I run an underground metal label AMA!
I've run a small UK based independent record label for nearly a year now. We focus on underground metal, and have 5 releases out so far. People always seem interested in the day-to-day running of a label, and bands are always asking for advice, so I figured why not do an AMA (which will also help me work out this Reddit thing)!
Edit 1 - Thanks guys, keep the questions coming, I'll answer them as long as you're asking! And to the gentleman who emailed me regarding US shipping, my replies are failing for some reason, please email me directly - contact [at] ultharrecords [dot] com!
Edit 2 - Well, this seems to be winding down now! Thanks Reddit, it's been fun. I don't care what 4Chan says, you're allllllllllright! I'll continue to answer any questions that come in, so if you think of anything else post away!
Eternal thanks to whoever gifted me with Gold!
If you want to keep in touch, details below!
www.ultharrecords.com www.soundcloud.com/ultharrecords www.facebook.com/ultharrecords www.twitter.com/ultharrecords
Once you downtune past Drop A.
What points needs to be covered before considering signing a band?
How do you bankroll the operation, being such a small company?
What band would you love to sign?
My only criteria for signing a band is 'Do I love the music?'. If the answer is no, then I'm not the right person for them to work with.
I've funded it all myself so far, through savings, student loans and my part time job.
Urgh! That's a tough question........ Let me get back to you.......
What did you go to college for? Business?
I'm currently writing my dissertation for my Masters in Evolutionary Ecology.
Trve kvlt metal. Brvtal
thank mr skeltal
Is that Cynic's class?
+1 to you sir.
How do you cope with all your music sounding really muffled (since you're underground and all that)?
Play it very, very loud.
All men play on ten after all.
Never gonna' turn down again.
I browsed your site and noticed some cassettes up for sale. As a definite "alternative" format for music these days, how much of an undertaking is a pressing of cassettes? What do you think the appeal of a cassette pressing actually is, versus a vinyl pressing?
Pressing cassettes is so much easier than vinyl, and much cheaper.
The appeal of a cassette is different for everyone, some people still do have cassette decks (like me!) and will listen to cassettes, other have them as physical talismans to go along with their digital download. It feels better charging someone £4 for a cassette + DD than just DD alone.
As someone who didn't really listened to casetes ( due to age 21) isn't the sound way worse then vinyl ( wich in my ears is the best sounding)
The other answers are spot on, but I'll add that the primary downside to cassettes, or any magnetic media, is it has a very short lifespan. The two most common (cassette and VHS) have a shelf-life of barely 10 years, even under optimal conditions. Digital media (CDs/DVDs) deteriorates fairly quickly as well, but will last a good deal longer than magnetic. This is the natural deterioration of the media, there really isn't anything that can be done to fully prevent it.
Analog is the best option, not just for quality of the audio, but for long term storage as well. A vinyl record, kept in optimal conditions, will last much longer than both magnetic and digital media. In short, a vinyl record will remain closest to its original state for far longer than cassettes or CDs. This is why we're still able to listen to cylinder recordings nearly 100 years after the format became obsolete. These cassettes and CDs won't be usable in that kind of time frame.
Source; I'm an audiovisual archivist.
Who wants to live forever?
Good cassettes sound just as good as CDs to normal listeners. Always get test cassettes done!
How much weight do you place on the production of records? As an engineer - I've mastered a few records that are more about the songs than the recording. Do you want the label to have a 'sound'?
Not so much a 'label sound'. The production should fit the band very much so. With our last release by 'Exxxekutioner', we really wanted it to sound like an old 80's demo, so we mic'd up a rehearsal room and recorded it live. But if the music needs something more professional, it's off to the studio.
The mix and master is so, so important to the record. Countless times great bands with great songs have been marred by sloppy production.
Do you have a mastering house, or do you do it in house? (Question - not fishing!)
It all depends on the release! I do have a few guys I go to, but it depends on the band.
that was your label who cut that? nice! i saw them in Terrorizer and checked them out
Ha! Proof that people still buy metal mags!
