Owner Interview with Onga of Boring Machines
QRD – When & why did you start your label?
Onga – I live in Treviso, nearby Venice in the north of Italy & I started the label in 2006, after doing other music related things like DJ-ing, setting up gigs, & writing on webzines.
QRD – Where did you get the money to finance your first few releases?
Onga – Day job paid the first release & it’s still doing it.
QRD – How many releases have you put out?
Onga – 27 at the moment I write, with another 6 already planned.
QRD – How many releases would you like to do a year?
Onga – My aim is to release 6-10 released per year, not more as I’m working on it on my own in my spare time & I want to dedicate the right time to promote it. Also I don’t use industrial systems & I get my records done in small artisanal factories & this is more expensive than to do anonymous jewel cases, so I can do fewer releases per year.
QRD – How many hours a week do you work on the label & how many would you like to?
Onga – I would like to work 24 hours a day on the label, but I need a day job to pay for rent & all the expenses that running a label needs. I usually spend the rest of my time in label-focused activities.
QRD – What are the fun &/or rewarding parts about running a label?
Onga – You get to hear a lot of good music & you get to know a lot of nice people; which is mainly why I do it, to keep myself surrounded by nice people to deal with in a world full of things I totally dislike & couldn’t catch up with.
QRD – How have your motivations for having a label changed?
Onga – They never changed actually, the same spirit I had in the beginning is what makes me do things now.
QRD – What do you feel is the biggest waste of your time running the label?
Onga – Having a day job.
QRD – What are some labels you admire or feel a kinship to?
Onga – I’ve always been a fan of labels like Kranky & Constellation & they were inspiring when I started. There are many other good labels I love, but I would like to mention some Italian pals who are doing very nice things: Hundebiss Records, Wallace Records, Fratto 9 Under the Sky, Afe Records, Bar La Muerte, Burp Publications, Holidays Records, & Xhol Recordings.
QRD – What other work experiences prepared you to have a label?
Onga – I’ve been DJ-ing & setting up & promoting gigs for years, I reviewed & interviewed many artists on webzines & I had the chance to learn a lot from them.
QRD – What makes your label special & unique?
Onga – It’s mine & only mine. I shared experiences with other people in the past, working in groups & teams, but this label thing is totally an extension of myself & all its success & failures are mine. It’s not unique though, I didn’t invent anything & I don’t have any special “sound” the label carries on. I think I had the lucky chance to meet some unique artists & had the commitment to try to let them be known by the widest audience possible, which is an ever-growing work.
QRD – How has your physical location effected your label?
Onga – I don’t know. Some bigger cities like Milan & Bologna offer probably a larger number of venues, a greater number of possibilities, but also have the risk of being more trendy & hip. Italy’s small anyway & in few hours you can be everywhere & be in touch with other friends in bigger cities, I collaborate & support the work of people living in Rome, Milan, Bologna, & Turin & go to see gigs there anytime I can.
QRD – Do you enjoy music as much now as you used to & how has running a label effected how you listen to/hear music?
Onga – I try to keep separate the way I listen to music label-wise & for pure listening purposes. I’ve always been a great listener & a compulsive buyer of music since I was a kid & music is part of every moment of my day. I love quite every kind of music (except reggae & ska) & I listen to a lot of it every day & every night. Sometimes it happens that the music I’m listening to gives me something more than the average, that it really hits me, & that’s when the label affair comes in. It usually happens with the darkest kind of music, the more repetitive or weird.
QRD – What’s your demos policy?
Onga – I don’t have one, I removed the address from the website instead of writing “we don’t accept demos” which I always found ridiculous. I receive a lot of stuff from friends & friends of friends & still I’m not able to release everything because I mostly go & look for what I want.
QRD – How do you find out about new artists for your label?
Onga – I listen to a lot of music & go to a lot of concerts, I know so many people who play music & a lot of them are great musicians. Sometimes some of them come up with a record they want me to listen to, some other time I get to hear some new tracks from them & I ask them to give me more. They’re mostly Italians; not that it’s a strict rule, but I find myself comfortable with the idea of giving value to Italian musicians because many of them are really good & don’t get enough attention internationally just because they don’t have someone who helps & promotes them.
QRD – How do most fans find out about your label?
Onga – I don’t know actually, doing everything on my own doesn’t let me have enough time to try to understand. I guess it’s mainly a mix of good reviews that my releases had & the fact that some of the bands I release are touring a lot.
