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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 Kristel Jax of IT3
January 2011
Name: Kristel Jax
Label: IT³
City: Traveling label, home switches twice a year on average.
Artists Roster: Kram Ran, Alpha Couple, DJ Aubrey Beardsley, + a collection of writers & illustrators.
Websites: imtrying.net
Latest Release: imtrying.net/alphacouple/edna

QRD – When & why did you start your label?

Kristel – I was into micro publishing books & comics, mostly for Syphilitic Mermaids Magazine. The first music release we did was for Kram Ran, because we wanted to help get his music in physical format in an affordable & attractive way.

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

Kristel – I try to do everything at a cost of zero. But when we need money it’s from our outside jobs, or my own income from my artwork.

QRD – How many releases have you put out?

Kristel – So far we have released one physical music release & three digital ones. We are working on our second physical music release. We have put out about a dozen micro chapbook & comic book releases as well.

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

Kristel – I’d like to do one or two physical releases a year & maybe a digital one every couple of months. I ended up opening a gallery this year so I fell far short of that.

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

Kristel – This year the label was on hold until late in the fall. When we do a release it just takes over my life for as long as it takes - a couple of days, a week, a month, whatever.

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

Kristel – Being involved in distributing things I love to others & helping artists I love.

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

Kristel – I wasn’t interested in digital releases before this year. I used to be all about creating a beautiful package the listener could touch, but now I’m also interested in creating digital packaging too.

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

Kristel – Putting things off because I feel I don’t have time to do them right wastes a lot of time. Once I get things going I usually wish I’d jumped on them sooner.

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

Kristel – I love Sacred Bones for their design (& the great music they put out).  Same goes for Campaign For Infinity, whom I don’t know much about but I’ve seen them selling their releases at zine fairs, which is a great idea. & just generally a lot of zinesters – when I was publishing books, I was inspired by a lot of record labels/DIY bands. Now that I’m doing music, I’m inspired by zine/indie publishing culture.

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

Kristel – I used to work doing cataloging, research, sales, & minor repairs in an antique bookshop; it really increased my understanding of the craft of publishing, both technically & historically – which I think carries over into our music label releases. & then a lot of customer service & retail jobs that set me up with basic skills to put our releases at press fairs, online, etc.

QRD – What makes you label special & unique?

Kristel – Well the fact that we mostly publish books rather than music, mostly.  Commitment to design that I find challenging or interesting & the fact that we have zero resources & have to get really creative about making things work. I guess we’re grass roots since we mostly sell at little art shows & fairs & stuff, but I’m not a huge fan of that term.

QRD – How has your physical location effected your label?

Kristel – I’m sure it has, but I’m not sure how to explain how. Our moving all the time keeps us on the internet more & in shops that might be interested in us less. We don’t have a community or scene built around us in any particular place – not that we would have much of one anyway, I think?

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

Kristel – I enjoy it a lot more, I think. It was shortly after we did our first music release that I started to make music in a meaningful & possibly shareable way too & I think I’ve come along way in understand what music is, instead of just appreciating certain artists without being able to articulate why.

QRD – What’s your demos policy?

Kristel – In both music & publishing, I have always been the one to approach the artist. But I would always accept demos – I likely don’t have the resources or time to put anything out, but I could likely give some pointers to people who might & maybe it will blow my mind & I’ll drop everything for it; who knows.

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

Kristel – The internet & personal relationships combined. A friend of mine was playing with Kram Ran for a while & that’s how I first heard his stuff via his page. Which really did blow me away.

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

Kristel – I don’t know if we have any fans! I think if people come to our website it’s because they’re looking for something in particular & if they buy something in a shop or from us at a zine fair, they’ve likely never heard of us before & it’s just because the design or the content hooked them.

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

Kristel – Musically we’ve only had one, so of course it was Kram Ran’s A Brief Affair of Limping & Gathering of Clipped Wings. Our biggest selling release ever was a collection of short stories called Pure Animal Instinct, which was designed really beautifully (hand bound with spray painted covers, etc), which I’ve reprinted three times so far.

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

Kristel – Honestly they all are. I released a free digital single for my own band, Alpha Couple, in November which I am proud of, obviously.

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

Kristel – Aside from not having time to work with any artists who aren’t making work I’m absolutely in love with & inspired by, I won’t work with people who aren’t nice. Artists can be troubled & crazy which is totally fine, but if I get a vibe from them like they’re going to be a jerk & I’m not going to like working with them, I won’t.

