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Interview mit dem Reason to believe-Fanzine, 2002...
Interview mit dem Fanzine "Reason to believe", welches weltweit kostenlos verteilt wird und momentan eines der besten Punk und Hardcore-Fanzines ist. Das Reason to believe erscheint alle 3 Monate und wird weltweit durch unzählige Vertriebe kostenlos verteilt. Das Interview ist komplett in englisch und dreht sich vorwiegend um Vertriebsstrukturen für unabhängige Labels, das DIY (do it yourself)-Netzwerk und so einiges mehr.... Das Interview wurde im Februar 2002 geführt, erschien im April 2002.

The Rise And Fall Of DIY Distribution?
In the next issue of Reason To Believe mag, as part of our exploration and discussion of the mechanics of the whole "DIY network", we plan to present a debate on distribution and are looking for people like yourself to contribute. It‘s certainly a big area. It‘s also a debate we‘d like to keep on-going, not just a one off focus. For the next issue we‘d like all debate and commentary from all sides of the dice, including record labels, distributors, zines and shops, and are therefore looking for your input.

History and Context

The early 1990s saw a significant rise and strengthening of the international DIY distribution network, filling a void of the 1980s hardcore/punk distribution field which was largely dominated by a smaller handful of bigger full-time distributors. An interdependent DIY network saw rapid growth, literally hundreds of international labels swapping their releases with each other right across the world, in turn selling each others‘ releases at shows or through the mail. Throughout the 1990s up-until present times, the network helped create a vibrant, flourishing healthy grass-roots DIY music network with endless spin-offs based on co-operation, a loose sense of common purpose and mutual reciprocity. We had confidence that prices of releases would be kept low, releases could be bought from other like-minded people, small bands who might not otherwise get heard outside of their locality now had the opportunity to promote themselves in other countries and even tour, and so on. This kind of independent network ran by like-minded people is to me hugely important at a time when we‘re beginning to be over-ran by corporations in most other areas of our lives. It could be argued that the furtherance of a truly independent strong alternative network and by reclaiming our music, literature and distribution networks are both among the first steps towards reclaiming our lives!

In the late 1990s, some of those bigger key players within this network unfortunately folded. The likes of Profane Existence, Bottlenekk, Vacuum and other distributors ran up large debts, got ripped-off, got burnt out, etc, in turn having an impact on the overall structure of this inter-dependent network. Sure, nothing lasts forever, times change and things come and go. But within the overall bigger picture of the international DIY network, the whole structure seems to be changing and the whole DIY network is currently evolving and shifting on many different levels. Is the structure being broken down? Are the little people within all this becoming edged out by the combination of flaky people, bad debtors, "exclusive vultures" and "empire builders". From the perspective of doing a record label and having discussed this endlessly with other labels, the bottom line seems to be that effective DIY distribution is becoming much harder and more time consuming, contributing to people getting burnt out and quitting their activities. It‘s also time which I personally haven‘t got to play with and the voices questioning this whole process seem to becoming fewer.

What follows are a few themes and issues we‘ve discussed between ourselves. We‘re looking for your commentary on this. If you disagree with the discussion points below, tell us why! We don‘t expect you to respond to all these themes, you may want to pick one of the following strands and focus on that based upon your own experiences. Some of these are long-standing questions, some are not. But we really don‘t want to be puritan about this! This is not a "firing line" about individuals, labels or distros "who‘re DIY or not" and we hope we don‘t come across as that - because that really isn‘t our concern here! We would however like to a present a readable, accessible debate from all sides about the bigger picture, without appearing to be pompous or dry which is why we‘re looking for a wide range of contributions, whatever your perspective or whether you consider your activities are a business or more DIY focussed. We‘d like readers to become more informed about the debate and to enable readers to draw their own conclusions.

