Monday, April 7, 2014

A Ripple Conversation with Mike Vitali - Magnetic Eye Records

Making  a big splash on the heavy rock scene, Magnetic Eye Records was one of the first Labels that customers begged me to get to join us in the Heavy Ripples Distro.  With bands like Ironweed and Summoner, it's easy to see why the fans clammored.  So let's take a look into the mind of Mike Vitali, the main visionary at Magnetic Eye Records.

How did you get started running an independent record label?

I became interested while finishing a contract as a signed artist. Becoming more involved in the business end of music was of interest to me personally.

What motivated you? Did you tap into a particular local scene or were you aiming to capture a sound?

The motivating factor was the desire to create an imprint which was more diverse and of higher quality than the labels I'd worked with.

I don't really tap into or follow scenes. During my 30 years of studying and appreciating music I have remained diverse and eclectic in my personal tastes. My interest in diversity, electronic music, avant-garde, jazz and experimental music really began while studying at Berklee and managing a Tower Records store in Cambridge, MA.

 Describe your label philosophy and individuality? 

Our philosophy is to conjuror and curate real artists to real fans. We take a strong no BS approach. As a big fan of science, technology, and the arts I felt compelled to start an imprint with the long term goal of establishing an incredible catalog of art and music worthy of people's time, money and effort.

 Which was your first release?

Our first release was a gatefold release of Ironweed's "Your World of Tomorrow". However I was still under contract, actually finishing a contract, so I really had little input into many aspects of that release. At the same time that record was coming out, I was also starting to experiment with electronics, engineering and working in collaborative, improvisational "project/band" settings. With very mixed results I might add.

 Fortunately, we simultaneously signed and released a solo baritone ambient record by the artist Claymation. That record is titled "The Dolphin Key" and really provided the motivation and template to create a sub/sister label for Magnetic Eye Records. I did this because I wanted two separate tracks for releases; one to feature bands and artists and another to feature more instrumental, experimental and avant-garde releases. Our sub-label is Nanobox Records and co-run by Jeff Smith over in Chicago.

 There's so much to learn about running a label, share with us some of the lessons you've learned along the way.

 Always keep a positive attitude, give relentless effort and do everything with love for the music, the arts, the technology and the relationships. I would also recommend making as many mistakes as possible as early as possible.

 I think that formula will always lead one into a sincere place and that in turn will help attract interest from bands, fans, and customers.

 What's been your label's high point? Low point?

 Every step we take always feels like the high point; the high point is the process. With that said, Summoner's "Atlantian" is the release to date with the most care and positive group effort behind it and that makes "Atlantian" the literal "high point" to date. However, there are a lot of other moments both personally and shared with others which also stand out high points. Too many to cite at this time.

 The low point was definitely all the stresses and frustrating experiences which lead me to start the label. Therefore, the work involved with the label just gets better and better with each passing day.

 Who would you like to work with, but haven't yet?

 That's a great question... I think due to the diversity of our artists I can honestly say I don't have a band or person that I'm dying to work with at this time. To date, working with GirlsOnDrugs, Landerim, Summoner, Claymation, Asvara, The Right Words, Akuma, Echoes and Signals, Francis Graves, Owl, Jupiter Zeus, Purifier, Michael Garfield, CryptoBass, Ironweed, Skeletons in the Piano, and Origami Horses has all been so rewarding. I think that leaves me little room to entertain who I'd like to work with that I haven't.

What changes do you see ahead for the music industry?

 A lot of the controversy, fear, confusion and opinion about the industry is a discussion I just avoid all together. You know, at the end of the day, if someone practices the craft of creating and playing music and they're disciplined and they learn to control their ego and work well with others and have a shared vision, then the "industry" aspect will work itself out positively. Manifesting great art in desirable formats and getting that into listeners hands is the only part of the industry that I stay concerned with and focused on.

 What are you doing to stay on top of new and emerging technology?

