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QRD #47 - Record Label Owner Interview Series
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Powertool Records
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Record Label Owner Interview with Andrew Maitai of Powertool Records
January 2011

Name: Andrew Maitai
Label: Powertool Records
City: Auckland, New Zealand.
Artists Roster: Here are some of the artists we have released..... Feyodor, Joed Out, The Feds, Mikael H., Edward Gains, Robert Scott, The Shrugs, Daisy Chain Halo, The Temporary Thing, Midwest Motorparts Corral, Phonoss, Gina Rocco & The Rockettes, Dragstrip, Fats White, Poison Arrow, Sweet Factory, Momzer, Rimu, Mark Airlie, Mixture, Venture Electric, Cellar Uncle, Bridget Martin, Bored Gordon, The Jaggernauts, Friendstealer, The Puddle, Tegan, Federales, Bill Direen, The Lovehaters, Vorn, Sparrow, Sarah Dougher, Cold War Babies, Greg Franco & Wandering Bear, Malcontent, Famous Famous, Infinite Flying Kick, J. Zumpano, Brother Love, Ward 4, Otis Mace, Jetty, Rough Church, One Man Bannister, The Weather, Sandra Bell, Azalia Snail, AJ Sharma, The Bilders, Factory Kids, Lost Universe, Keith Austin, Superturtle, Surf Friends, Enshrine, Cat & Sock, Lord Bishop Rocks!, The Black Watch
Websites: www.powertoolrecords.co.nz, www.powertoolrecords.de, www.powertoolrecords.com

QRD – When & why did you start your label?

Andrew – I started the label around 2001, mainly as a vehicle for the band I played drums in. The band came to an end, Powertool continued on.

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

Andrew – My savings.

QRD – How many releases have you put out? 

Andrew – 105.

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

Andrew – 12.

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

Andrew – I live & breathe Powertool Records.

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

Andrew – Creating a finished product. Seeing an act progress & evolve.

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

Andrew – No. I am driven to do what I do.

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

Andrew – Email is very time-consuming... but necessary.

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

Andrew – Flying Nun, Kranky, Matador, Merge, Drag City, Parasol.

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

Andrew – I ran my own business selling Powertools for many years. Different industry, same rules.

QRD – What makes you label special & unique? 

Andrew – Great music.

QRD – How has your physical location effected your label?

Andrew – We are on the other side of the world in a small isolated country of only four million people.  Getting to the large markets is extremely expensive.

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

Andrew – Yes. Although I no longer have the time to search & discover new music as a fan like I used to. I seldom buy new music anymore. I am obsessed with my own releases.

QRD – What’s your demos policy? 

Andrew – I listen to them all... really, I do.

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

Andrew – Artists approach me. I also run a regular weekly gig called the Indie Club that is designed to help promote new bands. I also tour a lot & get to see lots of new bands.

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

Andrew – From my live gigs I promote.

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

Andrew – Surf Friends... because it has been well promoted & the SF have worked hard.

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

Andrew – Joed Out - Weirder Than Looney Tunes. I played drums in that band & those songs are very dear to me. I’m also very proud of that album.

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

Andrew – Good songs, great live show, & a positive “can do” attitude. Commitment.

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

Andrew – Bad attitude, laziness, & dishonesty.

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

Andrew – Great music.

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? 

Andrew – Not very. I offer my opinion, but my artists have complete artistic control.

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

Andrew – Only if they require help.

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

Andrew – Two to three months. It’s important to get some promo done before the release date.

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

Andrew – If they are unable to play or do interviews to promote, then I will very likely reduce the quantity I manufacture.

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

Andrew – Give a 100% commitment.

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

Andrew – A project written/performed by me. I don’t have the time to commit.

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

Andrew – Do a short run release. My philosophy behind Powertool has always been to make good music available regardless of its commercial viability.

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

Andrew – The artist covers recording costs. I cover the manufacturing costs.

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

Andrew – 50/50. Our relationship is one of partnership.

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

Andrew – Handshake deals.

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

Andrew – No.

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

Andrew – In these times, it’s more important than ever. I organise tours, I go with them, tour manage. Provide resources like vehicles & equipment.

