Owner Interview with Katy Otto of Exotic Fever Records
Name: Katy Otto
QRD When & why did you start your label?
Katy I was a musician who began to meet amazing musicians I believed in. I felt they deserved attention & resources. Doing a label was a way of making my love of music tactile.
QRD Where did you get the money to finance your first few releases?
Katy From my own personal savings working at a job.
QRD How many releases have you put out?
Katy I have over 40 by this point.
QRD How many releases would you like to do a year?
QRD How many hours a week do you work on the label & how many would you like to?
Katy 4, I would like to 25 in an ideal world.
QRD What are the fun &/or rewarding parts about running a label?
Katy Getting feedback about the releases from the outside world, helping the bands to feel supported, introducing artists to each other.
QRD How have your motivations for having a label changed?
Katy I have to be much much more careful now because people do not buy physical releases the way they used to. The entire field has changed & I need to be careful with my finances so as not to delve into disaster.
QRD What do you feel is the biggest waste of your time running the label?
Katy Putting out releases when the bands immediately break up.
QRD What are some labels you admire or feel a kinship to?
Katy Simple Machines, DeSoto, Dischord, KRS, Thrill Jockey, Lovitt, Holidays for Quince.
QRD What other work experiences prepared you to have a label?
Katy Generally being in debt.
QRD What makes your label special & unique?
Katy We try to highlight the work of artists who are interested in being part of a community, in social change, & into what others are doing.
QRD How has your physical location effected your label?
Katy When in DC where the label was founded, I was able to work a lot with Dischord for distribution. That was encouraging & great.
QRD Do you enjoy music as much now as you used to & how has running a label effected how you listen to/hear music?
Katy I enjoy the music I enjoy. I know what I like & I am open to being courted by new music, but - I know what I am looking to feel & experience through music.
QRD Whats your demos policy?
Katy I listen to them, but have never taken on a band from one.
QRD How do you find out about new artists for your label?
Katy Through the shows my own band plays.
QRD How do most fans find out about your label?
Katy Buying a release of one of the bands & learning about the others.
QRD Whats been your biggest selling release & why do you think it was?
Katy 1905. The band toured relentlessly & was very powerful & charismatic.
QRD What release that youve done was the most important & special to you personally?
Katy That is like asking who your favorite child is!
QRD What are some things that make you want to work with a band?
Katy If they brought something new & powerful & undeniable to the table that I had never seen before.
QRD What are some things that would make you stop working with a band?
Katy Learning about terrible aspects of their character.
QRD What is the thing all releases on your label have in common?
Katy Urgency & heart.
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?
Katy None. I dont believe that is my role.
QRD How involved do you like to be in the artwork design for a release?
Katy I will give ideas when asked, but again - that is not my role.
QRD How long is it from when an artist delivers an album to you until release date & why?
Katy 8 weeks - 3 months depending on how much presswork we want in advance.
QRD If a band breaks up between the recording of a release & the release date, how does that effect what you do?
Katy It is too late for me to act much then, but I dont put much into the presswork for it. It is depressing & I wish bands would have foresight about that.
QRD What do you wish bands on your label would do?
Katy Not break up until they have sold records.
QRD Whats a record youd like to put out that youll never be able to?
Katy Forget Cassettes.
QRD If you really like a band, but arent sure you could sell many copies of their record; what do you do?
Katy I am trying to explore new ways of digitally releasing music.
QRD How is financing of a release split between artists & the label?
Katy They get some copies gratis as a thanks for their shouldering of recording costs.
QRD How do you split profits from a release between artists & your label?
Katy 50-50 split after costs.
QRD Do you have written contracts with your bands or handshake deals?
Katy I write out a Terms of Agreement. It is not exactly a contract.
QRD Do you take a cut of a bands publishing?
QRD How important is it to you to have touring acts on your roster & what do you do to encourage it?
Katy I will sell them releases for less money when they are on tour. Touring is paramount.
QRD Do you handle promotions in house or hire out & why?
Katy I do both - depends on the release & how much touring the band will do.
