Owner Follow-Up Interview
with Justin Bieler of I Had An Accident Records
Name: Justin Bieler
Label: I had An Accident Records
City: Annapolis, MD
Artists Roster: Walter Gross, Feend, Teaadora, Boogie Boy Metal Mouth, DenMother, & a bunch more like minded musicians. Many of the artists we work with also work with other labels too, we have created quite a collective of labels & artists all working together in our own ways.
Original Label Owner Interview with QRD
QRD – Any major changes to the label or your general outlook on running a label since last time?
Justin – It’s hard to believe four years has past, it’s hard to believe I’m still doing this four years later. The label is now a one person operation. I run everything out of my Annapolis home. I have narrowed the focus of music we are working with. I was all over the map 4 years ago & that was fun, but it was also frustrating. I am really proud of the artists we are working with, the music has been amazing. A lot of beat tapes & hip hop artists have joined our roster. I have really reached a level that I am really proud of & I know I struggled over the years to try to retain the original energy the label was created out of between myself & Seamus, but I eventually gave in to where my heart was taking me. I continue to be inspired by the amazing people I meet every day & the great music they are producing.
QRD – How do you feel labels are more & less useful to artists now than they were five years ago?
Justin – Considering I work with cassettes only, one important aspect that a label can do for an artist is help with creating a stunning product. I’m experienced in doing this cassette thing & for someone that isn’t, they can end up chasing a “deal” & end up with a product that isn’t beautiful. I spend a lot of money & time perfecting each release, the contacts I’ve made & the knowledge I have is important. Over the past five years I’ve seen so many cassette labels come & go. Mostly come, there are so many out there right now. Some are amazing & help me realize that I can always improve my game, others it amazes me they are still in existence. I think the importance of the label still exists especially for those artists that really want to focus on their music & don’t have the time or knowledge to deal with the physical aspect of the project. But of course on the flip side, an artist can set up their own Bandcamp site & get their own project off the ground fairly simply.
QRD – There are a lot less record stores than their used to be. How has that effected your model for releasing music?
Justin – Well you know, if there were more shops willing to sell cassettes I’d be making more cassettes per release. As it stands we have three solid shops, plus a few more that we work with depending on the artist or release. We do super short runs. 50-100 is a typical run per release. The shops that we work with take 2-10 copies at a time, so we are mindful of this. I would love to increase our output to record stores. Access Music in San Diego has helped us sell so much music. Yellow Dog in Japan as well. We are so fortunate to be able to work with them. Ex-Vinylo is another shop in France that recently opened, they have a beautiful store & really love the cassette culture. I remember talking to Access Music back in 2009 & they were hesitant to take cassettes back then. Yellow Dog was the same way. They wanted the music, but weren’t sure how cassettes would do in their shops. It’s not surprising either, back then the huge craze hadn’t started yet. Both shops we have nothing but respect for. I wouldn’t be here without their support.
QRD – Spotify has become an undeniable force that has reduced download sales while (allegedly) fighting piracy. In the end what is good or bad about it for you as a label & do you embrace it?
Justin – I love listening to Spotify. I’ve learned about so much music I would never have had an opportunity to listen to. Additionally, I’ve been able to play back some amazing memories of artists I’ve forgotten about over the years. It’s great to be able to sit at work & play music depending on my mood & not have to worry about storage space or whether or not I have the tape with me. It’s crazy. I listen to too much Lana Del Ray though. But I look at it from the label perspective… I can’t afford to post my artists music on Spotify. It’s too big of a “risk” & not a large enough payback. I’d be happy to put the music on for free & tell them to keep the money, but I haven’t found a way to do even that. I embrace anything - I want to sell cassettes, I want to make the money back I invest in the label, but at the end of the day I want to be part of the music & help the artists be heard. I invest my money & time into it because I believe in the music & not because of the money. Hell, there is no money in cassettes! So we have our Bandcamp shop with all our music streaming. I include free download codes when people buy our physical product & I try hard to promote as best I can. I love Spotify as a listener.
QRD – Most labels are making a bit less money than they were a few years ago. What have you done to lower expenses or find new sources of revenue?
Justin – You know we are solely a cassette label these days. I’ve grown over the last four years & our releases reach a larger audience now than ever before. 2014 was a little slow, I’ll admit that… but 2015 started off amazing. I try not to make decisions based on lowering expenses to compromise the product. I’ve spent crazy money on cassettes. I’ve paid over $2.00 for blank tapes because of their color when I could have just ordered from a friend for .46 cents a tape. So, for me, I want to make the best damn product I can & ignore the cost. It’s not a good business practice, I know… & I’ve lost some money in the process. I’ve wised up a bit, I don’t order blank tapes from the UK much anymore…
My biggest success though, I found a print shop that is better quality compared to where I was going 4 years ago, but at a fraction of the cost… we’ve been able to maintain low prices on our releases as a result. It’s helped a lot.
