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Label Profile: Gravedancer Records

By: David E. Gehlke

Starting a record company in this day and age is like opening a VCR store - both bear little or no financial reward and according to some, have outlived their usefulness (or in the case of VCR's, are virtually obsolete). Many forget that without record companies, bands can't receive funds to tour, or record, or print merchandise, or buy new gear, or buy new clothes...or hardly anything, for that matter. Only a select few can survive in purely an independent state because of their previous track record or by choice. The in-between is to suck it up, play your cards right (i.e. get a lawyer to read your contract), and sign on with a small label. The results are certainly mixed.

Going against the tide is the freshly-minted Gravedancer Records. Created and operated by former Century Media/current MuseBox publicist Josh Eldridge, Gravedancer already has three signings under their belt: Byzantine, Chrome Waves, and Conan, three bands of wide variety and more importantly, respectability. According to Eldridge, his model will emphasize quality over quantity and work toward developing bands...and not jumping on the latest trends, as difficult as that may seem. Furthermore, the label has to deal with the ongoing conundrum of physical versus digital product, declining sales, and a flooded scene full of soundalikes. Think you want to start your own label? Better leave it to experts like Eldridge...

Blistering.com: Being that the industry is in the shape that itís in, what possessed you to start a new label?

Josh Eldridge:
It's something that I've always wanted to do, honestly. I've always enjoyed working with other labels but it becomes inevitable that you work some things along the way that you aren't a fan of (which is fine, it's the nature of running a business) so I wanted to go out there and do something from my perspective. Sign things that I like and artists that I respect. I wanted to do something from an honest approach and say, "I really love these records and you will too."

Blistering.com: Is this something youíve wanted to do for a while, or a sudden itch you needed to scratch?

This is something I've wanted to do since I was a kid. I played in bands, but never seriously. I knew my strengths and knew that I wanted to work on this side of the business. Problem is, you can't really start a label when you're already working for a very successful label. Therefore, now was the time to do it. I had just left Century Media and started doing marketing for the MuseBox and it just felt like now was the time to finally do this. So, I put together a game plan and I've just been going point-by-point. It's been awesome!

Blistering.com: As someone who has been involved in the music biz for so long, is it one of those things where you think you can improve upon the model of other labels? Or better yet, learn from their mistakes?

Both, I think. At least, that's the hope! I feel like a lot of labels are very old-school in their approach and that's why people say that labels are dying. I like to think that my deals for bands are much more modern. As you pointed out, I've also had a behind-the-scenes look at everything for so long that I can see what went well, what didn't pan-out and where to take some risks. I'm not saying that I'm going to be reinventing the wheel here, but I do think that I've seen enough and been involved in enough to have a good understanding over what works and does not work in today's music business. I also understand that this business is not formulaic at all. So, you can try your best on things sometimes and they just don't catch on. I do promise bands that I will give them everything I've got and provide them with the tools they need to be successful. That's all you can really do.

Blistering.com: Some labels appear to be unwilling to let go of the traditional physical product model. Is that something you plan on addressing with Gravedancer?

Yes and no. I definitely still plan on having CDs for my bands on most occasions. Sometimes a band needs to be available in stores OR, better yet, they'll need physical product because they'll be touring a lot. I'm also a big believer in vinyl and even cassette releases. They're just cool and I still by LPs and cassette tapes so I know that fans like that. However, some bands just don't need physical stock. They aren't touring and they really just need a team around them to promote them and build them in the eyes of the fans and press. I think we will have a balance between the two. Sometimes, you will be able to find our records at your local record stores -- some bands that come along may only have a digital release. It just comes down to what makes the most sense for the band. Our first three records: Chrome Waves, Conan & Byzantine will all be available on physical as well as digital.

Blistering.com: Youíre going to wear many hats at once with the label, so what do you think some of your strengths are, and better yet, things you want to focus more on?

Honestly, I've worn a lot of hats throughout my career. I've done management, retail, promotions, marketing/PR, A&R, etc. I've worked in basically every area you can work in the label world so I feel confident that I can deliver across those areas. If I wasn't, I certainly wouldn't take it on. There are some things you'll never see me doing -- things like creating art and layouts -- I have no experience there so I let other handle it. However, running a label and wearing these hats is something that I feel I can do pretty well. It's also about walking before you run. I realize that when you start a new label, you have to work the kinks out. So, we're starting slow and only putting out three (maybe four or five) records MAX this year. I want to give myself breathing room to adjust to running an entire operation like this. I think that's the key. Take it slow, build it up and make it great!

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