with Joshua Heinrich of Autumnal Release
Name: Joshua Heinrich
Label: Autumnal Release
City: Buffalo, NY
Artists Roster: fornever, Black Wedding, premature burial, Colder than Yesterday, Orangabelle 5, SDL, She Cries Alone, entreat
QRD – When & why did you start your label?
Joshua – 1999. Basically to release my own music & tie a few different bands/project of mine together under a common blanket.
QRD – Where did you get the money to finance your first few releases?
Joshua – While I started as a musician in the pre-MP3 era, I began Autumnal Release around the dawn of the digital age when digital distribution, home recording, & on-demand CD production just started coming about, so the ceiling was a lot lower than it was just years before & it became pretty accessible even to a poor college student like myself with little up front cost.
QRD – How many releases have you put out?
Joshua – Around 50, give or take.
QRD – How many releases would you like to do a year?
Joshua – No set number. It’s really more about what’s going on artistically & releasing what I’m inclined to create.
QRD – How many hours a week do you work on the label & how many would you like to?
Joshua – It can pretty much range from none to 10-hour days, depending on what’s going on release/promo/event-wise. How many would I like to? Well, a lot of the time, I’d almost rather not be in charge of everything & handling the business side of things... but it’s a necessary evil, I suppose.
QRD – What are the fun &/or rewarding parts about running a label?
Joshua – Probably having control over everything & indulging my own whims.
QRD – How have your motivations for having a label changed?
Joshua – I think over the years, the label has changed from being sort of a name slapped on my albums to an entity in itself. I’m not really sure my motivations have actually changed. It’s still about putting out the music. But the label as an entity has maybe shifted into something else (& as a result requires more maintenance of its own).
QRD – What do you feel is the biggest waste of your time running the label?
Joshua – I don’t know if anything is necessarily a “waste”. I mean, there are things that are more of a time sink or more frustrating & tedious than others & that can sometimes change based on circumstances. Obviously, being an artist, I’m more inclined to be happier concentrating on the artistic side & the actual creation & release of an album than the business side with all of the promo & “office work”.
QRD – What are some labels you admire or feel a kinship to?
Joshua – I’d say I feel a kinship to some labels that have similar DIY setups, releasing their albums & friends’ albums & concentrating more on the music & art than the business model... as well as labels that embrace an indie sound & aesthetic I feel a connection to. Back when I was first starting my label, Sam from Projekt helped me out with advice & stuff, which I appreciated, even if I sometimes had different views or goals. Also, I have a lot of admiration for Factory Records & Tony Wilson.
QRD – What other work experiences prepared you to have a label?
Joshua – I’m not really sure about specific work experiences, per se. I’ve always been more of an artist, but have also always sort of had a DIY attitude about my projects... so I suppose my label rose out of that. I think my years as a music journalist & sort of seeing promotion from the other side & meeting the people I did definitely helped, although the label had already been going for 5 or so years when I became a music journalist, so maybe more of an enhancement than an initial preparation.
QRD – What makes you label special & unique?
Joshua – Autumnal Release is based on artistic vision & a DIY attitude, basically a collection of musicians putting out music to the world.
QRD – How has your physical location effected your label?
Joshua – It hasn’t, really, given the current digital age & how much of it is internet & mail-order. I mean, I’ve never really been a big part of the local music scene. My first radio plays were in Canada & Europe. So, with both my label & bands, there’s always been this sense of being sort of global & location-independent.
QRD – Do you enjoy music as much now as you used to & how has running a label effected how you listen to/hear music?
Joshua – While promotion can be a drag sometimes, running a label aimed at putting out my own artistic output lets me focus on my creativity & I’m still a huge music addict & enjoy music. If anything, it effects how I listen to/hear/enjoy music a lot less than my years as a music journalist did. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I moved on from music journalism.
QRD – What’s your demos policy?
Joshua – I get inquiries from bands; but, overall, I’m focused on putting out music by my own/friends’ projects & am not looking to sign anyone outside of that circle right now (nor do I really have the resources to do that). So it’s basically a no demos policy, although I’m happy to meet bands & discover new music.
QRD – How do you find out about new artists for your label?
Joshua – I’m usually a member of them, so I tend to be in the loop.
QRD – How do most fans find out about your label?
Joshua – Usually through the bands or band members. People will usually discover Autumnal Release as fans of one of my bands looking into my other projects & material.
QRD – What’s been your biggest selling release & why do you think it was?
Joshua – It might have actually been Obsession by fornever. That one was a bit rough around the edges, but its sound & energy seemed to strike a chord with my internet fanbase & sort of launched the singles up the charts on some of the most popular internet sites (also coinciding with the peak of early digital music flagship sites like MP3.com).