What does a record label actually do? In what way is a label more powerful/useful to musicians than a manager?
In the context of the bands I work with, record labels press the physical copies, market the release, and distribute it. We also help them with merch, recording, etc.
It is extremely rare for underground bands to have managers, but I suppose that labels do fill that void somewhat.
What do you do in the way of promotion? Do you send your bands on tour? I actually have a million question to ask you...
Bands generally will tour off their own back, it's their natural habitat after all!
I do book them gigs, and I will be booking a label tour next year.
how do you discover new bands? if you hear someone unsigned you like do you try to contact them?
Generally yes. I go to a lot of shows, usually find new bands by being introduced or seeing them live.
What i've read so far is that you mostly recruit bands while on live gigs, listening to their stuff. But what if a band wants to be signed by you. What would you expect from a band proposing their material to you, beside the fact that you actually have to like the music? Do they need to have a strong concept, do they have to have finished artwork, do they need to present their work in an exciting unseen way? I'm in a band and we're on the edge of finishing our first EP, thinking about proposing it to labels. And i'm wondering what would make the most impact. I'm all for "let the music speak" and just give them a CD with very basic artwork and a name on it. My bandmates don't like this idea.
Depends what type of band you are really - link it!
We're doing some Post-Punk stuff. But not much to link to but some rehearsal recordings right now. We're hitting the Studio in January. I'm more asking hypothetically right now. Like, would a band with a finished concept, already done artwork and merch ideas have a better standing to get signed by a label? Or is it better to be a "blank piece of paper"? Basically speaking, how much influence do you want to have on the bands you sign?
I don't care how much of a fanbase they already have, if they're good, they're getting released. Not all labels are like this however.
Finished products are good, but I also like to have a hand in that, it really depends on the label.
What are your thoughts on vinyl?
It is undoubtedly the best format. We started as vinyl only, before branching out to tapes and CDs. Personally, I don't see the point in CDs with digital about, but they sell very well at live shows.
Cool. If I may ask, who presses your vinyl?
GZ Media, brokered through xVinylx
I wish you had just went with "The Forgotten One"
He does the tapes!
Great to hear you state this. We are quickly moving to a future where the formats are vinyl and DD as a standard. That's the way it should be. Vinyl for sound quality and digital for convenience (and for those who can't stomach surface noise).
You're speaking my language there friend.
In terms of digital formats, what is your opinion on FLAC?
FLAC for archive and home listening, V0 for portable. Any artist that doesn't offer FLAC as a format for their album is wrong.
Where did your funding for start-up come from? Investors? Personal savings?
Personal savings and wages yeah. No investors, no masters!
do you think you'll be able to live off the profits from the company? I know this sort of music is very niche but there is always a market, a la the success of Earache etc
It's unlikely, but by Yog I'll try!
I imagine he runs the label purely for the love of it. Breaking even or a very marginal profit is a plus.
The plus isn't the money per se, it's the ability to put more releases out!
Is it even worth it these days to manufacture physical releases?
I don't usually think about what other people want. It's mainly things that I want physical copies of.
I think digital and physical can exist alongside each other. I love digital, we're one of the few UG labels that puts all their releases up on iTunes, Spotify etc. In my opinion, music should be accessible in as many formats as possible.
How did you make the connections in order to push the material out better than the bands you've signed if they acted independently?
By being in bands/being around people in bands for years, and by sheer cheek. Don't be afraid to just contact people out of the blue, if you're nice people will generally help you out.
What are some your favorite metal bands in the more mainstream category? Also, what bands would you suggest for somebody just getting into the underground scene?
Whoa! What a question. Erm, define mainstream.
I would suggest going on some label bandcamp pages and just trying a few out! It really depends on what you like generally.
That said, one of my favorite new UG tracks is this - https://soundcloud.com/triangulumignis/gzekhratus-crypts-of-grime-and-lust
I suppose "mainstream" as in bands that are owned by a bigger label and are highly recognized.
Not necessarily something media-catered i.e: Slayer or Metallica, maybe something like, for example... Emperor, Anaal Nathrakh, Carach Angren, etc.
