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QRD #47 - Record Label Owner Interview Series
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Label Owner Interviews with:
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Unread Records & Tapes
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Auricular Records
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Record Label Owner Interview with Johnny of Transubstans
January 2011
Name: Johnny
Label: Transubstans
City: Malmoe, Sweden
Artists Roster: Siena Root, First Bande from Outer Space, Barr, Abamis Brama, Sideburn, Graveyard, Babian, Burning Saviours, Lucifer Was, Blowback, Graviators, Nymf, Mother Misery, Divine Baze Orchestra, Stonewall Noise Orchestra, Rag i Ryggen, Oresund Space Collective, Mangrove, Magnolia, Oblivious, Yana Mangi, St Michals to mention most of them.
Websites: www.transubstans.com www.recordheaven.net

QRD – When & why did you start your label?

Johnny – Always been a music freak, & started back in 1990 with my own band. Since then, I have had/been involved in 5 different labels. Today focus is on Transubstans & its sublabels. I think I started/am doing a label to put out music I think deserves some more attention than a bad MP3 on MySpace.

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

Johnny – I took it from my normal day job back in 1990. With this I built up a small distro & could finance the rest of it. It has worked well until now.

QRD – How many releases have you put out?

Johnny – With Transubstans & its sublabels we have been doing around 80 during the last 5.5 years. Total, I do not know, maybe around 250. I lost count.

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

Johnny – Our goal is around 2 each month. More we cannot handle in time here. Today there are 100 things to do with a release, & each of these things takes time....

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

Johnny – We work around 60 or so, maybe a little less, sometimes more when many releases are coming. We are 2 guys who share the work.

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

Johnny – I am still a child when a new parcel arrives from the pressing plant, like a father getting his 80th child. We only put out what we like, fortunately I have a wide spectrum in my taste from psychedelia, acid folk, industrial, heavy metal, or whatever it can be as long as I can classify it as non-commercial & “unradio-friendly.”

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

Johnny – I still think it is pure fun & also fun if we see that we actually can sell what we are doing these days. I think that keeps the spirit up.

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

Johnny – Probably double checking everything if I have not done it myself, or somebody I trust who I know knows what they are doing. I am thinking much layout & advertisement.

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

Johnny – Well, there are many, but basically all labels that still have the guts to do a release, no matter now uncommercial it might be.

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

Johnny – It is always nice to get feedback from customers who buy our records. We have many that buy everything we release, because they think we have a good taste, or they know what they get from us.

QRD – What makes you label special & unique?

Johnny – That I do not know, but we hope that Transubstans have a quite good reputation here in Scandinavia.

QRD – How has your physical location effected your label?

Johnny – Well, it is probably not the best living in the countryside if you need to hang in bars with rockstars, journalists, & radioguys/girls. But I have no need for that, but it would definitely help the label to get the word out in the media that we do exist.

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

Johnny – Yep... I am still addicted to those sounds & products. I listen to music every waking hour & according to my wife, I speak of music in my sleep as well... I am damaged for life.

QRD – What’s your demos policy?

Johnny – I recommend bands to mail me a CD-R or a MySpace link. I never download any files that are sent to me. I have had enough of those bad viruses out there.

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

Johnny – Most of the times bands send us a demo, rarely I check MySpace. I have discovered a few bands when I saw them live as well... I listen to everything I get in my mailbox with a stamp on it.

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

Johnny – I think it is much word of mouth. Some advertisement, a few on MySpace I think, Facebook, I think the same medias as everyone else finds their customers/bands.

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

Johnny – Would prefer not to mention anyone here. But doing retro albums is always good, & also I see those bands who are going in promoting themselves & gigging a lot are selling far more than those sitting on their couch when not rehearsing & watching the latest episode of 2.5 Men.

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

Johnny – Maybe the Ravjunk re-release as I tried to convince the band that I could do it for 3 years, but there are plenty of other releases that I am really proud of.

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

Johnny – Well, I really like the bands when they are down to earth. At the point that the bands are beginning to feel that they are rockstars, it is the point when it is getting difficult & boring to work with them.

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

Johnny – When turning into obnoxious rockstars.

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

Johnny – Most of them are bands that are from the 70s or in some way inspired from the 70s.

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?

Johnny – Not that much, our bands have many free hands. A few times I have pulled the brake when it came to the covers, but I think that is pretty much all. We often discuss quite much how we should go on with a release & start promoting it in really good time.

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

Johnny – Not much, but have a few words to say of course; but all our artists have free hands when it comes to layout & covers.

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

Johnny – We try & do it quite quickly after the production is finished. Around 1.5 - 2 months. During that time we have had enough time to spread the word on internet what is to come.

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

Johnny – Well... if I think I can get along with it I still do it. There are many factors here, but it is a nightmare when you release an album & 2 months later they split up.

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

Johnny – Spending more time to actually make the world aware of their existence. Many bands are good at it, many are not. It is quite simple in the end.

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

Johnny – Hmmm.... Probably a Silber release.…

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

Johnny – I release it anyway. It is the whole philosophy on our label, to release music I like, which maybe no one else would do. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose...You never know.…

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

Johnny – This is different with most of the bands. Sometimes we pay everything; sometimes we only do the printing, promotion, & the work. It depends pretty much on the band.

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

Johnny – They all get a share of the profits & also never interfere with their profits when it comes to merchandise etc.…

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

Johnny – In the beginning it was handshakes, but bands wanted a signed contract mostly, so we always work with that these days. It is a security for both the bands & the label I think.

