Joseph Prabagar of DemonZend
Interview by EvilG, Rick, Lord of the Wasteland
DemonZend is a fairly new site / label / mailorder / etc. based out of Malaysia with offices soon opening in the UK. In this interview we got to pick the brain of DemonZend’s founder about the challenges of startup up in what might seem to some as a non-metal-friendly geographic location. We also look at the evolution of DemonZend from a zine to a major online store and label.
Please give us some brief background info on when DemonZend started and why?
The idea to do something related to metal music first played in my mind back in 1988 when I was 18. I am from Malaysia and at that time the metal scene was at full swing worldwide already and I got sucked in from the time I heard Dio’s – Holy Diver album a year back or so. You can say that I got into it rather late. Anyway, it was frustrating because I wanted a dedicated specialty metal shop in town that I can buy my albums and magazines. There were, but as the 90′s rolled in, true metal music was hit by heavy commercial stuff locally that many of the record stores were switching to mainstream just to stay in business or just decided to call it a day. That’s when I contemplated a business in metal music just to cater for the niche of us who craved for it still! It was just an idea. Even the name DemonZend came about much much later in my life. I shelved the plan all together when I researched and found out that the outlay of capital and operational cost was too big a mountain for me to raise at 18. I was also not mature enough for business yet I thought. So for the next 14 years I focused on building my business savvy in retail sales and people management. Got pretty good at it too. When I turned 30 I had saved up a little nest egg and was in a good salaried managerial position for a marketing consulting company selling Loyalty membership programs for 5 Star hotels. I was restless. Wanted to breakout of working for someone and do something of my own real bad. Surprisingly, the thought of DemonZend never occurred to me still at that time. I guess I just got caught up in the corporate rat race that I forgot my true purpose. However, I finally got the awakening to make the step into the unknown of underground music. Quit my job and immediately started writing a business plan to show potential investors. It was mid 2000. I was based in Indonesia at that time. It took me a full 3 months to finish the business plan. The name Demonz`END was born in an instant then.
How did you raise the start-up capital for the mail-order and then label? AND Is DemonZend now a full-time job or do you still work to pay the bills?
I showed many “would be” investors my business plan but none took the decent courtesy to even read the damn thing. It was a splendid and well researched plan but nobody seem to be interested with the music business as it seemed. So early 2001, I moved back to my homeland, Malaysia and did what most entrepreneurs may NOT do, that is plunge in with whatever I got! My whole life was now in DemonZend. It made more business sense to start an e-shop than a brick & mortal outlet. Hired a reliable web developer in October 2002 and in 6 months Demonz`END (1st generation) was online. It was 1st April 2002.
I ran Demonz’END fulltime for about a year and a half. Business was ok. Got my first online sale within 3 weeks of launch date and was growing. Made a lot of contacts within a very short time. I believe I also wrote to you, EvilG, during Demonz’END’s infant days about advertising and such. Everything was going according to plan and I was pleased with the proceeding. We even supplied metal CDs to Tower Records Malaysia! I guess that’s how it all grew for us.
However, in mid 2003, Graham Bagley came on board with a magazine production idea and soon got involved in the full aspect of Demonz`END business vision. By that time the record label was already in the making with the recording of Merciless Mercenary by our label’s first band “BREAKtheSILENCE”. The whole business module of Demonz`END was to be a complete one stop metal music merchant with online and brick & mortar shop, own production, concert/gig promotion, magazine and even a dedicated radio station. We also managed to secure financing via an angel investor this year, 2004.
Do I have a day job? Yes, I currently manage a fashion retail business as well to supplement DemonZend. 2003 saw business drop for us due to unavoidable circumstances so it was wise to maintain another income source. Graham was working for sports events promoter in Malaysia up till July 2004. He has since moved back to UK to sow seeds for DemonZend there.
Enquiring minds want to know?what?s the purpose of the capital letter ?Z? in the name DemonZend?
HA! Actually its got no special significant at all. The first generation design was “Demonz`END” then DemonzEND and now DemonZend. It was just an alternative way to replace the ‘s’ in Demon’s End. But I am flattered to hear people are curious of it though
What are some of the obstacles that you face being a mailorder/label that operates out of Malaysia? Do people in North America ever express reservations about ordering from you because of your perceived remoteness?
Not really. In fact it intrigues us to see North Americans buying from us despite the the geographical perception. We get sales from all over and surprisingly not so from Asia. Maybe due to the lower penetration of the online usage to this part of the world I assume. Hope to that will change soon with our marketing campaign and strategic alliances.
I guess the obstacles we face is our inability to reach as many people as we want within our own homeland/region. There isn’t a decent metal magazine or web portal that we can work with in addition to restrictions by the local authorities. So it boils down to DemonZend taking the initiative to innovate and work around the restrictions imposed. You can say its a nice position to be in since we are in a market that’s screaming for service and supply. As you can see, there’s definitely demand!
With bootlegging being a big problem in Asia, how do you maintain a legitimate company when people can buy knock-off CDs on the streets for a few dollars, or download mp3s for free?
