Interview – Earache Records

Earache Records is one of the foremost extreme metal labels in the world, changing the face of the genre by bringing the likes of Napalm Death, Morbid Angel, Bolt Thrower, Godflesh, Brutal Truth, Naked City and countless other bands to a wider audience. It’s a safe bet that anyone reading this with even a passing interest in metal will already own several of the label’s releases, so perhaps we should dispense with the introductions and find out what Earache’s PR manager Becky Laverty has to say about the music industry and the label’s 25th anniversary…

M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
I work in music PR on a freelance basis. My main client is Earache Records, and that takes up the majority of my time. I also do ad-hoc campaigns for bands or labels, and do the press and publicity for Damnation festival here in the UK. In a nutshell, the main purpose of my job is to raise the profile of the band, label or event that I am working with.

How did you become involved with Earache Records? What is your own musical background?
Earache’s founder, Digby Pearson, contacted me at the tail end of last year when their previous PR decided to move on to pastures new. I had met him a couple of times previously at gigs and festivals, and several of my close friends have been in bands on Earache over the years. When the vacancy came up, Digby thought of me, and I was interested in the job- the rest is history, as they say! I’ve worked freelance and full time for a couple of years now – but I had been dabbling for a while before that, juggling it alongside a full time office job. The first proper PR work I did was for FETO Records (owned by Shane Embury of Napalm Death and Mick Kenney from Anaal Nathrakh)- the label was named after the classic Napalm album From Enslavement To Obliteration, which was released on Earache.

What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.) and why?
It kind of depends on the situation. I listen to CDs and MP3’s when I’m driving, purely for convenience. I listen to MP3’s for work a lot- it’s a quick and efficient way of handling files, so again that’s for convenience. But I do buy vinyl – and always have, even when I didn’t have a record player to listen to the records on. There’s something special about a record – it’s a thing of beauty!

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?
Certainly to a degree- when your only option was a CD or LP you bought the whole lot, like it or not. You didn’t get a discount if you didn’t like side B. Whereas now, you can just download the tracks you like, put together the “album” in the order you like, make your own playlists, whatever you want. I’m not against that totally – a playlist is just the modern equivalent of a mix tape (admittedly without the patience required for the painstaking hours of play/pause/recording and agonising over running order and timing) which many regard as an art itself! But there are still people out there, who appreciate the whole package, the whole album- exactly as the artist intended, and I don’t think that will ever go away entirely.

What was the reasoning behind making some of the label’s recent releases (like the latest Wormrot and Gama Bomb records) available for free download?
Well, the first release that I worked on at Earache was Savage Messiah – Plague of Conscience, which the label gave away for free just before I started. There were 13,000 free downloads of that album – in the first week that it was available. So, that’s 13,000 potential gig attendees right there, 13,000 people that might fancy a Savage Messiah T-shirt, or a poster, or a vinyl. 13,000 people that now know the band exists, which is the important thing I think. It’s using the music itself as a promotional tool to sell the band as a whole.

What benefits and/or disadvantages have arisen from this distribution method?
The most obvious advantage is that the band’s potential fan base has multiplied basically overnight- we now know that there’s thousands of people who have Plague of Conscience on their laptop or MP3 player, and we can reach out to them with Savage Messiah news. I think the disadvantages remain to be seen, there certainly haven’t been any obvious ones so far.

On average, how many people would you say still pay for a release when given the option to download for free?
It’s hard to measure something like that, but I believe that a lot do. All of Earache’s back catalogue is available on Spotify – if you want to hear it, it’s there. And yet our webstore is busier than ever; people still want to buy from us. Allowing people to “try before they buy” through legal channels negates (or should do!) the argument of “if I like it, I’ll buy it afterwards” that often accompanies a justification for illegal downloading.

Many people have claimed that there is no longer any money in record sales, and that touring is the most efficient way to earn an income as a band. How much truth do you think there is in this sentiment?
Bands absolutely have to be prepared to be versatile and imaginative in their approach to their careers, especially in alternative genres like metal. There IS still money to be made from record sales, but the competition for the fan’s money is fierce! The costs of touring soon mount up – especially if you have booking agents, tour managers, drivers, merchandisers, techs etc to pay before you get a sniff of the money, so the more self sufficient you are, and the more clued in, the more chance you have of making money that way. Earache now has a tour liason person at the label whose job it is to facilitate bands getting out on the road, get them on festivals and get them booking agents, because we recognise that being on the road is an important part of being in a band.

Do you think traditional copyright laws are still enforcable in the digital age or do you think we will need to rethink the concept of copyright itself?
I think those laws SHOULD be enforceable! When an artist creates something, I believe it should be their choice how and when – and by whom – that art is consumed. Technology needs to catch up with the way consumers want their products. The music industry has spent so long fighting downloading and hoping it would go away, and only more recently is it dawning on people that it’s here to stay so embracing it is going to work out better in the long run. Working to find a legal distribution method that satisfies the consumer AND the artist is a big hurdle though.

What would you say are the main challenges facing an up and coming musician/band in today’s cultural climate?
Balancing the desire to be in a band full time alongside the demands of every-day life (i.e paying the rent!). I guess that’s the age old struggle, but it’s perfectly conceivable these days to have the fans but have made no income from them enjoying your music. Also, just standing out in a market saturated with bands that all want the same thing and want to play the same gig is a challenge.

What do you personally believe the future of music distribution will look like?
Digital and vinyl! CDs will stick around for a while longer though. I think most music purchases can be divided into two camps- convenience, and collectors. That is – those that buy because they want to hear the music – now! And those that treasure the beauty of a well laid out, carefully put together album sleeve, that want to read the lyrics and the liner notes and that want to feel the weight of the product in their hands and take time to enjoy it.

Finally, what does the future have in store for Earache Records?
2012 is Earache’s 25th anniversary, so I’d say the future holds much, much more ground breaking music, and ideas that challenge the listener and the industry alike. Earache has never been afraid to break the mould, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

For more information about Earache Records, you can visit their official website, and find the label on Facebook and Twitter.

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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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