Label Owner Interview with tiMOTHy of Dark Holler & Hand/Eye
Label: Dark Holler • Hand/Eye
Dark Holler: The Spectral Light & Moonshine Firefly Snakeoil Jamboree, Bob Buckingham, Terry Earl Taylor. Kirk Withrow
Hand/Eye: Stone Breath, The Trees Community, Martyn Bates, Eyeless in Gaza, Prydwyn, The Forest Beggars, Fit & Limo, Crow Tongue, the does, Nick Grey, Lamp of the Universe, Skye Klad, tiMOTHy, Jessica Constable & Philipe Gelda, Robin Crutchfield, Shane Speal, Sarah June, Ring, Moth Masque, Breathe Stone, Barlow / Petersen / Wivinus, Mourning Cloak
QRD – When & why did you start your label?
tiMOTHy – Originally, I ran a punk/gothic/noise tape label, starting in the 1980s. I started making my own music & decided to start a “real” record label at that time. I soon started finding other artists whose music I liked & went from there.
QRD – Where did you get the money to finance your first few releases?
tiMOTHy – Day job.
QRD – How many releases have you put out?
tiMOTHy – If you include all of the limited edition CDRs & such... a lot. Approaching 100.
QRD – How many releases would you like to do a year?
tiMOTHy – I think in terms of doing releases, not really in linear time. A release takes as long as it takes.
QRD – How many hours a week do you work on the label & how many would you like to?
tiMOTHy – I don’t know. If I’m awake, I’m at least THINKING about music, which is relative to the label I suppose.
QRD – What are the fun &/or rewarding parts about running a label?
tiMOTHy – I still get a huge thrill out of holding a finished project.
QRD – How have your motivations for having a label changed?
tiMOTHy – I don’t think they have.
QRD – What do you feel is the biggest waste of your time running the label?
tiMOTHy – Waiting in line at the post office/UPS store?
QRD – What are some labels you admire or feel a kinship to?
tiMOTHy – Probably Camera Obscura because Tony was never tight with sharing his information or “contacts.” He never made it like a big mystery - he helped us get distribution; put us in contact with press people & artists & so forth. Tony Dale & his label are greatly missed.
QRD – What other work experiences prepared you to have a label?
tiMOTHy – Doing zines I guess.
QRD – What makes you label special & unique?
tiMOTHy – We never forget what it is like to be on the artist side of the label/artist equation. For instance: we never charge our artists the same wholesale price for their releases as anyone else would get. That always rubbed me wrong: why should I pay as much for my own music as anyone else would?
QRD – How has your physical location effected your label?
tiMOTHy – I don’t know. I moved 3 times since starting the label. I think it would be the same anywhere else.
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 – I enjoy music more than ever. I don’t think running a label has effected the way I listen necessarily, but it does make me think about packaging & such when I am looking at an album.
QRD – What’s your demos policy?
tiMOTHy – If people want to send us things, that’s OK, but they have to understand, there are only 2 of us here & it may take many months before we ever listen. It’s not because we are disinterested in new music - it’s simply because I am not always in the listening mode for determining if an album is something I want to invest time/money with.
QRD – How do you find out about new artists for your label?
tiMOTHy – Organically - most often friends of friends or the like. In some cases, I have sought out artists.
QRD – How do most fans find out about your label?
tiMOTHy – I’m guessing from their friends, but I really don’t know.
QRD – What’s been your biggest selling release & why do you think it was?
tiMOTHy – The Trees Community The Christ Tree - because it is maybe the greatest album ever recorded.
QRD – What release that you’ve done was the most important & special to you personally?
tiMOTHy – Stone Breath The Shepherdess & the Bone-White Bird - it’s my own band, & I invested so much into that album, creatively & otherwise - & the end product was, perhaps for the first time in my musical career, almost exactly what I imagined. Our “comeback” album which, in my mind, is the best thing we ever did.
QRD – What are some things that make you want to work with a band?
tiMOTHy – A similar mindset musically &/or politically &/or spiritually.
QRD – What are some things that would make you stop working with a band?
tiMOTHy – We do handshake deals, not contracts. It’s almost a sacred trust. If somebody doesn’t honor that deal, it hurts.
