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toroddfuglesteg View Drop Down
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Direct Link To This Post Topic: Emkog Records
    Posted: August 24 2010 at 10:42

Emkog Records is the brainchild of the Deluge Grander and Birds And Buildings mastermind Dan Britton. Both bands has got a good following. His record label is also starting, as by default or not, to get a pretty good following. The Emkog Records sampler has created some pretty big waves on the seven seas. I think it is fair to say that Emkog Records is one of the most exciting record labels around. I sent Dan Britton a list of questions. This interview is only about Emkog Records. I refer you to Avestin's excellent Dan Britton interview for other issues like his bands.   

Your background as a musician and the mastermind behind one of my favorite bands Deluge Grander etc etc is well known so let's very respectfully stick to the label for this interview.
When and why did you start Emkog Records ? What was your business plan and why did you choose that name ?

The goal wasn’t really to start a label, but rather to just release music.  I figured I should put a label name on there anyway, since I was pretty sure I would release more albums over time, and having a label might become meaningful if I was going to do all the promotion and distributing by myself, which is basically what’s happened.  There wasn’t really a business plan other than to record music with whatever groups I was involved with, manufacture CDs, and send them out to reviewers, hoping that the albums might get enough attention to convince some vendors to buy copies too.  The word “Emkog” doesn’t really mean anything, though there is a sentence in the booklets of one of the albums that explains what it stands for.

Did you get any financial or any help at all when you set up the label?
No.  I remember I had to save up money from my job for a few months so that I could afford to get 1,000 copies of the first Deluge Grander CD manufactured.
Is Emkog Records your daytime job or do you have a sane job in addition to the label ?
Music is a hobby for me.  My real job is being a data analyst at the federal Department of Transportation in Washington, DC, where I’m responsible for answering data requests about  crashes involving large trucks and/or buses.  You’d never have guessed that, I bet!
Running an underground record label is the art of how to get as many omelets as possible from one egg. How is your finances and are you breaking even or even going into profits ?  Without revealing any sensitive information about your business, what is the approx sales figures for your albums ?
So far I’ve made some profit on each release I’ve done so far, but not a lot.  Sales have hovered around 1,000-1,500 for each of the past three CDs I’ve made, not including the most recent one, which just came out last week.  However, there have been a few months where I made enough money from music to make a living off--if I shared an apartment with five other people in rural Nebraska, didn’t own a car, and ate nothing but breakfast cereal.

How do you do the distribution, retailing, promotion and marketing of the Emkog Records products ?
There are about 10 vendors around the world who buy CDs direct from me.  Some of them, such as Greg Walker/Syn-Phonic in the US and Just For Kicks in Germany also re-sell these CDs to other vendors.  I also get a significant amount of revenue from CDBaby, who handle all of the digital sales.  To get reviews, I just send out promo copies of the CD to 50-100 websites and reviewers who tend to like this sort of music.
Manufacturing is an own form of black art. Where do you do the studio recordings, the graphics & art work, the mastering and the CD pressings ?
I do all my recordings at my apartment, and sometimes I record other people there too.  The other members of each band do their own recordings.  I often use public domain artwork, but sometimes I’ll hire other artists to add some art for the albums.  I do the mastering with my own limited knowledge and equipment.