 An awful lot both personally and professionally, and by professionally I am meaning for the label's future. Personally I released a solo record of minimal electronic meditations last April using a Monome, Abelton and few other midi devices. The new tools of creating music is of great interest to me as a musician and artist.

 For the labels' sake, I've worked to develop relationships with individuals and companies involved in emerging technologies and I have a deep interest in how technology is changing and influencing all aspects of our lives. I've been keeping an eye out for new software and new hardware which will change how we create, interact with and appreciate music. That is of great interest and in my mind, a cornerstone for the future success of both Magnetic Eye and Nanobox.

 What's the biggest challenge facing you today as an independent label?

 Time and balance. I have a few new bands and projects I'm involved in including starting to write a new Ironweed record with Jeff Andrews. I'm also working with great guys in a new band called Aegis; with a slant toward a more traditional heavy, doom, metal vibe. I also have a full time job and full time family. Therefore, hands down the biggest challenge is time, organizing my goals and staying balanced. Recently Jeff Smith and I have taken on an intern, Matthew Glover. Over time I'm hoping the label can continue to grow and justify supporting staff in paid positions within the next few years while maintaining our current work ethics.

 Seems that the sound of the bands you sign keeps evolving. What do you look for in your bands?

 Another great question, I really look for bands and musicians that are both driven and talented that have a deep understand of the fact that they need to work hard and smart. Relentlessly. Relentless hard work with a vision which is new and really worth their spending the time and effort on. The bands and/or individual artists really need to love exposing others to their vision and their musicianship. That's what I look for in a band.

 How do you find your artists?

 It varies, sometimes they approach the label and sometimes myself or Jeff will come across them somewhere and love their work. We then tend to reach out and learn more about the band and their goals. I'll take a minute to say that when individuals or bands approach the label they generally standout when they are articulate and honest about who they are and what their goals are. That always leads to a good exchange even when the band and the label are not a good match for whatever reason.

 Are you a club rat, constantly searching live venues for cool acts?

 Not at all. I do love catching great shows. I definitely make it my business to get out for shows which are not to be missed. We don't get enough great bands coming through my region in my opinion tho.

 I miss live shows like Emissions from the Monolith and clubs like the Nyabinghi in Youngstown, Ohio. That festival and club was an amazing scene; Rebreather, Disengage, Five Horse Johnson, Buried at Sea, Torche, Yob etc.

 Quickly I'll say that a great guy Howard Glassman opened a new club known as "The Low Beat" in my area. I have high hopes that the club draw better bands to are area.

 What are you looking for now?

 Nothing really. Everything is unfolding nicely for the label and our artists so everything is good for now. In time I'll be looking to connect with other stellar companies and individuals to continue our deep penetration plan. And by deep penetration, I'm referring to the plan to keep doing everything so well that we become a serious part of other people's lives. They grow to love the music and bands so much that we really connect with them in the way that's indescribable.

 Are you involved in all the creative decisions?

 I'm always at a minimum aware of the direction and creative decisions. In terms of the vinyl releases, the Ironweed record was the only time I wasn't and I regret it.  I'll never place myself in that situation again for any reason. These days I do all the specs for the vinyl and I'm definitely becoming more skilled with that as I learn the process. The look and feel of the vinyl is so important.

 In terms of album art, the writing of and recording, etc. of the release that varies from artist to artist. Some artists are great at all of that and in other cases I'm thinking I need to make more time and drive the production and art direction a bit more. At the same time, I only sign and work with people whose judgment I respect so I usually stay pretty hands off unless requested or input is being sought.

 What would you like to see happen for the future of the music industry and your label in particular?

 You know, in terms of the industry that's an area that I leave to take care of itself and do the best I can within the environment that I find myself in. That's all I'll say about that.

 In terms of Magnetic Eye and Nanobox, I'd just love to see the future keep moving in the direction we are already going in. In my experience, I've found that discipline, dedication and love of the entire process yields the best results. So my plan is more of the same with the end goal being to create an amazing catalog and imprint together with best bands, artists and music appreciators we can attract to our work. Thank you for the questions Todd.

MER Ebay

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