QRD – What is the thing all releases on your label have in common?
tiMOTHy – It’s music we like.
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 – For any band I am making music with: I am always making those decisions. For other bands on my label: for the most part, I trust them to hand me a finished album & trust their vision there. I produced Bob Buckingham’s CD for Dark Holler - recorded, engineered, & produced it; so I helped pick songs & track order & everything there.
QRD – How involved do you like to be in the artwork design for a release?
tiMOTHy – I like doing the art a lot, but if a band has some kind of preference to use someone else, I am fine with that. I don’t take it personally.
QRD – How long is it from when an artist delivers an album to you until release date & why?
tiMOTHy – It gets longer & longer. The distributor wants things months & months ahead of time & I have a great deal of trouble functioning that far ahead. This leads to further delays. It’s most often my own fault.
QRD – If a band breaks up between the recording of a release & the release date, how does that effect what you do?
tiMOTHy – The music is the music - we have never depended on touring or anything to push our albums. I don’t think it would kill an album, although it does hurt if people view an album as “dead” or “old” before it’s even released.
QRD – What do you wish bands on your label would do?
tiMOTHy – Honor the handshake. By far, most of them do.
QRD – What’s a record you’d like to put out that you’ll never be able to?
tiMOTHy – I would have liked to do the official reissue of COB’s Moyshe McStiff & the Tartan Lancers of the Sacred Heart.
QRD – If you really like a band, but aren’t sure you could sell many copies of their record; what do you do?
tiMOTHy – This is the hardest part for us right now. Killing releases or turning what would have previously been CDs or LPs into CDRs & such. If we do go the replication/pressing route, how many of ANYTHING do you make in this economy? It’s tough.
QRD – How is financing of a release split between artists & the label?
tiMOTHy – What? Do other labels ask artists for money?!? Seriously?
QRD – How do you split profits from a release between artists & your label?
tiMOTHy – It’s different for each release. Flexibility is one advantage of being so small.
QRD – Do you have written contracts with your bands or handshake deals?
tiMOTHy – Handshake.
QRD – Do you take a cut of a band’s publishing?
tiMOTHy – Seriously? What are these labels doing to the artists?! Artists are OK with this!?!
QRD – How important is it to you to have touring acts on your roster & what do you do to encourage it?
tiMOTHy – I don’t think our following is dependent on seeing a band come to their town to appreciate them. I’m sure they would love it, but for us it seems to be about the albums.
QRD – Do you handle promotions in house or hire out & why?
tiMOTHy – In house. We could never even get a press agent or publicist to talk to us. I doubt we could afford them anyway.
QRD – How do you maintain contact with your fanbase?
tiMOTHy – Mostly via email & website. We used to send out a print catalog 2-3 times/year.
QRD – Do you have intern & street team programs & if so, how do they operate?
tiMOTHy – No. I wouldn’t know where to start with that.
QRD – How big of a staff do you have & how big of one do you need?
tiMOTHy – It’s my wife & me. We probably need a staff of 50, but this is what we have.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with record stores?
tiMOTHy – We’ve tried a few of the in-store promotional type programs.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with radio stations?
tiMOTHy – We make sure the (very) few radio stations that play our music receive every release.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with magazines & websites?
tiMOTHy – We try to send the actual releases - not a link to MP3s or a lesser version - & we are happy to work with anyone in the press in whatever capacity. We help obtain interviews & pictures of our artists, artwork scans - whatever they need.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with bloggers?
tiMOTHy – I see the blog thing as pretty much an extension of the website/magazine world.
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 – To generate interest, for the most part - though sometimes it is to support magazines.
QRD – What is the job of your distributors?
tiMOTHy – To get the product into the stores & mailorders that will do the best job with it.
QRD – How do you decide how big the initial pressing of a release should be?
tiMOTHy – I never know anymore. The economy seems to be dictating smaller pressings. We are still adjusting.
QRD – What percentage of a pressing do you use for promotions?
tiMOTHy – Usually somewhere around 10-15% - maybe more or less depending on the interest.
QRD – Do you sell merchandise other than the music (t-shirts, etc.)?
tiMOTHy – Yes, t-shirts, stickers, etc.
