Stewart Craner & ZeN from Foundry Records (label)
It’s been a decade now FOUNDRY RECORDS appeared in the music industry. Initially based in UK, the Digital Distribution Label ironically signed essentially acts from Australia, France, Sweden or Belgium. Being relocated in the US in 2011, FOUNDRY RECORDS operates now from Los Angeles via Stewart Craner, the founder of the label, and France, via ZeN of the band WAITING FOR WORDS and a joint venture with GoM PRODUCTION, a French artist management company, founded by 2 DJs, M@T and Golem XIII. Main acts distributed by the label are WAITING FOR WORDS, PEOPLE THEATRE, SHINY DARKNESS, ARACHNOPHOBIAS, MYSELFSON, BUZZ, PULSE, LYNCELIA and LIXIVIATH.
It was about time to meet with the two brains of FOUNDRY and discuss this first decade, and most of all, the state of the music industry, the streaming and how artists can, literally, survive. A very interesting and educational (we’ve learned a lot about the streaming system) talk. Once you’ve read it, you’ll know it all about Spotify and YouTube music. Keeping using those platforms might be a difficult choice for you to do… or not. But you won’t be able to say “I didn’t know” any longer. Personally? I’ve just cancelled my subscription to Spotify.
Reflections of Darkness [RoD]: FOUNDRY RECORDS was created in 2009. What was the idea behind?
Stewart: To give bands a platform to release their music and support new talents around the world. Initially I set up a management company, EMSAR. When signing WAITING FOR WORDS back in 2005, they were distributed by Believe Digital. The more we were looking for a label to sign them, the more we realized things would be easier to set up one on our own.
ZeN: I was talent scouting for BELIEVE DIGITAL for a bit. After a while, the point was: “Why signing artists I love and not work with them closely instead of passing them out to Believe Digital?” We carry on working with Believe as they are the unique access to all those digital stores, but on our terms. The idea was to offer new acts a first experience and benefit from our help. Some only release a couple of singles or EP’s with us, such as STEVE BALBI (Australia) or MELANOBOY (France). It brings awareness on them and then they develop with bigger labels. Some others develop a long-time relationship like ARACHNOPHOBIAS (Sweden) or LIXIVIATH (UK/France). And the other axis we’d like to develop more is the back-catalogue management, like we do for BUZZ (Belgium). There is still a lot of music pre-2000’s which is not available neither on CD, nor in digital. It’s frustrating for a music fan, and illegal downloading is sometimes the only way to find them.
RoD: In FOUNDRY RECORDS presentation, you refer to FACTORY RECORDS and Tony Wilson as reference. How influential there were to you?
Stewart: Tony Wilson was a visionary man and built an empire of amazing bands. The lack of contracts back then was a maverick approach that became the downfall of his label. FOUNDRY does do contracts but loves giving artist full control of their work.
RoD: And what are the main contractual aspects?
Stewart: 70% of the revenues generated by Digital Sales and Streaming go to the artists, 10% for FOUNDRY RECORDS and the rest for Believe Digital and the platforms. Artists don’t have to pay anything like we see on most of the platforms. We re-invest our share in Facebook ads, tour support or various projects. Artists are not contractually obliged to us and there’s no exclusivity. You can distribute an EP with FOUNDRY, which will have the digital distribution rights for three years, another EP the day after on your Bandcamp and an album with another label. Freedom.
RoD: Why specializing only in Digital?
Stewart: Mainly because it’s the way artists release their stuff now, but physical CDs and Vinyl will happen too. We start working with POPONAUT (Germany) for CD distribution as we speak. It’s a bonus we offer to our artists. We just started with MYSELFSON, PEOPLE THEATRE and WAITING FOR WORDS.
ZeN: Getting a CD distribution deal has become a huge challenge. Very few take the risk of signing global distribution deals even with a label. It’s a risk for them… and for the artists. Almost all the CD distributors we’ve been working with from 2005 to 2012 with WAITING FOR WORDS went bankrupt. We’ve sold thousands of CD’s via Virgin Megastore, FNAC, Amazon… and almost never got any penny out of it. Now we sale CDs almost door to door, per site or retailer. Digital is a great opportunity to have our music available in the world and most of the artists from the label wouldn’t exist without this.
RoD: Do you consider FOUNDRY as a Label with management duties towards your artists or a pure digital distribution player?
