with Shaun Sandor of Blondena Music
Name: Shaun Sandor
Label: Blondena Music (experimental, noise, ambient, sound art, avant-garde, abstract electronic)
City: Houston, Texas
Artists Roster: Promute, Bicameral Mind, Powercloud, Andrew Weathers, Bryce Clayton Eiman, Polar400, Small Life Form, Baptizer, Tesla Recoils...
Websites: www.blondenamusic.com, blondenamusic.bandcamp.com
QRD – When & why did you start your label?
Shaun – I figured nobody else would treat my music as serious as I do. Blondena is named directly after my grandmother who was probably my absolute biggest supporter in music, so this is also a direct tribute to her. I did the label idea (instead of just a band) to add friends if they were interested in distribution & also so that I could group various projects in & not have to worry about finding a home for them.
QRD – Where did you get the money to finance your first few releases?
Shaun – Saving my money & utilizing DIY art & packaging. I also do most of the recording & mixing, so I don’t have to pay studio costs.
QRD – How many releases have you put out?
Shaun – 27 to date & 3 more ready to roll.
QRD – How many releases would you like to do a year?
Shaun – It would be ideal to do 5 releases in the spring, & then another 5 in the fall. I guess since I live in a university town right now, it is easier to generate interest during those times.
QRD – How many hours a week do you work on the label & how many would you like to?
Shaun – I work anywhere from 10 hours to 20 hours per week on the label stuff. I would do more, but it is not possible now.
QRD – What are the fun &/or rewarding parts about running a label?
Shaun – The feedback from folks who have paid attention to any of the releases. Just like anything, I like to hear that someone appreciates some aspect of the product, especially when I know what my investment was. I do almost all the artwork & I have also packaged (printed, burned CDs, assembled, & shrink-wrapped) every CD myself, so it is nice to hear that someone cares.
QRD – How have your motivations for having a label changed?
Shaun – My motivations for having a label have not changed. At times it doesn’t feel as financially rewarding as I’d like, but that is about all.
QRD – What do you feel is the biggest waste of your time running the label?
Shaun – I used to think web promotion, but now I think burning CDs. I have gotten more downloads recently than I have sold CDs. That is my main motivation behind staying DIY & doing CD-Rs, as well. Web promotion has proven to be effective.
QRD – What are some labels you admire or feel a kinship to?
Shaun – Silber of course, Zeromoon from DC, & Full Spectrum.
QRD – What other work experiences prepared you to have a label?
Shaun – I interned at Invisible Records in Chicago a long time ago & hung around a few other Chicago based labels at the same time.
QRD – What makes you label special & unique?
Shaun – I would say that I give an excellent product for the genre & it is very personal.
QRD – How has your physical location effected your label?
Shaun – I was in the triangle in North Carolina & things were good. Now I am based in Texas & I’ll make it good here too. I am not worried.
QRD – Do you enjoy music as much now as you used to & how has running a label effected how you listen to/hear music?
Shaun – No, I don’t generally sit & enjoy the music I used to as much anymore. My taste has changed greatly. This is partly due to my family situation & also partly due to the fact that I work with so much of the music from this genre that I feel saturated.
QRD – What’s your demos policy?
Shaun – I listen to what people hand me & I take unsolicited requests. If it grabs me, then I’ll listen 3 times & make a decision.
QRD – How do you find out about new artists for your label?
Shaun – I get asked or I hear something I like.
QRD – How do most fans find out about your label?
Shaun – Word of mouth & web.
QRD – What’s been your biggest selling release & why do you think it was?
Shaun – By far the Promute - Rast Figment CD. I have no idea why. It was the first release I did & I never promoted it. It is a cool package though, so maybe that’s why?
QRD – What release that you’ve done was the most important & special to you personally?
Shaun – Powercloud - How to Recognize Shrubs. Everything about it is good. Mark & Scott could not be nicer guys & better to work with. I asked them about releasing something because they are excellent & I never thought they would pursue anything seriously. So I basically asked to record them. We recorded the first session on a rainy afternoon in a house in NC that had great acoustics & they let me work. Everything was just right.
QRD – What are some things that make you want to work with a band?
Shaun – First, I have to like the music. Second, their attitude & goals. Last, if I have the time for it.
QRD – What are some things that would make you stop working with a band?
Shaun – See previous answer. Same things.
QRD – What is the thing all releases on your label have in common?
Shaun – They were all packaged by me! Similar genres too.
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?
Shaun – Depends on the release. I have completely produced many of the releases, but took on some releases produced by others. There is no set method.
QRD – How involved do you like to be in the artwork design for a release?
Shaun – I ask for certain files sizes & graphics resolution, but sometime it does not work out. I do my best to get something good. I would prefer if I did not have to take on any artwork duties, but I end up doing it most of the time.
QRD – How long is it from when an artist delivers an album to you until release date & why?
Shaun – Sometimes it takes several months, & mostly it boils down to my availability.
QRD – If a band breaks up between the recording of a release & the release date, how does that effect what you do?
Shaun – Hasn’t happened yet for a release, but I have had it happen in the recording studio. It can be a mess & sometimes disappointing. I wouldn’t want to release something though that all parties can’t agree on.