LPs are back in fashion like never before. Several industry analysts believe LPs will replace CDs as the only physical storage format for music. This in addition to digital downloads. Have you thought about branching into LPs or are CDs your only physical products ?
So far, I’ve only done CDs and of course digital copies, but Deluge Grander is actually planning to release a three-tiered series of seven albums between 2010 and 2020, possibly with handmade artwork for each copy of four of those seven albums on vinyl, of which only about 100-400 copies would be made.
The conventional wisdom nowadays seems to be that there will be three types of releases: expensive deluxe packages for the collectors and dedicated fans (I’d include most vinyl and some CDs in this category), free or very inexpensive digital copies/mp3s for the casual listener (though usually not of the entire album), and CDs for people in between.  As a music consumer, I’d put myself in that third category.  I think CDs are still the ideal storage format for music.  And I don’t think they’ll go the way of the 78 or the 8-track for a while.  Here’s why:
1-Some people like packaging.  I like collecting CDs, I like staring at the album cover on a printed piece of paper, and I get a happy feeling when I see my collection of music, movies, and books at my apartment. 
2- Packaged media will not go away.  I will go out on a limb and guess that there are about 1 trillion books, 100 billion physical albums (CDs, LPs, etc.), and 100 billion physical videos (VHS, DVD, etc.) in existence right now, though  I’m probably way off.
Virtually every album, book, and movie ever made is readily available in a hard copy format for a reasonable price (say $5-10).  As long as all these old copies exist, there will be a wide demand for VCR players, CD players, and bookshelves (all of which can also be purchased for relatively small amounts), and as long as there are lots of VCR players, CD players, and bookshelves, there will be a reason for people to acquire new releases on those media.
If packaged media (and CD players, VCRs, etc.) really did go the way of the dinosaur, we’d see CDs and DVDs being sold for practically nothing.  But since people will still want to see the movies and hear the music contained on these products, this is unlikely to happen.  Prices of old physical media may continue to drop, but I don’t think they’ll end up dropping by much more than they already have.
3- It’s nice to be able to resell old packaged media you’ve already bought.  I often sell CDs I purchased but don’t like on Ebay.  I usually get back about 50 to 80 percent of what I paid for them.  That makes buying packaged media much less risky than buying digital media, which is not resellable.  I admit that not everyone is keen on using Ebay or other methods to sell their old media, but they should be.  It’s nice to know that, if you had to, you could sell all your old movies and albums and get a fair amount of money back.  I have about 3,000 CDs, which I could probably sell for $20,000 to $30,000 or so if I wanted to.  That is a very comforting feeling that you don’t get from a full iPod.
4) An indicator of quality.  In a world where everyone and their cousin has his or her own independent band, movie, or poetry review, the Internet is full of product, a lot of which is being pushed by the creators on unwilling consumers for free.  When consumers feel so bombarded with digital product, the fact that a work is available on CD or DVD or as a book becomes an important indicator of quality.  It would be perfectly logical for consumers with time constraints to shy away from stuff that’s available digitally and only consider purchasing tangible products.
5) New packaging and extra features.  Expect titles with lasting impact to be reissued every five years or so, usually with gimmicky add-ons that are just enough to tempt people who bought and liked the old version to buy it again.  Albums can be remastered and remixed, bonus tracks can be added, and packaging can become elaborate.  Movies can have added scenes, new commentaries, picture restoration, sound remastering, and all sorts of other possibilities.  Lots of people eat this stuff up.  Some of these features can also be put on a nonphysical download, but many of them can’t.
6) Fear of theft or other loss.  Both physical and nonphysical media have risks: CDs and DVDs can be scratched or damaged, storage devices can crash, and anything can be stolen or lost.  I think the risks of owning nonphysical media are greater.  If your one device gets lost, stolen, or broken, you’ve lost everything.  It’s also much easier and more profitable to steal iPods than bulky CDs.
7) College students may change their preferences as they get older.  A big reason why nonphysical media are ideal when you’re young is that you have to move to and from college every year, and you often have to live in cramped spaces.  This is true in general for a lot of people under 30.  Once you actually get a job and settle down, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suspect that you’ll purchase more physical media to get that “living room display” effect.
What do you feel you as an underground label can do better than a band who want to release an album on their own ? Do you accept tapes/CD-Rs from bands who want to sign on Emkog Records ?
“Emkog” is really just a name on the back of the CDs, and a website where these bands have individual pages.  It’s not a “record label” in the traditional sense.  No other band has ever asked to be on the label.  I do have some contacts, and I have a general idea of how the world of “CD reviews” works, but that’s about it.  As far as how to organize a tour, or effectively advertise in print publications, I know almost nothing.
Have you had any bad experiences of any kind ?