QRD – What social networks are you active on & what ones aren’t worth the time & energy to you?
Justin – Ok, so Instagram is my favorite & I love engaging with fans & other artists on IG more than anything. I think second favorite is Twitter & third is Facebook. I can’t be bothered with much else. We use Soundcloud to highlight a track from our new releases, but that platform is so messed up right now. Myspace, we tried to be part of that when it was being revived, almost for nostalgic sake, but really came back to where we see the most engagement. IG has been the best. I’ve always been fond of taking photos, & this really lets me do just that.
QRD – With the rise of social networks & trusted download shops, has your own website become less important than it was a few years ago?
Justin – This question is perfectly timed. In April 2015 our web hosting expires & I am not renewing it. I have a OneDrive through Microsoft that I am transferring all our mp3 links to, I have Google Drive for album art, Dropbox for j-cards we are working on, & Box for templates & other necessities… Bandcamp has become our shop, & Tumblr has been the “website”. I miss the web design stuff, I really enjoyed it… & Bandcamp is a pisser at times, but with the limited amount of time I have, I must use my resources wisely & its just so simple to use Bandcamp.
QRD – Do you think fan funding (e.g. Kickstarter) is the future, a fad, or an awful thing for the music industry?
Justin – I don’t know man - I don’t think I had An Accident will ever be part of fan funding. I know its helped a lot of cool cats, my friend Radius has an IndieGoGo thing going to fund his vinyl - it does take on a whole different way of dealing with music…
QRD – What’s something you leave up to bands to do rather than handling as a label?
Justin – Oddly enough, I guess, mastering. I know some labels pay for mastering, we’ve always left that up to the artist. Sometimes that has meant a more “bedroom” sound from an artist, & sometimes that means the artist has an expense to worry about. I think we do a pretty dang good job with everything else though. We do try to make our process collaboration, & I work well with everyone. I take the time to determine how each project will be developed, & if the artist wants to take a lead role I let them, otherwise I will step in & set up the art, choose the cassette color & put the package together.
QRD – Do you see albums, EPs, or singles more relevant than a few years ago or pretty much in the same place?
Justin – I’ll take a cassette perspective here, we generally sell all our albums for $6-$8 a piece. As a label, the cost to produce a 10 minute tape compared to a 60 minute tape is not much different, so you have to deal with the idea of selling a 10 minute tape for the same price as a 60 minute tape & that doesn’t always make sense. I think for us, we try to focus on a lengthier album versus a single for the sake of being productive. At the same time, I try to never release anything over 50 minutes. I think 20-50 minutes is a good length of time.
QRD – Do you have separate release dates for different formats (CD, vinyl, digital download, streaming)?
Justin – Well, we only release cassettes. Rarely do we sell our digital downloads - I allow the artists to handle their own digital download sales. Again, not the best “business practice” as far as making money is concerned, but I am trying to be as artist centered as possible. If that means the artist is selling a digital download of an album I release & he makes tons of money & I break even, then I am happy. This isn’t my career (I wish it was though), so I’m paying rent from my real job. I tend to release the physical project & the streaming at the same time. We do a “pre-order” for our e-mail club only - which really is about 10 people actually. A few artist end up having their album set up as a free download, & we sell the physical project. What I’ve found is some people really do care about a physical format & are willing to pay to have that in their hands. It’s awesome. What I also realized is I can’t sell CDs at all. We recently released an album that was limited to 50 cassettes & 5 CDs. I sold all 50 cassettes before I sold a single CD. Back in 2009 we realized that CDs were now more difficult to sell & that hasn’t changed at all… at least not for us.
QRD – Anything else?
Justin – I think one of the biggest challenges to running a label in which mail order is the largest form of sales is dealing with shipping costs. Within the last 4 years the price of shipping has increased tremendously. It now costs me $9.00 to ship one single cassette out of the USA. It’s tragic. I cannot imagine being a fan in France, for example, & have to pay the $6 for the tape & then $9 for shipping! The fact that shipping is $3 more than the value of the tape is crazy. I get it, I know it’s still pretty amazing to think that I can ship a cassette to France for only $9 considering everything it goes through to get to its destination, but that really hurts. Our international sales have decreased & that sucks. It sucks for so many reasons, 4 years ago shipping one tape was $4… so in that short of time it increased $4 to $9. Wow. We all were hoping for some European distribution to open up. Ex-Vinylo opened in France, but that’s just one place. I know I almost gave up when that increase happened.
Brian it’s great what you are doing here, its nice to have an opportunity to reflect & think about things in a different perspective.