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

Andrew – I do all promotions in house; mostly because of a lack of budget, but also to maintain control & 
a high standard.

QRD – How do you maintain contact with your fanbase? 

Andrew – Regular newsletters via email. Our fanzine... Drill Magazine. Our website. Facebook.

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

Andrew – I have helpers with the Indie Club. I pay them if we have a good night & of course buy them dinner, drinks, & give them CDs. I also have a loyal friend in Germany who promotes our music in Europe.

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

Andrew – I am mostly a one man band. With more people I could achieve so much more. Finding the right people, with the same attitude, dedication, & commitment who are willing to work for next to nothing is not easy.

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

Andrew – Record stores in this country are dying.  I have a strong relationship with my distributor.

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

Andrew – Regular contact. Touring is essential to build those relationships.

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

Andrew – Regularly send them review copies.

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

Andrew – Send them press releases & offer them free MP3s to check out our latest releases with the hope that they will request a copy to review.

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

Andrew – Adverts are a way to financially support magazines & websites.

QRD – What is the job of your distributors? 

Andrew – To ensure a good relationship with record stores & to actively promote our releases to them.

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

Andrew – How active the artist is & how committed they are to promoting it.

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

Andrew – 25%.

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

Andrew – Would like to, but all my resources go into releases as that is my priority.

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

Andrew – Yes... through my retail shop & through the Indie Club shows I put on.

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

Andrew – It has stopped it. I enjoy playing with people, but don’t have the time to commit.

QRD – Ideally, would you release your own material? 

Andrew – Yes.

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

Andrew – I get our bands to play together often.

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

Andrew – It depends a lot on the artist.  What they are trying to achieve. Often some bands think that their commitment ends at the point they finish their recording... they are tired & feel they need a rest. In reality the hard work is only just beginning.  That is a common conversation I have.

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

Andrew – I recently changed my business model about eighteen months ago. It’s less complicated, simpler, & a lot fairer.  I am always thinking about how to improve my model.

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

Andrew – No... but I probably should.

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

Andrew – Bought a van. Live in a shitty warehouse. Put up with old, tired, slow computers.

QRD – Do you think the album format is dead? 

Andrew – No.

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

Andrew – Vinyl is important to collectors because of the superior packaging. People buying new vinyl normally already know & love the music they are buying so much that they want a quality product they can treasure & show off to their friends.  Cassettes are a fad.

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

Andrew – It is important to have both. CDs are still the perfect piece of merchandise when touring... small, compact, beautifully packaged, & immediate.

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

Andrew – Good... in this day & age it is possible to make CDs to demand.

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

Andrew – Fine.

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

Andrew – The problem with “free” is that it has devalued music.  If you pay for something you will very likely respect it.  I’m not a fan of giving music away for free.

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

Andrew – It’s not normally a problem for us. In some respects they are spreading the music to new listeners. It is also something we have little control over so there is no point wasting time & energy worrying about it.

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

Andrew – In this country there are many government grants that are given away to record companies to produce “radio friendly” hits. The result is a gravy train for mostly the majors, but also a number of money hungry independents. The unfortunate result is an industry full of mediocrity.

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

Andrew – If I died.

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

Andrew – First... ask yourself why you are doing this. You need to be totally committed & if that is the case it will take over your life. Do you really love the music you want to promote or is it just a cool job where you can make lots of money? For me, it is a lifestyle choice, something I am driven to do.

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

Andrew – From playing live & touring.

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

Andrew – Artists need committed labels to promote them. People that are passionate & have the contacts & experience to develop their musical careers.

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? 

Andrew – Nothing stays the same for long. The key is to keep up with everything & keep trying new models. Who knows what the music industry will be like in five years? At present Facebook is very important, as are bloggers.

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

Andrew – A true independent label that released great music without compromise.  I want Powertool to leave a legacy & to inspire others to continue on my dream of making good music available.

69 Anything else? 

Andrew – I am interested in working with “like-minded” labels in other territories.  Maybe we could work together to promote each releases?  Maybe an exchange programme.