Label Owner Interview with Ceschi Ramos of Fake Four Inc.
Label: Fake Four Inc.
Artists Roster: Awol One, Blue Sky Black Death, Boy In Static, Cars & Trains, Dark Time Sunshine, Electric President, Factor, Gregory Pepper, Sole & The Skyrider Band, & more
QRD – When & why did you start your label?
Ceschi – Started in 2008 because I thought I could do a better job than other labels I had worked with in the past.
QRD – Where did you get the money to finance your first few releases?
Ceschi – Initially with financial from 2 other labels in Ohio & California.
QRD – How many releases have you put out?
Ceschi – We’ve released 21 albums
QRD – How many releases would you like to do a year?
Ceschi – 8 - 10.
QRD – How many hours a week do you work on the label & how many would you like to?
Ceschi – Depends on the week - from 20 - 60 hours per week I’d say, I mean... it’s my life.
QRD – What are the fun &/or rewarding parts about running a label?
Ceschi – Releasing good music, getting praise & attention for our work, making fans, building family & community.…
QRD – How have your motivations for having a label changed?
Ceschi – They haven’t really - but I’d say we’re more focused now - I used to do everything on my own, now I have 3 sometimes 4 other people helping me... it’s become more of a traditional business now.
QRD – What do you feel is the biggest waste of your time running the label?
Ceschi – Paying people takes up a lot of time... going to the post office... filling out all types of forms for distributors etc... it’s pretty time consuming.
QRD – What are some labels you admire or feel a kinship to?
Ceschi – I’m aligned closely with a European label called Equinox out of Berlin, Squids Eye in Dayton, a label in California called Grimm Image... Strange Famous records in Rhode Island, also really love what Knertz in Germany is doing... Milled Pavement in Portland Maine... the list goes on.
QRD – What other work experiences prepared you to have a label?
Ceschi – The experience of being in a band for years & trying to organize tours was the biggest preparation for running a label.
QRD – What makes you label special & unique?
Ceschi – We’re one of the very few labels in the world right now that is focused on left field indie hip hop & bridging the gap between that kind of music & indie pop/rock... we are definitely doing something different than most.
QRD – How has your physical location effected your label?
Ceschi – New Haven has a very small tight knit music scene, everybody knows each other... I really wouldn’t say that we’re a big part of the New Haven scene, but we do support it & think there’s a lot of good music coming out of here... although our artists come from all around the US & Canada. If anything - living in New Haven has given me a good amount of distance from the big city bullshit I’ve encountered in places such as LA where everyone & their mother is promising you something that never comes true.
QRD – Do you enjoy music as much now as you used to & how has running a label effected how you listen to/hear music?
Ceschi – I’ve always listened to a lot of music, I’m a music nerd for sure; but running a label has forced me to listen to more music than ever. I’d be lying if I said that this made me enjoy music more - I get sent demos nearly every day from a variety of people - from 15 year old gangster rappers to middle aged Japanese free jazz musicians... it can get pretty exhausting sometimes... but I definitely still have a desire & love of new music... I wouldn’t say I’m all that bitter yet.
QRD – What’s your demos policy?
Ceschi – We don’t accept unsolicited demos - but of course we still receive them nearly every day - I try to listen... but I have never once released an album because of an unsolicited demo I received.
QRD – How do you find out about new artists for your label?
Ceschi – Quite honestly - I have a lot of talented friends - I’ll usually approach them or my friends will approach me about releasing music... nearly everybody on Fake Four has been a friend or has mutual friends that have connected us
QRD – How do most fans find out about your label?
Ceschi – Not sure...maybe the internet?
QRD – What’s been your biggest selling release & why do you think it was?
Ceschi – It’s sort of hard to say but Awol One & Factor’s Owl Hours was one of the most successful ones... aside from the fact that Awol has a strong grassroots fan base I think it had the most backing from our distributor... which put it in more stores than any of our other releases therefore more people saw it & bought physical copies of it... it also received quite a bit of press as well as advertisement all of which were contributing factors I’d say.
QRD – What release that you’ve done was the most important & special to you personally?
Ceschi – My brother David Ramos’ album This Up Here - it was our first release & it’s a very personal & special album to me
QRD – What are some things that make you want to work with a band?
Ceschi – Of course I have to enjoy the music first. Secondly - drive. They have to be willing to tour & really push their albums. Third - online presence & a built in fan base is always a HUGE PLUS - it makes our work a lot easier - any sales history, tour history, fan history in general helps. Lastly - as diverse as my tastes may be, music on our label should appeal to a certain demographic - in our case the “college radio” crowd because these are the people we work with & sell to primarily. We don’t have someone pushing our albums to mainstream rock & hip hop radio so I wouldn’t know what to do with an album by, let’s say, Nickelback - they may be huge hit makers, but I probably wouldn’t be able to sell 10 copies via our outlets.
QRD – What are some things that would make you stop working with a band?
Ceschi – If a band has poor sales & doesn’t make an effort to change that - it doesn’t sit well with me. Success doesn’t come from sitting in your room & waiting - a lot of bands just expect shit to happen as soon as their album is pressed - it doesn’t work that way. Tour your ass off. Build your online presence. Stand out from the thousands of other bedroom musicians waiting around for fame.