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

Kristel – Hopefully it would be because they found a label that still respects their work to the utmost, but can do a lot more for them financially or distribution-wise. I guess I’d stop working with an artist if communication really wasn’t happening anymore, too.

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

Kristel – I usually put the releases together design wise, even if the artwork is by someone else, so they are all kind of alike aesthetically. Our releases & our artists all probably have a very DIY kind of feeling as well. Everyone’s still under 30, everyone’s broke & struggling.

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?

Kristel – I’m not involved in production (except with my own band), but I’ll give advice on track selection & that kind of thing. & I’m always involved in editing literary releases because that’s something I know how to do.

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

Kristel – Very, I enjoy it & I feel like I have some good ideas. Kram Ran & I put his artwork together in the same room, trading ideas until we found something that really worked. Often I just do it all myself, but that’s not a rule at all. DJ Daniel Triangle originally planned to make his own artwork for his Ghost Show releases, but he didn’t have the time so I put it all together with some artwork we’d shown in our gallery.

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

Kristel – Usually there is a deadline, like a date that we’re moving, a zine fair, a release show, etc – so that’s what we’ll get it done for. In the case of Daniel’s Ghost Show mixes, we took ages because of the artwork being held off, but we ended up releasing them along with the announcement that Freud’s Bathhouse & Diner (our gallery) would be closing. Deadlines really help.

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

Kristel – It would depend what they wanted to do.

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

Kristel – Believe in themselves, not stop. I clearly believe in them & think they’re special if they’re on the label, so I’m invested in that way.  I’d be sad if they quit.

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

Kristel – Lil B & Kram Ran. I think they’re pursuing the same thing.

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

Kristel – Not make many copies. (& keep the files/templates so I have the ability to make more if things go better than expected.)

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

Kristel – We’ll work it out before hand. For instance I think Kram supplied all the CDRs for his release & I supplied things like printer ink & envelopes.

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

Kristel – Again, we work it out before hand, but the artist generally takes half or more.

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

Kristel – Not so far, but in the future I think I would have a written contract just to keep things clear, whether there’s money involved or not.

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

Kristel – I don’t think that applies to us right now.

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

Kristel – It’s important to get the word out about an artist & for them to make connections that will build them both artistically & “fame”-wise.  Right now I’ll help book tours for free, like sending out emails or giving them ideas & contacts or whatever. Plus emotional & moral support.

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

Kristel – I do everything myself, or with the help of the artists themselves.  That’s all I know how to do/can afford.

QRD – How do you maintain contact with your fanbase?

Kristel – We have a Facebook group that I’d like to start using again now that we’re doing releases again. & we have a blog on our site, which again I’d like to post more on. I also try to keep the artists pages on our site updated. Lately I’ve really liked Last.fm as a resource to connect artists with more listeners.

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

Kristel – I make stickers as freebies to give out to whomever wants them or whoever orders a release & I’ll put them up myself sometimes. If there’s an art show or a release of ours that’s going on I’ll design/print/put up posters with the artists & friends of mine. That’s as far as it goes right now.

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

Kristel – Just myself, sometimes the artists, & whatever friends want to lend a hand. I’d love to have someone volunteer or work for school credit who’s interested in indie publishing/music to help me out, but I haven’t had the time to really seek that out. I’ve almost had someone like that a few times; but they flaked, which is fine.

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

Kristel – I’ll go into shops that I like once in a while & show them what I’m doing & see if they want to buy a few copies or take them on commission. Most shops aren’t very interested in what we do because it doesn’t sell for them, but the coolest/most real places will often bite.

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

Kristel – I encourage artists to send their work out to radio stations, & I plan to send our next release to some, both in the mail or digitally. Someone told me recently that posting on Free Music Archive is a great way to reach radio stations, so I’m hoping to get some stuff up on there soon.

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

Kristel – Really I’ve just been in contact with blogs, which is the next question.

QRD – What do you do to build relationships with bloggers?

Kristel – I have a list of blogs I feel an affinity to that I will email from time to time. I’m getting more into that now. I don’t know how personable or professional to be though, it’s a hard call. I just hope people will see that we mean what we’re doing & give it a chance.

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

Kristel – I think online ads are ugly most of the time so I haven’t looked into it at all. & print ads aren’t something I’ve been able to afford, though I’ve looked into it & I might do it in the future.

QRD – What is the job of your distributors?

Kristel – I am my distributor, so I just kind of make it up. I look for affordable ways to get content out there & take whatever chances seem to be the best.

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

Kristel – I’ll talk it over with the artist & we go off of our predictions & instinct, & what we can afford.

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

Kristel – About 20% right now.

