Renegade Records Rhodes Mason
Former Nuclear Blast Records Head Opens A New Label
Interviewed by Keith McDonald
By now most of you know that Nuclear Blast America has closed it's
doors and licensed out their bands and masters to Century Media. This
was a huge surprise and blow to the metal community (ed.
note: This is Keith's opinion and not necessarily that of everyone at
Metal-Rules.com....time will tell if it's good or bad).
Bands like In Flames and Hammerfall that had strived at NBA were left to
wonder their future. Former NBA boss Rhodes Mason has now reappeared and
started his own label called Renegade Records and will be
releasing a new album by the legendary Mayhem in the near future. I had
the chance to speak with Rhodes who filled me in on what's been going
How did you get started in the music business?
In college, I managed local bands and later went on to being a
promoter at a club in Philadelphia. I was involved in all types of music
there and booked national acts as well as local ones. I booked shows
with The Squirrel Nut Zippers to The Roots. We had a lot of musicians
hang out there as it was close to Studio 4, Ruffhouse's studio. I met
Lenny Kravitz, Urge Overkill, Chrissie Hynde, Oasis, etc. I also
produced a video for Ruffhouse rock band Dandelion. Due to a family
crisis, I relocated to Lancaster and through a friend, got a job with
Relapse as production manager in 1995. I worked there for a year and
really started turning onto metal overall. I really enjoyed my
experience there and I still have great respect for Matt Jacobson and
the whole crew. Matt taught me the record business and I will never
forget that. Anyway, as I did a great deal of reporting to Nuclear
Blast, I developed a relationship with them. When Relapse and Nuclear
Blast split, Markus Staiger asked me to head up his label in America.
The offer was good and I was relocated down to Florida since Markus had
hired someone from there. I thought Tampa would be great because of all
the metal coming out of there but after a year, I realized it was more
important to be close to New York and Caroline. I made the move back to
Philadelphia and established Nuclear Blast here.
What happened with Nuclear Blast? Why did NBA sell to Century
I cannot really say as I have been out of there for over a year. I
know that I left due to some problems with the parent company, which I
will not discuss. I do feel disappointed that the company I built in the
States is no longer and all the bands that got caught in this merger
might not be the priority they were when NBA was its own label. I wish
Century Media all the best in this as their task is before them though.
How did Renegade Records come about? Who distributes the label?
Is it a worldwide label? Do you have a complete staff already?
Renegade Records is owned by me and an old friend who is my silent
partner. Nuclear Blast America had grown exponentially under my guidance
and that I was never recognized for my accomplishments by the parent
company was disheartening. I believed that if I could start up my own
label and call my own shots instead of having people from Germany
telling me what I can and cannot do, ultimately it would be successful.
I looked to labels in Europe who I believed could use American
representation and having met Michael Berberian, owner of Season Of
Mist, I believed his catalog would be good for me to start off with and
we could have a successful relationship. We just inked a licensing deal
and wanted to get this big news out. I am using Megaforce/Ryko in the US
for distribution and PHD in Canada. I am glad to work with Megaforce on
this for their reputation in metal and Missy over there is totally
killer. With the partnership between me and Season Of Mist, if we both
like a record, we want to sign it worldwide but I am also free to sign
things on my own should SOM not want it. I am building my staff
presently but of course at start up, I am going to utilize freelance
promotional companies and keep my overhead low so I can put my money
into marketing and promotions. I will be looking at opening an official
office in September once we have the mandate through sales
What type of music will the label sign?
The thing I liked about the Nuclear Blast roster is that they had all
types of metal. I enjoyed working with bands like Death, SOD,
Hammerfall, Meshuggah, Dimmu Borgir, In Flames, etc. These bands were
totally pro at what they do and some of the best. Renegade has a little
of everything as well through its deal with Season Of Mist as well. As
far as signing American metal bands, I want those dedicated to their
craft and committed to touring. My goal at this label is that if I sign
you then I want you to make the band your full time job. I want a
partnership with my band that we are both working together to grow their
stature and hopefully get to the point where the band can live off of
their earnings as musicians. I view a label as a middleman in what is
really important which is the relationship between a band and their
fans. I love going to a show and seeing hordes of fans get rabid for the
band I am working with. To me, that means the band has done their job by
delivering great music and I have done mine by building them a fan base.
The first thing though is the great music. No matter how much money I
spend in marketing, if an album sucks, the fans are going to let you
know by not buying it. The thing I respect about the metal community is
their knowledge and loyalty. If it's metal, they will listen to it and
then learn everything they can about a band. No music fans are more
dedicated than the metal ones.
How important is touring for a metal band?
Touring is the number one thing to getting a band to grow. Case and
point is at Nuclear Blast, the bands who sold the most are the ones who
toured here. Meshuggah sold a fortune during the Slayer tour. Hammerfall
more than doubled in sales after touring with Death. From a marketing
standpoint, all the weekly and daily papers in a market might not cover
a band that sends them a promo but have a live date and they will agree
to cover your band's show. Also, if a person is mildly interested in a
band and has not bought their album, if they like the show you can
guarantee they will go the next day to get it. Renegade Records is going
to be dedicated to getting tours for our artists.