QRD – What release that you’ve done was the most important & special to you personally?
Joshua – I don’t really have an answer to that. Since they’re pretty much all my projects & art, a lot of the albums I’ve released are special to me in different ways & for different reasons.
QRD – What are some things that make you want to work with a band?
Joshua – Enjoying their music, obviously, & maybe having a kinship with respect to artistic vision & integrity.
QRD – What are some things that would make you stop working with a band?
Joshua – Creative differences. Especially when it comes to my solo project, fornever. Sometimes, that guy’s just a pain in the arse to work with.
QRD – What is the thing all releases on your label have in common?
Joshua – I guess that would be me, in one form or another. Ha-ha.
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?
Joshua – I usually handle everything from production to mixing to mastering.
QRD – How involved do you like to be in the artwork design for a release?
Joshua – I’ve designed the artwork for all of my releases sans one (as well as artwork for other bands’/labels’ releases).
QRD – How long is it from when an artist delivers an album to you until release date & why?
Joshua – Once it’s finished, I honestly try to get it out as quickly & efficiently as possible. I get the promotional build-up angle, but I’d rather put the art out there rather than sit on it knowing it’s done & people could be listening to it. If it’s ready to go, I’m ready to release it.
QRD – If a band breaks up between the recording of a release & the release date, how does that effect what you do?
Joshua – I’d say it would still go ahead as scheduled as long as all parties are in agreement about the release. It might change the promotional plan a bit.
QRD – What do you wish bands on your label would do?
Joshua – Ha-ha. Again, given that most of the bands involve me, this would probably be more of an introspective “what do I wish I’d do” question that I don’t want to get into right now.
QRD – What’s a record you’d like to put out that you’ll never be able to?
Joshua – There are a lot of things. Obviously, mostly putting out my own material & having my resources tied up in that, this is more of a fantasy question unless I talk about something of my own. That said, there are some bands I like that recorded second albums that got tied up in record label politics or other obstacles & were never released & I’d love to see those albums find the light of day... particularly the second White Rose Movement album & the second Rock Kills Kid album.
QRD – If you really like a band, but aren’t sure you could sell many copies of their record; what do you do?
Joshua – Put it out. *shrug* Again, it’s about the art for me. I’ve put out things that haven’t sold well, but I’m still happy I’ve put them out.
QRD – How is financing of a release split between artists & the label?
Joshua – It’s all done through the artists (although, in most cases, I’m at least one of the artists).
QRD – How do you split profits from a release between artists & your label?
Joshua – Also 100% artist. Everything’s artist-centric with Autumnal Release.
QRD – Do you have written contracts with your bands or handshake deals?
Joshua – Handshake deals. After all, I’m mainly working with my own acts & with friends.
QRD – Do you take a cut of a band’s publishing?
Joshua – Nope.
QRD – How important is it to you to have touring acts on your roster & what do you do to encourage it?
Joshua – I honestly don’t really care one way or the other. I recognize the promotional & financial value of touring acts; but from an artistic/creative standpoint, I’m also aware of the validity of studio projects.
QRD – Do you handle promotions in house or hire out & why?
Joshua – Mostly in-house with the help of friends & contacts. Mainly due to limited resources, although it can be frustrating & it would sometimes be nice to work with other promotional organizations to increase my reach.
QRD – How do you maintain contact with your fanbase?
Joshua – Social networking, e-mail, etc.
QRD – Do you have intern & street team programs & if so, how do they operate?
Joshua – No, not really. Unless you count fan organized word of mouth.
QRD – How big of a staff do you have & how big of one do you need?
Joshua – Pretty much just myself & band members. It would be nice to have other people to help with stuff, but it’s not necessarily viable & Autumnal Release is pretty much an artist-centric DIY outfit.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with record stores?
Joshua – I’m a music junkie, myself, with a pretty big CD collection. So I like to hit up music stores both locally (unfortunately, the majority of local indie/chain music stores have closed in the last 5 years or so) & when I’m on the road. I often end up talking music with employees at indie stores & have made some friends & acquaintances that way. So I suppose those relationships grow more out of personal interest & love of music than anything business-related.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with radio stations?
Joshua – I suppose it’s mostly college & internet radio as far as I’m concerned. Sometimes I build relationships just by being impressed by the station & their programming & talking to a manager or DJ & offering up music for play. Maybe another area where it’s about the love of the music & sometimes things grow out of that.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with magazines & websites?
Joshua – I already have relationships with a lot of magazines & websites from my bands & my time as a music journalist. I’m not really one for “calling in favors”, but I do have friends around that help with promotion & get some help & support from some of the people & magazines I’ve worked with.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with bloggers?
