Interview by Louis Rastelli
From Vol. 3 No. 1, 2004
Our interview with Shawn from Alien8 Recordings of Montreal was conducted by email.
FP: How/ why did you decide to start a label?
alien8: No really inspired story here… Gary and I were both involved in music in various ways as listeners, but Gary had also promoted various shows during his teens, written about music, hosted a radio show and worked at a record distributor. For my part, I was mostly just a listener but I had also been keen on photographing bands during my CEGEP years. We both were interested in becoming more intimately involved in some aspect of the independent music industry, and starting a label seemed an obvious choice. We were definitely inspired by various small labels, both ones that we were fans of based outside of Montreal and also others based in Montreal run by people we got to know or meet.
FP: How many people work for your label (full-time, part-time, etc.)? Have you managed to quit your day job by now (if so, when did that happen?)
alien8: I work full time for the label. Gary works part-time. Occasionally we hire some people to give us some extra help, mostly with packaging of the records, since to some extent they are hand-assembled. I managed to slowly quit my day job (it was a slow process of having fewer and fewer freelance contracts) about 2 years ago. Gary has also gradually reduced the amount of time spent at his other job (at Cheap Thrills).
FP: Have you given yourself a mandate?
alien8: No. I think if we have any ad hoc sort of mandate it would simply be to put out music by artists whose work we consider to be important… but I’m not sure if that’s specific enough to be considered a mandate, or at least not enough to differentiate from the mandates of other labels. Perhaps it’s best to think of our label as having multiple and evolving mandates: things like supporting under-recognized artists, exposing music from Montreal to a broader audience, bring the attention of some Montreal/ Canadian/ North American audiences to international artists we’re into. Those are some of our motivations.
FP: Do you get flooded with demos?
alien8: Yes, we do get a lot of demos. We actually tend to listen to most of them while assembling our CDs. We don’t often work with artists on the basis of a demo. More often, we approach artists on the basis of knowing some recordings of theirs, having seen them play live etc. But increasingly we are receiving strong demos, so that may change.
FP: Have you ever signed an amazing band just based on a demo playing in the office that everyone got excited about?
alien8: Yes, that is pretty much how we ended up working with Tanakh.
FP: Have you ever been stuck with tons of CDs by a band who broke up and-or never managed to tour? Do you set aside a percentage of sales to cushion losses of this kind?
alien8: No comment.
FP: Is it important for you to sign bands that are able and willing to tour and-or promote themselves?
alien8: It wasn’t too important when we began our label. At that time we were working with experimental solo artists, most of whom were already established in their field. We began working with bands over the last year, issuing some releases of more melodic music, and in those cases touring is certainly essential. One can perhaps sell a few hundred copies of a release without touring, which may be plenty depending on one’s expectations/ desires, but beyond that, few people will pay much attention to a band no one has seen live. There are of course exceptions to this, but they are relatively few.
FP: Does it help the label and the bands on it when one band becomes a big seller?
alien8: It does seem to help, but not as much as one might expect. A successful new release may bring attention to the label, help with distribution opportunities, and maybe raise the profile. I think it has a lesser impact on things like helping the back catalogue sell.
FP: Have you ever benefited from an artist jumping to a major label and-or otherwise having a hit album elsewhere?
alien8: No, nothing like that has happened to us.
FP: How would you describe the importance of distribution to the success of a label?
alien8: It’s an essential component. It won’t make or break a record, or a catalogue for that matter, but it’s not possible to have much success without good distribution in place.
FP: Have you ever gotten screwed for a lot of money by a distributor, or lost money when a distributor went bust?
alien8: Yes, a couple of times. It wasn’t for vast sums, but enough to piss us off. Fortunately we were selling few records at the time, so the loss was smaller. That was about 5, 6 years ago.
FP: Have any of your distributors tried to make you stop dealing with other distributors?
alien8: Not after the fact, but exclusivity is a command requirement when starting up with a distributor in a foreign (or even domestic) territory.
FP: Are most distributors good at letting you know where they sell your releases in?
alien8: No, not really. If you want this info you often have to pester the distributor for it.
FP: How important is college radio in playing/ promoting your artists? What about small press and fanzines?
alien8: College radio is very important, especially in the US. Radio seems to be a smaller factor in Canada. Small press magazines and fanzines are important as well, but one needs to be extremely selective with these given the vast numbers of them out there. We issue many releases with an initial pressing of 1000, so our promo run for such a release may be in the neighborhood of 100 to 200 copies, including all press, radio and retail. So sending promos to even a small fraction of all the zines out there is not really possible. It seems best to form relationships with zines over time and promo them on the basis of those whose audiences are likely to appreciate it, or promo zines that at least give the release some attention.
FP: Have you ever put out a 45?
alien8: No. Not yet.
FP: Is it possible to make a profit selling vinyl (45 or LP), and if not, why?
alien8: Possible, but it’s very difficult. It’s easier to do with bands that tour, because that’s where a lot of vinyl gets sold (off the stage). The other thing to do with vinyl is to try keeping costs down. They can get up there very quickly.
FP: Is vinyl more profitable/ popular to sell at merch tables at shows than in stores?
alien8: It can be more profitable depending on how the band prices it. I do think that one moves more vinyl relative to CDs at merch tables than in stores.
FP: Do you have any intent of selling songs or albums on “legitimate” file sharing networks?
alien8: Yes, we intend to do this. It’s not terribly interesting, but we’d rather have our artists and our releases represented in that format than not.
FP: Has file-sharing hurt sales of your bands?
alien8: It’s difficult to say, but I would guess that it has in some case. There is certainly also a lot of benefit that comes from the music being available to people who would not otherwise be able to obtain it.
FP: Do you have any issues with your bands posting free music on the internet?
FP: Do you think that putting out DVDs, video extras or other bonus things can help keep people buying music instead of downloading it? Any plans for doing this type of thing yourselves?
alien8: We may do a DVD in the future, but I don’t think it will alter the effects of downloading.
Alien8 Recordings, P.O. Box 666, Station R, Montreal, Qc, Canada, H2S 3L1