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

Kristel – Not right now.

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

Kristel – Not right now.

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

Kristel – It’s helped me learn & connect with other artists & groups. If I’m out there representing others’ art, my understanding of what works & what doesn’t in art, interpersonal stuff, & business grows a lot. I think it’s helped me a lot in many ways, I used to be more shy & in my own world.

QRD – Ideally, would you release your own material?

Kristel – I’ve enjoyed releasing my own material because I can do whatever I want & I’m really into control, but in all honesty I’m hoping that someone else will start doing it soon, just because there’s only so much I can do & I’d rather spend energy elsewhere.

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

Kristel – We’re all a very small family & I think we all count each other as friends in one way or another. There is a lot of connection online & we’ve had art shows & events where most artists have been able to meet each other, etc. Artists will come with me to zine fairs sometimes too, or even work them on our behalf, which I appreciate so much.

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

Kristel – It doesn’t really come up as part of the label itself, but I’ve talked to artists about their hopes & dreams, or talked them down when they’re freaking out about that stuff (& vice versa).

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

Kristel – Every release is different. Most releases get nothing back in financial terms, or return very little, but it’s generally worth the effort in other areas, like new connections, etc; the goals are often more about getting something out rather than making any real money.

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

Kristel – Yes, definitely. I try to have links all over the place & encourage artists to have their profiles on a lot of different platforms, etc.  Access to information & content for people who are interested in the art is really important to me; especially since it’s so easy, & usually free, via the internet.

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

Kristel – Everything from dumpster diving for paper & finding used mailing envelopes (from other labels, funny) on Craigslist, to buying used printers & using them until the ink runs out because it’s literally cheaper than buying new ink for my own printer.

QRD – Do you think the album format is dead?

Kristel – No, I love albums. I think they’re getting better & better now that they’re not an essential release format. Artists seem to be thinking a lot about how to make each album something of its own, instead of just saying “here are all the songs I wrote this year” – which can be done track by track via iTunes now instead.

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

Kristel – No not at all, but I’m a little sad to see people over look CDs so harshly because they’re the only format (aside from MP3s of course) I can play/make on my computer & play in most people’s car stereos. I collect tapes because I love the format, but I rarely listen to them.

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

Kristel – Yes, if a band can release music physically they should, even if it’s just a small run that they’re making themselves to sell at shows or via their website. If it looks impressive that helps too. I think if a band has only released music digitally they might find it harder to be taken seriously, though it’s probably going to be more & more acceptable.  Profit-wise, I think a lot of people still have trouble with the idea of paying for digital music.

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

Kristel – I think they’re great & important for bands that are just starting out or who are making great work but don’t have that much of an audience yet.

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

Kristel – Whatever works best for the artist & label is great. For really small releases it’s cool because fans are going to be interacting with the labels/process a bit more.

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

Kristel – Whatever the artist is comfortable with is best, since no one seems to agree on this, but I’d definitely encourage artists to have at least a few songs floating around freely.

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

Kristel – If the artist is upset then I’d do whatever I could to stop it, but generally I get a rush out of seeing people loving the same work that I loved enough to release & I think piracy is unavoidable. I’d appreciate links back to where the fans can buy the work though, if it is for sale.

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

Kristel – Release music that is terribly boring (or just terrible) because it will sell & not save any of their profit to release other, less profitable but more challenging works by smaller artists who will likely never make it big but deserve to have their work released.

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

Kristel – Nothing, not even the apocalypse.

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

Kristel – If you really want to do something like what IT³ is doing, start small, get your friends to help you, try to build or get involved with a community (go to zine fairs, mail free copies away, send out mp3s, etc), know & do what you believe in & don’t expect anyone to care (someone will).  For someone who wants to start a real label, I guess just try to keep it real & have a close relationship with & understanding of your artists.

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

Kristel – I’d guess advertising & promotions. Or kids who buy things they read about on blogs, that seems to be working for some artists.

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

Kristel – To help them develop & become part of a community & to help them reach more fans.

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?

Kristel – Soundcloud, Tumblr & (weirdly enough) Facebook seem to be where everyone hooks up. I feel like I get to at least hear about a lot of music from Facebook. & it’s so easy to make mixtapes & put them on Soundcloud or whatever now, a lot of artists are supporting each other that way. I think Last.fm is still great too, & there’s a lot of beautiful music videos & other work being put onto Vimeo.

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

Kristel – Well-crafted & designed releases by artists pursuing something interesting & real.

QRD – Anything else?

Kristel – Thanks for putting this all together :)