Posted by Nick Skog on Friday, September 20, 2013 Under: Interviews
Recently, I was asked to answer some questions for the Forum "Black Phoenix Rising"
You may have already seen Hypnotic Dirge Records featured in the labels forum on here, an excellent underground label which operates on a non profit basis and is dedicated to putting out high quality music from some incredibly talented bands. Here's an interview with Nick Skog, founder of Hypnotic Dirge which hopefully will give you some insight into how things operate from the perspective of an underground label.
1. What made you decide to set up Hypnotic Dirge Records?
Originally, I just had to itch to try something different involving music as well as the desire to be in full control of releasing, promotion, and shipping for my own ambient project, Ancient Tundra. This was at the time when Myspace was still quite popular and I had a handful of contacts and friends on there with mostly ambient and depressive black metal projects which were unsigned so I decided to also release some of their upcoming albums. Some of these early projects include Exiled From Light, Winds of Sorrow, Astral Luminous, Neige et Noirceur, and Immundus.
2. What were the early days of HDR like, and how much has changed since you first started out?
Things have certainly changed a lot since then. Of course, when I first started out I had no experience with running a label and I was a lot younger then as well so HDR has sort of grown alongside my own personal growth through my late-teens, early twenties. HDR first started as a CD-r label, and there were certainly some mistakes in the beginning in terms of some shitty artwork quality, bad release choices, release date delays, etc. Obviously things went ok enough to keep going and improving as time went on, but there have definitely been some cringe-worthy moments looking back at it now. I kind of consider everything released from HDR - 012 and lower to be in the "early" era, and within this era there were some good releases from promising bands but these were all CD-r releases except for one, most were limited to 100-200 copies, and there were a few mistakes but it was all part of the development.
3. Has the label been as successful as you expected it would, and what would you say has contributed most to your success?
I would say so. I suppose it depends on how you define success. I still haven't made a cent from the label endeavors but that was never really the intention and I think you have to be incredibly lucky and committed to make money from underground black and doom metal and related genres, especially in this day and age where hardly anyone finds it worth it to buy physical CD's. I also don't think that should be the motivating force for underground labels. Pursuing money instead of genuine artistic expression can be a corrupting force and it is my opinion that money and art should be kept separate as much as possible. Money just ruins everything it touches in the world. Success to me is to be happy and proud of what you've accomplished, fostering and contributing to a co-operative spirit that has long been a part of the underground scene, and helping great artists get the recognition that they deserve. As I always say though, I'm just one guy behind a computer screen. I'm not the one writing the music or being artistic and it is the artists who should be proud of their successes.
4. What are the most important qualities you look for in the artists you sign?
Quality innovative art, a creative approach, drive and motivation, humility, and kindness. Most importantly the first thing. The music has to be good or else all the other qualities are moot.
5. What do you think are the main reasons a band would choose to sign to HDR?
You'd have to ask them to be sure, and I'm sure they all have their own reasons. I'd like to think that I'm reliable, trustworthy, and dedicated to promoting their music, and as well as this I think most of the bands recognize that above all I am a listener and a fan just as they are. There's a certain co-operative spirit and support between the bands on the label as well and there's been tours and shows between bands on the label which help to encourage this (Subterranean Disposition and Lycanthia, Odradek Room and Vin de Mia Trix as examples) Hopefully, the regular promotion and site updates (New releases, free downloads, distro updayes, band signings, etc.) help in keeping the label fresh in people's minds as well as this helps the confidence that bands might have in their work not being forgotten quickly after the release date.
6. What are the main obstacles that HDR encounters, and the biggest problems facing underground labels like yourselves?
I'd say it's that evil bitch, money. Releasing albums isn't cheap and neither is promotion or postage costs and it's damn hard to stay afloat. This is such a typical answer but I'm sure this sentiment is shared by basically every other underground metal label. In Canada, the costs of manufacturing albums is quite a lot higher than in other parts of the world, and we also have some of the highest shipping rates in the world. (Profound Lore Records has a good section on their website about the absurd costs of shipping vinyls in Canada. Good on them for still going on with that endeavor though! This is the main reason why Hypnotic Dirge has stayed away from vinyl releases and stuck with CD's) A few of the recent HDR releases have been printed outside of Canada though and that has helped with the cost and has allowed me to release more albums in 2013, and the creation of our Bandcamp page and our $5 digital downloads has helped with funds as well since that is money that can be put directly into funding new releases instead of spending almost half on shipping like our CD orders.
7. You've set yourselves up as a non-profit label in an industry that seems to increasingly revolve around money. How easy or difficult is it to maintain this philosophy?
It's easy when you are absolutely dedicated to keeping art and money separate. Regardless of how popular or "successful" HDR may be later on, all of the money made from sales will continue to go towards new releases or to the bands, which is something I haven't been able to do as much as I've wanted. Our policy is that the label pays for the cost of manufacturing and promotion and then takes back money from sales until the full cost is recouperated. At that point, all future sales or profits from that album would be split 50/50 between the label and band. The band can do as they please with their 50% but the label's 50% would all go towards new releases. Unfortunately, there have only been a small handful of releases that I've ever managed to recouperate the intial costs on anyway and I don't think this is going to change for the better considering the continual downfall of CD sales.
