Matt Diamond of Coalmine Records Interview
Author: Adam Bernard
Hip-hop shows are notorious for starting late, so maybe it's apropos that
Coalmine Records, which has released albums by, among others, El Da Sensei
and Bekay, is celebrating its fifth anniversary in this, its sixth, year. "I
should have done it last year," Coalmine Records found Matt Diamond says,
"but truthfully I just didn't have nearly as many things going on." Now he
has a lot going on, including the just released Coalmine retrospective
compilation album Can You Dig It?. RapReviews caught up with Diamond to find
out more about Can You Dig It?, and all of his other projects, as well as
what went into the founding Coalmine Records, and how he's managed to make
it grow during a time when most labels are struggling to stay afloat.
Adam Bernard: You are celebrating the fifth anniversary of Coalmine
Records. Take everyone back to the conception of the label. How did Coalmine
Records come to be and who was originally involved? Was it just you and an
Matt Diamond: It was me and an idea. I was a big vinyl collector. At
the time I had lost a job, was collecting unemployment checks, had some
money saved up from working, and had always had the bug in me to put out a
record. I was one of those hip-hop DJs who was obsessed with owning a record
store. I was also one of those guys who was more into the song than the
album. I prescribe more to a record. I liked the record for what it was. It
could start and end there and that could be it. I could keep it movin. I
could go buy another record, and I could be happy. I always wanted to put
out a record, so I did. The first one was "The Raw," which featured Saigon,
Inspectah Deck and Bekay. What I thought would be just doing something to
get it out of my system became "hmm, maybe I could do another record." I did
another record. That was the Supernatural record. Then I just kept doing it.
When vinyl started to die it was just a bad business choice to continue to
put out vinyl, so I adapted to the whole digital strategy, got a label deal
with Orchard, and started doing a lot of records with M-Phazes. People
started coming to me because I had digital distribution, things started to
snowball, and I'm starting to feel like I'm a record label.
AB: Did you remember a specific moment where you felt comfortable
saying "we're a record label?"
MD: I think I started saying that close to the beginning. Even though
it was something I just wanted to get out of my system, I kind of had a
plan. I didn't know what was going to happen, or where it was going to go,
but I was coming out saying it because when you're making these one sheets
and you're giving them to all these distributors you have to have some sort
of identity, so I created that identity and I stuck with it. I wanted to be
a record label, but you can't call yourself an "aspiring record label," you
just have to be it, or not, so I was like I'll be it. The first time I
really felt like a label, I think you have to put an album out, so that was
probably putting Bekay's album out, because so much went into that album,
and there was so much behind the scenes work that went into that album. I
learned so much on every single angle, literally every part of the business,
from experience, to production, to manufacturing, to distribution, to
marketing, everything. I really started to get a strong grasp on what makes
a label a label. From there I felt confident enough to provide label
services for other people, I felt confident enough to put out a legend like
El Da Sensei's album. That was when I was like OK, I'm a record label.
AB: Have you had a moment where you were like "wow, HE wants to be on
MD: You know, I actually was involved with Torae's first album (Daily
Conversation), but Coalmine was just stamped on the back of the physical
CDs. He approached me and I was like OK, cool. Then once someone like El Da
Sensei, who is a legend to me, for him to throw his faith, not just
business-wise, but also in terms of what the label stands for, I was like
that's dope, I guess I'm doing the right thing. That type of respect is
enough to make you feel you're doing exactly what you want to be doing.
AB: I don't know what the statistics are, but most labels don't reach
the half decade mark. In honor of your reaching that mark you just released
the compilation album Can You Dig It?. Tell me about it.
MD: I wanted to put something together. This wasn't an album crafted
for an anniversary. I actually have another compilation that's been in the
works for a while, which is my pride and joy. This is more like let's get
something out there digitally that showcases the best of what we've done.
It's a good chance for people to get familiar with our catalogue. The next
compilation that we do have out is a big step up feature-wise. We have
Pharaohe Monch on there, Kweli, M.O.P., Heltah Skeltah, Artifacts, Kool G
Rap, Large Professor. Incredible production; M-Phazes, Krysis, !llmind. That
will be the mother of all Coalmine releases.
AB: Isn't it supposed to be a terrible time to have a record label?
All we hear is how they're all failing.
MD: Yeah, I would say most record labels haven't really adapted to
trends. What I see happening is that major labels don't have the potency
that they used to because artists that have a following are able to take
control over their own fan bases with social media, making it really hard
for labels to have that extra incentive to provide label services. On the
other hand, instead of having the indie label that you had five, ten,
fifteen years ago, you have teams. You have a talented artist, you have the
person who handles his media, you have the person who handles his booking,
and they're all homies, they're all cool with each other. They're a team and
they get things going strong enough regionally to build such a following
that they're able to start being on some sort of label's radar and the label
tries to make their regional movement national. That's where it seems where
the industry is at now and it has really chipped away at that whole middle
ground of the indie label. You don't see many of them. We do a lot of
digital, so we're building more of a digital catalogue. El Da Sensei's album
was the last full album we put out. The one before that that was Bekay's
album. We did a compilation with a German producer, Shuko, before that. We
have this new one, Can You Dig It?. The next full length release after that
is an M-Phazes project where he's remixing much of our catalogue and it's
gonna be mixed by DJ Rhettmatic. After that I've been doing a lot of stuff
with the Artifacts and I think it would be great to get an album out of
AB: What do you anticipate, or hope, the next five years will hold
MD: I want to build it up. I'm starting to finally get staff now. For
a while it's just been me, now it's like I need other people in the picture
here. My goal is to get an actual office, not do this out of my apartment
anymore. I want to get on a regular rotation, have a pipeline with at least
two full physical and digital releases per quarter and, in truth, I've
created a whole nother business model that Coalmine is just a part of now. I
created this parent company called Diamond Media 360 (it used to be named
Diamond Music Group). That is me offering label services to other artists.
Anything from online marketing, to radio promotions, to graphic design, to
digital distribution. That has taken on such a huge life of its own I'm
having the designers of OkayPlayer build this huge network for me which will
consist of an overhaul of the Coalmine site, a Diamond Media 360 site, and
then we're gonna have a web team called TakinMines. It'll be an online
editorial web team. It'll be label, marketing, and media.
AB: You have it all planned out.
MD: The hard thing is really just getting it off the ground, but I'm
excited. The way I stuck through that whole physical-digital shift in the
industry, I learned so much and I like to think I've adapted to those
AB: To close out this interview could you share one of those
important things you've learned?
MD: A song is no longer the centerpiece of an artist's cache, it's
all the other entities. It's their brand, it's their videos, their vlogs,
their walking dairies, it's all those things that comprise an artist and
they're all almost equally valuable. I think a song, and the music, is
taking a back seat to all these other factors of these artists creating
their own following and their own celebrity, if you will.
Be sure to visit Coalmine Records on the web at
and follow Matt on Twitter @coalminerecords.
Originally posted: May 3rd, 2011