with Chandra Shukla of Erototox Decodings
Name: Chandra Shukla
Label: Erototox Decodings
City: Asheville, NC
Artists Roster: Andrew Liles, Hans-Joachim Roedelius & Friends, XAMBUCA, Cotton Ferox, White Stains, Helena Espvall & Ernesto-Diaz Infante, Elisa Faires, Steven Severin
QRD – When & why did you start your label?
Chandra – The label started in 2005. I was disenfranchised with sending off material to labels that were either not interested because they had never heard of me before or wanted to own my music or they just didn’t have the resources.
QRD – Where did you get the money to finance your first few releases?
Chandra – I used to be a computer programmer & graphic designer; that helped, having a day job funded the label. Now that I’m unemployed I use unemployment money to put out releases.
QRD – How many releases have you put out?
Chandra – I actually put out 21 so far but only 18 of those are available for purchase from our catalog.
QRD – How many releases would you like to do a year?
Chandra – At least 30, but that’s an ambitiously dream-like number.
QRD – How many hours a week do you work on the label & how many would you like to?
Chandra – Maybe 10-12, but if it were up to me I’d love to do it full time & get paid for doing what I love to do.
QRD – What are the fun &/or rewarding parts about running a label?
Chandra – As a musician, running your own label means you get to manage & put out your own material, which is the intended idea. But considering there’s so much talent & greatness out there, it’s hard to just “DIY” all the time. You need colleagues, cohorts & camaraderie. I love receiving packages & boxes that have our releases in the mail.
QRD – How have your motivations for having a label changed?
Chandra – I am pretty frustrated still with the fact that releases involve money I often don’t have & often times, if not most times, nothing sells anymore. A few people buy, but in all honesty if you aren’t majorly putting out records that sell in the high margins, you are starving & hurting. It’s the climate everywhere unless you’ve been doing this successfully for years.
QRD – What do you feel is the biggest waste of your time running the label?
Chandra – The biggest waste of time running the label is; well, running the label. If I had the full-fledged power & capacity to be purely creative then the label could commission releases that would be worthy of coming to life. But that’s a fantasy, in the real world a release is often as hard as making the music on it itself.
QRD – What are some labels you admire or feel a kinship to?
Chandra – I really admire the aesthetic of Young Gods Records, though with Swans in full gear it has yet to be seen if that label will continue to put out others’ stuff. I also like Raster-Noton, Debacle Records out of Portland, Tourette Records, Dirter, United Dairies, Editions Mego (which I’d love to be on still), Vinyl on Demand & Sähkö Recordings.
QRD – What other work experiences prepared you to have a label?
Chandra – I am a graphic designer in terms of my resume & a musician so this lent itself to having an advantage of making things look & sound good, I am happy with the material & the artists I’ve dealt with & proud.
QRD – What makes you label special & unique?
Chandra – Our label has artists that either are established or on the brink of the cutting edge, often times it’s been a personal connection with the artists as well. I seldom sign or agree to doing a release with anyone I don’t know personally as an amazing human being or group of beings.
QRD – How has your physical location effected your label?
Chandra – Asheville is an amazing place with lots of great undiscovered & recently discovered talent. It provides for a great atmosphere & community to run a label in & a great town for musical camaraderie.
QRD – Do you enjoy music as much now as you used to & how has running a label effected how you listen to/hear music?
Chandra – I have to admit, I am not a fan of the “experimental” title anymore unless it’s a hallmark to innovative endeavors in really changing the way people think or perceive music. To me THAT’s truly experimental. & what I intend to do with my own project XAMBUCA is to defy the predictability element by defying categorization. I find a slew of kids who do “ambient” music which sounded better 20 or 30 years ago honestly. I tend to buy, for me personally, a lot of music from other genres that I feel I have yet to explore & discover instead of subscribing to a lot of the shit kids put out there on tapes. & as a suggestion to the generation of tape heads, I think tapes sound like crap. We’ll never put one out.
QRD – What’s your demos policy?
Chandra – No demos, please.
QRD – How do you find out about new artists for your label?
Chandra – I’ve either gone to their shows, performed with them, toured with them, or knew about them from their past work & experience. & overall as I said before I know who they are & have admired them from afar.
QRD – How do most fans find out about your label?
Chandra – I’m not sure how they do unless we are proselytizing the label via the internet or XAMBUCA, we are not formally distributed at all & have survived for 8 years without any formal distribution.
QRD – What’s been your biggest selling release & why do you think it was?