QRD – What’s been your biggest selling release & why do you think it was?
Onga – Father Murphy’s album “...and He told us to turn to the Sun” & the new EP “No Room for the Weak” I just released are best sellers so far. The reasons are two: they are a unique band with a unique sound & they are really committed to music & they really toured a lot for the average Italian band – three tours in the US, many tours around Italy & Europe. The music scenario we have now has changed a lot in the last 15 years. The more you tour & see people, the more records you sell.
QRD – What release that you’ve done was the most important & special to you personally?
Onga – I think Be Invisible Now! “Neutrino”, my second release, was the one which made me realise I was not joking, that Boring Machines was going to be something really important to me. All releases are important to me though, I put the same effort with evey one & I try to do better every time learning from the past.
QRD – What are some things that make you want to work with a band?
Onga – First of all the music, then the people; I have to know them a bit & feel I would have some pints with them. The label itself is a huge hole which sucks money out of my pocket, I always did this for fun & because I believe I have something to say in terms of tastes in music. I want to be sure that the human side of everything makes me want to go on, so I need to work with nice people. I had offers from bands that would have probably sold a bit of records, but I wasn’t totally sure they share the same thoughts about music & how this thing works, so I preferred to dismiss.
QRD – What are some things that would make you stop working with a band?
Onga – I generally don’t stop working with anyone, I try to vary my releases & also to move forward following only my taste & my ideas. But I have released records from Be Invisible Now! three times, & Father Murphy, Above the Tree, & Philippe Petit twice. As long as I feel I must release the music that I hear & I know I’m able to give it the promotion it deserves, I never say no. At the same time I encourage friends to make music proposals to other labels. Boring Machines is a small operation & can’t guarantee visibility everywhere, having releases on different labels, in different countries, helps the artist to grow his name.
QRD – What is the thing all releases on your label have in common?
Onga – Musically some of them are really different from each other, I released electronic music which reminds of the cosmic couriers (Be Invisible Now!, Be Maledetto Now!, Andrea Marutti/Fausto Balbo), songwriters (My Dear Killer, Bob Corn) & some heavier stuff (Father Murphy, Fuzz Orchestra). There’s still a common thread between all my releases, it’s a certain feeling of discomfort, an investigation of the dark side of the human being. I love dark things, one of my phrases is “Quit Having Fun,” which was also the title of a compilation I released.
QRD – How involved are you with a band for acting as a producer as far as hearing demo ideas or selecting tracks to be on a release or mixing & mastering?
Onga – I always want to let the artist I work with have maximum liberty in choosing what their record will sound like. Sometimes hearing demos I gave them my opinion in what works or not to my ears, but the final result is totally in the hands of the musician.
QRD – How involved do you like to be in the artwork design for a release?
Onga – The artwork is part of the record & I want the artist to be happy with that, that’s why I always ask them to provide graphic ideas & then I just decide with them which paper to use, how the final layout will be. My friend Marco aka Be Invisible Now! is an incredibly talented graphic designer & he is responsible for most of the layouts of my releases.
QRD – How long is it from when an artist delivers an album to you until release date & why?
Onga – I don’t think Boring Machines records are awaited from the public, so I don’t need to announce particular dates, the records come out when they are ready & when I have the money to release them, sometimes it takes just a month after I got the master & the artwork. I try to schedule releases every two or three months, but it’s not a strict rule. I released a record in a week because there was a special occasion (band invited to play a big festival), but now I’m also planning releases for next February (Mamuthones) & March (Fabio Orsi) & April/May (reissues of the first two Jennifer Gentle albums).
QRD – If a band breaks up between the recording of a release & the release date, how does that effect what you do?
Onga – That never happened to me & I don’t know how I would react. I usually hope I know my artists enough to avoid surprises, even if it just recently happened I became aware that I released a record from a duo who told me they won’t play live after the release was out. That sucks, given you sell records mostly when you play live.
QRD – What do you wish bands on your label would do?
Onga – I would like everyone to have a great commitment to what they do, at least as much as I have in what I do. I’m pretty lucky I have bands like Father Murphy, Fuzz Orchestra, Above the Tree, & others who are continuously playing live & trying to promote themselves.
QRD – What’s a record you’d like to put out that you’ll never be able to?
