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QRD #45 - Record Label Owner Interview Series
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Label Owner Interviews with:
Badman Recording Co.
Boring Machines
Champion Version
Dark Meadow Recordings
End of huM
Exotic Fever
Fluttery Records
Fourth Dimension/Lumberton Trading Company
Greyday Records
Lagunamuch Records
Morc Records
Moving Furniture
North Pole Records
Radical Matters Editions/Label
Second Motion Entertainment
Silber Records
Trace Recordings
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Label Owner Interview with Katy Otto of Exotic Fever Records
November 2010

Name: Katy Otto
Label: Exotic Fever Records
City: Philadelphia, PA
Artists Roster: Thank God, Ultra Dolphins, A Stick & a Stone, 1905, Kathy Cashel, Trophy Wife, M.G. Lederman, The Lonely American, Van Johnson, Pash, The Sinister Quarter, etc.
Websites: www.exoticfever.com

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? 

Katy – 5.

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 – What’s 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 – What’s 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 you’ve 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 don’t 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 don’t 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 – What’s a record you’d like to put out that you’ll never be able to? 

Katy – Forget Cassettes.

QRD – If you really like a band, but aren’t 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 band’s publishing? 

Katy – No.

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 friend’s 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 – What’s 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 don’t 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? 

Katy – No.

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? 

Katy – No.

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 artist’s 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 – What’s something you see other labels do that you think of as borderline unethical? 

Katy – Putting out music you don’t believe in & that the musicians themselves don’t 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? 

Katy – Money.

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 MySpace’s 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? 

Katy – Vitality.