Owner Interview with
Richard Gordon of Russian Winter Records
Name: Richard Gordon
Label: Russian Winter Records
City: Kansas City, MO
Artists Roster: http://russianwinterrecords.com/artists/
QRD – When & why did you start your label?
Richard – I founded the label in March of 2008 as a vehicle for my production projects.
QRD – Where did you get the money to finance your first few releases?
Richard – I financed the label startup myself with savings. Built an in-house studio for our artists use (not to hire out) & started from there.
QRD – How many releases have you put out?
Richard – Since our founding we have released 26 albums & EPs.
QRD – How many releases would you like to do a year?
Richard – We did two in our first year & have done six so far this year with two more in the pipeline for release. The debut album from Braggers is schedule for release at the end of June & my next records under my Prevrat moniker around the end of the year. Would like to stay in the range of 4-6 releases a year.
QRD – How many hours a week do you work on the label & how many would you like to?
Richard – Right now I’m working about 15 hours a week on the label. Also have interns whenever possible with each working 10 hrs a week. I tried to do the label full time, with PR providing the bulk of the revenue, but the financial model just did hold up & the revenue stream was too uneven.
QRD – What are the fun &/or rewarding parts about running a label?
Richard – Producing artists is most rewarding, coupled with my own music, both are the most fun. I love being a producer. In many ways it is a perfect creative job. That’s why I originally founded the label, as an avenue for my production projects.
QRD – How do you feel labels are more & less useful to artists now than they were five years ago?
Richard – For me, the biggest things we can contribute to an artist is the ability to have unlimited studio time & being able to do worldwide PR. We have great relationships with the music press & it’s gratifying to be able to get our artists out there to markets they could never reach on their own.
QRD – How have your motivations for having a label changed over time?
Richard – I don’t think they really have. It’s always been about the music & as a vehicle for my producing. I would like to do more, but chasing money is not what I want to end up doing.
QRD – What do you feel is the biggest waste of your time running the label?
Richard – Definitely worrying about money & also fighting with the indie labels that might as well be majors for airplay & access to the biggest press outlets, but it’s all part of the game.
QRD – What are some labels you admire or feel a kinship to?
Richard – Stars & Letters Records in Brooklyn. The label head Mark Roberts is a very creative guy (wonderful artist in his own right also) & releases some great music. He just did the Shocking Pinks return to the scene. Inner Ear Records in Greece do fabulous things & of course Silber is right up there on my list of best indies.
QRD – What other work experiences prepared you to have a label?
Richard – I’m a physicist in my business profession & having a scientific mind helps. All of my business experience helps some; but honestly, with the world we have now, where a whole generation has been raised to think music should be free, there is no prior experience that is much help. As indie label owners we are on uncharted ground. The battle is how to monetize our art & make our industry sustainable. Frankly, I wish I had the answers for that, but I don’t think anybody does. WE all have our successes & our failures; but for most, true financial sustainability is an elusive goal.
QRD – What makes your label special & unique?
Richard – Would think most label heads would have the same answer here, it’s our artists. Finding artists with a unique contribution to make & trying to capture their artistic essence for posterity. Other than specialty labels, are any of us really that unique? Probably not.
QRD – How has your physical location effected your label?
Richard – I don’t know that it has. Our focus is worldwide for our releases. There isn’t a real indie scene here in Kansas City, but on the other hand, the cities that have real scenes are for the most part very financially difficult to exist in. For me, I’d call it a wash.
QRD – Do you enjoy music as much now as you used to & how has running a label effected how you listen to/hear music?
Richard – Oh yes, I love music & it is my raison d’etre. Always has been. I love keeping current in music & looking for new trends & artistic opportunities
QRD – What’s your demos policy?
Richard – Demos are accepted, but we rarely sign artists from demos. The music has to be very compelling & frankly the vast majority is not. Most artists that send us stuff violate the first commandment of being an artist... THOU SHALT NOT BULLSHIT THYSELF. They tend to think they are much better than they actually are. Many don’t realize that the songs are as important as, if not more important than, the recorded performance.
