Witch Hunter Records is a new independent record label from Nottingham, dedicated to ‘pay-as-you-please’ digital downloads, and limted edition CDs for those who prefer their music in physical form. In his first ever interview about the label, WHR founder Chris Kaye spoke to M3 about his decision to favour free music…
M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about Witch Hunter Records, and what it is that you do?
Chris Kaye – Witch Hunter Records is a small label that veers towards the darker spectrum of music, and focuses on underground genres like stoner, sludge, doom and hardcore, but not exclusively, as emo, classic rock and acoustic music has been released too. I guess I release music I’m into and that I’m a big fan of, as I couldn’t push something that I’m not feeling 100%.
The releases are usually limited edition CDs with an emphasis towards D.I.Y. ethics and good-looking handmade products, alongside digital distribution, including the pay-what-you-please model through Bandcamp.
I do everything myself, when I’m not working full-time or being a husband/dad, but I get a lot of support from my wife when it comes to the cutting and assembling of some releases, and also get invaluable support and advice from fellow labels, the guys in the bands, printers, webzines and artists.
What inspired you to start the label? What is your own musical background?
I’d been playing in bands for about 10 years, released stuff, toured up and down the country, and also been putting gigs on, reviewing stuff for webzines, but after a while I kinda got tired of it, and real life took over for a bit.
Then at the start of 2010 I found myself with a lot of free time being stuck in the house every evening when we had a baby, and I’d read a great blog by Chris from Trippy Wicked about how they put on their own album, so I started forming plans. I also read some great articles from Trent Reznor, who’s a firm believer in the digital downloads and different options of limited, but great looking, physical products, so that definitely inspired me.
I started it off with a free digital download anthology of everything one of my bands (Bumsnogger) had released, with some bonus rehearsal recordings, and then had a few friends approach me about doing stuff with their respective bands, and took it from there.
What was the reasoning behind making many of the label’s releases available for free or ‘pay-as-you-please’ download?
You will never stop illegal downloading, so you may aswell embrace it and use it to your advantage. The more people that listen to your music, the better, as there’s also a chance they will tell their friends about it. So, by making it free, without signing up to a mailing list or being forced to hand over an email address, you stand a much better chance of getting the music out there and heard. The beauty of Bandcamp is you can keep track of downloads, and see where people have visited from, and if they’re on our page, they can download other releases too and keep it all in house. I also do Mediafire links for blogs that insist on them, as I can track the number of downloads for those too
The ‘pay-as-you-please’ model is there for people who appreciate what you’re offering, and it’s their call if they leave a tip in the jar, and plenty of people do, which is really appreciated.
At the end of they day I’d rather the releases were available to as many people as possible to enjoy, and any money made is a bonus. The main goal is getting people to listen to your band.
What benefits and/or disadvantages have arisen from this distribution method?
The main disadvantage is that you’re effectively giving your release away and could potentially be losing money. On the other hand, the free downloads through Bandcamp and blog/webzine links gives you immediate worldwide distribution, and a much bigger reach, which you would never accomplish with just a CD release. Despite actively encouraging people to download the releases for free, some people still buy them through iTunes, so sometimes you can’t even give it away, but I’m not complaining
On average, how many people would you say still pay for a release when given the option to download for free?
It varies from release to release, but I’d say that roughly 10% of Bandcamp downloads result in a donation, which is awesome. It’s nice to know that people appreciate the music and are honest enough to leave a tip in the jar.
Would you say this method is a realistic possibility for the future of music distribution?
A lot of independent labels offer the digital downloads, and some of them go for ‘pay-what-you-please’, so it’s already being embraced at our level. I still think that good-looking physical products will always be the priority though, and that’s what you need to sell as a label/band to try and recoup recording and pressing costs, as digital downloads alone would never cover it.
I’m all for it though, and if it encourages people to come to your website to download free releases, they might pay for it, or they might buy a CD or t-shirt too, and check out other bands, and it grows from there.
What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
In an ideal world, I would have lots of free time, get all my vinyl and CDs out, listen to records, admire the artwork and read the sleeve notes & lyrics, as you don’t get any emotional attachment to digital files. In reality, I buy CDs and records, rip them to the computer and listen to mp3s on my phone on my commute to work, and in the evenings or at the weekend I listen to them on the computer in the kitchen whilst emailing and doing label stuff. That’s just me though, some kind of balance of the two would be nice.
Do you feel the idea of an album, as a piece of art that people will listen to from start to finish, has been undermined or forgotten about in the digital age?
With the advent of digital distribution, reality TV and its “talent” shows, and music/radio channels pushing singles, it does seem that people with no attention span are being targeted. You can’t beat the whole package of a physical release though, with nice artwork etc, and bands put a lot of effort into this, and the tracklisting, so you get much more enjoyment from it and an emotional attachment to it.
I will admit to putting my library on shuffle from time to time though, which always throws up a nice surprise that would otherwise have been forgotten about amongst 80gb’s worth of music.
What is your take on the current SOPA/ACTA controversy?
Major labels, and through legislation passed by the governments they fund and support, will do anything to maintain their monopoly and their “duty to the shareholders”, but at the end of the day, the horse has already bolted, and illegal downloading will never be stopped completely. The scare stories might stop some people downloading and shepherd them towards more of the streaming services and cloud storage options though. It’s all happening 10 years too late though, the major labels could have tackled and embraced this around the time of the Napster controversy.
Finally, what does the future have in store for Witch Hunter Records?
More of the same I hope. Most of the releases seem to be selling out, and I’m getting over 1000+ downloads for some releases like Iron Witch and Tree Of Sores. I’d love to release more vinyl, but it costs a hell of a lot to press, so I’ll be sticking with the limited runs of CDs for now. I’m more than happy to operate at this level though, as I just don’t have the time or money to take it further.
The latest release is the Year Of The Flood anthology, and I’m distributing the Beastwars LP in the UK and Europe on their behalf. After that, it will be the Tree Of Sores album, a demo from Knife Crimes, and hopefully something for Little Sister in the UK/Europe.
For more information on Witch Hunter Records, you can check out their website, listen to and download releases from the label’s impressive roster of bands through their Bandcamp page, or follow them on Facebook. Also, if you haven’t already done so then be sure to check out M3’s recent interview with Tree Of Sores, who recently released their debut album through Witch Hunter Records.