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QRD #47 - Record Label Owner Interview Series
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Label Owner Interviews with:
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Record Label Owner Interview with Timothy Walker of Bad Elk Records
January 2011
Name: Timothy Walker
Label: Bad Elk Records
City: Dekalb, IL
Artists Roster: Fingers Lift, The Midnite Snax, The Metroids, Things Falling Apart.
Websites: www.myspace.com/badelkrecords & soon www.badelkrecords.com 

QRD – When & why did you start your label?

Timothy – I started Bad Elk in my head a while ago, but just started releasing music within the last year. So we’re new. The music we have released so far has been music that I have been involved in - either as the recording engineer or as a band member. I would someday like to release music that I was not involved in, if I deem it worthy. 

QRD – Where did you get the money to finance your first few releases?

Timothy – Driving a truck/working in a warehouse.

QRD – How many releases have you put out?

Timothy – Two so far... The Midnite Snax album & The Mad Titan by The Metroids. & very very soon we have a Midnite Snax single coming out & then the two long awaited Fingers Lift albums. & then other stuff. 

QRD – How many releases would you like to do a year?

Timothy – At this point I think 3 or 4 is a good number although that could change.

QRD – How many hours a week do you work on the label & how many would you like to?

Timothy – A good majority of the time I spend on working on label things are when I’m recording/mixing/mastering. Some weeks it could be most of my free time & some weeks I don’t do much at all. It goes in spurts.

QRD – What are the fun &/or rewarding parts about running a label?

Timothy – The most rewarding part is when I sleep on my bed of money.

QRD – How have your motivations for having a label changed?

Timothy – They haven’t. Should they?
 
QRD – What do you feel is the biggest waste of your time running the label?

Timothy – Technical issues. 
 
QRD – What are some labels you admire or feel a kinship to?

Timothy – Scratch & Sniff Records. & the other labels in Dekalb. & the other people I know that run labels. Those are the labels I admire, but I feel the closest kinship with SonyBMG - we’re like brothers. 
 
QRD – What other work experiences prepared you to have a label?

Timothy – Well with all the “supply chain” work I’ve done in the past... If it ever came to the point that we were selling millions & millions of albums, I could run the warehouse. A warehouse is the ultimate goal of Bad Elk.
 
QRD – What makes you label special & unique?

Timothy – Sebastian. 

QRD – How has your physical location effected your label?

Timothy – Our name is an anagram of our town.

QRD – Do you enjoy music as much now as you used to & how has running a label effected how you listen to/hear music?

Timothy – Meh, about the same.

QRD – What’s your demos policy?

Timothy – I don’t have one.

QRD – How do you find out about new artists for your label?

Timothy – They’re friends.

QRD – How do most fans find out about your label?

Timothy – I shove a CD in their hands. 

QRD – What’s been your biggest selling release & why do you think it was?

Timothy – Well, we only have two CD releases so far & they are just about even. But I would have to say our biggest mover is our awesome sticker. 

QRD – What release that you’ve done was the most important & special to you personally?

Timothy – Every album is “special.”

QRD – What are some things that make you want to work with a band?

Timothy – Got to be friends... or at least friendly. Good songs.

QRD – What are some things that would make you stop working with a band?

Timothy – Are not friends... or are unfriendly. Bad songs.

QRD – What is the thing all releases on your label have in common?

Timothy – Not on the first two releases, but from now on all Bad Elk albums will have me playing jaw harp somewhere in the mix. I’m serious... you may not be able to hear it, but you will feel it & it will move you.

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?

Timothy – I am 100% involved.

QRD – How involved do you like to be in the artwork design for a release?

Timothy – I did the photography/design for the first two. I’m not doing it for the Fingers Lift albums & that is fine because the artwork they have is really great. I do like doing it though. 

QRD – How long is it from when an artist delivers an album to you until release date & why?

Timothy – Man, hard to answer. I got to mix this stuff down & that takes awhile. Nothing is delivered.

QRD – If a band breaks up between the recording of a release & the release date, how does that effect what you do?

Timothy – Well, both of our bands with releases have broken up, & that always sucks.

QRD – What do you wish bands on your label would do?

Timothy – Not be broken up & tour. I want some Metroids!

QRD – What’s a record you’d like to put out that you’ll never be able to?

Timothy – Thriller... because I would then be rich & wouldn’t ever have to work in another warehouse again.

QRD – If you really like a band, but aren’t sure you could sell many copies of their record; what do you do?

Timothy – I should think about this more. I would really like to run that Bad Elk warehouse someday.

QRD – How is financing of a release split between artists & the label?

Timothy – So far Bad Elk has paid for it all.

QRD – How do you split profits from a release between artists & your label?

Timothy – If a profit was ever made - I’m a fan of the standard 50/50 them that seems to be the norm these days. 

QRD – Do you have written contracts with your bands or handshake deals?

Timothy – No contracts. 

QRD – Do you take a cut of a band’s publishing?

Timothy – No.

QRD – How important is it to you to have touring acts on your roster & what do you do to encourage it?

Timothy – Yes! It is encouraged.

QRD – Do you handle promotions in house or hire out & why?