Joshua – I guess a lot of that is built on the fact that I’m a writer myself & former music journalist. So I have some contacts from all of that & there are common threads to build on.
QRD – Do you view advertisements as a way to generate interest & revenue or more as a way to financially support magazines & websites you like?
Joshua – I’d like to view them as a way to generate interest. That’s the actual purpose of advertising. Let’s face it though. Most internet users have inherently learned to block out advertising on websites, so permeation is pretty low these days. So, technically, it’s more like throwing money at the magazine & websites than an actual form of effective promotion.
QRD – What is the job of your distributors?
Joshua – It varies from distributor to distributor, but most of them essentially make the albums available for sale & handle sales & fulfillment for me.
QRD – How do you decide how big the initial pressing of a release should be?
Joshua – Often by cost, sometimes versus demand. Although on-demand pressings are always good when you don’t know or want to avoid the up front costs.
QRD – What percentage of a pressing do you use for promotions?
Joshua – Not too big a percentage. I guess I used to send out more promo CDs, but these days a lot of promo is crossing into the digital realm, as well.
QRD – Do you sell merchandise other than the music (t-shirts, etc.)?
Joshua – Yes. Shirts & posters, mostly.
QRD – Do you sell music that is not on your label?
Joshua – Not typically, but I do occasionally promote friends’ work or compilations/albums featuring or related to Autumnal Release artists.
QRD – How has running a label effected your own artistic career?
Joshua – It hasn’t too much other than the necessity of spending time taking care of the business side of things as well & not just being able to play the artist. I suppose being in control can be empowering or overwhelming, depending on the mood I’m in or what’s going on at the time.
QRD – Ideally, would you release your own material?
Joshua – It’s pretty much the main purpose of my label.
QRD – What do you do to try to build a sense of community within your roster?
Joshua – The sense of community is already there since we’re mostly an interconnected group of friends.
QRD – What’s your most common conversation with bands as far as balancing artistic integrity & financial viability?
Joshua – I almost always fault on the side of artistic integrity, so I’m not sure it’s common for me to push any kind of balance there. It’s about the art & if people dig what you do, then financial viability can sometimes (obviously not always) come from that. I think some fans appreciate artistic integrity & pushing the envelope, while others want a band to spend the next 20 years rehashing the formula of their favorite song. Sure, that last option would be enticing if a band was in a position to throw together an album/tour every 3 or 4 years & make a solid living from it. I’d say I’m more interested in artistic integrity, myself, though.
QRD – How often do you look at your “return on investment” & adjust your business model?
Joshua – I honestly don’t really have much of a business model other than make music, put it out there, try to get it out to people & generate interest, & let the return come from that. So not a whole lot of examination goes on there other than maybe trying to figure out how to get my music to more people.
QRD – Do you worry about search engine optimization & website traffic?
Joshua – Some, yes. Internet visibility is important these days.
QRD – What have you done to cut costs over the years?
Joshua – Everything from learning to do things myself to MacGyvering equipment.
QRD – Do you think the album format is dead?
Joshua – No. Not at all. Sure, singles have clout in the mainstream, especially with the popularity of MP3 sales, but I think a lot of people still appreciate the album format as an art form; the way albums form a cohesive piece of art & represent a more complete artistic vision.
QRD – Do you think the return of vinyl & cassettes is a fad?
Joshua – It is sort of ridiculous when “audiophiles” talk about how much better a vinyl album sounds when it’s actually sourced from music recorded digitally in CD quality, thus making the CD version the definitive version quality wise. I’m not sure if I’d call it a fad, though. Just people appreciating different physical media & aesthetics.
QRD – Is it important to have physical releases over digital ones or does it not matter?
Joshua – Personally, I still buy CDs. I still like to have the CD in my hands with artwork & feel like it’s a physical, cohesive piece of art. So I try to release everything physically, even singles or things that I think might not sell, for fans who want to have the whole package. I even sometimes try to price the physical product below the digital one as an incentive (& to counter shipping charges if ordered online). If fans want to buy the albums in MP3 or even single tracks, that’s cool, too. I like them to have options... but I don’t think the era of physical releases is totally dead & I know there are plenty of people out there like myself who still prefer physical CDs.
QRD – What do you think of ultra-limited runs of releases (less than 100 discs)?
Joshua – It really depends on what it is & how popular. It can be really frustrating to fans. I mean, for example, The Raveonettes released a limited b-sides collection recently on their own & despite being interested & checking on it regularly, the CD sold out before I even knew it was released. With newer bands, sometimes you can discover a band & find out their CD is already out of print. Limited runs have their place I guess, especially if reissues after they sell out are an option (& they can be better than ending up with 1,000 extra copies of an album sitting in a box in your bedroom); but they also have their downsides.