QRD – What do you wish bands on your label would do?
Shaun – Communicate. I do my best to answer all emails quickly. I also ask specific questions & would like to get answers back that match those questions.
QRD – What’s a record you’d like to put out that you’ll never be able to?
Shaun – The Jimi Hendrix/John Cage collaboration LP.
QRD – If you really like a band, but aren’t sure you could sell many copies of their record; what do you do?
Shaun – Do it & control the amount I print.
QRD – How is financing of a release split between artists & the label?
Shaun – I pay for the release.
QRD – How do you split profits from a release between artists & your label?
Shaun – If I can pay the artist, then I will.
QRD – Do you have written contracts with your bands or handshake deals?
Shaun – No.
QRD – Do you take a cut of a band’s publishing?
Shaun – No.
QRD – How important is it to you to have touring acts on your roster & what do you do to encourage it?
Shaun – I encourage it because it is the best way to sell physical CDs.
QRD – Do you handle promotions in house or hire out & why?
Shaun – In house. The label isn’t large enough yet to hire out promotional folks.
QRD – How do you maintain contact with your fanbase?
Shaun – Internet mostly & direct email.
QRD – Do you have intern & street team programs & if so, how do they operate?
Shaun – I have prayed to the intern gods for a while now, but it hasn’t worked.
QRD – How big of a staff do you have & how big of one do you need?
Shaun – I could use a staff of 3 people doing this part time. Currently, it is only me.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with record stores?
Shaun – In person meeting.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with radio stations?
Shaun – In person or email. Typically I know someone at the station I am contacting.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with magazines & websites?
Shaun – Only email.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with bloggers?
Shaun – Only email.
QRD – Do you view advertisements as a way to generate interest & revenue or more as a way to financially support magazines & websites you like?
Shaun – Haven’t done it yet.
QRD – How do you decide how big the initial pressing of a release should be?
Shaun – Initially based on my stock & the package style. After that, the demand will let me know how many more to print up.
QRD – What percentage of a pressing do you use for promotions?
Shaun – About 20 percent.
QRD – Do you sell merchandise other than the music (t-shirts, etc.)?
Shaun – Not currently.
QRD – Do you sell music that is not on your label?
Shaun – Not currently.
QRD – How has running a label effected your own artistic career?
Shaun – I gig less & look at other performers music more than I have in the past.
QRD – Ideally, would you release your own material?
Shaun – Yes. That is the main reason I started this.
QRD – What do you do to try to build a sense of community within your roster?
Shaun – Hold shows or showcases to get them performing together with folks outside the label itself. I think it is important for everyone in this particular genre to get together & it not be an exclusive label endeavor.
QRD – Do you worry about search engine optimization & website traffic?
Shaun – I have but I felt that it was wasting time, so I haven’t paid much more attention to it lately.
QRD – What have you done to cut costs over the years?
Shaun – The way I print & package CDs. I moved to a smoother look & easier application printing method.
QRD – Do you think the album format is dead?
Shaun – No, I do not.
QRD – Do you think the return of vinyl & cassettes is a fad?
Shaun – Probably is for now, but I wouldn’t shy away from an LP release. Cassettes I have a harder time with & I don’t think I’d do a release as a cassette anytime soon.
QRD – Is it important to have physical releases over digital ones or does it not matter?
Shaun – I think it is important to have both at this point. Being on the web is crucial & there are still many fans who appreciate the physical format, so I would try my best to have it both ways.
QRD – What do you think of ultra-limited runs of releases (less than 100 discs)?
Shaun – I am fine with that, although the release could live on as a digital download.
QRD – What do you think of “print on demand” discs?
Shaun – I think it is fine & often I have had to package something to send out.
QRD – How much content do you feel should be available free to fans?
Shaun – For the genre I am dealing with, I try to make most everything available for free, but a lot of folks still wish to pick up a physical copy, so they purchase that. I also think having most everything on the label available to listen to online is important, but not necessarily download everything for free. They can come to my site to hear it when the mood strikes them.
QRD – What changes in things would cause you to stop your label?
Shaun – My general life situation. If I could not find a way to do it, then I would not do it anymore.
QRD – What would you suggest to someone starting a label today?
Shaun – Have a flexible business model! Things change & the way you make money can change & the way that music gets around can change.
QRD – Where do you think money is currently most available to labels/musicians & where in the future?
Shaun – Internet downloads, LPs, & relentless touring.
QRD – Why do you think labels are still important to artists?
Shaun – Artists don’t have to worry about the behind the scenes advertising & promotions if a label is handling it. There is a lot of work that happens there & if you can only focus on your music as an artist & leave all that to somebody else, then you might be more effective.
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?
Shaun – Bandcamp & Soundcloud from what I can tell.
QRD – In 20 years what do you think/hope your label will be known/remembered for?
Shaun – The music & the art.
Other QRD interviews with Shaun Sandor:
Interview with Shaun Sandor of Promute (October 2013)
Musician dad interview with Shaun Sandor of Promute & Bicameral Mind (June 2009)