roles in the business. He is relentlessly dedicated and largely self taught, but a huge part of how the label has been able to grow over the last few years. Friendly, smart and always willing to help, we couldn’t do it without our friend affectionately nicknamed Sludge.
How did you first get involved in Ripple?
I was a fan of the label already for some time and had friended Todd on Facebook through the “Hard Rock Revolution” group of music lovers. One day I saw a photo he had posted of Pope packing up a box with a caption about it just being 2 dudes that run the label. I work only about 30-45 minutes from where they work out of in San Ramon, so I messaged Todd about offering another set of hands to, at the least, fold boxes, and expressed my interest in soaking up knowledge of how a label operates and how it all happens behind the scenes. I've been a bedroom musician since I was in my early teens and a heavy music fan since before that; and the thought of being involved in music, even just peripherally, piqued my interest. I didn't expect any sort of response from Todd, but he got back to me pretty promptly and was more than happy to have me join them the next shipping session. I know Todd expected me to be there that one night and never come back again, but they've now been stuck with me for about 2 and a half years.
What kind of stuff do you get to do with the label?
The first thing I did was fold boxes. And then fold more. And more. I've become something of a master box-folder, at least when it comes to the standard Whiplash mailers we use... Once I had been around for a little while and got to know Todd better, I pushed more and more about how I could help him. He's a busy guy in his day job and trying to do the brunt of the Ripple work, and that's a full job in and of itself with the amount of releases they've been doing. Now I've become a bit more involved with stuff, like managing the Ripple Spotify channel and the monthly playlists that we've been doing the past year or so; I manage our YouTube channel and do some other social media related things. Todd and I are the ones that put together the zines that we've done – albeit we are VERY behind on that right now. I'm always listening to new music and funneling stuff to Todd and Pope that I think they might enjoy and be interested in signing.
I think my favorite aspect of being involved with Ripple, in general, is the people I've met and connected with through it. Todd and Pope have both become great friends to me – they mean more to me than they know. Todd's wife, Corinne; Pope's soon-to-be-wife, Jodi; every single one of the musicians on our roster that I've met and chatted with and become friends with over time – the family aspect of it all is food for my soul. Aaaaaand, getting records in return for packing boxes and the other miscellaneous stuff I do is one of the cooler aspects of it all, too.
What are some things you have learned while doing this job?
I've learned a bit about the process of submitting files for LP/CD production; I've learned all about how SKU codes are generated and handled and why having the correct SKU on the correct product is a smart practice! I've learned quite a bit about PR, and the importance of pushing a band/album in the lead-up to a release. I've learned that the real money in the music industry comes from sync placements in TV Shows/Films/Ads and the like – and that Music Supervisors don't give a shiiiiiit about your band or label unless they already do or they have someone close to them that says they should. As a typically heavy label, our bands and their songs are likely to get ignored without any consideration at all, and most Music Supervisors don't have time to go through their emails or even seek out something that's not already familiar to them. That's beyond frustrating. I think the biggest thing I've learned, though, is that it takes more than just a band of solid musicians and a good album to make yourself known. In this heavily saturated music world, with listeners having access to all the music they could want - and then some - you really have to have something special to get fans, and even on top of that, it takes a good team behind a killer band to make it all a success.
How did previous life experience inform your work with the label?
Other than a love of music, I came to the label with no real applicable skills that would've been worthwhile to them. Fortunately, I have fostered an attitude the past decade or so of diving head first in to what interests me. So from the moment I got involved with Ripple, I was always hungry for more knowledge and more responsibility, and I've tried to do whatever I can to make other peoples jobs easier.
You make a three hour round trip every week to pack boxes, why?
To put it simply, it's fun. The driving doesn't bother me – it takes me 35 minutes to get to Ripple HQ from where I work, and then in the evening it only takes about 70 minutes to get home – so it's nothing crazy. But it is fun. We've only livestreamed our shipping sessions a small handful of times, but if you've seen any of them you know we're having fun. We usually have a few shots of Bourbon and listen to music while packing orders, and we just get to hang out for a couple of hours. It's truly not something I consider work – it's being with friends, while at the same time making people happy via the delivery of riffs. Pure enjoyment!
I'm sure it happens in other non-mainstream genres/scenes, but the camaraderie that I've observed and felt throughout this scene is truly amazing and inspiring. Bands supporting other bands in real meaningful ways, pushing each other towards success and not acting like petty children who get butthurt when an opportunity is given to someone else. I routinely see tons of members of bands at shows that they aren't playing at, who are there to watch and support the other bands even if they aren't label mates, or haven't been friends for years. If people acted that way in real life and supported their fellow humans instead of shitting all over each other, the world would be a much better place.
What do you think separates Ripple from other labels?
I don't know how most other labels operate, so I can't speak like I'm an expert. And I think most small labels like Ripple are just trying to find what works for them, in terms of sustaining their business. However, I have seen quite a few labels do things that irk me as a customer/fan, and I try to alert Todd to those things so that Ripple doesn't make the same mistakes. I personally don't like pre-orders going up before product is in hand, or at least before they can be accurately represented to the customer. I've made many purchases based on “mock-ups” of what a colored vinyl will look like, only to be burned when it's received and looks nothing like intended.
I also think you need to make damn sure you can live up to your word – and I know Todd is a firm believer in following through on what he says – so if you tell something to someone, whether band or fan, stick to it. You lose all credibility the moment you stop delivering on your promises. And you sure as hell don't want your customers to start doubting you. If you fuck up on an order, make it right and then some.
I think Ripple also tries to help out their bands as much as possible, whether it comes to PR, worldwide distribution deals or hooking up bands to help each other with tour stops. We've got a pretty capable roster that can all help support each other grow and further develop their fanbase, and I think some labels lose sight of that. Some labels just seem like they want to be involved with the products, but not actually with the bands. They want to press 300 records, sell them and be done. Ripple wants their artists to grow with the label, and vice versa. We want nothing but success for our bands, even if it eventually means they leave to a bigger label.
Where do you see the label going and where do you see yourself going within the label?
That's a good question. I think the next year or so could bring some big hype to Ripple. We've already had some big releases this year, along with our first official SXSW Showcase. With some of the releases lined up for later this year and some of the things in the works for 2019, I'm hoping to see a lot more people take notice of what Ripple is doing. In terms of myself within the label, I'm more than happy to help wherever it's needed. I'd love to get more involved with booking shows, as that's been on my sights for a while, I just haven't yet taken the first step into that realm.
What is your favorite Ripple related memory?
There's been a ton of great shows and other Ripple events since I've been around, but I don't think any of them compare to the fun of SXSW this past March. Specifically Wo Fat's set during the Official Ripple Showcase at Valhalla in Austin. I've been a huge Wo Fat fan since I first came across them in 2010 or so, and I've never had the opportunity to see them live. That finally came true in March, as I drunkenly headbanged for the entire set whilst standing next to John and Debbie Juett (Father and Mother of the Mothership Juett boys, clearly). But really, that entire week was chock full of fun times and good stuff to look back on. I look forward to making even more memories like that with the whole Ripple family in the future.