Martyr Music Group's Maria Abril
A Growing Metal Label Gets Bigger
Interview by Keith McDonald
Martyr Music Group, the label started by Maria Abril almost four
years ago, has been making some headway in the metal community the last
few months. The label, which houses such metal veterans as Broken Hope
and others, recently teamed up with Hammerheart Records in the
Netherlands, opening a US office. This merger adds a much deeper roster
with the likes of Sinister, Dismember and Control Denied joining the
Martyr Music Group family. With this in place, and adding bands like Em
Sinfonia, Penance and Satariel, Martyr Music Group has quickly
established a very respectable heavy metal roster. I had the opportunity
to speak with Maria who filled me in on what's been going on. You can
check out the website at www.martyrmusicgroup.com.
How did you get started in the music business?
When I was finished with high school I moved to New York City with the
intention of studying dance and music business at NYU. Someone I met
there introduced me to a woman that invited me to interview for an
internship at Concrete Marketing. That internship led to a full-time
position and that was where I started. I was either 19 or 20 at the
How/Why did Martyr Music Group start?
To get an idea as to WHY it started you'd have to know that I had moved
around from label to label already for several years. After Concrete I
was at Relativity, then Metal Blade, Mayhem/Fierce and Nuclear Blast
America. I had done so much and learned from so many people that it was
the obvious thing to do, in my mind. I started Martyr with Broken Hope
who I worked with at Metal Blade and later managed. When they parted
with Metal Blade it was a decision to "keep it in the family"
so to speak. I had a partner back then who had brought in Drained (who
later broke up) and Em Sinfonia and Novembers Doom followed, both of
which were brought to me by Broken Hope's Brian Griffin. I personally
think I started out with a really diverse and strong roster.
How did you hook up with Hammerheart Records?
How has that helped?
I had Martyr Music going for at least 2 years before we bumped into one
another. At first there was minimal communication, just them selling
Martyr titles overseas for me. I received a phone call from one of the
label owners one day and we actually spoke for quite a while about the
other places I had worked at, Martyr, etc... he called back and asked me
if I would be interested in running Hammerheart in America. Meetings and
interviews followed and soon thereafter we finalized the whole thing.
My relationship with Hammerheart has been great. I've been able to
make a lot of progress for them with Martyr already established and
working with them has obviously helped bring Martyr into more of a
spotlight situation because they've got such a great reputation and
roster. We've been able to have a very balanced give and take, not to
mention we have the same sense as far as treating people honestly and
respectfully. There are WAY too many crooked people, somehow still in
business, so it's great to have someone you can trust on your side.
How strong is their presence in the metal
I think the music they have built themselves from really effects people,
both emotionally and spiritually. Many have various degrees of Pagan,
Heathen or Viking ideologies behind them so people are relating to their
artists on several different levels. The bands that choose a more
straight-ahead philosophy are completely professional and one thing I
know Hammerheart feels strongly about is never compromising their
standards on quality. The sound and the overall package are very
important to them so people get something they can be happy with when
they're supporting Hammerheart bands, in my opinion. Taking care of your
customers goes a long way, especially now that it seems like such a lost
What type of artists does Martyr Music Group
Ones that I personally believe in. Even if I thought it would be a huge
success, if I did not "get it" artistically then it wouldn't
happen. Right now I think I have a little of everything, as far as
metal/heavy stuff goes, which I like.
Who is currently on your roster? Who has been
the most successful to date? How do you find new acts?
Signed directly to Martyr are Broken Hope, Council of the Fallen, Em
Sinfonia and Penance. From Hammerheart I license the releases I choose
for North America. Right now we're doing Sinister and Blood Red Throne
for 2001 and planning many more for 2002 including Dismember and Control
Denied. To date Broken Hope has sold the most but in terms of their
development I consider all my bands to be extremely successful. In case
it hasn't become painfully obvious I am very proud of Martyr and the
bands that have been a part of it-past and present.
How hard is it to support and promote every
artist on your label?
