The Music Cartel
Industry Profile - Music Cartel's Eric LeMasters
Label President Gives Some Insight on his Label

Interviewed by Keith McDonald

The Music Cartel is not a household name…..just yet. The label, started a few years ago by former Earache Records GM Eric LeMasters, has been putting out quality releases by underground bands that include Orange Goblin, Sea of Green and Clawfinger. Based out in Port Washington, NY, The Music Cartel is a growing label with endless possibilities. I had the opportunity to speak to the label President Eric LeMasters who filled me in on what's been going on with his label. You can check out their website at:www.music-cartel.com.


How did you get started in the music business?
I went to NYU in the Music Business Program and as a freshman I got an internship at a company called Concrete Marketing where I worked in the mailroom. I was so stoked because I was 19 years old and working for a company that did marketing for acts like Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Judas Priest, Megadeth, etc. They also had a management company that handled Grim Reaper, Metal Church and a new, unknown band called Pantera! From there I went on to work in A&R, sales, and marketing at various labels, and finally as general manager of Earache Records' US operations.

 

How did the Music-Cartel start?
Earache Records was having financial problems and laid me off, and to be honest, I was tired of working for companies that treated their employees and bands like shit. So I just pounded the pavement and found bands that were willing to work with me if I started a label, and the rest is history...

 

Who is currently on your roster? Who has been the most successful so far?
Currently on the roster is Electric Wizard, Orange Goblin, Sheavy, Sea Of Green, Bronx Casket Co. (feat. members of Overkill and Misfits), The Sabians, (feat. ex-Sleep members), Clawfinger, Goliath, Sons Of Otis, Codeseven, Deride, Mammoth Volume, Roachpowder, Ufomammut and Industrial Strength Records (we release their CD releases of hardcore techno). The most successful in terms of sales has been Clawfinger and our Industrial Strength compilations. The Clawfinger was kind of a fluke because we had a handful of commercial radio stations play them as well as lots of exposure on ESPN and WWF and the records just sold like hotcakes. 

 

What type of artists does your label sign?
We're looking for any artist who is cutting edge in nature. It doesn't really matter what kind of genre it is as long as it's a little 'left of center'...we have released albums that are rock, metal, hardcore, industrial, techno, and even ambient!

 

What do you look for in an artist? How do you find new artists?
We look for artists that understand they are going to have to work as hard as anyone to make shit happen. There is a lot of touring that has to be done as well as understanding the independent label world. Things are harder than ever for indie labels right now--it's next to impossible to get your CDs in the chain stores and getting paid is always a pain in the ass. It's not always possible and effective to do tons of advertising and promotion on a band that is only going to sell 1,000 CDs (or less) to start. There is a whole development process. We are very fortunate that we have international distribution and we have the ability to take artists from one level to the next, but it's got to make sense to do so. Sometimes it takes years and many albums to do it.

 

How important is touring for your artists?
It's probably the one most important thing for our artists. Since it's almost impossible to get commercial radio play and to take out full page, full color advertisements everywhere, it's the best place to start the growth of a band.

 

How has radio been? How difficult is it to get steady airplay?
As I said before, it has been kind to us in a few circumstances, but for the most part, we must rely on college radio and the internet for all of our exposure on the radio. We do have many of our bands played on satellite radio stations such as Music Choice (Direct TV) and some specialty shows on commercial stations, but those are mainly at 1AM on a Tuesday night or something.

 

How hard is it to run your own label? What's the difference between an indie and major label?
It's hard in every way, but so much more satisfying as well, that it is all worth it. I'm probably poorer now than I've been since college, but I'm also the happiest I've been in years, so it is all worthwhile since I sleep better at night than I have in years! The main difference between a major label and an indie, besides the most obvious--money--is that the majors don't understand the concept of development anymore. Most of them are owned by non-music corporations (Seagrams, Universal, etc) and at the end of the day it's all about the stock price that day and profitability for that quarter. If a band comes out and it doesn't start to 'happen' within one quarter's time, then it's time to move on to the next artists. Of course, the payoff is incredible if it does start to 'happen', but even then, you are looking at a shelf life of one album for most of these 'one hit wonder' bands. Back in the 70s and 80s and even the beginning of the 90s, labels understood that it would take a few albums to break bands. Lots of touring and hard work on everyone's part and it was obtainable. Ahhh, those were the days! (do I sound old yet?)

 

Who distributes your label? How hard, if at all, is it to promote very artist on your label?
In the US, our label is distributed by Distribution North America (DNA). We do have distribution elsewhere in the world such as Cargo in Germany and Shellshock in the UK and other ones all through Europe, Australia and Japan. It's very hard to promote our artists in terms of money, but in terms of good old-fashioned elbow grease, it's not hard at all. it's actually quite fun and rewarding.

 

What advise do you have for an unsigned artist?
Play live and tour and when you are done, tour some more. And then maybe you can take a break from touring and do some more touring. Did I mention touring?

 

What's the future for the Music-Cartel?
Well, by the end of 2001 we would have 55 releases in about 3 1/2 years time. I'd like to be able to release fewer albums and spend more attention to each one eventually. I'd also like to have a band break to the point where we can have more financial security and not live month to month. Now that would be heaven!


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Saturday, November 17, 2001