So to rephrase my question: Do you regularly listen to bands who are considered to be more outside the sphere of underground metal?
Really digging that soundcloud link you sent me, by the way!
Oh yeah, I love Emperor, early Slayer, first 3 Metallica albums!
Emperor is incredible. What would you say your favorite album of theirs is?
Anthems, closely followed by Nightside.
I'm guessing that you aren't a huge fan of ...And Justice, then? :P I always thought that (aside from mixing), it was up there as a solid album with the first three until The Black Album came around.
Yeah I like Justice well enough, but it's not to the same calibre of the first three. I have zero interest in anything past it however.
What do you think of people insulting some subgenres of metal because it isn't 'Brutal' or 'Heavy' enough? It seems that there is more elitism within metal than inter-genre music as a whole IMO.
It's just that, Elitism. If you only like one type of music, fair enough, but don't criticize other people's taste!
Did anyone else read this as "I run an underground meth lab AMA!"?
That's my other business.
Fellow underground label checking in.
Wanna do some distro trade sometime? Ha
When it comes to doom, how slow is too slow?
Anything less than one riff per millenium.
Where were you when I was writing my dissertation last year?!? Haha.
I'll ask you the same question I asked my other interviewees then.
What motivated you to start a label in the first place?
The answer to that is a band - Ninkharsag. In my opinion, one of the finest Black Metal bands to ever come out of the UK. They had some tracks for an album that were lying about, and I asked if I could put a 7" out for them. I didn't plan on starting a label, it was an impulse really, and it's just continued from there.
Seen Ninkharsag a couple of times now (supporting Conan and Cauldron). Really impressed with them.
Ha! You will have paid me yer gold on the door then squire!
Underground metal label you say, so you run an ore label?
Well, if we're getting technical...
I feel that we reached peak-Doom a year or so ago. Certainly Occult Rock along in the Ghost vein has peaked, with not many quality new bands coming through.
"Peak-Doom", I like that. What do you see as the next sort of wave? Seems like blackened hardcore, like punked-out Deathspell Omega, is starting to pick up.
Black Thrash revival will be the next big thing probably, and more Neo-folk.
I'm all down for that. Skeletonwitch is getting pretty huge, and rightly so.
One of my bands supported them the other night!
Do you feel threatened by the rising tendency for bands to promote their own music on bandcamp, etc, and ask a "pay what you want" fee?
No not at all. Bandcamps great! I use it myself, and lots of my bands do. Whatever gets the music out there.
Would/do you use Reddit as a source of hype/advertising for your bands?
Not currently no. I personally don't think it's possible to manufacture hype - it either happens or it doesn't. I did post a few tracks on /r/metal a few weeks back, but I'm not sure how well they did.
I think hype can be manufactured, but not by small labels. You'll need acces to mainstream television, and that is basically impossible for most genres.
I always make the distinction between music lovers and music consumers. Consumers will be happy with what they're presented with and will just as easily switch to the next 'flavor of the day'.
Music lovers will want to know more about bands and styles/genres and will make an effort to find new music. Small labels are usually run by people who are music lovers first and business people second. :-)
What are the perks of running a label underground? I assume it has something to do with the metal you mentioned?
When bands thank you for helping them, that's a good feel.
Do you only sign local bands, or is it international?
I've only done UK bands up until now, but I'd certainly release something no matter the bands location.
What do you think about electronic music?
I love it. Excited for Syro.
What type of long term goal do you want in a band when you sign them...as in- Are you always on the lookout for the next... Slayer, Lamb Of God, Dimmu Borgir, or Arch Enemy? (regarding domestic/international success, radio play, or cult following)
I just hope that as many people get to hear the music as possible, and they get to play some good shows. I would like all my bands to be as successful as possible. I run an underground label, but that's not to say I think bands should stay there at all costs.
so you would be pretty happy if you were the reason one of your bands got signed to Sumerian or Metal Blade? they seem like some of the bigger metal labels right now.
Sure! Who doesn't like to see bands doing well!
