Having formed our own label just under a year ago, we can testify to the amount of behind the scenes work that goes on in the run up to putting out a new release. Like most of the labels in our sphere, we do it simply for the love of the music we are able to showcase, so we felt that we also had a duty to show our appreciation to those indie record labels who are putting out new music for all the right reasons.
Although in the last few years music sales have started growing slightly for the first time since the ’90s, no doubt helped by the vinyl resurgence and an entire generation of new music fans for whom a physical product is a new experience, most small labels are now looking at breaking even as a small success and any profit as a victory. With streaming so popular (over 70% of all music income) yet the rewards to labels and artist alike so miserly, the musical landscape is in some ways more uncertain now than at any time in history.
In each edition of Sleeve Notes we will be talking to the people behind some of our favourite labels, and getting their unique perspectives on how they operate. Our the first instalment features a discussion with Roberto Mura, who runs Third-I-Rex. Read on to learn more about the label and the man who runs it.
Tell us a little bit about your label and how it all started.
TIR was born by pure passion. I moved to the UK a little more than ten years ago and before doing so I used to run a little label back home in Italy. Unfortunately, I had to leave everything behind in order to sort out my life although never abandoning the love for extreme music. Just before starting the whole TIR project I had the privilege to collaborate with Withered Hands Podcast (UK) and interviewed various bands on top of creating some radio-like shows.
Things seemed to be going just fine until I found myself hating it for various reasons. I had then the chance to invest a little money in a new label project and TIR came to life.
What are you currently working on?
This year I had to reduce the number of releases in comparison to the previous years. Unfortunately the loss of value for the £ against the € has been a bad hit. Costs have increased against the same amount of sales, although I’ve already put out three releases from bands (Simulacro, Innero, Experior Obscura) and a fourth one will be published this month (Laetitia In Holocaust). I’ve got another five releases planned for the year but I’m not 100% sure we’ll be able to go through the whole process.
I’ve been extremely interested lately in Italian black metal as numerous bands over there are creating incredible albums. More than half of my releases this year will be focusing on that scene.
What was the first CD/record/tape you ever owned?
My older brother was a metalhead when I was a kid. His first present was a Malmsteen’s live CD titled Trial By Fire. Unfortunately for him I grew up loving extreme music *laughs*.
What is the biggest obstacle you regularly come across whilst running the label?
Sales in general. I do understand and I accept the costs linked to the pressing/distribution process. That’s something every label has to cope with. At the same time, it seems supporters of any extreme music genre are more focused on streaming and downloading rather than buying a physical copy of any album and this is killing the whole underground movement. There are too many labels/bands (which is good!) but not enough demand, hence most of the label owners I’ve spoken with lately are either selling their organs to keep the label moving on or simply ending the business.
And what would you say is the most rewarding aspect?
Collaborating with incredible artists is always so rewarding! But also, when you receive a new release and see the final result – I become like a kid opening presents on Christmas days!
What are some of your proudest moments or achievements as a label?
When we get to the end of the year and the specialised press actually has taken note of your releases and you get articles everywhere worldwide saying that you did a good job it’s really amazing! I think at the end of every year, once we get some feedback from who has been looking at the underground, we are extremely proud of living the dream!
How much importance do you place on physical products over digital?
I grew up with tape trading and releasing albums on tape (I was sixteen when I started exchanging albums on tape). I grew up when the record stores were still able to work, when internet was not an ordinary thing and we used to get to know new bands through posts on printed paper. I believe the physical product is everything, especially in extreme music environments.
What do you think of the current state of underground/independent music, and where do you see it going in the future?
It’s dying. It’s been a dying thing since at least 20 years ago. Slowly but steady things are changing. The new generation simply don’t understand the importance of physical releases when all they see are musicians gaining fame based on YouTube streaming numbers, or promoters calling you to play live based on the number of likes in your FB page.
I think if we want to keep living and promoting the ideas and lifestyle, we should start asking ourselves if it’s really worth the effort to keep working alone and trying to own the market when simply by helping each other we could create the closest thing to a real scene since the early ‘90s. We see bands facing each other like enemies rather than allies, we see labels making bands pay for their own releases, we see promoters charging for ten reviews and webzines reviewing under payment. We should really stop all this or we’ll see the end of everything we love, real soon.
What do you look for in a potential signing?
Good music, real people, realistic expectations, support from the bands as much as I’m able to offer to them.
What other current labels do you admire?
In UK Blackwood Productions, Satanath Records in Russia, Weird Truth Productions in Japan, Toten Schwan Records in Italy and a few more have been really catching my attention in the past months. Hopefully they won’t die soon!
If you could have signed one band not currently on your roster, who would it be?
Ultha, their latest album was pure gold!
What can we expect from Third-I-Rex in the future?
This year we’ve mainly planned black metal releases, although as always our bands are not quite classic in their style. Maybe some second press albums between the summer season and the end of the year, then we’re already planning some more for next year.
Potentially, due to the moment of crisis, we’ll be working on some co-production for the next year, but there’s still a lot to be decided in such direction.
What advice would you give someone who’s just kickstarting their own label?
Don’t do it! *laughs*
Be true to yourselves and the bands you press. We support extreme music not to make a living off it but because we love the music we press. It’s not a money business, never forget it!
Enter discount code ‘astralnoize30 for 30% all orders from the Third-I-Rex Bandcamp. Stuck for what to order? Scroll down to hear Roberto’s label picks.
Viscera/// are one of the most important post-metal bands in Italy at the moment! Their latest EP is something so unique you really must listen to it.
Laetitia In Holocaust
Laetitia In Holocaust are back after almost ten years of silence. Their upcoming album is going to change the Italian black metal scene for decades to come.
A supergroup feat. members of Viscera///, Forgotten Tomb, Malasangre. If you’re into sludge/doomed music this is pure gold!
Innero’s debut album is the album every band would like to publish as its first release!
Enter discount code ‘astralnoize30 for 30% all orders from the Third-I-Rex Bandcamp.
Words: David Brand