QRD How do you maintain contact with your fanbase?
Katy Email list, Facebook, MySpace. Emails after orders, handwritten notes on packages, website, & message boards.
QRD Do you have intern & street team programs & if so, how do they operate?
Katy I have had interns help with layout & organizational stuff.
QRD How big of a staff do you have & how big of one do you need?
Katy I do the label myself with the help of some great friends. I could stand a much bigger staff, but the money is not there.
QRD What do you do to build relationships with record stores?
Katy I try to bring releases in & meet people.
QRD What do you do to build relationships with radio stations?
Katy I send packages & notes regularly.
QRD What do you do to build relationships with magazines & websites?
Katy I try to keep them up to date on releases & send records with one sheets.
QRD What do you do to build relationships with bloggers?
Katy I send digital media releases.
QRD Do you view advertisements as a way to generate interest & revenue or more as a way to financially support magazines & websites you like?
Katy At times, but there are only a few places where I feel it is worth it to run them.
QRD What is the job of your distributors?
Katy To make sure stores nationally & internationally know about your releases & to provide copies when they are interested.
QRD How do you decide how big the initial pressing of a release should be?
Katy I try to talk with the band honestly about sales in the past, strategies to sell, & touring plans.
QRD What percentage of a pressing do you use for promotions?
Katy Fifteen percent.
QRD Do you sell merchandise other than the music (t-shirts, etc.)?
Katy No. I sell my friends plays for her, & she was an artist on the label (Gina Young).
QRD Do you sell music that is not on your label?
Katy Yes, a few items but not many.
QRD How has running a label effected your own artistic career?
Katy In good ways & bad. I understand how the music world works, but I also sometimes get inundated by the business side of things & prefer just making music at times.
QRD Ideally, would you release your own material?
Katy I have at times. I will in the future. I also like releasing with others.
QRD What do you do to try to build a sense of community within your roster?
Katy I email people as a group, introduce them to each other, & hold a yearly festival that all of the bands are invited to.
QRD Whats your most common conversation with bands as far as balancing artistic integrity & financial viability?
Katy I tell bands to keep their spirits up & to tour. No one will buy your record if they dont know about you. I encourage bands to try to play shows outside of their comfort range.
QRD How often do you look at your return on investment & adjust your business model?
Katy I am now after ten years! I have periodically along the way as well.
QRD Do you worry about search engine optimization & website traffic?
QRD What have you done to cut costs over the years?
Katy Put out fewer releases. Only way I can survive anymore.
QRD Do you think the album format is dead?
Katy No, but it is small run for boutique labels.
QRD Do you think the return of vinyl & cassettes is a fad?
QRD Is it important to have physical releases over digital ones or does it not matter?
Katy It depends on the fan base & habits of the band.
QRD What do you think of ultra-limited runs of releases (less than 100 discs)?
Katy Oooh, sounds potentially great.
QRD What do you think of print on demand discs?
Katy Sounds exhausting.
QRD How much content do you feel should be available free to fans?
Katy Fifteen percent of the artists oevre.
QRD What do you do about people distributing your music without financial compensation (piracy & file trading)?
Katy It bums me out but is now unavoidable. We have to deal.
QRD Whats something you see other labels do that you think of as borderline unethical?
Katy Putting out music you dont believe in & that the musicians themselves dont believe in. Using weird imagery to sell music. Partnering with energy drink companies.
QRD What changes in things would cause you to stop your label?
QRD What would you suggest to someone starting a label today?
Katy Worry about the money.
QRD Where do you think money is currently most available to labels/musicians & where in the future?
Katy Probably licensing. It is diminishing though.
QRD Why do you think labels are still important to artists?
Katy They serve as curation & community.
QRD Music has had different hotspots on the internet over the years (newsgroups, MP3.com, MySpace, LastFM), but with MySpaces decline, what do you see as the place where normal people go to find out about & get excited by new music?
Katy Facebook, Pandora, & friends recommendations.
QRD In 20 years what do you think/hope your label will be known/remembered for?