Label Owner Interview with Jerome Moncada of Basses Frequences
Label: Basses Frequences
City: Pertuis, France
Artists Roster: Aidan Baker & Nadja, Nicholas Szczepanik, Peter Wright, Duane Pitre, Locrian, Yui Onodera, thisquietarmy, Pleq, Yellow6…
QRD – When & why did you start your label?
Jerome – I started a label called Salvation (myownsalvation.com) in 1999, mostly focused on japanese punk rock. In 2007, after several years digging drone & industrial music, I decided that it was time for me to start releasing drone stuff at last (the Tamagawa 3x3” CDR box set was supposed to be the first release) & I created a sub label, Basses Frequences, in summer 2007. For some reasons, I had to stop Salvation & BF became my main project in winter 2008. Everything went easier, faster; that was quite a change for me, after many years working for Salvation, where everything was always complicated & slow. BF was pure enjoyment, fresh air.
QRD – Where did you get the money to finance your first few releases?
Jerome – From Salvation. I sold the leftovers of the mail order & got some money to pay back a few people, buy new stock for the new drone-oriented mail order & start producing the first release, the Creature “s/t” CDR. I may have taken some money from my pocket too.
QRD – How many releases have you put out?
Jerome – 30 this month (December 2011), 10 are scheduled for 2011 already.
QRD – How many releases would you like to do a year?
Jerome – One “big” & a “smaller” one to go with every two months would be perfect. Maybe even a little bit more though. I used to have several releases out at the same time before, not every month though, but it is barely possible anymore. For the moment I’m just totally happy when I can get something out, whenever it comes out.
QRD – How many hours a week do you work on the label & how many would you like to?
Jerome – I’d say around 20, 25 hours a week. 10 minutes here, 5 there & sometimes 1or 2 hours all at once. I run the label in the basement of my full time job & do some emails from home. It’s very fragmented. As soon as I have spare time, I check the emails, pack some records, stick something etc.
QRD – What are the fun &/or rewarding parts about running a label?
Jerome – As far as I remember, I’ve always wanted to own a record store. That’s what I wanted to do when I was a kid. When I realized it wasn’t really possible in France I choose another job. I discovered mail orders later & thought that it was something I could do. I started a mail order that became a label too. I like records, I’m a fetishist, & being just a consumer is not enough, the production process etc has always interested me. It’s really interesting to see & be part of what happens before someone has a record in his hands. I work with artists I like, I help records I love to be available to people. That’s the rewarding part. The fun part is more into the artistic process, creating covers, being part of the mixing process. Etc. & I have no problems spending hours packing records.
QRD – How have your motivations for having a label changed?
Jerome – Honestly, I’m much more motivated than ever before. When Basses Frequences became my main project, it was supposed to be pressure-free. Just fun. But ambition finally appeared & I spend much more time on the label than 2 years ago. & if it’s not always easy & fun, I don’t see me stopping this.
QRD – What do you feel is the biggest waste of your time running the label?
Jerome – Dealing with problems I am not responsible for. This year, I had problems with 4/5 of the records I’ve put out. Misspressed covers, CDs, wrong vinyls covers or color, packages lost in the mail… Fixing that kind of problems is a waste of time & energy. There’s always someone who does not do his job properly, but it’s my job to deal with his mistakes.
QRD – What are some labels you admire or feel a kinship to?
Jerome – Small Doses was a big influence for me. I wanted to start something in the drone/experimental music, but I didn’t really know how to start. CDR was not welcome at all in the music scene I was working in with Salvation & I didn’t see me starting BF directly with vinyl. & Joe started SD, & he did CDRs only, I liked what he was releasing & it worked pretty well for him. So I thought that if he could do it, I could do it too. Now we are co-releasing records together once in a while.
QRD – What other work experiences prepared you to have a label?
Jerome – I never worked in the music business (or any business at all actually) before starting Salvation. I learned a lot by doing a lot of mistakes & sharing with other label owners. & I’m still learning…
QRD – How has your physical location affected your label?
Jerome – I live in a small town in the south of France. I think I said enough. I hardly go to shows, because I’m far from the big cities. I can’t show myself to the people who make the trend, I can’t sell records at shows, I can’t help artists touring… It’s some kind of alternative culture desert here. So it’s more work for me to get known & visible.
QRD – Do you enjoy music as much now as you used to & how has running a label effected how you listen to/hear music?
Jerome – I do enjoy drones much more now that I’m releasing some. I discovered a lot of artists I’m not sure I would have discovered that easy/early if I was just a consumer. I also had to focus & dig deeper than I would have had if I wasn’t involved. Sometimes, when I buy a record, or I listen to one, I think that I would have done a better job with the artwork or packaging, or that I would have loved releasing it myself. But that’s all, really. I’m not pickier than I used to be just because I release records too.
QRD – What’s your demos policy?
Jerome – I’ve always accepted demos & listen to each one of them. Almost half of the BF catalog comes from unsolicited demos, so that’s something very important for me, that’s part of my job too. But I’ve stopped accepting since last September because my schedule was too full to add any new project. But I will accept demos again for sure, I just don’t know when.
QRD – How do you find out about new artists for your label?
Jerome – Unsolicited demos for a good part & my own research too. Artists that I have good relationship with send me friends they believe in, etc. Not much on the various social networks, I don’t really like them & I don’t really have much time to spend out there. I don’t really need them actually.
QRD – How do most fans find out about your label?
Jerome – I don’t know. I guess they use to follow some artists that end up on BF at some point. Or a Google search for a release I have on my mail order. I never ask the question, even if I’d like to know sometimes.
QRD – What’s been your biggest selling release & why do you think it was?