Onga – I’m pretty happy with what I release,
but if I had to choose some names I would have liked to release on Boring
Machines they would be Experimental Audio Research, Labradford, Stars of
Onga – I try anyway. I always do my best to support a band & if the bands have the right commitment you can reach good results. I’m always very clear in explaining the limits that Boring Machines has & I noticed that honesty pays in terms of good relationship with artists, anyway I prefer to release the best record a small band can give me instead of the outtakes of a big band just to have their name on the roster. Once again, this is a labor of love & not industry.
QRD – How is financing of a release split between artists & the label?
Onga – Generally I ask artists to give me the finished record, then I spend all the money to print it & promote it. I usually give 10% of the copies for free to the artist & then sell more copies for a reasonable price if they need more. I also buy some ads when I can & help bands with booking gigs & all that I can do.
QRD – How do you split profits from a release between artists & your label?
Onga – Profits? :)
QRD – Do you have written contracts with your bands or handshake deals?
Onga – Beer deal is good enough, contracts are for people who make money.
QRD – Do you take a cut of a band’s publishing?
Onga – All the bands I released own 100% of their music, I don’t want anything out of that. Technically an artist can reprint his own record whenever he wants as he owns his master. What we do is totally based on friendship & mutual support, so I really don’t worry that could happen.
QRD – How important is it to you to have touring acts on your roster & what do you do to encourage it?
Onga – Touring is more than important: since the music industry, & the so-called independent scene has lost huge numbers of copies sold, the more important thing for an artist is the live act. I have examples of bands I know, including Father Murphy, who sold 1000 copies of their record, a pretty good number for a small band on a small label nowadays, just touring & touring & touring again. I always speak about this with my artists, just few of them were committed enough to do it for real & some titles are still there on the shelf in big boxes. I went to see gigs in half the country & I know a lot of promoters, being a festival curator I also know a lot of other bands, venues, labels & I always try to help artists on my roster, or in general artists I like to find spots to play.
QRD – Do you handle promotions in house or hire out & why?
Onga – Everything is made from this chair.
QRD – How do you maintain contact with your fanbase?
Onga – I travel a lot, so I get to meet a lot of people I know in Italy, I send newsletters & use every media I can (Myspace, Facebook, Flickr, Soundcloud) to keep people informed on what I’m doing. & also, everybody can write me anytime & I will give him an answer, I have no interns here.
QRD – Do you have intern & street team programs & if so, how do they operate?
Onga – No interns, no street teams.
QRD – How big of a staff do you have & how big of one do you need?
Onga – I work alone & when I have to assemble a new release, yes they are all lovely handmade in here, I call some friends over for a beer, we spend the night talking & in few hours all records are done.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with record stores, radio stations, magazines, websites, & bloggers?
Onga – Nothing in particular, but I send personal notes with every promo campaign. Sometimes I add a small gift, a candy, a cigarette.
QRD – Do you view advertisements as a way to generate interest & revenue or more as a way to financially support magazines & websites you like?
Onga – Both, advertisement can work if placed on the right magazine/webzine, but the more the mag is worth it the more expensive it is. When I place ads it’s when I have some extra money or a release that can have a better response from a wider audience. I also like the idea of placing ads in magazines I really like, it’s not something I do with everyone.
QRD – What is the job of your distributors?
Onga – Distributors are something new to me. I’m now starting relationships with Cargo UK, Goodfellas in Italy, & Ear Rational in the US, I always had a web of small distros, exchanges of records & I would like to keep up with them anyway, because sometimes they do a better job than a real distributor.
QRD – How do you decide how big the initial pressing of a release should be?
Onga – Depends, the standard pressing is 500 for CDs & 300 for LPs but I did 666 CDs for Satan is My Brother, & I did 1000 for Father Murphy & Mamuthones because there were greater expectations on them. Reprinting a record takes me two weeks; I have all the time to reprint them if it’s worth it. Some releases are limited though, like Faravelli/Ratti which is an LP in 200 copies or the 3” CDs series of My Dear Serial Killer which I released back in 2007 in a pressing of 33 x 3 different 3” CDs.
QRD – What percentage of a pressing do you use for promotions?
Onga – More or less 20%; but promotion never really ends, so apart from having reviews when the record is just out I always make records circulate when I get to know new interested people.
QRD – Do you sell merchandise other than the music (t-shirts, etc.)?
Onga – I made a Boring Machines t-shirt once, & sometimes I just reprint the missing sizes & keep that as my non-musical merch. It’s not available through the website tough, it’s mostly a thing I keep at the merch table at concerts.