QRD – What do you think of “print on demand” discs?
Joshua – I go that route a lot. I know other small labels that go that route. As a former music journalist, I’ve come across it a lot. Really, there’s nothing wrong with it. Some of the print on demand services have products that are very professional & are actually higher quality than some of the manufactured indie discs I’ve seen. A lot of them essentially allow bands/labels to send in a master (reproducing the audio master exactly, thus being a step above MP3 sales in audio quality & matching the audio quality of manufactured CDs) & artwork & have a professional-quality product available immediately, often along with free order fulfillment & royalty payments.
QRD – How much content do you feel should be available free to fans?
Joshua – I think it’s up to the artists. I usually go with some streaming stuff from each album or maybe a downloadable track. I also put out things like free holiday singles for the fans.
QRD – What do you do about people distributing your music without financial compensation (piracy & file trading)?
Joshua – Not much to be honest. It’s both a mixed bag & a slippery slope. I’ve seen my stuff shared & have even had stuff accidentally leaked to file sharing networks pre-release in the past. On one hand, I honestly think file sharing is a promotional tool, especially for smaller artists. I, myself, have downloaded material by certain bands that lead to me buying their entire discography & anticipating their next release. If someone downloads an album & loves it & it leads to word of mouth promotion & them setting up fan sites & buying future releases, I don’t see anything wrong with that. You do, on the downside, have the people who want everything for free & don’t really care about the artists. Then again, if they never planned on buying the album in the first place, there’s maybe less harm in them hearing & enjoying the music than never having experienced it at all. I think anti-piracy measures sometimes becomes a case of punishing fans/future fans/true music lovers for the bad apples, which I’m not sure accomplishes much.
Let’s face it, a lot of anti-piracy measures, from the FBI anti-piracy eyesore on current CD releases to draconian DRM in videogames, punish the people who actually buy the products more than the people downloading them illegally (who usually don’t care about the album artwork & are playing hacked copies of games with the DRM removed). I actually prefer to support DRM-free MP3 sales like Amazon.com’s program, both in selling & buying digital music, over restrictive DRM/formats. I’m also strongly opposed to SOPA & PIPA, especially in their current forms. I’m certainly opposed to limiting freedoms, censorship, & crippling the technology industry to enforce anti-piracy measures.
QRD – What’s something you see other labels do that you think of as borderline unethical?
Joshua – There’s plenty... everything from minor stuff like spam (who in the music industry hasn’t ended up on a few lists they didn’t technically sign up for?) to payola to using services to flood their social networking pages with fake fans to make them look popular (which, unfortunately, does make them stand out... but a lot of labels have images that are more fraud than fact... & the more money they have to throw at it, the bigger the image they can build) to generating fake plays on online websites (this was a big one with MP3.com back in the day where some people who weren’t even real artists were reaping a huge percentage of the site’s royalty payments using bots to generate plays) to sort of bending rights to go after fans they suspect of downloading. The list goes on & on.
QRD – What changes in things would cause you to stop your label?
Joshua – I don’t know. Maybe something that would make it more viable to just release stuff on my own without the label blanket?
QRD – What would you suggest to someone starting a label today?
Joshua – Maybe think small. At least to start out... & depending on the size of your initial investment.
QRD – Where do you think money is currently most available to labels/musicians & where in the future?
Joshua – There are a lot of different avenues. I mean, obviously live performance & licensing can be more lucrative than album sales these days, especially with over-saturation of the market. Still, album sales can be viable, too. It really depends on what you’re trying to do & luckily the fact is that money is far less of an issue these days, with a lot of bands recording in home studios or bedrooms with modern software & home recording equipment.
QRD – Why do you think labels are still important to artists?
Joshua – Probably promotion & clout & the ability to release material with a little more oomph more than anything... & basically the idea of the business side being taken care of by the label & freeing the artist up to be an artist. I guess I don’t get that advantage basically being both; but in a lot of cases, that’s the main draw.
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?
Joshua – I think YouTube is a good place to find music these days. As a musician, it’s a bit sad to see MySpace’s decline as they’re still one of the most proficient promotional vehicles for musicians, with Facebook & Twitter being more of an uphill battle with fewer band features overall. Unfortunately, the problem with all sites these days is over-saturation & the difficulty of permeation. Really, though, YouTube is pretty popular & a good place to watch videos, hear songs, & get recommendations.
QRD – In 20 years what do you think/hope your label will be known/remembered for?
Joshua – The music. In fact, I’d rather the bands themselves be remembered & the music live on. Whether or not the label is really remembered in its own right or still exists in 20 years isn’t as relevant to me as the art itself.
Other QRD interviews with Joshua Heinrich:
Guitarist interview with Joshua Heinrich of fornever (June 2012)