QRD – How do you find out about new artists for your label?
Richard – Through submissions to our website, scouting, & referals.
QRD – How do most fans find out about your label?
Richard – The music press is the biggest way people find out about us. After that it’s indie radio.
QRD – What’s been your biggest selling release & why do you think it was?
Richard – We are pretty consistent with this. Of course the press & podcasts are a big factor, but so is bands selling at gigs.
QRD – What release that you’ve done was the most important & special to you personally?
Richard – The Braggers album we released at the end of June. I’ve known the guy forever & he’s been away from music for a long time. It has been great to see him regain his chops & to produce such a strong album with him.
QRD – What are some things that make you want to work with a band?
Richard – The music must be compelling, they must have a good work ethic, be able to take direction from a producer, & have the intelligence to understand the business.
QRD – What are some things that would make you stop working with a band?
Richard – Lack of any of the above, ego issues, etc.
QRD – What is the thing all releases on your label have in common?
Richard – For me it would be compelling music & artistic integrity.
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?
Richard – Extremely involved in all aspects of our releases.
QRD – How involved do you like to be in the artwork design for a release?
Richard – For me this is part of the artist’s statement, but it must meet with label approval.
QRD – How long is it from when an artist delivers an album to you until release date & why?
Richard – This is the most complex aspect. Depends on other releases, where we are in press contact cycles & time of year. Could be anywhere from as soon as the record is finished to as long as 4 months after.
QRD – If a band breaks up between the recording of a release & the release date, how does that effect what you do?
Richard – We scrap the album & the release is canceled.
QRD – What do you wish bands on your label would do?
Richard – Put 100% of their time into supporting the release.
QRD – What’s a record you’d like to put out that you’ll never be able to?
Richard – I really think we can release whatever we want.
QRD – If you really like a band, but aren’t sure you could sell many copies of their record; what do you do?
Richard – We do a limited edition release with very little PR behind it. If the release starts to get some traction, then we start a full blown press campaign.
QRD – How is financing of a release split between artists & the label?
Richard – The label is responsible for all recording, product, & PR expenses. We own the masters, but artists always have a buy back option.
QRD – How do you split profits from a release between artists & your label?
Richard – We split royalties 50/50 with the artist after receipted expenses.
QRD – Do you have written contracts with your bands or handshake deals?
Richard – Absolutely written contracts.
QRD – Do you take a cut of a band’s publishing?
Richard – Typically no.
QRD – How important is it to you to have touring acts on your roster & what do you do to encourage it?
Richard – We want bands on the road all the time LOL. We help them get gigs & also cover press for their gigs.
QRD – Do you handle promotions in house or hire out & why?
Richard – We have an in house press agency that works with our artists as well as other artists & labels. Bringing PR in house is a major driver of our artists’ success as well as a major revenue source.
QRD – How do you maintain contact with your fanbase?
Richard – Email & press.
QRD – Do you have intern & street team programs & if so, how do they operate?
Richard – We do use interns a lot in all aspects of our operations.
QRD – How big of a staff do you have & how big of one do you need?
Richard – Usually around 3 people. A big staff is not necessary.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with record stores?
Richard – Record stores are not a factor for us.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with radio stations?
Richard – Through our PR campaigns, interviews, etc.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with magazines & websites?
Richard – Same as above.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with bloggers?
Richard – We have also released blog & podcast curated compilation albums.
QRD – Do you view advertisements as a way to generate interest & revenue or more as a way to financially support magazines & websites you like?
Richard – We view paid advertising as a waste of financial resources.
QRD – What is the job of your distributors?
Richard – LOL, distribution.
QRD – How do you decide how big the initial pressing of a release should be?
Richard – We don’t do vinyl & can produce CDs & cassettes in house, so we produce physical product on demand.
QRD – What percentage of a pressing do you use for promotions?
Richard – We only provide digital copies to press except in rare occasions.
QRD – Do you sell merchandise other than the music (t-shirts, etc.)?
Richard – Typically no, but we are exploring this for the future.
QRD – Do you sell music that is not on your label?