Why are Neuroma your favourite Liverpudlian death metal band?
Because Carcass arn't really from Liverpool.
What do you make of the demise of some of the recent festivals? The likes of Foad Fest and 'Kin Hell Fest. Alt Fest is a different kettle of fish.
Damnation seems to be the only indoor festival that's really standing its ground. Temples looks like it may be here to stay but you can't properly judge it on one year.
It's a shame, but people need to be realistic when it comes to festivals. The UK market is near saturation point, and people can only afford so many tickets.
Promoters really, really need to think about the bills they are putting on, and whether or not you can seriously attract people enough to make money.
Burn any churches lately?
For the purposes of this question, I'll limit it to Metal.
Mercyful Fate - Come to the Sabbath, Dissection - Where Dead Angels Lie, Bathory - A Fine Day to Die, Black Sabbath - Walpurgis.
That's off the top of my head!
Okay this might sound dumb, but what exactly is an "underground" club/band whatever? I mean you're here on the internet advertising. Anyone who wants to come see you can openly come visit you and post pics on FB or whatever. Right?
I thought if you're a gay boy band in Iran you'd want to be "underground", but I don't get the concept of one in any of the western countries.
Please dispel my ignorance.
Wikipedia will explain better than me -http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Underground_music
If you're Liverpool based, would it be ignorant of me to assume that you'd know the Neuroma lads?
I don't know them personally no, but they're friends of friends!
LORD OF THE DEEEEEEP
I haven't kept up with metal in some time. What are some of the highlights of the past 6-ish years?
Erm, everything on my label. That's about it.
do you actually profit from it?
Define profit haha.
I will eventually make a modest profit on each release yes.
Thanks for doing this AMA. I've been thinking about starting a label. How do you go about licensing music? How are the bands you sign paid?
Just speak to the bands! They're paid in copies of the pressing.
jealous. Always wanted to do this.
How much support do you provide to bands outside the idea of the physical album itself? I guess I'm trying to figure out how much overlap there might be with managing, or if at that level there if anything like that even happens.
what's been the biggest challenge? How often you do end up more than breaking even?
I provide quite a bit of support to the bands yeah, and I suppose you could say I do fill the manager role too.
Biggest challenge is money, isn't it always?
Over the medium term, I will sell out of all my releases and make profit.
I've heard it said that you only need 1000 dedicated fans to make a full-time living from music. What do you think?
Not possible as just a band. If you're business minded, you can make a living in the industry I suppose, but you have to be really lucky to make money from music.
Doom - lots of appeal outside the metal scene.
Do you have any qualms about signing musicians that are purely digital (e.g. not a real band, but all the instruments are synthesized or sampled)?
Nope, dungeon synth all the way!
I'm not, but The Lords of Metal Archives are your friend - http://www.metal-archives.com/bands/Ea/84048
If you started again, what would you do differently?
Erm, I wouldn't be so generous with giving out copies to bands. In the long run, it's better for the bands if the label makes money so you can invest in advertising.
How many do you consider generous?
Anything more than 15% of the copies is generous, depending on the format.
Wow really? That seems incredibly low to me. Do you also pay a royalty rate? I mean, 15% of the copies would be a 15% royalty rate, which is much lower than the 50% that most indie labels pay (though closer to the 13% major labels used to pay). I know in small punk labels in the US it's customary for the label to pay the band with around 50% of the first print and then give them cost on any further copies (of course if a band is selling a good few records they'll expect a royalty too but who sells that many records any more on an indie).
If you can find me a way to keep costs low enough to give that many copies and still break even, you'll be my new best friend. I don't know if that 15% of copies = 15% royalty works out if you take into account all of the costs involved.
on average how many records do your bands sale per album?
Hmm, I'm not sure how relevant figures such as that would be. We're talking small pressings of 300-1000 here that will eventually all sell out, so I suppose the answer to that question is 100%!
any observations in the uk metal scene versus the us?