QRD – Do you sell music that is not on your label?
Onga – No, unfortunately I don’t even have the time to keep up with all the things the label involves, I don’t think I will be able to follow other stuff as well.
QRD – How has running a label effected your own artistic career?
Onga – I don’t have an artistic career, but sometimes I think my boss at work caught me doing my own things, like uploading files to journalists or answering questions to promoters.
QRD – Ideally, would you release your own material?
Onga – I’m not a musician, but knowing the effort that a label has to put on a record, & being aware of the one that a musician have to put, I wouldn’t put it twice if not necessary.
QRD – What do you do to try to build a sense of community within your roster?
Onga – Most of my artist already know each other & when that hasn’t happen, I try to share with them the releases I do, make them play together, make them go see each other.
QRD – What’s your most common conversation with bands as far as balancing artistic integrity & financial viability?
Onga – Do what you want to do/go find yourself a job.
QRD – How often do you look at your “return on investment” & adjust your business model?
Onga – Never, if you started a label like Boring Machines in 2006 & you had in mind just a little income, you’d better go & buy yourself a new car.
QRD – Do you worry about search engine optimization & website traffic?
Onga – Not very much.
QRD – What have you done to cut costs over the years?
Onga – I expanded them :)
QRD – Do you think the album format is dead?
Onga – No or I wouldn’t release 10 albums per year. I think that what I do is separate from the industry. Radiohead put their album for (almost) free download on a website & every single magazine spoke about that, ten years later the underground experiments of netlabels. That’s how it works, now the masses are going digital, single track; but I still want to sit down, open a nice sleeve & listen to one hour of good music reading the liner notes or admiring the good artwork.
QRD – Do you think the return of vinyl & cassettes is a fad?
Onga – That could be. I would love to release more vinyls, but they are very expensive to produce & fucking expensive to ship. But I’m not a maniac, there’re people that just for following the trend release on vinyl records that would have sounded better on CD.
QRD – Is it important to have physical releases over digital ones or does it not matter?
Onga – Go physical!
QRD – What do you think of ultra-limited runs of releases (less than 100 discs)?
Onga – They’re fun & I’m one that owns tons of them, the problem is with manufacturing, you can’t have quality products from a factory for so few copies. But I bought myself a Primera Disc Publisher & a Pioneer burner rack so that I can make pressings of whatever I want, just in case.
QRD – What do you think of “print on demand” discs?
Onga – Never heard of them.
QRD – How much content do you feel should be available free to fans?
Onga – Enough to make them curious & to know what you are trying to sell them. Free samples, live or alternate versions on free download from the website are always a good thing.
QRD – What do you do about people distributing your music without financial compensation (piracy & file trading)?
Onga – Nothing. If someone is sharing on Soulseek one of my releases, at least somebody knows it exists.
QRD – What’s something you see other labels do that you think of as borderline unethical?
Onga – Telling bands they have to co-produce their own record & tell them it costs three times the real cost. Sending a band to record in a great studio, release the CD on jewel case to save money & then make them sign contracts where they owe you money until the break even of a huge investment.
QRD – What changes in things would cause you to stop your label?
Onga – Heavy sickness, dying, or just realizing I’m not having fun anymore.
QRD – What would you suggest to someone starting a label today?
Onga – Don’t do that if you think that sooner or later you will return on your investment or have a net gain.
QRD – Where do you think money is currently most available to labels/musicians & where in the future?
Onga – I don’t know, the money I use comes from my job, for artist it is a matter of playing live as much as they can & hopefully be heard by someone who operates in movies, theatres, or advertisement.
QRD – Why do you think labels are still important to artists?
Onga – I don’t know the reason why exactly. An artist who plays 100 gigs per year should try to self release his records & doesn’t have to share anything with anyone. That said, the number of artists I respect that ask me to “listen” to their record is increasing day by day. Good labels are still important to artists.
QRD – Music has had different hotspots on the internet over the years (newsgroups, MP3.com, MySpace, LastFM), but with MySpace’s decline, what do you see as the place where “normal” people go to find out about & get excited by new music?
Onga – MySpace was perfect both as a static page & a way to interact & it has that beautiful player you could listen to. Facebook sucks under that perspective, but there are many blogs, there are Soundcloud & Bandcamp which are very efficient.
QRD – In 20 years what do you think/hope your label will be known/remembered for?
Onga – Quality, honesty, attitude.