Ghostly International: Choir of Voices

What’s Ghostly International? It’s hard to say. In fact, an all-encompassing definition is almost as difficult to pin down as its namesake. Accordingly, again and again Ghostly gets slapped with the basest of definitions: “record label.” And, honestly, considering the difficulty, if Ghostly—with its all-around inventiveness and hip, cleaner-than-clean sophistication—weren’t due more, we’d throw up our hands and stop with that title too.

Ghostly is a record label, yes. But it is an art gallery too. And a store. And a blog. And-with a twist-an all-around lifestyle brand. While other brands take an existent culture and intensify/romanticize it to fit their needs, Ghostly’s founder, Sam Valenti IV, had his way with the traditional electronic music scene. He sought out a fresh crop of electronic musicians; mixed bits of the genre’s traditional culture with a sleek, new vibe; enrolled his favorite visual artists to work on album covers—and, voila!—he made something else entirely.Ghostly is its own culture.  And if Valenti, the ruler and lifelong resident of Ghostly, conceived its unique vibe, props for helping its skyline rise must also go to early residents like hip-hop instrumentalist Dabrye, musical-genre-defying Matthew Dear, hard-edged visualist Will Calcutt, and mascoteer Michael Segal, as well as to the relative newcomers who help to keep it growing like the band members of The Chap, musical duo Daso& Pawas, and the prolific visual artist ISO50.

Valenti began Ghostly in 1999 when he was a 19-year-old Art History major at The University of Michigan. While the dorm-room birth of a musical and/or artistic venture may be a nightly event, it’s rare to see such a venture live beyond its third semester birthday. And, it’s rarer yet to see one garner accolades-as Ghostly has-from the likes of Rolling Stone, Billboard, and Entertainment Weekly. According to Valenti, the success and staying power of Ghostly (and its dance-music-inclined younger sister, Spectral Sound) are the result of an honest appraisal of his own talents, collaboration, and a sharp eye for all things underappreciated.

I’ve been trying to push myself and our team to brutalize ideas before they even make it to the discussion table.

“When you become honest with yourself about what you are good at and what you can achieve, a great weight is lifted. It’s not about aiming low; it’s about maximizing your reality,” Valenti says. “Trying to do it all takes away the potential for quality maximization of each element and eliminates the very essential part of collaboration.”“There is a distinct lack of collaboration in music these days,” Valenti believes. “I think when teams band together to align their abilities, everyone thrives. Perhaps it’s a throwback to a different time, but the ‘one man and a computer’ myth has been perpetuated long enough.” While collaboration is at the forefront of just about everything Ghostly does—Valenti calls Ghostly  “a choir of voices”— it is perhaps most present in brainstorming. “I’ve been trying to push myself and our team to brutalize ideas before they even make it to the discussion table,” Valenti says, “We have to ask ourselves: Are our ideas working towards our goals, and do they reflect who we are?”

“Everything inspires what we do, “ Valenti says. “I’d like to champion things that are beautiful, but perhaps overlooked or under-appreciated. Electronic music is one of them; illustration is another.” Unsurprisingly, the ability mine away common perceptions in the search for something valuable is a pre-requisite for joining the Ghostly team. Valenti says of the type of people he employs, “Creatives live on the edge of society, just far enough ahead to know what feels right tomorrow.”

And his advice for people with this gift, the words that might just help you build a floating country of your own? “Trust your gut, then ask others. If you still trust your gut, give it a go.”

More insights on: Collaboration, Meetings
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