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QRD #47 - Record Label Owner Interview Series
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Label Owner Interviews with:
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At War With False Noise
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Record Label Owner Interview with Al Mabon of At War With False Noise
January 2011
Name: Al Mabon
Label: At War With False Noise
City: Glasgow, Scotland
Artists Roster: Ramesses, Vomir, Locrian, Maurizio Bianchi, Gnaw Their Tongues, Alkerdeel, The New Blockaders etc etc
Websites: www.atwarwithfalsenoise.com

QRD – When & why did you start your label?

Al – Late 2006 is when everything got going properly.

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

Al – By the nature of the early hand-made CDR/tape release they never cost very much money to finance!

QRD – How many releases have you put out?

Al – Currently coming up to the 100 mark.

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

Al – At least 20, now that the label is being taken more “seriously” I’d like to get even more out.

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

Al – It’s full-time hours nearly now, what with website, artwork, doing parcels, going to post office, etc.

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

Al – Having a big part in releasing music I love is the biggest reward I can think of.

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

Al – It started off as a hobby & has gradually been something that I’ve given up my career for.  It sounds pretty terrifying when I put it like that!

QRD – What do you feel is the biggest waste of your time running the label? 

Al – Some people’s inability to read incredibly simple instructions on the website do tend to waste my time a lot.

QRD – What are some labels you admire or feel a kinship to? 

Al – Dischord & SST started it all as far as I’m concerned.  Early days of Earache too.  Only Dischord get a semblance of respect from me these days though.

QRD – What other work experiences prepared you to have a label? 

Al – I worked in a pretty brutal office environment before, packaging up some LPs is a walk in the park in comparison!

QRD – What makes your label special & unique? 

Al – I just release music I want to & I like without any other agenda.  I’d probably sound a bit cynical if I thought that was special or unique, but it probably is these days.

QRD – How has your physical location effected your label? 

Al – Not very much, almost all my business is done through mail order.

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

Al – When I hear a new demo now I definitely think “I could put out their first record” rather than “I hope someone signs these guys up to do a record soon.”

QRD – What’s your demos policy? 

Al – I listen to most stuff that comes in, but I do get an awful lot through the post these days!

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

Al – Same places I always did... I read fanzines, check bands out on Myspace, hear about new bands on forums, etc.

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

Al – I guess word of mouth most likely.  I send very few promos/review copies out these days.  I’m not into sucking up to magazines or journalists to try & get their attention.  I think the catalogue speaks for itself.

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

Al – I think the Vomir CD Proanomie probably sold fastest/best.  No idea why, it’s probably the least commercial music you could ever release!  He definitely got a lot of press around the time it came out, maybe people were just curious.

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

Al – Anything by friends of mine who wouldn’t have had the opportunity otherwise.

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

Al – If I like their music & if I get along with them really.

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

Al – A couple of bands in the past have forgotten how much time, effort, & cash I put into this (with little tangible reward) & have taken the piss with how many copies/what money they want.  I won’t work with anyone like that again because I know I’m very fair with what I give to bands.

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

Al – The only thing they have in common is I like them!

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? 

Al – Not at all, what the record sounds like is up to them.

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

Al – I used to do everything, now most bands send me artwork themselves.  I generally do the layouts & still do maybe 25% or art from scratch myself.

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

Al – Depends on who it is, really.  For example, I’ve had a Culver LP waiting to come out for nearly two years now, but I know it’s not going to sell very many copies & I’ll make a hefty loss on it, so it’ll come out on the back of a popular release when I’ve got a bit more cash to burn.

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

Al – Nobody buys the bloody thing!  

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

Al – Erm dunno, keep making good music?

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

Al – I’d love to reissue a lot of the early Earache titles, but they’ve got everything locked in a vault with Dig’s gold bars & presumably the corpse of Sid.

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

Al – Ha, generally put it out anyway & moan about how nobody buys it.

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

Al – Generally good, I really like doing split releases with other labels.

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

Al – I usually give a band a percentage of the press rather than cash.  There have been a few exceptions.

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

Al – Only once have I had a written contract.  I’d like to think I’m known as completely trustworthy.

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

Al – Not particularly.

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

Al – Everything is done by me.

QRD – How do you maintain contact with your fanbase? 

Al – I speak to both fans regularly via email.

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

Al – No!

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

Al – Just me.  My mum helped fold up the covers for the Marzuraan album if that counts.

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

Al – They probably are, but I find it very difficult to afford the kind of money they want to advertise.  The problem is, without advertising you’ll never get any bands from your label in a magazine to get reviewed/interviewed, unless you know someone who works there.

QRD – What is the job of your distributors? 

Al – They sell my records!

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

Al – If I think it’ll sell.

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

Al – Very few these days.

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

Al – Sometimes do tshirts.  I just did some AWWFN mugs, but I think I’ll just give them away.

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

Al – Yes, that’s probably the bulk of my business at the moment.

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

Al – Ha, I never had one!

QRD – Ideally, would you release your own material? 

Al – I have done, but haven’t recorded anything or played live in about 3 years & have no plans to in the foreseeable future.  Other people do it better than I do, simple as that!

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

Al – I try & do everything they want unless I know I’m going to make an absolutely horrible loss from it.

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

Al – Not as often as I should.

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

Al – My costs have only been going up over the years!

QRD – Do you think the album format is dead? 

Al – Certainly not.

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

Al – I don’t think so.  I think there’ll always be a small cult market for vinyl at least.

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

Al – Yes.  I hate digital releases.  I love collecting records & will always do so.

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

Al – They have their purpose as long as they’re done well.

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

Al – What, like music that’s made to order?  I guess if even you don’t have the faith in your music to manufacture at least 100 or so it’s probably not very good in the first place.

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

Al – In an ideal world everything would be free, but then we don’t live in an ideal world!

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

Al – It gets on my fucking nerves.  I don’t charge much money for my releases, spend every spare minute I have working on this label & make a massive effort to ensure everything I put out is of the highest quality, so when someone puts up a CD I sell for a fiver on a blogspot & it gets donwloaded for free I get rather annoyed!!

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

Al – There are so many examples of shady practice going on in the past few years I don’t even know where to begin.

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

Al – If I really ran out of inclination.  I’ve been tempted a few times over the past couple of years definitely to pack it in.

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

Al – Don’t do it unless you’re actually going to do something interesting & you’ve got the strength to keep it going.  If more people actually thought about this long & hard before they began we wouldn’t have so many rubbish labels going about right now.

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

Al – If I knew that I’d probably be more successful.  Signing up a band who Vice magazine likes & doing a stupid “diehard” package on coloured vinyl seems to be where the money is.  Ask Rise Above Records that question I suppose.

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

Al – Because without them who’d put out their music?

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? 

Al – I really don’t know.

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

Al – Hopefully as a label who released good music on its own terms.