Stewart: A partner and a distributor. More of a family sharing ideas and music.
ZeN: Depends on the artist we’re working with. Some are totally independent and we’re there to support their distribution only. With some others, we accompany them through the all recording process and sometimes management or touring. We sometimes invest in some Facebook adds or even concerts’ flyers and posters, or some help in promotion.
RoD: Can you introduce us to the team behind the name?
ZeN: For years it was Stewart and I. Peter Rainman (from PEOPLE THEATRE and WAITING FOR WORDS) started being a kind of talent scout, connecting us with artists such as ARACHNOPHOBIAS from Sweden or SHINY DARKNESS from France. Since a couple of years, we partnered with GoM PRODUCTION, a French management and production company. They finance and manage artists and we work together on their development. Overall… every act signed to FOUNDRY RECORDS can be a member of the team. We share a lot of ideas together, and we take a lot of advices from them.
Stewart: Bands are touring, are in touch with their fans every day… they are the best ones to provide the feedbacks on what’s going on and what people expect and like. People in their ivory towers pretending to run this business from their nice buildings killed this industry, what would be the point in doing so?
RoD: After 10 years, how do you see the evolution of the music market?
Stewart: “Change”! Nothing stays the same and what works now will not in 10 years’ time.
ZeN: DAVID BOWIE perfectly saw what was coming. Back in 1996, he predicted that very soon, people would want to consume music just like they consume water or electricity. Total access anywhere, anytime, for just a monthly fee. And here we are 20+ years later. Having said that, it’s a move that was initiated by the industry itself. I’ve never met anyone telling me “I’m sick of the CD and listening to music in High Quality”. This started with retailers that didn’t want to have stocks anymore, radio that decided to hammer 4 or 5 tracks only in heavy rotation, major companies merging all together and not signing new artists anymore and so on. And as collateral impact, other industries that decided not to manufacture CD players anymore in cars and computers or low storage capacity MP3 players. Even if you want to carry on buying CD or Digital, it’s becoming harder and harder to find, play and store them.
Stewart: What’s frustrating is the stupidity of the music industry and its capacity of killing itself. It started long before internet. The stupidest thing to do was for major to buy over independent labels. And then, they all merged together. By the late 80’s, there was dozens of major companies. Columbia, CBS, RCA and all those. Only two remains today. How can you sale more records then? Later, they didn’t see internet coming and ignored it. And when they realized it was all over the place, they were totally wrong in their analysis of illegal downloading. The rise of the Digital market with iTunes was a superb opportunity to save the industry. It was a win-win for everyone. Artists getting a real decent income, less costs for Record labels, easy access for the public… Why on earth did they have to ruin it all with Streaming platforms?
RoD: It seems harder and harder for independent artists and labels to survive. Dozens of artists raise the flag for years to alert on how endangered the sector is. How optimistic are you in the future?
Stewart: Finding new ways to make money to survive will be key. Traditional ways of putting an album out may be the past and all we do lots of single releases and EPs.
ZeN: Artists will always record and produce albums. They need the album format to tell a story, explore new horizons and develop something. But money will come from elsewhere. ‘Egocracy’ (WAITING FOR WORDS’ last album) would have been very difficult to finance and we would probably have never been able to produce the tour and videos if I didn’t have some DJ activities and event organization. The only thing that keeps me optimistic is when seeing the interest of younger generations for bands like THE CURE, DEPECHE MODE, and the success of recent biopics of QUEEN and ELTON JOHN or the MICHAEL HUTCHENCE’S documentary. There’s a strong need in charismatic figures, melodies, real voices, strong arrangements and live power. I don’t see this heavily compressed so called urban music or depressed artists crying over their guitar lasting for many more years. At least we hope… *laughs*.
RoD: Being a British citizen, living in the US and working mostly with France, do you see differences in approaching music depending on the country and culture? Are those markets different from each other?
Stewart: Same challenges in different country. Bands and artists very much being more independent and not worried about if or when they will sign to a major label.
RoD: You have an anti-streaming policy regarding albums. Can you go into details?