Exclusive Distribution

From my own perspective of doing a label, effective distribution is headache number one. To get my releases around I‘ve tended to rely largely mostly on trading my releases with other labels. I never intended or particularly wanted to start my own distro/mailorder but this quickly became a necessary consequence of doing the label. Doing distribution yourself through record trading can in many ways work quite effectively, despite it being very time consuming. Times seem to be changing, particularly in the US with a shift towards exclusive distribution deals, whether done informally or not. From my own perspective around the mid-1990s, my UK releases were actually better distributed in the US than the rest of Europe. That seems almost incredible to think now because the tables have been turned entirely 180 degrees. The move towards exclusives in the US has meant the labels who would trade with you at one time now won‘t because of their new exclusive "deal". The central distributor concerned either won‘t trade or only very small amounts because you‘re not one of "their" labels, leading to an overall shift within the wider DIY network where domestic releases falling under a particular umbrella may do fine, but in turn creates a lack of imports, stifles a thriving varied network and creates a more introverted, inward looking scene. This concentration also creates hype around "what‘s cool", competition and overall mirrors the same tactics of the mainstream music industry.

Some thoughts and questions -
Does exclusive distribution undermine the whole ethos of international DIY distribution and the networks which people have worked hard to establish at a time when the need for a flourishing, truly independent alternative network is critical?
Do exclusives exclude the smaller fries, those who wish to remain independent or those who want more control over the whole process of their releases? distribution?
Or is the process of creating exclusive central distribution points creating stronger structures and umbrella?s for the smaller labels who may not otherwise have an outlet?
DIY distribution is incredibly time-consuming. Isn‘t it easier for a label to hand most of their work over to someone with their own specialist area and much better contacts within this area so labels can focus on their own releases?
Let‘s face it. For the newer generation of people getting into this younger people beginning to setup labels, an exclusive distribution arrangement sounds far more appealing than doing all the distribution work yourself! How can the existing DIY network be made more appealing?
Are the longer-term implications likely to allow DIY networks to be swallowed up by mainstream music networks?
Should large independent distributors like Mordam be praised for creating a strong independently owned structure within a field domineered by majors. A question of scale?
Are things different in Europe because it?s a much more varied and closely interdependent place?
Perhaps exclusive arrangements for just a particular area or country where your existing distribution is poor can help all parties concerned? Or does this prevent the contribution of others?
If you‘re a label who is exclusively distributed by another, what‘s your slant on this from your experience? Similarily, if you‘re a label who exclusively distributes other, what‘s your perspective?

Independent mainstream distribution networks

A significant portion of record distribution, particularly to record shops is handled by the likes of Mordam, Cargo, Revolver, Plastic Head, Southern, etc and offers a more formal distribution structure which many "DIY" labels often tap into, particularly to get their releases out to record shops. There‘s a lot that can be said about the merits and pitfalls of this form of record distribution. Some labels have positive relationships with such distributors. Many others can convey some real horror stories, strong arguments why "putting all your eggs into one basket" can often be very precarious. For newer labels, having arrangements with such distributors tend to sound far more appealing than having to do all the distribution work yourself, with many "wannabe" labels aspiring towards such a relationship, often based on a notion of "growth", until fingers become burnt. I‘ve delt with Cargo in the past while continuing to go through DIY channels who did okay for me but was a fairly time-consuming relationship which led my focus turning back towards DIY network.

Some thoughts and questions -
A major difficulty is the lack of control over the selling price. After going through the hands of the distributor, shop and taxman, their respective mark-ups can easily add 300-400% onto the basic wholesale cost. Putting a ?sell no more than?? sticker on the back of a release often means a distributor won‘t even take the release. Does so-called "better" distribution outweigh the cost?
Does the whole process of distribution represent "the means of production" which should be kept entirely independent and separate from mainstream money-orientated networks?
How does the DIY distribution network overcome an often poor distribution in record shops? How do DIY releases get to that kid just getting into the music who?s unaware of the whole ethic and network?
I know that my first hardcore records were bought in a record shop, entirely unbeknown to the alternative distribution network that existed. Does the DIY network need to reach out further?
Can more DIY distributors be established who could help establish a greater alternative to the more mainstream networks, such as Active Distribution?
The bottom-line of larger distributors is to make money. Do these motives contradict the whole ethos of the hardcore/punk scene? Should we be willing to be part of that?
Why not create those alternative distribution mechanisms that can be a force to be reckoned with and why shouldn‘t we earn enough money through this to enable us to devote our energies to that full-time? We are living in the real world after all!

