Saturday, November 3, 2012

Three Rooks Records: The Interview

I think the majority of the fans of music, be it metal or otherwise, often forget about the men and women behind the scenes that make this stuff happen. And while they may be vilified time and time again, labels are still a central cog in the music industry. We had a chance to get the label point of view in our conversation with Iain from Three Rooks Records. Enlightening, to say the least.

What is the story behind Three Rooks Records? When did the idea to form a label strike you,
and how did the label come to be?

Basically I got fed up of the brick walls encountered while being a musician. I was trying to do the work of a label and a band, without being one, yet it was in a very narrow direction - just my own music. I discovered I actually enjoyed helping promote other people’s work more, it was more social, I made more connections and it was not as self destructive. So in March 2012 I put my guitar down in order to focus on building up the skills I’d need to run Three Rooks. I’ve only just returned to writing my own music on the side, with the label my priority, it way well appear as a project again in the not so distant future.

In today's music industry, labels seem to come and go almost daily. So, why get into the label

Very true! I remember when I was in bands of my own looking for underground labels to send my unsolicited demo's to, a lot of the links on search engines were dead, the internet is like a graveyard for defunct small labels. The best reason to start a label is always going to be for the love of the music itself. If you are talking underground genres, money has be a secondary aspect, that’s being realistic, but also true to the nature of the sector you are dealing with. Being part of keeping alive the music you are passionate about is also great motivation, if you can be even a small part of what keeps a scene going and make your own mark on it, that is great a reason too.

How much work goes into the day to day operation of a budding record label? How difficult is it to promote yourself and your stable of bands online and in the everyday world?

Enough work as you humanly have time for! Promotion is one of those things you can never do enough of, especially online you need to put in a lot of work to get any return on your effort.

For example, say you somehow manage to reach eight hundred people with an album promo, around one hundred or so might actually get your message, out of that you can expect around ten to become dedicated fans, with maybe a handful of part-time fans making up the ranks a little.

Bigger labels succeed in this area through sheer force of budget, we can't match their ad campaigns in terms  of how much money they can throw at it, yet still that is what we would be competing against in terms of getting a potential fan's attention.

Real world promotion is more effective on a person-to person basis, but it has much less scope for us due to being based in the UK, so the internet is our friend!

I think being blatantly underground helps, because people only really find us if they are looking for specifically underground music, also its really the most honest approach for what we can deliver.

What do you look for in an artist/band? Would you say you are trying to stay focused on black metal?

With a new artist we are looking for an original sound that grabs us, whether that is something polished or that has potential but needs development. One of the approaches that sets us apart is that we are not afraid of working with bands to help them develop and grow when they are at an early stage. I'm always willing to help with production by mixing and mastering a band's work in my own studio, I don't mind putting the hours in with this because it benefits us both to have a great sound.

When doing this I always listen to what the artist has in mind and put together an improved master mix of that concept, including raw sounding black metal, it is possible to have a raw sound that is well balanced and mastered, I'm against over-produced music. The main ingredient in making music great is the passion and vision put into it by the artist. The same applies to artwork, if a band is struggling to put together their own cover art I can step in and design them something myself if they wish.

I think partly it's a case of the label's identity being formed by the bands who make up the roster, it just so happens that the majority of better demo's we get are from the black metal subgenres, especially a lot of depressive black metal. As a long-term appreciator of Black Metal, this of course is a good thing.

At the start we set out to try and cover a broader spectrum, including death metal, but now, making black metal and its subgenres our main focus seems to be the direction it’s going in, for now at least. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of working with a death metal related artist at some point, but certainly no deathcore! The backbone of the roster will remain black metal.

There are some genre gaps in our roster that I would like to recruit some new artists into. We currently have artists at each end of the black metal spectrum - ambient/symphonic stuff coupled with some raw depressive stuff, what I'm looking for now would be a band or project in the middle ground - straight up black metal.

How does the review process, both through the infinite number of online blogs and from printed media, affect your relationships with your bands? And, one of the ongoing discussion among critics, how does a negative review get handled?

Online blogs, E-zines and printed mags are incredibly valuable to any label without them what we do would be basically impossible. Our artists generally trust us to handle contact with music journalists in a way that represents their best interests. We haven’t had any problems with this... yet. It's very important for a label to discuss with bands first how you are going to write about them. I like to get in my head, all the terminology that is accurate musically for a band and get a writing style developed that gets across both their music and ideology fully to the reader.