Zen: Don’t get us wrong. Streaming can be great. Radios only broadcast a couple of tracks. If you want to discover new sounds, new artists, streaming platforms is the way to go for sure… We consider it as the new radios. So… as radios, they should only be entitled to stream singles and EPs. Not albums. Or at least, we should have the same business model as the cinema industry. Do you get to see ‘Avengers’ or ‘Star Wars’ the day of its release on a VOD platform for a couple of Euros? No. You have to wait from six months to a year, sometimes more, and most of the time you’re limited in time and in number of views. Musicians should have a one or two years’ timeframe to promote and tour and have a chance to make a decent living. And once you’ve listened to the same album four or five times… shouldn’t it means that you like it enough to buy it?
The business model of streaming is outrageous. Very few people know that, from their 9.99€ subscription, only 0.27€ is heading towards artists. And those couple of cents are then split and shared amongst millions of artists in proportion to the number of total streams. Which means that even if you hate KANYE WEST, your 0.27€ will go to him and the Top 50 most listened artists and not the one you’ve been listening too. Knowing that those “artists” buy thousands or millions of streams from various internet sites, entering directly in the charts the day of its release and entering in all playlists.
The algorithm in itself is absolutely insane. A track is counted as a stream when listened more than… 10 seconds! Let’s be serious. If you stop listening to a track after 20 seconds, isn’t it an indication that you don’t like the track? iTunes moved their snippets from 30 seconds to 1mn30 because they considered it was not enough to make up your mind on a track. Streaming is probably the only example where people can earn money with the ones who like them, the ones who hate them and the ones who don’t even listen to their music. And to add insult to injury, they now transform with a mathematic formula that nobody knows where it comes from, number of streams into sales for record charts? Sorry folks, but since when listening to 11 seconds of a song is considered as a sale?
RoD: YouTube, as a video platform, allows artists to broadcast them like never before while YouTube Music is joining the ranks of Spotify in endangering them. How do you deal with this paradox?
Zen: YouTube betrayed us all by abusing of their leadership. After some long years battling, artists and labels have now the choice of having their catalogue on Spotify and else or not. We all discovered one day that our catalogue was available for free on YouTube Music. Full albums! Nobody ever informed us. Therefore, a lot of labels and artists complained and avoided it. To fight back, YouTube blackmailed us all. Basically, if you don’t put your releases on YouTube Music, they withdraw the audio print from your tracks on YouTube Video and your songs are not protected anymore, you can’t place any complaint if somebody uses it in a way you disagree, and you can’t monetize your videos anymore. It’s a lost battle.
RoD: Are there some specific artists you would love to have on your roaster?
Stewart: Almost all the band’s we have met or worked with we would love to have them all.
ZeN: I regret the cult French act TRISOMIE 21’s catalogue from the 80’s/90’s not to be on digital anywhere. It’s a real shame. We’ve tried many times finding a deal, but at the last minute, something always came up to block things. But we won’t give it up! As long as no one got their back catalogue, the game is on smile. We just signed a French Gothic Rock band, LYNCELIA, which recently celebrated their 10th years. We released their compilation summarizing their first 3 albums. It’s a very promising act. We avoid signing too many acts. We want to focus and help all of them. So, we have to limit ourselves. GoM PRODUCTION is focusing on PEOPLE THEATRE and WAITING FOR WORDS, and we take care of ARACHNOPHOBIAS, MYSELFSON, LIXIVIATH, SHINY DARKNESS, PULSE and LYNCELIA. It keeps our days busy enough. I’d love our friend MYCROTONIK who operates now under the alias of NOREAKTION, to release something. He creates some great Synth Wave mostly instrumental tracks. There’s something to do about it.
RoD: Are there some specific plans to celebrate the 10th anniversary of FOUNDRY RECORDS?
ZeN: We’re working on a compilation that will gather FOUNDRY acts, but also some friends connected to us, such as PSYCHE who recorded something specific for the project… but let’s keep the secret for a while smile.
RoD: Some particular achievement of this first decade you’re the proudest of?
Stewart: For me it’s the friendships and having created a FOUNDRY family.
ZeN: Having survived 10 years is an accomplishment in itself. I’m really proud of the tribute to INDOCHINE, ‘Des Fleurs Pour Indochine’. Artists really provided something unique. Having Nicola Sirkis and his band endorsing it and promoting it was a great reward. Having said that, every time a new release hits the store, we feel very proud, no matter which artist or project. And of course, our “Streaming Battle” laughs
RoD: What do you think of other labels such as Boredom Product, Alfa Matrix, Eloquant, Conzoom, Section 44 or your best “enemy”, Unknown Pleasure Records?