Chandra – I think XAMBUCA’s releases have sold the most & it’s my own darned project. (I should have learned something from this about putting other people’s work out).
QRD – What release that you’ve done was the most important & special to you personally?
Chandra – Putting out Joulupukki by XAMBUCA was the first actual CD, since it’s my own project I’m privy to it having importance over the others. It was a great sense of accomplishment as we had only put out CD-R’s before.
QRD – What are some things that make you want to work with a band?
Chandra – Personality, intelligence, sensibility, hard work, & finally ease of mind; I can honestly say we have had some difficult folks on the label & I have learned not to want to work with them ever again. They know who they are! :)
QRD – What are some things that would make you stop working with a band?
Chandra – Ego, bias, & prejudice.
QRD – What is the thing all releases on your label have in common?
Chandra – Not sure if there is one. It’s all over the map; some great & I can honestly say some are not the best moments of that particular artist. I think the only commonality is we put them out! :P
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?
Chandra – I’m hugely involved. I have had people send me material & not have a clue as to what mastering was. A lot of times things would have to be remixed in order for mastering to become magical, much to the band or individual’s surprise.
QRD – How involved do you like to be in the artwork design for a release?
Chandra – Usually I am 100% involved with laying out & even designing most of the packaged material with a few exceptions, but even still I approve the proofs so you can say I am chief designer on all ends. Some of our packaging is really out there & fancy, something I am greatly proud of.
QRD – How long is it from when an artist delivers an album to you until release date & why?
Chandra – It takes a long time for the actual release to execute, on average it could be about a year. It all depends on the funds, my funds to be specific, & that dictates time wise when the release will materialize.
QRD – If a band breaks up between the recording of a release & the release date, how does that effect what you do?
Chandra – It’s never happened luckily, but if it did I’d can the project; it’s that simple. We don’t have time or energy for politics & don’t want to get involved in something that doesn’t have a future or the momentum to stay true to a broken idea.
QRD – What do you wish bands on your label would do?
Chandra – I wish they would come prepared more often with their music, artwork, & ideas.
QRD – What’s a record you’d like to put out that you’ll never be able to?
Chandra – A record I would like to put out is a Swans record, I know that will never happen because they have their own label; but knowing all of them, they are some of the, if not the, most amazing people I know & are truly sincere, friendly, warm-hearted, wonderful human beings & I love all of them very much. Glad & proud to be their friend, always.
QRD – If you really like a band, but aren’t sure you could sell many copies of their record; what do you do?
Chandra – I promise to put out a 100 copies & see where they go. I used to only be limited to putting 300 copies at a time, but the vendors & climate of where to press releases has changed for more competitive action, something to our advantage as an independent label. CDs only, vinyl if the work is mind-blowing.
QRD – How is financing of a release split between artists & the label?
Chandra – We put out everything 100% & incur costs as a result always, because we never sell enough of anything to take it out of what the artists owe. We also generously give out copies to the artists, something other labels seldom do. It’s because we’re artists ourselves & do it out of the sheer love of it all.
QRD – How do you split profits from a release between artists & your label?
Chandra – It’s always been 50/50; but no one has ever sold out of anything, yet.
QRD – Do you have written contracts with your bands or handshake deals?
Chandra – A little bit of both.
QRD – Do you take a cut of a band’s publishing?
Chandra – No, never. That is the only hope for a band to make a buck, it would be high way robbery to indulge or expect that money ours. I’m strictly, ideologically against it.
QRD – How important is it to you to have touring acts on your roster & what do you do to encourage it?
Chandra – It’s great if they happen to be passing through, but not that important in influencing the sale of a release.
QRD – Do you handle promotions in house or hire out & why?
Chandra – We handle all promotions ourselves.
QRD – How do you maintain contact with your fanbase?
Chandra – We don’t, we realized early on that it’s an effortless effort. More because of privacy acts than anything else.
QRD – Do you have intern & street team programs & if so, how do they operate?
Chandra – None of them. We do everything ourselves.
QRD – How big of a staff do you have & how big of one do you need?
Chandra – It’s myself & Jason Scott Furr handles a lot of the web end of things.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with record stores?
Chandra – Record stores are usually consignment deals & are not very friendly comrades. I prefer to order my music now as a result of their narrow-minded snobbery. I could care less if they survived or not.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with radio stations?
Chandra – We send them releases & more often than not they actually do get some airplay.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with magazines & websites?
Chandra – Send them releases & hope something gets reviewed for the sake of the good.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with bloggers?