Empire builders and ego‘s

Like it or not, the whole DIY network is full of empire builders and egotistical maniacs!
Some thoughts and questions -
Do big ego‘s lead to a lack of co-operation, a desire to establish "exclusive" distribution arrangements and create competitiveness between individuals which is inherently counter-productive within a network who should be working together for some sort of common purpose?
Why shouldn‘t individuals get their fair share of recognition for their hard work and efforts?
Do big ego‘?s distort mutual common objectives and/or the collective ownership of projects/collectives? Does it matter?
Can empire building contribute and serve an overall common purpose or does it merely gratify the self-indulgence of an individual?

The future of the DIY distribution network

The world is changing. The DIY distribution network is changing. We?d like some discussion and commentary about the way the DIY distribution structure is heading, where we?d like it go and how we‘d like it to be shaped.
Some thoughts and questions -
Within our technological era of the internet and MP3?s, do bands really need to have their releases distributed in conventional formats‘ The effective future distribution of MP3‘s could be done by bands themselves or certain focal web-sites cutting out the need for conventional labels or distribution networks. And what is more DIY than this?

Generally I regard the internet, emails and of course mp3s as good and useful things....
Yet, I think that now mp3s are merely a good opportunity to get to know one or two songs of a band. To substitute all convential records (including also labels and distributors), many things would have to be changed (according techniques as well as in the mind of the "consumers"). I think that all conventional records of these days will surely exist for a long time as most people simply prefer having a real LP than having some mp3s; moreover vinyl is still appreciated. So, mp3s won´t enter into competition too soon.
In any case, it´s possible that mp3s will gain in importance and it´ll be more easy for new or unknown bands to call the peoples´ attention to their music.
To sum up, I want to stress that -in my eyes- the internet offers many opportunities for people, distributors and bands, stressing independence and DIY?

Do we need more DIY orientated but stronger prominent distributors who can act as umbrella‘s for smaller labels giving more momentum, strength and weight to the network? Or would this be a dangerous move forward?

Difficult question, as especially such big distributors can aim at many people (consequently our music and our ideals are heard by more people) on the one hand ; on the other hand majors could take rise, consequently dominating the whole scene, pushing away small label; moreover only releases could be distributed that guarantee profit... I think that even now there are bigger DIY distributors; take for example Skuld, Active, Ebullition,etc.and yet smaller distributors are still able to exist. And this is a good thing. I can´t imagine the being of even bigger ones and I don´t think that, regarding the development of our scene at the moment, it would be that good.

Where do you think the DIY network is heading? Gaining momentum, evolving into something different, crumbling at the edges or heading for complete collapse? Are we living in a continual cycle of momentum and decline?

I think that the DIY network has been existing for quite a long time now (with little changes) and actually it works. Of course, there are always changes, new distributors take rise, old ones vanish, new ideas and technics (internet, etc.) come up, but nothing has really changed in principle and that´s good. Within our scene I can notice few "up and downs", but I think that the DIY scene continues and goes on, irrespective of what the majors call hip or trendy?

If you‘re a label who won‘t trade your releases, why is this?

In the beginning I traded with every body offering me a trade and I had to see that I couldn´t sell all of these things and that especially in unknown releases noone was interested. I couldn´t continue this way and therefore I now only trade things that I like or that I am sure of that I can sell them again. So, I think trading is a good thing and as long as I can get rid off them I am willing to trade.

How can we run ourselves as a "business" in the real-world yet attempt to provide an alternative independent structure that can be a force to be reckoned with?

Everybody and every label has to find his/her own way; has to compromise between being on the one hand professional and confident and on the other hand still belonging to the scene. I think one can manage it and so I try to work with Twisted Chords. Everybody seems to have his/her one definition of what is still DIY and what is just an ordinary business and I, for my part think it´s ok if other people/labels have a different definition of it?

Are you completely fed up, feel like you‘ve become shunned or side-lined, are totally cynical or had some really negative experiences of DIY distribution involving the above or being ripped off or let down? Have you already quit because of these factors or are now distributed through an exclusive arrangement? Or do we just have sour grapes for being too stubborn and not being able to move with the shifting network?! Tell us about your experiences.

Of course, everybody had to experience bad things with the DIY scene or single persons. It can occur that single labels come out to be "rip-offs", but the majority of the scene I experienced to be confident and in spite of having a label for several years now I´m not fed up with it. Admittedly, I seem to have lost some illusions, but in general it´s still fun for me and that should be the striking argument, shouldn´t it?!


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