Interview – Eleventh Key

Eleventh Key is a new independent digital label, dedicated to giving up-and-coming metal bands more exposure. M3 caught up with label founder Brian to talk about the pros and cons of ‘pay-as-you-please’ downloads, and new ways of experiencing music in the digital age…

M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
EK – My name is Brian and I run a small digital label called Eleventh Key.

What inspired you to start the label? What is your own musical background?
I started the label in order to release CRADLE IS CASKET’s “self titled” album. The recording was originally slated to be released as a 12 inch split with DRAINLAND through a label in Ireland.  Something fell through, and this didn’t become a reality. The first time I had heard CiC I was blown away. The feeling never left. As time passed, I had it in my head that people really needed to hear what they were doing. So, I talked to the band about my ideas, one thing led to another, and Eleventh Key was formed.
As far as my own musical background goes… I’ve played in bands. But nothing serious. When I was in college I started a small DIY cassette label called IMBALANCE. My focus was harsh noise and drum machine driven grindcore. Toward the late 90’s IMBALANCE went completely digital. At that time, music was at its first tipping point as a result of the internet. It was free via Napster. Album cover art became reduced to a small JPG preview. My idea was to provide a different method of delivery via the internet. I did this by creating full rich media websites where the end user could “experience” music. In 2000, my friend and I put together an online “top down” style video game called URBAN WARFARE. It was like a really slimmed down version of the first GRAND THEFT AUTO. The soundtrack of the game was made up of original tracks by grindcore and harsh noise artists. The end user could essentially drive around and shoot cops with a tank while listening to the music. People could also opt to download the soundtrack for free.  It was a totally ridiculous idea at the time. I say this because most people didn’t have the connection speed or a computer heavy enough to handle the website.  Needless to say, IMBALANCE was very different than what I’m currently doing with ELEVENTH KEY.
Aside from that, I’ve spent about six or seven years solely working as an independent contractor for a handful of record labels. My day job is web design/development. There was a time when I built a lot of micro-sites & CD-ROMS for various bands.

Why did you decide to focus on digital releases?
I have always wanted Eleventh Key to act as a “catch all” for bands who are already somewhat established, even if this exists on a very small grass roots level.  I don’t have the capacity to act as a traditional label for bands who tour and need to sell “X” amount of product. I’m one guy with limited resources. Focusing on digital releases allows me to create a small sales niche for bands by focusing on specific aspects of their marketing materials and promotions. This is what I really enjoy doing.

What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
Currently MP3. I’ll still buy CDs. But I  immediately rip them to MP3 and dump them on my iPod.  I sit behind a computer all day, so it makes sense for me to do so.

What was the reasoning behind making some of the label’s releases (like the new Wrath of Typhon single) available for free download?
We made the “Avenger” single free because the band had very little name recognition outside of the Pennsylvania/Maryland area.  I wanted to give a wider audience the opportunity to hear the band before committing to a purchase.

What benefits and/or disadvantages have arisen from this distribution method?
The most obvious benefit is the amount of overhead. It’s next to nothing (Especially compared to full blown production run of CDs, vinyl, cassettes etc.)

Speed & simplicity are also advantages. I’ve been going through METALHIT for outside distribution. They are able to put an album into a bunch of online stores very quickly.
The main disadvantage to this method is the lack of perceived value. Asking someone to pay for a bunch of zeros and ones is difficult. Especially when it comes to a culture/subculture that is so deeply rooted in physical product.

On average, how many people would you say still pay for a release when given the option to download for free?
A very small percentage. I think this hinges on the rapport between the band and their audience. In other words, if people feel a deep connection with a band they’ll buy their music even if they originally acquired it for free.

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?
This is a really tough question because it forces me to look outside my immediate sphere of influence. In the grand scheme of things, I’d say yes.
At the same time, it depends on a few different variables. Those being culture/subculture and the age range of the audience.
Eventually this “idea” will either totally die out or morph into something new.

Do you think the internet has rendered traditional concepts of copyright obsolete, or do you think they are still relevant?
Copyrights are as relevant now as they were before the internet.

Finally, what does the future have in store for Eleventh Key?
I’m not sure. I don’t have a lot of hard-and-fast plans. I’d definitely like to start selling merchandise ( t-shirts, patches etc. )  in the near future. I’ve always thought it would be great to handle digital sales for smaller labels who deal in similar genres of music. We’ll see what happens.

For more information about Eleventh Key, you can visit their official website.


About M3 Event

The music industry is rapidly changing. The internet has enabled widespread piracy, as well as a variety of new business and distribution models. We want to offer an engaged audience in and around the Euregion an opportunity to develop a coherent and detailed picture of the future of music distribution. On the 31st of May 2012 a music conference in Maastricht, consisting of oppositional debates, creative workshops and lectures, will provoke opportunities for intellectual stimulation, debate, as well as networking. We hope to utilise the skills and ideas of some of most forward thinking minds and operators in the industry in order to highlight some promising new ideas and areas which can be improved upon.

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