Chandra – Send them releases & hope something gets reviewed for the sake of the good.
QRD – Do you view advertisements as a way to generate interest & revenue or more as a way to financially support magazines & websites you like?
Chandra – No, but we’ve considered it.
QRD – What is the job of your distributors?
Chandra – We don’t have any & we don’t trust them; unless they decide to carry our stuff.
QRD – How do you decide how big the initial pressing of a release should be?
Chandra – We only do 100 CD releases as of present. If stuff sells then we re-press, that simple.
QRD – What percentage of a pressing do you use for promotions?
Chandra – About 10-20 percent, roughly.
QRD – Do you sell merchandise other than the music (t-shirts, etc.)?
Chandra – Yes, but no one buys it.
QRD – Do you sell music that is not on your label?
Chandra – Not unless we get permission to or are asked exclusively to do so.
QRD – How has running a label effected your own artistic career?
Chandra – It’s a conversation piece & then that’s about it.
QRD – Ideally, would you release your own material?
Chandra – We have & we will continue to exclusively after this summer, we will become a video only release label starting this year. No more CDs, but vinyl for XAMBUCA only. Our doors will close to other artists.
QRD – What do you do to try to build a sense of community within your roster?
Chandra – Not a thing, we’re not that big of a label for others to want a sense of community. It’s an effortless endeavor, trust me. People are private, there isn’t much in the way of including other artists in an e-mail about another one. They find out if they visit our website about what’s going on with us & that’s pretty much the community right there.
QRD – What’s your most common conversation with bands as far as balancing artistic integrity & financial viability?
Chandra – There is no money to be made from being a musician. Period.
QRD – Do you worry about search engine optimization & website traffic?
Chandra – No, that stuff doesn’t help. If someone wants to find the music & the music is great, then people will find you; it’s that simple. If the music isn’t that great, then you float & will try to pop up on search engines only to find that you won’t sell diddlysquat.
QRD – What have you done to cut costs over the years?
Chandra – I’ve stopped doing bigger quantity runs. Before you were limited to 1000 now you can run 100 discs, thank goodness.
QRD – Do you think the album format is dead?
Chandra – No way. Never.
QRD – Do you think the return of vinyl & cassettes is a fad?
Chandra – Vinyl wins, tapes suck, fad or not fad they’ve survived as mediums; but tapes sound like crap. I don’t miss tapes at all.
QRD – Is it important to have physical releases over digital ones or does it not matter?
Chandra – No, I come from the generation of collecting music as tangible, holdable product. Also to boot like tapes, MP3s sound like shit; I hate the digital medium.
QRD – What do you think of ultra-limited runs of releases (less than 100 discs)?
Chandra – It would be great, who does this though?
QRD – What do you think of “print on demand” discs?
Chandra – Great! I demand they are printed!
QRD – How much content do you feel should be available free to fans?
Chandra – All of it.
QRD – What do you do about people distributing your music without financial compensation (piracy & file trading)?
Chandra – C’mon, let the kids have it!
QRD – What’s something you see other labels do that you think of as borderline unethical?
Chandra – The percentages they dole out in terms of their deals, like 70/30 or 60/40 deals. Fuck that. We’re a 50/50 label. The whole reason I started my own label was a personal “fuck you” to all of them & I still say “fuck you.”
QRD – What changes in things would cause you to stop your label?
Chandra – The prices of manufacturing vinyl & CDs is already & has always been threatening the health of our label.
QRD – What would you suggest to someone starting a label today?
Chandra – Don’t do it unless you’re prepared to make sacrifices personally, financially, & in terms of having boatloads of people hate you for countless reasons.
QRD – Where do you think money is currently most available to labels/musicians & where in the future?
Chandra – I can’t say honestly, things are looking quite bleak at the moment in terms of music profitability. I don’t have an answer to this because right now there isn’t one, yeah, it’s that bad.
QRD – Why do you think labels are still important to artists?
Chandra – Great taste, integrity, & accountability coupled with great vision & reputability are all what makes labels important to artists.
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?
Chandra – In Europe it’s last.fm, I don’t know why; but it is & for the world it’s unanimously Soundcloud. Just look at the stats.
QRD – In 20 years what do you think/hope your label will be known/remembered for?
Chandra – For great music, great packaging, & vision that hopefully influences the future generations. I know that’s a lot to ask for, but why not be optimistic? The music industry is bleak; hope is what keeps dreams alive.
QRD – Anything else?
Chandra – Thanks for your time! :)