Label Owner Interview with Johnny of 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 Whats 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 Whats 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 youve 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 Whats a record youd like to put out that youll never be able to?
Johnny Hmmm.... Probably a Silber release.
QRD If you really like a band, but arent 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 bands publishing?
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 dont.
QRD Whats 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 its 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 its 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 Whats 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 MySpaces 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!