QRD – Do you sell music that is not on your label?
tiMOTHy – Yes - most anything we like.
QRD – How has running a label effected your own artistic career?
tiMOTHy – It gives me a bullshit detector when dealing with other labels. I know EXACTLY what goes into a release &, usually, exactly what they paid to make it. I know the difference between units shipped & units sold. I know about returns (& how much they can hurt) - so, again, it’s having a view to both sides of the label/artist relationship. I think because of this, I am a pain in the ass for labels to deal with.
QRD – Ideally, would you release your own material?
tiMOTHy – I do.
QRD – What do you do to try to build a sense of community within your roster?
tiMOTHy – We’re, literally, all over the map. Musically, geographically - it’s a bit hard to make the ties. Some of us have recorded together. Some of us have toured together. That’s always really nice.
QRD – What’s your most common conversation with bands as far as balancing artistic integrity & financial viability?
tiMOTHy – I’ve always trusted that the artistic vision would lead to the financial viability. You usually have to warn bands that they are not dealing with Warner Brothers though & things are what they are with a small independent label.
QRD – How often do you look at your “return on investment” & adjust your business model?
tiMOTHy – More lately than ever before. With Stone Breath being the current top seller on the label, & some other releases not selling too great, it’s difficult not to just say: “Well, I’ll stick to releasing my own music.” We are NOT doing that, but we have slowed the schedule a great deal. We just can’t afford to release everything we want to anymore.
QRD – Do you worry about search engine optimization & website traffic?
tiMOTHy – A little bit I suppose, but not greatly.
QRD – What have you done to cut costs over the years?
tiMOTHy – Just releasing less releases, I think.
QRD – Do you think the album format is dead?
tiMOTHy – I hear it is, but we’re not giving up.
QRD – Do you think the return of vinyl & cassettes is a fad?
tiMOTHy – Cassettes - maybe? On one hand, it’s a really shitty format. On the other hand, it is a format still used throughout the world, so maybe it’s a good thing. LPs - they never really went away. They are here to stay.
QRD – Is it important to have physical releases over digital ones or does it not matter?
tiMOTHy – We do some digital stuff, but I really don’t care about it. To me an album is the art & packaging & words & music all together & when people stop buying them altogether, we are likely done. I think if it comes down to releasing CDRs in quantities of 100 or something, we would still do that out of love... but if it ever stopped altogether, what’s the point?
QRD – What do you think of ultra-limited runs of releases (less than 100 discs)?
tiMOTHy – I like doing these.
QRD – What do you think of “print on demand” discs?
tiMOTHy – I don’t have a problem with these.
QRD – How much content do you feel should be available free to fans?
tiMOTHy – I don’t know.
QRD – What do you do about people distributing your music without financial compensation (piracy & file trading)?
tiMOTHy – What can we do? We only ask people not to do it.
QRD – What’s something you see other labels do that you think of as borderline unethical?
tiMOTHy – Some of the artist deals.
QRD – What changes in things would cause you to stop your label?
tiMOTHy – As I said, when physical releases are done, we are done most likely.
QRD – What would you suggest to someone starting a label today?
tiMOTHy – Get financial backing.
QRD – Where do you think money is currently most available to labels/musicians & where in the future?
tiMOTHy – We do well with small editions aimed at a dedicated group of patrons; but I’m not sure that structure would work for everyone.
QRD – Why do you think labels are still important to artists?
tiMOTHy – I think artists tend to like to be artists & would prefer other people to do the legwork & such for releases (I know I do).
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 – Somebody help me on this one because I just don’t know. One of the problems I see with the internet is that the water is just so muddy & tides change with the wind. Everybody had a page on MySpace & you had to be there & such & now it is seen as passé. Facebook seems already polluted the same way. There doesn’t seem to be a central location - even for specific genres of music - where people want to go to find new things. Facebook will soon be passé when something else crops up & all of the effort & energy we put into developing Facebook content will be seen as old news.
QRD – In 20 years what do you think/hope your label will be known/remembered for?
tiMOTHy – I hope we are seen as somebody who broke a few great artists; who did a few great reissues; & who are still releasing music!
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