Richard – No, but we do PR for other artists & labels.
QRD – How has running a label effected your own artistic career?
Richard – It has been a great limiter as it takes the majority of my time.
QRD – Ideally, would you release your own material?
Richard – Yes, but it’s been 2 years since my last album. I am working on a new album in between other projects.
QRD – What do you do to try to build a sense of community within your roster?
Richard – Really just keeping people in touch with other projects.
QRD – What’s your most common conversation with bands as far as balancing artistic integrity & financial viability?
Richard – Just keeping them realistic about career expectations.
QRD – How often do you look at your “return on investment” & adjust your business model?
Richard – The music industry is sort of in continual readjustment of the business model. This is a time of extreme flux.
QRD – Do you worry about search engine optimization & website traffic?
Richard – No
QRD – What have you done to cut costs over the years?
Richard – We do almost everything in house. We have our own recording studio, PR firm, & also publish a music blog.
QRD – Do you think the album format is dead?
Richard – No
QRD – Do you think the return of vinyl & cassettes is a fad?
Richard – No, but I think there is a chance that streaming could kill most physical product. I hope not.
QRD – Is it important to have physical releases over digital ones or does it not matter?
Richard – If people buy releases, the format doesn’t matter. Physical or Bandcamp, it all works. Streaming is the big ripoff for everyone.
QRD – What do you think of ultra-limited runs of releases (less than 100 discs)?
Richard – They are a lot of work & not justified by the ROI.
60QRD – What do you think of “print on demand” discs?
Richard – I’m completely in favor & for CD & cassettes, that is our model.
QRD – How much content do you feel should be available free to fans?
Richard – Little to none.
QRD – What do you do about people distributing your music without financial compensation (piracy & file trading)?
Richard – We aggressively pursue legal recourse.
QRD – What’s something you see other labels do that you think of as borderline unethical?
Richard – Cutting stock deals with streaming services at the expense of their artists.
QRD – What changes in things would cause you to stop your label?
Richard – That would be Popeye’s quote, “I’ve had all I can stands, I can’t stands no more.”
QRD – What would you suggest to someone starting a label today?
Richard – Have a thick skin.
QRD – Why do you think labels are still important to artists?
Richard – For our artists that use our in house studio, we don’t receipt for studio time, so they have as much time as needed to work on their record. Also a label should have substantial press connections, be able to help with tour venues, etc. A label that does none of these things is not of much value to an artist.
QRD – Music has had different hotspots on the internet over the years (newsgroups, MP3.com, MySpace, LastFM), but when MySpace died there was no real space that picked up the torch, what do you see as the place where “normal” people go to find out about & get excited by new music?
Richard – Music blogs & podcasts for people into indie music. Of course most “normal” people never progress in their listening past major label mainstream releases, so commercial radio is & will always be where they discover music. People with more developed tastes have a plethora of ways to discover new music. From college & independent radio to the many fine blogs, zines, & podcasts.
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?
Richard – For us there is nothing positive about Spotify & we do not allow our releases to stream there. Spotify is legal stealing. They rip off artists & labels.
QRD – What social networks are you active on & what ones aren’t worth the time & energy to you?
Richard – Bandcamp, SoundCloud, & Facebook. We don’t have time or staff to do any others. Other than Bandcamp, social media is ancillary for the label. The music press is & will continue to be our primary focus.
QRD – With the rise of social networks & trusted download shops, has your own website become less important than it was a few years ago?
Richard – Absolutely, but we still see value in having it. Is that just ego, maybe, but we’re not ready for Bandcamp to be our main web presence.
QRD – Do you think fan funding (e.g. Kickstarter) is the future, a fad, or an awful thing for the music industry?
Richard – Actually, I think it has aspects of all those things. For artists with decent established fan bases, it can be a viable funding mechanism. Otherwise it’s a waste of time.
QRD – In 20 years what do you think/hope your label will be known/remembered for?
Richard – Do people remember labels? The largest maybe, but the rest of us toil away anonymously.
QRD – Anything else?
Richard – Thanks for the opportunity to express myself on some interesting issues facing our industry.