From what I've seen, they're very similar. It's much harder for Black Metal bands in particular to get noticed in the UK though. USBM seems to have redeemed itself in the eyes of many over the last few years, hopefully the UK can do the same!
one annoying thing about usbm is that its mostly hipster shit from cool areas like portland or brooklyn. id like to see more underground stuff come out
I can understand the sentiment yes. The reason you hear more about those bands is naturally because there are more people in that area to see them and disseminate information about them.
Lesser known bands are out there, but you have to really look for it! If you've not already, check out releases from labels such as Nuclear War Now, Hell's Headbangers & The Ajna Offensive.
How do you choose which support to put out the music on (Cd, Tapes, LP ...)? Is it a pure sound quality factor? A product experience factor ? Or just a general feel factor ?
It's a bit of all three. Generally, I will always go for vinyl, but with my latest release, I thought cassette would fit their aesthetic better.
How do bands get signed up to record labels and what does it involve? I'm in band and we're looking to start recording some stuff, any advice where to start?
Record a demo first, and then speak to labels that put out the music you like! Get some great photos done too.
Is it as hard as rock?
Just as hard, but much heavier.
I live in a city with few record labels in general, and none that cater to the indie electronic scene. I've often had the idea to begin a label, but wasn't exactly sure where to even begin. Do you have any good advice there, or any good resources for folks looking to get started?
Just do it. Don't think about it or you'll never do it.
One important thing - KEEP A SEPARATE BANK ACCOUNT! It makes it so much easier to keep things straight.
Do you feel like black metal is the black metal of black metal?
Oh very much so.
What genre of metal do you cater to?
Black, Doom, Death and Thrash so far, but really it's whatever I like.
Ever heard of With Wolves? Not my style but it's a friend band that I'd like to shamelessly plug. I know the drummer and he is very passionate about music. You can find some of their music on YouTube.
I'll check them out, cheers!
Why do you think the Rock/Metal genre has declined so much over the years? I'm certain there is plenty of new talents out there worth getting signed, but why is it that labels don't look for these bands anymore? I'm sure people would love them or else classic 70's/80's/90's rock bands wouldn't still be in everyone's mouths.
Tastes change. The advent of the internet means that people have broader music tastes than they once did. The good thing about this is that many smaller bands/labels have the chance to build fan bases, but unfortunately will probably never rise to 80s/90s levels of popularity.
Though it's declined in popularity probably, the quality is still there.
What are some tips for bands to get their music out there aside from the obvious. Any specific marketing tips that a young band can use?
Write great songs, but most important to get noticed is image. Make sure you have a coherent, consistent image. People will see you before they hear you.
Cool! I just started my own recently, focusing on tapes due to cost efficiency, but I do have a question: how did you cope with/get around the first few release slumps? I did a tape with a friend as our first release and have just sat on most of them (which is fine, I did it for fun), but now I'm just hesitant to put much more out even though I'm pretty confident in the music of the people in working with.
Also, any suggestions for blogs to send new releases to? I'm not so good with the PR portion.
Answer to both questions is get a PR guy, people can't buy what they don't know about!
To what sound/subgenres are you most attracted?
Personal favorite metal genre is Black Metal, but really I'll listen to anything as long as I like it!
What kind if digging equipment do you use, how long is the band, and what type of metal is it?
A very, very, very big shovel.
Being underground, doesn't the the basement get a little hot and uncomfortable? I don't know what UK weather is like but being a gazebo band during fall and spring could be nice right?
You may have something there.
Where would the UK metal scene be without the drama?
(Also, what's the most unintentionally hilarious demo you've ever received?)
Ha! I don't release anything unless I love it, so no hillarious demo stories sorry!
The UK scene is generally friendly in my finding, apart from the Green Eyed monster rearing his head once in a while. Bands need to get on the Abundance Mentality.
What's the most you have ever paid a band? Or do you determine that after sales?
Usually it's a share of the pressing. Highest I've done is 1/3rd, but at that level it's getting into danger-losing-money territory. A more typical share is 10-20% of the pressing for smaller runs of 300-1000.
At what point does underground metal become mining?
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