As far as Martyr Music goes I have the luxury of having complete control
over my release schedule and product flow so if the staff and I do not
think we can keep up with everything I can always tailor things around
that. I think that gives us much more freedom than working at another
label where you don't have any choices like that and you simply NEED to
always be catching up to the train that is always running away from you.
Being that we are such a small company I also take everyone else's
opinions here seriously. We either all work at 100% or not at all.
How hard is it to compete with bigger and
stronger labels like Century Media and Sanctuary?
I have never felt that I compete with labels of that magnitude because
it's not realistic. If anything I would tend to look back in metal
history and compare the beginning stages of bigger labels to mine.
That's how you learn. Labels like Metal Blade and Nuclear Blast, for
example ... they didn't sprout up overnight. They started in a garage or
bedroom somewhere with one person busting ass day in and day out,
stretching every last penny until it practically breaks ... that's more
real to me. Maybe in another 6 years I'll contemplate what's on the
other side of that fence but for now we're completely in the trenches
and our passion and determination keeps us in the game, not our size or
Do all of your bands tour? How expensive and
hard is it to tour these days?
That really depends on the band. Broken Hope was more of a touring band
before Brian's schedule got crazy. Penance plays around a lot too. I'm
hoping 2002 will bring us tours from Dismember and Sinister but of
course there are a lot of factors that have yet to be decided. I think
the live playing field has changed a lot over the years. So many clubs
have closed down and many of the ones still standing are not all ages
venues. At the end of the day that effects the price tag on any tour,
it's hard. The overall attitude of the band plays a huge role in the
whole thing too. Bands that can't be bothered to do any work for
themselves and only expect the rest of creation to cater to them can
forget it. Fortunately there are lots of other labels that can make
something out of that situation. I feel that if an artist can't be
bothered to help themselves, why the hell should I do it?
How has radio been to your bands?
Frankly I service very little radio. I had done radio promotion for
years so I know how it works and I've seen how the attitudes have
changed. I service the stations/individuals that make a difference
because they clearly care to. They're in touch, I can micro-market
around their broadcast and see some result, they're working with local
retail, clubs, etc... I don't concern myself with numbers and charts
because they're just used as status symbols. I've cut down on my press
list too so it's not just a radio thing. A smaller label has to be
careful where they spend their money and I like to make sure that every
last CD that leaves the building has a reason for being made and going
Do you have a back catalog? If so, how does that
The catalog is still moderate, mainly because all of our spending is out
of pocket. I never took a loan or sought investors for Martyr Music so
everything has been gradual. To date we have five releases that have
come out and two more coming soon, plus licensed titles from Hammerheart.
Someday we'll have a much more substantial catalog and the sales from
that are always a helping hand.
The catalog (so far) looks like this:
Drained "Suspension of Disbelief" CD 1998
Em Sinfonia "In Mourning's Symphony" MCD 1999
Novembers Doom "Of Sculptured Ivy & Stone Flowers" CD 1999
Broken Hope "Grotesque Blessings" CD end 99/2000
Em Sinfonia "Intimate Portrait" CD 2001
Penance "Alpha & Omega" CD Nov 2001
Sinister "Creative Killings" CD Nov 2001 (license from
Blood Red Throne "Monument of Death" CD Dec 2001 (license from
Council of The Fallen "Revealing Damnation" CD Feb 2002
How hard is it to get your releases in stores?
Who distributes your label (DNA, ADA, etc.)?
Right now traditional retail is complete hell. There are many larger
companies on the brink of bankruptcy and several smaller outlets have
already closed their doors. Shelf space is harder to get for metal
already and for new bands with no previous sales history it's very
difficult. A lot will depend on where the economy goes in the near
future... our current US distributor is BDM (Big Daddy Music) who also
does Eclipse, The End, Necropolis and Conquest. Our Canadian distro is
FAB, who also does most of the metal labels.
What's the future for Martyr Music Group?
Your guess is as good as mine but I'm looking forward to finding out...
©2001 Metal Rules!!