QRD – What is the thing all releases on your label have in common?
Ceschi – Our albums generally don’t sound alike - but a lot of them have a similar attitude to them... we like a lot of one man bands who do what they want... who push boundaries with the music they make in some way or another... they’re all sort of living in between genre lines.…
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?
Ceschi – I’m generally pretty involved in listening to demos & sort of helping out as an outside ear. Sometimes I’ll make stronger suggestions for an album. But I’m normally not the type to watch over your back while you’re recording or something.
QRD – How involved do you like to be in the artwork design for a release?
Ceschi – It’s really up to the artist - but I sometimes get pretty involved in the layout & art selection.
QRD – How long is it from when an artist delivers an album to you until release date & why?
Ceschi – Usually around 3 months before release - HOPEFULLY - our distributor has pretty strict deadlines for multiple reasons... sometimes we’ve had to rush it for one reason or another.…
QRD – If a band breaks up between the recording of a release & the release date, how does that effect what you do?
Ceschi – Ha - that actually happened to my former band Toca in LA - the label was pretty screwed - but they also contributed to the break up so it made sense. I’m not sure - I’d probably just release it with minimal promotion & move on.
QRD – What do you wish bands on your label would do?
Ceschi – Tour consistently, build lifetime fans, promote themselves tastefully but consistently, maintain their integrity.
QRD – What’s a record you’d like to put out that you’ll never be able to?
Ceschi – Man... that’s nearly impossible to answer. Probably Neutral Milk Hotel’s next album, ha-ha.
QRD – If you really like a band, but aren’t sure you could sell many copies of their record; what do you do?
Ceschi – I put it out & try to make people pay attention even when it seems impossible... I do this regularly.
QRD – How is financing of a release split between artists & the label?
Ceschi – We do 60/40 splits in favor of the artist.
QRD – How do you split profits from a release between artists & your label?
Ceschi – After an album recoups we split everything 60/40.
QRD – Do you have written contracts with your bands or handshake deals?
Ceschi – I’ve done both.
QRD – Do you take a cut of a band’s publishing?
Ceschi – No.
QRD – How important is it to you to have touring acts on your roster & what do you do to encourage it?
Ceschi – It’s extremely important. So important that I actually tend to book tours for my label’s acts myself or help them book their own tours.
QRD – Do you handle promotions in house or hire out & why?
Ceschi – Inevitably we do a bit of both - but you tend to get a lot more response with a hired publicist... that’s just the truth... editors/writers tend to show them that respect more than they do when a label contacts them directly.
QRD – How do you maintain contact with your fanbase?
Ceschi – Facebook is the most obvious answer to that... twitter... we also have a monthly newsletter that goes out to anybody who has downloaded our albums free or signed up.
QRD – Do you have intern & street team programs & if so, how do they operate?
Ceschi – We don’t have a street team yet - maybe in the future... we’re beginning to use interns... not much yet.
QRD – How big of a staff do you have & how big of one do you need?
Ceschi – We have 4 or 5 guys that consistently work with us & sometimes more. John handles all online updates & more he’s basically my right hand man, Sparky handles all shipping, Michael is a recently hired graphic artist who is doing in-house layouts, posters, web art etc, Robby does our website stuff, Tom runs our partner label Circle Into Square along with our web store. Tommy does retail calls. This seems to be going pretty well for us at the moment.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with record stores?
Ceschi – Well, we’ve been calling them for nearly all of our new releases - we’ll call 300 plus stores in the US for one release - or email them. Also we’ve done in-stores & different special partnerships with various stores… for the underground hip hop kind of albums there are some very specific stores that always support what we do - such as UGHH.com in Boston & Access Hip Hop in San Diego
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with radio stations?
Ceschi – Terrorbird has handled our radio marketing since we’ve started & they’ve developed really great relationships with college stations who trust their opinions... this has lead to some nice direct support for the label.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with magazines & websites?
Ceschi – Well of course send promos... part of it is maybe giving them access to exclusive content... & sometimes it comes down to just getting ad space with them to build relationships & show your support.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with bloggers?
Ceschi – Pretty similar to last question.
QRD – Do you view advertisements as a way to generate interest & revenue or more as a way to financially support magazines & websites you like?
Ceschi – It’s a bit of both.
QRD – What is the job of your distributors?
Ceschi – To put our physical & digital product in stores, manage retail marketing; help make stores aware of our existence.
QRD – How do you decide how big the initial pressing of a release should be?
Ceschi – This is pretty much based on past sales history.
QRD – What percentage of a pressing do you use for promotions?
Ceschi – About 1000 copies are used for promo on larger releases
QRD – Do you sell merchandise other than the music (t-shirts, etc.)?
Ceschi – Yes we do.
QRD – Do you sell music that is not on your label?
Ceschi – Well... sometimes we support friends through our webstore, yes.
QRD – How has running a label effected your own artistic career?
Ceschi – Yes... it’s helped my career significantly.