What do you look for in an artist?
Very simply stated, career musicians. I want people who have no other
ambition in life than to write music and tour. I spoke with Mike G., the
editor of Metal Maniacs, about how I got into the music business because
I wish I could play music. To me, this is talent and since I cannot do
this the next best thing is to help the people who can. Another
important thing is professionalism. Bands who are serious create their
own regional buzz, make a demo on their own dime, solicit labels with a
professional package and hire management. Also, you need a strong
synergy between the various band members. I do not want to grow a band
and then have them all break up over "artistic differences"
which translates to me as ego problems. I want the band, the label,
management, booking agents, etc. all on the same page. If you have a
weak link in that structure, a band will never be successful. Renegade
is started with the intent of providing a home to artists who will
respect them and work in conjunction with them. This is not about my
personal ego. It is about good bands reaching their fans and ultimately
it is the fans who decide who is good and who is bad by purchasing the
album or not.
Is it hard getting metal bands radio play here in the US?
There are many college stations in the US with a metal show. As you
can see in the trade magazines for radio, almost all of them have a
metal chart. I also see commercial stations opening up to hard rock in
general. In Philadelphia, the number one stations has taken a format of
hard rock. I began to hear them playing Death one night while driving
and almost wrecked my car! I could not believe it. That was several
years ago and the station plays hard rock from the major labels and then
slip in something from one of the independents here and there. I think
rock music needs the extreme, as that is the foundation of it. Metal
brings new life to rock which is needed in this time when rap and
bubblegum music dominates the charts. Metallica opened the door to hard
rock on commercial stations and now we have to push stations to
recognize this new market's importance and growing capacity.
How would you compare the metal scene in Europe to here in the
It is night and day. Europe is a huge metal community. Bands are
playing it everywhere. I was amazed my first festival at seeing 60,000
people in front of the stage to see metal music. They have so many
festivals in Europe every summer where we have so few. But America is
slowly opening up to metal. I believed at NBA, my job was to get
mainstream people involved with metal again by not presenting the image
of the hair bands but one of energy and vibrancy that rock was founded
on. I had coverage from the New York Times to the Philadelphia Inquirer
at NBA which signified to me that if these huge daily papers were
reporting on metal, then America was ready to embrace metal again. I
would tell these mainstream writers to look at the success of Ozzfest as
an example that this music should not be ignored. I think metal is
coming around and the quality of music is growing as well.
Who is currently on the label? Will you sign established or
I am honored to say that I will be releasing Mayhem. I
thoroughly respect Mayhem for the important chapter they wrote in metal.
Plus, I have been in touch with Necrobutcher and he is such a killer
person. We also will be releasing Destroyer 666. These guys have
a great reputation in the underground and their new album "Phoenix
Rising" is as brutal as you can get. We will also be releasing some
back catalog of Yattering as well as ...And Oceans. Also,
I am going to put together a US version of Agressor's "Medievel
Rites." They are technically superior and will kick your ass once
you hear it. The thing with the partnership with Renegade and Season Of
Mist is we can now offer worldwide contracts. With that in mind, I have
targeted some US bands already for signing and will be putting offers in
for more established bands who want personal treatment and a label who
will work in conjunction with them and their ideas.
Are there any people from NBA with you at Renegade?
Well, I am upset at what happened to some of the staff members who
got the shaft at NBA and feel partially responsible for bringing them
in. I am targeting some of them to help me with Renegade. One thing I
liked about some of my employees there was that they followed my
philosophy about bands being treated with respect. If you understand
this and are dedicated, you are a valuable employee. I also like people
with a great sense of humor. There is a great deal of work that you have
to do at a label to make it work but you need to keep laughing through
it and have a great time. If your employees are miserable and treated
unfairly, bands will recognize that and it might be the difference
between you signing a band over your competitors. It all goes with my
belief in making a home for a band and that starts with the people you
hire to help you.
What advise do you have for an unsigned band?
I have done panels at many music conferences about this. The main
thing is writing strong material and performing it well. The second most
important thing is building a name for yourself. That means get out and
tour on your own and build a regional following. If you can build a
strong regional following, then I have a good chance at building an
international one. Also, send your demo to publications that review
unsigned bands. I frequently look through these to see what ratings it
is getting. Also, create a professional image. If you want me to sign
you, I expect to see in your promotional kit a band photo, a CDR, a
biography, a website address and a well-written introductory letter.
Bands need to remember that A&R people receive demos daily. We do
not have a lot of time to review material and as soon as we open a
package, we are judging you. When I put a CD in to listen to it, have
your best song to lead off the record. If I do not like the first minute
of what I hear, I will skip to the next song and see if I like that. If
I do not, your record is filed away and a rejection letter is issued.
Remember, I am looking after bands that are selling and the most
surefire way to get signed is the buzz on your band. I am far more
interested in a band that my contacts all call me and tell me I have to
hear them. If I call you for your demo because of this and then like
what I hear, you could end up with an international recording contract.
Of course, I will be looking at bands who conduct themselves
professionally and whom I feel like I can work with. The main thing
though is your music and originality. Talent is talent and that is why I
am working in this business is the honor of working with people who have
what it takes.
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