Jerome – Celer “Panoramic Dreams Bathed In Seldomness” CD. They have an important fan base, very trusty. I also started to be distributed in the US & that helped a lot.
QRD – What release that you’ve done was the most important & special to you personally?
Jerome – It could be I Am Seamonster “nebulum/constellatrix” CDR. I love the “nebulum” track so much, I’ve listen to it so many times… It’s always such an intense experience. That was a blast & the very first one as the owner of Basses Frequences. & that one worked very well too, which pleased me a lot. The Nadja “Corrasion” 2LP & the current “Death Valley” diptych from thisquietarmy & Yellow6 are also records that really count for me on a personal level.
QRD – How involved are you with an artist for acting as a producer as far as hearing demo ideas or selecting tracks to be on a release or mixing & mastering?
Jerome – I’m ready to be involved as much as the artist wants me to be. I do receive “ready to be pressed” demos & sometimes artists asked my advice &/or feedback on the sound, the mix, the track list & I get involved as much as possible, without imposing myself. I think it’s part of my job, to have a fresh, new, distant vision of the work. I always give detailed review (as much as I can) of the demo people send me & then we start discussing.
QRD – How involved do you like to be in the artwork design for a release?
Jerome – Here again, as much as the artist wants me to be. But I’m some kind of control freak & I want to have the best product in the end, so I like controlling the artwork, to be sure there’s no problems with the templates etc. I’ve done 90% of the layouts & most of the artwork too.
QRD – How long is it from when an artist delivers an album to you until release date & why?
Jerome – When I was doing CDRs, the delay was around 3 weeks, the time for me to have the stickers done & the CDR burned. That was pretty fast. “I like it, let’s have it released at the end of the month!” Now things are way more complicated, I have to include the promotion in the process. Once the artwork & mastering are done, a CD can be out 6 weeks later, the time for me to do the advanced CDR (with full color sleeves) & the flyers sent to the reviewers & the time for the CDs to be pressed. For a vinyl, it takes 2 to 3 months, for the promo & the time to have the test pressings sent to me & the artist & approved & get the money for it. Of course it can be longer, depending on my financial abilities at the moment.
QRD – If you really like a band, but aren’t sure you could sell many copies of their record; what do you do?
Jerome – That’s the story of BF! Apart from a few established artists like Aidan Baker/Nadja, Celer or thisquietarmy for example, I did a lot of first records & that’s always very risky. So I try to find the best way to have the record done anyway, cheap to produce but still good looking to catch people’s eyes & interest.
QRD – How is financing of a release split between artists & the label?
Jerome – I give 20% of the pressing to the artist & most of the time I pay for the mastering. I obviously pay for all promotion.
QRD – Do you have written contracts with your bands or handshake deals?
Jerome – No contracts, there is no money involved, I’m too small for that, just records. A good discussion has always been fair enough so far. I’m always very clear & everything has always been very fine that way.
QRD – How do you maintain contact with your fanbase?
Jerome – I like to keep them interested by sending free stuff, but not promotional stuff I get from other labels. I like to create free releases, exclusive from Basses Frequences. After the first year & a half, I did a compilation with exclusive material from the artists I’ve worked with & I released last December a free compilation that was more like a sampler with tracks from forthcoming releases, with a CDR & a DVDR with videos. Always in a nice looking packaging. I think they are pleased to get that kind of free stuff, things I put a lot of time & energy in, to show how thankful I am toward their support. I also do flyers for forthcoming releases that keep people aware of what is coming.
QRD – Do you sell music that is not on your label?
Jerome – I have a small mail order too, with around 100 items. I even started being a mail order before starting a label. That’s very important for me, I like that a lot & that helps spreading my releases by trading with other label/distros.
QRD – Do you think the return of vinyl & cassettes is a fad?
Jerome – Yes in both cases, but there’s a difference between these two formats. Vinyl is back & I’m very glad about that. I have no problem with the CD format, I still like it. I like vinyls too & I’m glad to see things available that way again. But honestly, cassettes is just a new hype that I wish would stop soon. I’m old enough to know the world without CDs. I grew up with cassettes, but as soon as I could change my tapes for vinyls or CDs later, I did without any hesitations. Cassettes are ugly & uneasy to use. & much more fragile than other formats. I don’t like them, I don’t buy them & I really don’t understand that need to look as much vintage as possible.
QRD – Is it important to have physical releases over digital ones or does it not matter?
Jerome – I’m releasing physical releases & that’s all. I don’t see me releasing music only in digital. I’m opening a digital store for people who prefer digital over physical, that will help to keep OOP releases available, but there won’t be exclusive things there. “Net labels” is something I don’t really understand. Why, as an artist, would you let someone sell your music while he’s just uploading it on his website? You could do it yourself & keep all the profit from the sales. I may have missed something, but that’s still a mystery for me.
QRD – What changes in things would cause you to stop your label?
Jerome – Not selling anything, because I can’t/don’t want to adapt to a new way of selling music. I’m not sure I would keep going if the physical format disappears totally. I can sleep tight & keep going for a while I guess. Physical format is not that dead whatever people say. Or because my taste in music is not interesting anyone anymore.
QRD – Why do you think labels are still important to artists?
Jerome – Because we do things most artists
don’t want to do, like promotion etc. They just want to focus on their
art & I can understand that. Also, we have an external point of view,
that can help them when they don’t know what to think about their music.
Part of the job is also to do the sorts sometimes. My advice is not always
followed, but it is most of the time. They work hard on their art &
they don’t always have the distance to know when they have to stop or change
Jerome – That I’ll still be there, releasing interesting records. I really see me releasing records all my life. I hope so at least.