I have to be a “salesman,” which isn’t fun.  Doing stuff like sending emails to 100 people about a new release.  Even though I know only around 20 of them will care at all, I don’t know which 20 will, so it basically means sending out what’s regarded as junk e-mail 80 percent of the time.  And I do feel funny concocting sales pitches for music I was so closely involved with.  It’s hard to not sound full of yourself.  That’s one disadvantage of doing all the promotion on my own.  If a label were creating and organizing all the praise, they wouldn’t be as self-conscious about it.
It also really changes the way I receive information about music.  When I see a “hipster” band get effusively positive reviews, I feel part of my brain getting resentful, since I suspect that it’s “hype” that creates all the excitement, not the music.   And then I start wondering “well, should I be trying to generate all this hype for my own releases?  Should I start paying those companies that put phony reviews of your album on Amazon and Progarchives?  Should I try to start a ‘street team’?  Should I start buying banner ads?”  So far I haven’t done those things because I still think it wouldn’t be worth all the money, and I think people can see through the deception.  But I’m becoming much less sure about that.
I base a lot of my own decisions about what albums to buy on sites like Gnosis or Rateyourmusic, where actual people with their own accounts give numerical ratings to albums.  I used to believe most other people used these sites too, since it seems to be the most rational way to buy music.  But it turns out that a lot of people apparently will be swayed by advertising and reviews and messageboard posts of dubious authenticity.   That’s frustrating to see, and it’s even more frustrating when the audience seems to have no idea they’re being duped.
Just recently, out of those 10 vendors I mentioned who usually buy the CDs I put out, only 3 of them requested any copies of the new album I just finished (All Over Everywhere, Inner Firmaments Decay).  So that’s frustrating, and I’m worrying that I made a dumb decision to print up 2,000 copies of it!  I’m in the process of trying to get some reviews for this album on “mainstream” sites, and it’s too early to tell whether it will work at all.  I know that there’s probably less than a 1-percent chance of getting this album reviewed on the uber-hip sites like Pitchfork, Slant, or TrouserPress, but I think it’s still worth the $2 in postage, $2 cost of the CD, and $2 worth of time spent to send them a promo copy, since the payoff from a positive review in a publication like that could be enormous.  But I have to wonder- what do these reviewers want to see?  It’s not enough to just make good music- they want an interesting story, too.  And that’s tricky to do.

What is next year's release plan for Emkog Records ?
Probably just the second Birds and Buildings album “Multipurpose Trap.”  Maybe another Deluge Grander album, and maybe an album by a new project called Elevator Machine Room, but they probably won’t be finished before the end of the year.  And of course, I’ll probably still be trying to sell the All Over Everywhere album for several months into 2011.
I may have touched upon this theme in another question, but I still wonder what you think is the future of the music industry which many think is doomed. What is your thoughts about the music industry and it's future ?
From what I know, it seems like it’s *always* been hard to make and sell original music.  Even in Europe in the 1970’s bands were folding after only 1 or 2 albums.  As much as we like to idealize those eras, it must have been frustrating for the people in Fantasy, Museo Rosenbach, Weidorje, Maxophone, Il Baletto di Bronzo, or Locanda delle Fate to break up after only releasing one great album.
In some ways, I think it’s actually better now than it’s ever been.  There’s little or no chance of making huge amounts of money, but there’s a decent chance of making a small amount of money.  And that’s probably how it should be, since making music is something you should do mostly for fun.   The revenues you get should cover your expenses and give you a little profit, but not more than $100,000 or so for a year’s worth of work.  Since there’s almost no chance of making it big, record companies aren’t interested, and that gives me more creative freedom and less business-related stress.  And it’s nice when the musicians actually own their music.  I still get a few dollars a month from sales of old albums. 
Even when it was possible to sell millions of copies of albums, sometimes none of that money would go to the actual creators of the music.  The group “The Escape Club” (who I liked when I was 8 or 9 years old) had that big song “Wild Wild West” on their first album, and another song on their second album that got a lot of radio play, yet I think I heard in an interview that the bandmembers were all living on fairly small salaries that entire time, and when the label dropped them, in spite of having sold millions of albums, they were effectively unemployed, and maybe even indebted to the record company- I’m not sure.  Or look at what happened to Echolyn.  They get signed to Sony, release one great album that doesn’t sell, for whatever reason, and, poof, they’re dropped, and the label says the band owes them thousands of dollars.  These situations happened because there were so many bands and so little space on the music store shelves and radio station playlists.  Now that the Internet has increased the number of “channels,” so to speak, it’s easier to find an audience, though the audiences are much smaller.  It makes the music industry less profitable, but ultimately better and more stable for the artists in most ways, in my opinion.  Or at least, that’s what it seems like to me.  I’m sure others have different experiences.
With the albums I’ve released on “Emkog,” the worst I could do is lose the $5,000 or so it cost to record the album and manufacture the CDs.  The absolute best I could reasonably hope to do is sell maybe 3,000 copies, which would be a profit of around $15,000.  And the most likely situation is breaking even or making a few thousand dollars.  That’s a much more comfortable range of possibilities than making or losing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
I should admit, though, that I really don’t know what it was like in the mid-1990’s.  I suspect that progressive bands were making a lot more money then.  And if I had lived through that and seen what I’m sure was a big decline, maybe I wouldn’t be so optimistic.   I am a bit jealous of people who were able to make progressive albums in the 1990’s, since that period did seem to allow more financial success.
Of course, I am not sure what the future holds.  I have some hope that as people in India, China, and elsewhere get wealthier, some of them might start buying authentic legal copies of music, whether in CD, LP, or mp3 formats.  And that could be a huge boon to the industry.  But if the illegal downloading trend grows, there’s a good chance that the already quite small profits people like me enjoy will vanish altogether. 