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

Johnny – Nope.

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

Johnny – This is very important. Sometimes we do tour support. I also try at times to find booking agents, but that is a really hard task these days.

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

Johnny – Most we do in the house, but also we hire people for some bands that have been here for a long time & already have themselves a name.

QRD – How do you maintain contact with your fanbase?

Johnny – We send out newsletters regularly & also use the same as everyone else, Facebook, MySpace, etc.…

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

Johnny – No, we do not have this, but would like to have it. Often the bands are spreading flyers on their gigs + selling our records there.

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

Johnny – We are right now 3 persons here. 1 handles more or less the label, the rest of us 2 are helping from time to time + we run a mailorder & a small distribution as well.

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

Johnny – With some we have good contact with, some not. But Sweden these days is not having many record stores. Most record stores will only work with radio friendly music.

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

Johnny – It is pretty good as well. We send many promos to radio stations.

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

Johnny – This is a little better. Know quite many, but also a lot of people asking for promos.

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

Johnny – Well, there are a few that manage their blogs the right way, but far more ones uploading our albums there & those we do not have so good of a connection with.

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

Johnny – It goes both ways. When it comes to magazines, you have to do it at times to keep them alive & also get better chances to have your music reviewed there.

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

Johnny – We always do 1000 to start with, some pressing we never get rid of, quite many we need to repress after a time.

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

Johnny – We do CD-R promos, digital promos, & the most important people get real records. I believe around 5% of the factory pressing maybe.

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

Johnny – The bands do, but not us. They mostly sell at their gigs. We have some in our shop as well of course, but it is an idea we have not given so much thought about.

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

Johnny – Yes, we also run a mailorder called www.recordheaven.net who focus on psych, prog, metal, acid folk, & other weird music genres.

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

Johnny – Not much. I gave up my own musical career when I got my first child 9 years ago. These days it is me, an acoustic guitar, & a cold beer in front of the telly after work when the wife & kids are sleeping at midnight.

QRD – Ideally, would you release your own material?

Johnny – Yes, I could do that without having any bad thoughts about that, but it could be embarrassing when people ask me if I can recommend the album to them....

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

Johnny – Well, I have tried several times with our bands, but it is hard to organize 35 bands to work together. I put up some platforms for them & encourage them to work together well. Some do, some don’t.

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

Johnny – Well, at times I have to convince them that it is no use spending 2500 USD on a video to put on YouTube, or other things that might occur.

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

Johnny – Not many times. We do not get our main income from the label, it is more the mailorder who finances the record label & without that we would not have been able to release as much as we do. We are in a good position thanks to the mailorder.

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

Johnny – I did not do it in the past, but after investing in a new webshop I have been the importance of having good optimizing, but it is nothing I spend time on. I check the Google Adwords sometimes, mostly because it’s fun to see which countries & cities we have most viewers from.

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

Johnny – Not much. As long as we can survive on what we are doing right now, there is no need to cut any costs.

QRD – Do you think the album format is dead?

Johnny – No, I think that people will always buy what they like. But maybe focus on what they REALLY like & not those they think only half of the albums are good. I heard on Swedish radio this morning that sales have dropped 25% during the last 10 years. But I think also that it will get harder in around 20 years when those born in the 50s, 60s, & 70s are gone. Or perhaps, I get surprised & find those from 80s & 90s starting to buy once they get a job.

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

Johnny – Pretty much. People say vinyl is rising, but compared to the past, this is not much to talk about. Small editions & for the big ones, 2000 copies are not much + the production is far more expensive these days.

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

Johnny – I prefer physical releases, & have not done any digital only. I think it is hard to compete with free files from the torrent sites, although it seems to be getting better; it is a long way to walk.

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

Johnny – Well, fun if you own it. If it is good, at least me, I want to have it. Having a digital file as a substitute is not a good thing for me. I want to hold the music in my hand.

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

Johnny – I think this will cost more than it’s worth. Then you might as well print it yourself & sell it as a cheap demo.

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

Johnny – As much as possible as long it is good quality.

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

Johnny – I have given up the case. Of being called a lot of nasty things from people who think that music should be free have no idea what it actually costs to produce it.

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

Johnny – Well, we do not have many policies here, but I would never print any sleeves/artwork that contains racists, nazis, sexists, child abuses, or heavy violence. I see some labels do that & also have a few albums with plenty of blood I have hid away from my children...he-he.…

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

Johnny – Well, it would be the simple fact that nobody would buy it anymore.

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

Johnny – Get in touch with someone you know who is doing it. Take as much advice as you can & it is also important that we who have done it for a few years to help those people out & not to see the new labels as competitors.

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

Johnny – For musicians it is by selling merchandise on the gigs. For labels... I do not know. Selling the records directly to the customers I think. Making a profit of 1 USD for selling an album through a distributor does not make much sense I think.

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

Johnny – Bands/artists wants to hold a product in their hand. It is a statement that the have achieved something with their band. Many hours in the rehearsal room. I usually say it is easy to finance a record, the hard thing is to get rid of those records.

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?

Johnny – Huh... dunno... there are no good alternatives to MySpace these days I think. The good thing is that you can upload yourself on MySpace.

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

Johnny – I hope it is because I had good taste, made good deals to the bands, & was a hard-working man.

QRD – Anything else?

Johnny – Thanks for the interview. Quite long I have to admit, so kinda short answers! Keep up the very good work!