QRD – Ideally, would you release your own material?
Ceschi – I do release my own music & yes, it’s pretty much the best situation I can hope for right now. Sometimes it’s weird to promote my own music, but I like being in control of my own fate.
QRD – What do you do to try to build a sense of community within your roster?
Ceschi – Well we do a lot of collaborative projects & tour together consistently... it helps us feel more like a community... but a lot of us are friends regardless of that.
QRD – What’s your most common conversation with bands as far as balancing artistic integrity & financial viability?
Ceschi – It’s all about artistic integrity... financial viability shouldn’t be a concern... especially in 2011.
QRD – How often do you look at your “return on investment” & adjust your business model?
Ceschi – Occasionally I’ve had to “trim the fat” a bit as the ol’ GOP says... but generally I’m stupid, wasteful, & old school about my business model.
QRD – Do you worry about search engine optimization & website traffic?
Ceschi – Yes... I mean... of course we want to keep people coming back to our website so we can feed them information & music.
QRD – What have you done to cut costs over the years?
Ceschi – I’ve sort of seen what works & what doesn’t or who works with a certain kind of album & who doesn’t... & honestly I’ve noticed trends in sales & have cut back on investing too much on certain albums which I know won’t sell as well. It’s sad to say... but it’s true. I’ve done less of the “throw as many darts at board as you can” method I guess you can say.
QRD – Do you think the album format is dead?
Ceschi – Maybe dying... but I’m working as hard as possible to keep it alive.
QRD – Do you think the return of vinyl & cassettes is a fad?
Ceschi – If so - I hope it’s a fad that sticks around for a long time.
QRD – Is it important to have physical releases over digital ones or does it not matter?
Ceschi – Physical is absolutely important - digital is so limited in presentation - it is not a tangible product - plus you can download anything for free - you can’t download a box with artwork & lyrics & music all in one. We still sell more physical than digital copies because we spend time & money to make our physical releases better than their digital counterparts.
QRD – What do you think of ultra-limited runs of releases (less than 100 discs)?
Ceschi – That’s cool - depends on the artist really - most of our artists have more than 100 fans who buy their albums so we need to press more... plus limited runs are quite expensive per CD... maybe 2 dollars per CD compared to 1 dollar per CD or something if you get 1000 or more.
QRD – What do you think of “print on demand” discs?
Ceschi – It seems a little insignificant.
QRD – How much content do you feel should be available free to fans?
Ceschi – Well, I like giving away free content mainly to promote the (paid) releases. I think it’s a nice way to keep people interested in what the label is doing, but we also need to pay money to print CDs & vinyl so free doesn’t always cut it. On top of that - too much free music around has hurt us - people are just inundated with all types of free garbage music being hurled at us from every direction... we can’t decide what to waste 100 megabytes of hard drive space on anymore. For me the key is to make free releases special... they should feel important... they should have art & be mastered just like any other album.
QRD – What do you do about people distributing your music without financial compensation (piracy & file trading)?
Ceschi – I do nothing about it... any true gambler/hustler - which is what a label manager is - must know how to accept a loss - write it off as promo or whatever.…
QRD – What’s something you see other labels do that you think of as borderline unethical?
Ceschi – Hmmm... well, major labels have a lot of money - so they can do crazy shit like monopolize a social networking site for a week or get paid a lot when people watch their videos on YouTube... it’s not fair... unethical? Not really. Now, when major labels sue people for illegally downloading songs - that’s unethical... that’s just fucked.
QRD – What changes in things would cause you to stop your label?
Ceschi – If I didn’t have a few alternate sources of income I wouldn’t be able to keep up my label... lack of money would do the trick... or serious sickness/death... but that’s about it.
QRD – What would you suggest to someone starting a label today?
Ceschi – Don’t do it unless you’re willing to lose money
QRD – Where do you think money is currently most available to labels/musicians & where in the future?
Ceschi – Licensing is the key right now... one of the guys on our label takes care of his large family & their house, plus he has his own apartment all from licensing jobs. Of course it’s not easy to get those - you usually need some sort of connection & your music needs to fall within certain guidelines...but it’s definitely a way for artists to get paid & promoted well outside of traditional music avenues.
QRD – Why do you think labels are still important to artists?
Ceschi – Well, most artists are lazy... labels are pretty much unnecessary, but artists don’t want to do the work or put the money up on their own... that’s why they need labels. Labels (like mine) are also communities of sorts that support each other & help each other build... that’s really important for me personally as an artist & a label owner.
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?
Ceschi – Believe it or not I’d say YouTube - there are thousands & thousands of uploads that are just still images with streaming songs - people go there to listen to music all the time! They can post on their Facebook walls easily - it’s super convenient. I actually like that trend... I’d eventually like to start releasing Free EPs that are only available via YouTube - basically making videos for each song on the EP.
QRD – In 20 years what do you think/hope your label will be known/remembered for?
Ceschi – I think Fake Four will be remembered
for our stubbornness, persistence, & quality; but mainly as one of
the very few labels to take indie hip hop seriously as a relevant art form
in the dry 2010s.