Timothy – In an ideal world I would love to have someone do the whole web/promotions thing for Bad Elk. That’s not my thing. I’ll do everything else.

QRD – How do you maintain contact with your fanbase?

Timothy – Errr...MySpace. I do own www.badelkrecords.com & hopefully I’ll have that up & running at some point.

QRD – Do you have intern & street team programs & if so, how do they operate?

Timothy – No intern. No street team. But I have given out lots of stickers for people to plaster around town...and maybe they have? Is that a street team?

QRD – How big of a staff do you have & how big of one do you need?

Timothy – We have myself & our President, Chairman of the Board & CEO Sebastian.  

QRD – What do you do to build relationships with record stores?

Timothy – WE HAVE NO MORE RECORD STORES IN TOWN!!! Oh wait, I mean we have Borders & Barnes & Noble. Oh, & Target &... Walmart. This may be the #1 reason to leave town.

QRD – What do you do to build relationships with radio stations?

Timothy – Smiles.
 
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with magazines & websites?

Timothy – When I get my PR person - this will be their job.

QRD – Do you view advertisements as a way to generate interest & revenue or more as a way to financially support magazines & websites you like?

Timothy – Meh. 

QRD – What is the job of your distributors?

Timothy – Shove CDs into people’s hands.

QRD – How do you decide how big the initial pressing of a release should be?

Timothy – With the disc publisher I make runs of 100 & then make more as needed. I’m flexible.

QRD – What percentage of a pressing do you use for promotions?

Timothy – Very little at the moment.

QRD – Do you sell merchandise other than the music (t-shirts, etc.)?

Timothy – We would love to.

QRD – Do you sell music that is not on your label?

Timothy – We certainly would do that.

QRD – How has running a label effected your own artistic career?

Timothy – Hmmmmm.

QRD – Ideally, would you release your own material?
 
Timothy – Ideally, yes.

QRD – What do you do to try to build a sense of community within your roster?

Timothy – Bingo night at the KofC.

QRD – What’s your most common conversation with bands as far as balancing artistic integrity & financial viability?

Timothy – We are not in this for the money at all. Financial viability is never considered. Artistic integrity is also never considered. 

QRD – How often do you look at your “return on investment” & adjust your business model?

Timothy – We buy low & sell high.

QRD – Do you worry about search engine optimization & website traffic?

Timothy – John Bad Elk v. US, 177 U.S. 529 is hogging up much of the Googlespace. This must be stopped.

QRD – What have you done to cut costs over the years?

Timothy – I should think about doing that.

QRD – Do you think the album format is dead?

Timothy – Never.

QRD – Do you think the return of vinyl & cassettes is a fad?

Timothy – No & sometimes.

QRD – Is it important to have physical releases over digital ones or does it not matter?

Timothy – Personally yes. I like to have a physical copy...CD, tape - I don’t care. I’m not a fan of MP3s at all, but I know other people find the format convenient so I go along. Whatever keeps the people happy.

QRD – What do you think of ultra-limited runs of releases (less than 100 discs)?

Timothy – Love ‘em.

QRD – What do you think of “print on demand” discs?

Timothy – I have a disc publisher so I can make CDs (in any quantity I want - burned & labeled) whenever I want. These are a great thing to have if you want to make a bunch of small runs... which is what I do. I’ve never used one of the online sources before, but if I ever had to make a large run (500+) in a short amount of time that would certainly be an option I would take to the Board.

QRD – How much content do you feel should be available free to fans?

Timothy – Much of it.

QRD – What do you do about people distributing your music without financial compensation (piracy & file trading)?

Timothy – Nothing. I was in a band called Things Falling Apart & we have songs selling on some Russian site for 19 cent a piece. It’s a good deal... these are long songs... but in reality, it doesn’t effect what we do. & I will say though that I’m not a fan at all of what the RIAA did to that single mom in Minnesota in response to this downloading. They weren’t even good songs. “Save the Best for Last”? Hasn’t she suffered enough?

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

Timothy – RIAA, anything with glitter.

QRD – What changes in things would cause you to stop your label?

Timothy – Unfriendly people, bad music, lice.

QRD – What would you suggest to someone starting a label today?

Timothy – Learn web design. It’s next on my list.

QRD – Where do you think money is currently most available to labels/musicians & where in the future?

Timothy – A job. Actually touring & merch I’m guessing would be the place. Especially cool merch. Like a robot. & who wouldn’t want robot, right?  Oh, you can actually sell real CDs too.

QRD – Why do you think labels are still important to artists?

Timothy – Branding & Synergy.

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?

Timothy – This is a good question - I don’t really know. MySpace was good at one thing & now no one uses it. Facebook is sorta annoying & just isn’t suited for the job. Bandcamp? Maybe Soundcloud. Youtube? Some blog. Maybe my own social media empire?

QRD – In 20 years what do you think/hope your label will be known/remembered for?

Timothy – Ice Cream. It turns out that in nine years, through mergers & acquisitions, I end up I’m owning my own chain of ice cream shops. It’s a huge success. The secret is that it’s made with elk milk.

QRD – Anything else?

Timothy – Sebastian says: sdjsgd vnKhflHF jk883dw29jjjjjjjjjk