ZeN: First off, Unknown Pleasure Records is not our enemy, far from it! Yes, there has been some “intense and passionate debates” over Facebook and some stuffs have even been said in some press… but it’s all in the past. We’ve always respected UPR as a label, and I dare anyone to find one writing or talk from us criticizing the label in itself. They have some great artists. MELANOBOY who used to work with WAITING FOR WORDS and had his first solo EP’s on FOUNDRY, released his extraordinary debut album on UPR and I never hesitate purchasing CDs from them such as NONE. We had the opportunity of clarifying things and bury the hatchet. I guess that when strong personas collide, it can sparkle a bit. *Laughs*
The entourage didn’t make things easy between all of us either. They often spread out some fake quotes and add fuel to the fire, but there’s enough room for everyone and energy is better spent on positivity. We devote each other to our respective projects and artists and all together, with over quoted Labels, we form an alternative scene to the mainstream bullshit. The same goes for Boredom Product. Those labels not only have some strong artists, but they managed to create a real brand with their label. You generally know you’re buying a Boredom or a UPR album just by looking at it and THIS is the real achievement for a label. I rank and respect them at the same level as Mute, 4AD or Factory.
Music fans don’t give a shit about one’s ego and ridiculous Social Network’s wars. It hurts everyone, and no one wins anything to that. May that be within WAITING FOR WORDS, FOUNDRY RECORDS or any of my activities, I avoid attacking others, especially on social medias or else. And as per all those labels, the fact that they exist is in itself encouraging. We all have our identity, our ways of approaching things can differ, but we all wake up in the morning with one goal only: help artists and keep the music alive.
RoD: WAITING FOR WORDS is your main act, in terms of activities and communication and ZeN is heavily involved in FOUNDRY’s activities. How challenging is it, both for them and you, to have a big act that risks overshadowing the others?
Stewart: That’s an easy question. The foundations of collaborating and partnerships make that work well. And if you look at indie labels history, a lot of them were built around one main act, or an act raised up stronger than others. Mute with DEPECHE MODE, Creation with THE CURE, Factory with JOY DIVISION and then NEW ORDER, or, in our humble alternative league, Boredom with CELLULOIDE and FORETASTE. Most of the FOUNDRY acts being new to the music business, they appreciate having WAITING FOR WORDS or recently PEOPLE THEATRE to share their knowledge and experience.
ZeN: People will always see what they want to see, despite the evidences. If some only wants to see ZeN and not the rest, or not dissociating WAITING FOR WORDS from FOUNDRY RECORDS, it’s their problem, not ours. Some should really focus on their own development instead of moaning and spitting their frustration or God knows what to my face. I’m in this business for almost 30 years. And 30 years ago, I was within WAITING FOR WORDS, DJing, organizing concerts and festivals, involved in radio or fanzine activities and started a little label distributing out some tapes.
What’s new? *Laughs* The only thing annoying is how the all team (Stewart, Peter, GoM…) is sometimes ignored. It allows to have only one face to hit and punch for sure. *Laughs* The only challenge is managing my time, especially when WAITING FOR WORDS is touring or recording, but it’s the half-filled / half empty usual story. Everyone’s in FOUNDRY benefits from WAITING’s hard work, experience and connections. The more WAITING is growing, the more other artists from FOUNDRY can too. Some understand, some don’t.
RoD: Any particular projects coming?
Stewart: As mentioned, there’s the FOUNDRY anniversary compilation and WAITING FOR WORDS 30th anniversary too. We released a lot of stuffs recently and we need to take time to work on those. We’re also looking at having a kind of FOUNDRY RECORDS caravan touring UK at the end of the year with two or three acts.
ZeN: The success of the ‘Tribute To Indochine’ reminded me of the ‘Tribute To Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark’ I produced around 2006 or something with the web radio I was working with. A remastered and expanded edition with new covers is in the back of my mind for OMD’s 40th anniversary to come. I’m working also with the French festival, “Poitiers Paralleles”, on a compilation gathering the acts that performed there. LIXIVIATH is actually working on their long-awaited debut album too and we’re looking to expand our partnership with BUZZ to JC’s actual band, VUDUVOX. Day to day business of an indie label as you can see.
Interview: Foundry Records - July 2019
- Written by: JeeJay
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