8. To what extent do the artists who sign to HDR also share your philosophy and outlook?
Some do wholeheartingly, I'm sure others don't really care either way, and maybe some are against the philosophy but are willing to tolerate it and compromise about it because they like other aspects of Hypnotic Dirge. This is not really something that I've discussed with the bands directly unless it has just come up in conversations. I can tell you that Vin de Mia Trix for exmaple is all for it, as they also suggested to have their debut album (just released on August 26, 2013) available for free download on the HDR bandcamp page which we'vee done! They've also posted to their listeners quite extensively about the virtues of free digital music which is something I agree with them on, but have still decided to keep all of the other digital downloads of CD releases on the HDR bandcamp page set at $5 as I basically need the finances from there to help fund upcoming CD releases.
9. Do you think that the digital age, modern technology and the way people now access their music is good or bad for an underground label such as HDR?
I think that there are good and bad aspects for sure. First of all, it must be said that without the internet there is no f*cking way that there would be people in Sri Lanka, Malta, and Indonesia listening to bands from the label and buying CD's. It's also very likely that Hypnotic Dirge would not exist at all without the internet. I wouldn't have gotten in touch with bands on the label from all around the world in countries such as Italy, Russia, Iran, Germany, Australia, etc. and I can't think of any way that they would have found out about HDR. The city where I live, Saskatoon, is pretty isolated from the rest of the world in some ways existing basically in the dead center of the North American continent with only 4 other decent sized cities within a 1000 km radius in any direction.
Of course, the internet also brings about negative aspects but I think they've been discussed ad nauseum and most of the time the people that complain about the "flooding of the scenes", "people downloading their album illegally" or other similar complaints really fail to see that positive side of our technological age. Consider also how modern computers and home recording studios have saved bands tons of money on recording and have allowed them access to record their albums whereas before this era they would have to spend hundreds/thousands on booking studio time. The same applies to digital promotion, it's essentially free. Of course, I do recognize the counterpoints that everyone having access to recording albums is flooding the scene and there are way too many bands, labels, zines, online radios, etc. but the internet is an incredibly empowering and democratic tool which in theory should put everyone on equal footing. The worthwhile bands and labels will usually rise to the top anyway and the shitty one-man depressive bedroom projects will be quickly forgotten so these things tend to sort themselves out. Think of all the wasted potential in the past from musicians and creative minds with good ideas that didn't have the monetary access to share their art with the world.
10. If you could choose any one band, past or present to add to HDR's roster who would you choose?
One you say??! Maybe Woods of Ypres if that were possible. There's really too many bands I like.
11. What do you see or hope for the future of HDR in, say, five or ten years time?
I hate to speculate on this. I cannot promise that HDR will even be around in five years time. If the motivation is gone and I want to spend my years doing something else I will. However, maybe I will take a break or slow down for a while and continue on for a good portion of my life afterwards. Whatever happens in the future, I hope that some of the albums we've releases stands the test of time because I do believe there's been some releases that deserve to be remembered.
12. What are your favourite albums of all time?
When I first got into metal, Cradle of Filth was my favourite band, so I'd still have to say VEmpyre, Dusk and her Embrace, and Cruetly and the Beast which were (and still are) amazing albums that I must have listened to about 100 times each since that was the band that got me started on my quest towards underground music. Other essential albums for me would be all of the Woods of Ypres albums, specifically 2, 4 and 5. the classic My Dying Bride albums (As the Flower Withers, The Angel and the Dark River, Turn Loose the Swans) Opeth's Morningside, My Arms, Your Hearse, Still Life, basically the entire Katatonia discography as well. I also really like Darkthrone's newest "The Underground Resistance" (I might be one fo the few to prefer new darkthrone to the old stuff) Kauan, Draconian, Dødsfall, The early Children of Bodom stuff (especially Hatebreeder), Anathema, Agalloch (Marrow of the Spirit, and Ashes Against the Grain)
I was also a huge Nightwish fan in the Tarja Turunen era so Angels Fall First through to Once remain important albums to me! I also really like Serj Tankian's (from System of a Down) solo stuff, especially because of the social and political undertones. Really I could go on forever.
13. Favourite band ever?
Cradle of Filth in my early days. Now it's Woods of Ypres, Katatonia, Opeth, My Dying Bride, Agalloch, among others.
14. Worst album you ever bought?
The first CD I ever bought in my life was the debut Christina Aguilera album, so maybe that qualifies! That was 13 years ago now though, so I'm not expected to have any taste at the age of 10. As far as metal goes, I bought the Kittie - Safe EP in 2006 or something. That was also pretty abysmal.
15. What was the best gig you've been to?
I really enjoyed the Katatonia show I went to last fall. It was a two hour set and they played "Last Fair Deal Gone Down" in its entirety as well as other classics! Another recent highlight was the Wintersun/Eluveitie show, as well as a The Foreshadowing/Inquisition/Marduk/Moonspell show!
We don't get the calibre of shows that europeans do, in the middle of nowhere Saskatchewan but these ones were certainly good!
16. What would you say are the best and worst aspects of today's metal scene?
I'm not sure. To be honest, I don't really think in terms of scenes and don't really have a proper answer for you here.
Thanks for the interest in Hypnotic Dirge and asking these questions. Hopefully, your readers will stop by on the HDR Bandcamp page and listen to some of the albums! Almost everything we've ever released is available on there for free streaming and there are some free downloads available there as well. Otherwise, downloads are a cheap $5, and we also have options to order a selection of 5 or more CD's for fairly cheap (About $10 per CD including free shipping) which you can find on our main site.
In : Interviews
Tags: hypnotic dirge records interview 2013 nick skog underground black doom metal label ancient tundra trip-hop atmospheric melancholic depressive