I'm fine with a negative review as long as it is constructive criticism, obviously a needlessly obnoxious slating of your artist doesn't rub well but its possible to limit the damage especially if it's just an isolated case. I’d encourage bands not to rant about a negative review online, as that just attracts people’s attention more, nor would I write a snotty letter to the magazine, there really is no point. Learning from mistakes is always the best policy. I think being picky about who you ask for coverage is the best approach, I'm not going to send some raw black metal to an E-zine that gives glowing reviews to bands who churn out over-produced 'core' mush.

Metal labels seem to be less glitz and glamour, and more about the music itself. What it is about the various forms of metal that make it so popular?

Metal in its various forms, to me embodies the core human aspects that are repressed in society and by the monotony of ’normality’ in life. We need this more than ever! I think because this is the heart of what runs through all metal subgenres, that popularity, although not comparable to mainstream music such as pop, will continue to remain constant.

There always seems to be sympathy for bands from cynical music fans, but rarely for the labels. Do you feel that the mistakes of major labels in the past have made things harder for small labels today?

If anything, their loss is our gain! The old systems of mass-commercialising music are slowly crumbling away, in part due to file sharing but also due to other factors, some of them economic. Music as a creative entity will never die though, so as the influence of the major labels fades away, hopefully this will give smaller labels like ours room to flourish.

How do you balance the business side, making profit and all, with keeping your integrity and personal goals in tact?

At this stage in our development as a label, we are yet to take any of the bigger monetary risks, so making a profit has yet to conflict with any of our original values. 2013 will see us pushing things forward more. I think being honest and upfront about your aims and what you can deliver is the best policy. Also sticking to promises with artists. I don’t believe that a smaller label should have any contracts that really tie down an artist, so when we tackle this, our agreements will be to-the-point and in plain English, on a release-by-release basis as to be as flexible as possible. I believe if our musicians are happy and not caged in, that better music will be the result. I’m probably inclined to this approach due to my own experience as a musician, being offered small-time record deals but with all the clingy contracts of a big label deal and none of the advantages, I thought to myself - that’s the wrong way to run a small label. I hasten to add this is not how most small labels are, just one of my experiences.

How has the rise of digital media through sites like iTunes or Band camp helped or hurt your cause?

There is such a massive sea of digital music online, from both underground and commercial sources, cutting through that to reach fans is challenging to say the least, there is just so much competing for a listener's attention.

Bandcamp is actually rather useful, especially in terms of presenting a newer artist who has free promo tracks, to new fans. Personally I have no issue with digital music if the files are of high quality, for example our artists only put out mp3's of 320kbps quality, which is as high as mp3's go. Some formats such as FLAC which is becoming more popular due to bandcamp, are pretty high quality. The problem is, that there is also a lot of low quality mp3 around, so people associate that sound with the digital approach.

The CD album is still king, it tops anything in file form and it's an irreplaceable part of metal culture. I believe the best albums are those you can listen to from start to finish direct from a CD or indeed a vinyl. You get that cohesion and interplay between the tracks in the album format that allow them to flow together and tell a story almost, many of the greatest black metal albums are testament to this.

I find that some fans and reviewers are starting to demand physical releases more than we originally expected, so we are going to gear up that aspect of our label in 2013.

What does the future hold for Three Rooks Records? What other bands can we expect to see coming from your stable, and what releases are on the horizon?

Plenty! Late October-November is turning out to be a really busy time. On October 30th is the Morodh EP release. These guys are a depressive black metal band from Russia with some very impressive musicianship and song writing. The EP ’Lost in Life’ is a four track split with another Russian project - ’People Are Mechanisms’, I’ve recently finished mastering the EP myself!

Then, as November kicks in, two new artists to reveal demo’s from! Bergelmir is raw depressive black metal from Texas, really cold sounding and with stripped back recording that adds to the harsh atmosphere, a three track EP ‘Infernal Solitude’ will arrive soon.

Also, something very different - a project called Miseria Visage, avant garde black metal from the UK, a well-crafted melodic wall of sound with all the weirdness you would expect from something like Sigh, but with a blasphemous edge to it. Expect their demo soon, and an appearance on a new split we are planning.

That just about wraps it up for now, thanks for taking the time to interview me about my label!

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