Sunday, October 20, 2013
Independent Record Label - Interview with Shadow Kingdom Records
Heavy Underground metal. That's the world of Shadow Kingdom Records
How did you get started running an independent record label?
Back in 2004, I started an online heavy metal store bringing in bands that nobody knew of back then and starting getting people into them. The bands that got big after that were The Lord Weird Slough Feg (now Slough Feg), Manilla Road, Pagan Altar. I’d say we got the ball rolling for those bands to be as well known as they are today. With that said, we’ve released stuff from all 3 of those bands. There was a ton of great music out there that people over looked. Cirith Ungol didn’t go over at all when Metal Blade put them out back in the 80’s, now those records are noticed as some of the very best albums ever. Since I know basically every single band from the 80’s that ever existed, I knew there was a completely untapped market (at the time) out there to re-issue and release stuff that was never-before-heard. We promoted a lot of that stuff and things were getting expensive on my end to keep buying everything for my rapidly growing store. A lot of other people that were working in the underground were all about trading their releases. So I just decided to start releasing bands on my test label to see if I could do it.
What motivated you? Did you tap into a particular local scene or were you aiming to capture a sound?
My motivation was my lifestyle, my love for it, and my personal heavy metal collection. I bought most of my collection overseas, so buying a CD for $25 was nothing to me. That’s basically unheard now, unless it’s rare.
I didn’t tap into a local scene nor was a trying to capture a sound in particular. I’m a big fan of classic metal, whether it’s Doom, Black, Death, Thrash, Heavy/Epic, N.W.O.B.H.M., so the simple equation is that I put things out that sound like this and I like. We sort of put all different kinds of metal/rock out. A lot of it has some kind of charm about it that ties into everything else we do though. If you’re a fan of the label, you sort of hear other bands and some people think “Hey, that should be an SKR release”.
There’s some labels out there now that changed formats to do what we do, which they would never admit, but I know who they are.
Which was your first release?
On my test label, we put out Death Milita and Redrum. Both 80’s Heavy Metal with Thrash elements to them. Death Militia is really good. Redrum had some charming moments, but wasn’t nearly as solid. When we started SKR, we put out Stygian Shore – The Shore Will Arise. The Manilla Road fans freaked out over this album. It’s pretty much the definition of SKR. They’re a Heavy Metal / Hard Rock band with Epic elements and some really magical moments. They’re the first band to ever really have a direct Manilla Road influence. I love the album and would still like to put out their first EP at some point, but it’s always hard to work that kind of stuff out and get everything out. Believe it or not, there’s a lot of work involved putting out just 1 album.
You tap into a lot of heavy metal and some great older NWOBHM. Your first love?
It’s actually not. I was the only kid in my High School that was into obscure 70’s Heavy Rock. My uncle used to work at a record store and used to be into collecting all of that. He showed me that stuff and it took off for me there. I naturally went to metal after that.
Who's been your biggest selling artist to date?
All the bands sell pretty much the same. We didn’t get that one lucky band who just blows up and takes off. I think Pagan Altar and Manilla Road would be, but because we’re only able to sell those albums in the US/Canada market, it’s hard to sell that kind of stuff here. If they were a black or death metal band, they’d probably sell double because that’s what’s big in America.
There's so much to learn about running a label, share with us some of the lessons you've learned along the way.
What's been your label's high point? Low point?
2013 has been our high point. We’ve released more albums than ever and they’ve all done fine. Our low point is when we first started out; we lost Blood Ceremony and Hour of 13 to bigger labels. Those bands are pretty big now and I’m happy for them.
Who would you like to work with, but haven't yet?
There is no way I’m going to tell anyone that. I know how stuff like this works. I’ve lost bands/releases because I mentioned them too soon. The band then thinks the grass is greener and we lose em.
What changes do you see ahead for the music industry?
I see more shitty and unnecessary vinyl releases. Labels continue putting out dumb records and they’re not properly mastered for vinyl even when it’s possible to do it right. But it’s only because Vinyl is the future and will be here to stay.
What are you doing to stay on top of new and emerging technology?
Evolving with the times. You need to evolve or you’ll be out of the business fast. Listen to the fans. They’re the ones supporting you. We try to make the majority crowd happy.
What's the biggest challenge facing you today as an independent label?
Paying the bills at the end of each month. You can’t imagine how many bills us smaller labels have.
How is most of your product sold? Mail order? Web-based? At shows? Is this changing?
Mail order and physical stores. We have the biggest and best distribution a small label could possibly have. We function like a large label as far as distribution is concerned, but we’re still small because our releases haven’t caught on enough yet. We basically need 1 band to float their way to the top then the whole label will take off. It will happen.
Seems that the sound of the bands you sign keeps evolving. What do you look for in your bands?
I don’t look for anything in particular other than what genuinely sounds magical and moves me. For example, I would have signed Green Carnation – Light of Day, Day of Darkness or Enslaved – Below the Lights if I had the opportunity. I think those albums are magic, but that style isn’t necessarily a steady diet of mine.
How do you find your artists?
There’s several ways. Some friends help me find them. I find them. Sometimes these people are hard to track down and you only have a small window of opportunity before they disappear again. That’s how I found THE MEZMERIST. If I didn’t find him when I did, that opportunity would have been gone now.
Are you a club rat, constantly searching live venues for cool acts?
Not in the least. I only go see bands I know and if I don’t know them, they’re rarely good enough to capture my attention.
What are you looking for now?
Quality, quality, quality music.
Are you involved in all the creative decisions?
Sometimes, yes. It’s best that the band does their part and let me do my part and all usually works out well that way.
What would you like to see happen for the future of the music industry and your label in particular?
We would love to see a few bands break out that are on our label. It really comes down to the magazines helping us make a band big. We’re not going to be able to do it without them. The timing has to be right. The band needs to be willing to go all-in on themselves and the magazines need to back them. If that can all line up, then we’ll have a winner on our hands.
At some point someone will notice what we’re doing. As far as I’m concerned we’ve released the 8 best albums of 2013.
COVEN – Destiny of the Gods FUNERAL CIRCLE – S/T NIGHT DEMON – S/T SINISTER REALM – World of Evil THE VEIN - Scouring the Wreckage of Time REVELATION – Inner Harbor DECEPTOR – Chains of Delusion CORSAIR – S/T