Anything you want to add?
Downloading music illegally does hurt musicians, and it’s really just rude, since there’s so much free and legal music available anyway.  Some people seem to believe that bands get most of their money from touring and merchandise, and although that may be true for old bands with big audiences, and for cover bands who play live a lot, it’s not at all true for bands like ones I’ve been in.  There’s very little demand for live performances or T-shirts, so basically the only way to cover the expenses of creating music is to sell CDs, LPs, and mp3s.  Some people will put these albums up on blogs and torrent sites, and they seem to think they’re doing the band a big favor.  But unless you know the people in the band want you to do this, you’re probably hurting the band much more than helping them. 

Thank you to Dan Britton for this interview

The (dead cheap) Emkog Record sampler can be bought from here

Edited by toroddfuglesteg - August 24 2010 at 11:29
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Marty McFly View Drop Down
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 24 2010 at 14:25
Thanks for great interview. I like most of projects that Dan Britton connects and some of them I even love.
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Even my cat believes that :-)
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 24 2010 at 22:24
Excellent interview. Odd to see he works as a data analyst.
I loved his words towards music industry and music formats (CDs, LPs, MP3). Good luck for Emkog.

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 25 2010 at 07:28
Excellent interview, very informative. Thanks and good luck to Mr. Britton!
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 26 2010 at 13:28
That's a very interesting interview. By coincidence I was listening to Dan's sampler when i came across this interview (review forthcoming) and it's well worth getting hold of being full of inventive and captivating music from all the bands included. makes a great introduction to this talented guys work.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 28 2010 at 03:14
Originally posted by Marty McFly Marty McFly wrote:

Thanks for great interview. I like most of projects that Dan Britton connects and some of them I even love.

I've got the impression that you share, with Dan Britton, a love for the great Hieronymus Bosch!
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 29 2010 at 11:48
Great review, Dan Britton to me feels like a big name in the prog scene even though the numbers he gives in this interview reveal he's not making a huge amount of sales (relatively speaking). He definitely has an interesting outlook on the whole business and I can't claim that I don't like it. Can't wait to hear more of his music.

Edited by TheGazzardian - August 29 2010 at 11:48
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: September 05 2010 at 19:09
Thumbs Up
Well done and a good read.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: September 07 2010 at 20:33
I've been following Dan Britton since I discovered Cerebus Effect's last album back in 2006. I had Deluge Grander added here and following that Birds & buildings and it's great to see how he grows musically and also in terms of fan base. Thanks for this interview.

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