Well this is our main problem! It?s like getting rid of pests in the sewer…you can never succeed. The Malaysian government must be commended however, for enforcing anti-piracy raids and checks since 2002. The campaign is working for some music genres but underground being underground, tend to slip off their target. Having said that, our local extreme music followers have somewhat changed their perception on cheap knock offs and are now consciously seeking original imports. It?s not a turn-about-overnight thing but it?s a step in the right direction. Perhaps DemonZend’s efforts to give the best lowest price possible for these import CDs will further encourage the metal heads to buy the actual copyrighted stuff.
As I also mentioned earlier, our business comes from abroad as well, so this sort of balances things for us business wise. In time, the plan would be to license albums from various labels and subsequently give better retail prices to customers.
Do you maintain a storefront in Malaysia, or is all business conducted online?
It would be ideal to have a brick & mortar store. That was the original idea. However, the cost of operating such an operation does not serve the business purpose for DemonZend at the moment. We will pursue an investment on this in the near future based on growth.
Back in 2001 or 2002 I remember reading news items from places like the BBC and CNN about the Malaysian government along with Muslim clerics denouncing heavy metal and specifically their fear that “black metal” would encourage some young people to grow horns and bow down to Satan. We?ve heard things about school locker searches for ?offensive? material, the confiscation of metal albums, etc. From what I understand they wanted to outright BAN black metal and make it a forbidden style of music for Muslims. Since metal is about freedom, and freedom from anyone trying to control our choices and lifestyles?how did this make you, as a metalhead, feel and how does it or did it affect your business?
It was a dark day for the metal scene when that happened in our country. There was absolutely nothing we could do. Many local forerunning metal bands spoke up, some withered and tucked tail, while others stood by watching. It was a sad state, that the metal fans and musicians could do nothing to avoid the “BAN”. The authorities labeled everything loud and not signed to the major commercial label as “Black Metal” the Satan music!
DemonZend was still in the planning stages at that very moment. The whole issue made me rethink the situation but I went ahead regardless as I told myself that online e-shop has no boundaries and if need be, I will re-locate. Metal music business was what I wanted to be in and moreover, I had already invested a large chunk of my money into it. There was no turning back. I wanted to fight the authorities in my own way I guess. The whole “black metal” issue started early 2001 and it kept up the whole year with gigs raided, stormed or cancelled at the 11th hour. CD & magazines were confiscated from shops and parents were also swayed by religious group with calls to send their youths for counseling and repentance. Everyday you would read that somewhere some group of kids were caught practicing the occult with satanic music in the midst……black metal was made the scapegoat.
When DemonZend went online in April 2002, I had planned a local marketing/advertising campaign. But my adverts were banned too! I could not advertise anywhere in Malaysia safe for some commercial music & lifestyle mags which only would publish them if they censor my whole copy writing. They weren’t cheap either! I declined to budge and decided to focus outside of Malaysia for business through banner exchange, email marketing, affiliations etc. It was a very slow process but worked nonetheless.
The other crisis DemonZend faced due to this “ban” was shipment into Malaysia. DemonZend easily lost about US$5000 due to customs confiscation of our goods in the early days. It was a heavy hit financially for a new start up like ours. More so because it was money from my own pocket that I lost. Needless to say DemonZend found its way around the import shipment procedure and after 2002 as the ‘ban’ and scrutinizing eyes died out, the underground scene started to revive and DemonZend began building upwards.
Has the atmosphere in Malaysia surrounding metal changed in the past 1-2 years?
In terms of restrictions by authorities, yes. Things have been rather smooth sailing so far since late 2003. I guess the authorities have realized we are just a bunch of guys enjoying loud music and all the euphoria of satanism was politically motivated to start of in the first place.
However, the metal music scene in Malaysia, has stalled. Last year saw perhaps only 3 or 4 underground bands releasing new material. One of it was BREAKtheSILENCE courtesy of DemonZend Rec. There’re gigs abound every other weekend albeit on a small scale but these are bands playing covers mostly or hardcore and alternative stuff. I suppose, there just isn’t a promoter or organizer or even a label that’s doing metal on a full scale. DemonZend hopes to change that by working with the various local youth organizations to create an awareness on the underground music. Our new Premier has actually encouraged arts, music & culture in its true form to grow and strive. We would like to assume it includes extreme music when he said that.
Do you get most of your support (from bands and customers) from your local area?
Its not an all out support per se due to our lack of publicity in the local market in the past but with the release of BREAKtheSILENCE and our current marketing campaign through Metal-Rules and local and international mags, the local support is beginning to show.
DemonZend began as a webzine and distributor to help get hard to find releases into Asian markets. How did you branch out into global distribution and finally to a record label?
We were not a webzine but more of a retailer for extreme music from the beginning. Distribution is based on customers needs. They buy what they want and we ship it to them. That was the initial frame work for www.demonzend.com. Things always evolve and later dictates the directions to take. We just saw the potential in global market as our customer base and decided to expose our shop worldwide more. The record label was created for this purpose as well. We wanted to export our ideas and music too instead of importing all the time. That’s how trade surplus comes about I think. So we focus now on exporting our brand name, our MetaLegion membership program and our bands apart from selling other labels’ productions and merchandise.
You are about to open a European office in the next few months. How do you think this will affect your business, and more importantly do you think it will help you break more Asian bands into the European metal market?
Graham Bagley, my counterpart, joined as a partner in mid 2003 with an idea of a magazine that predominately focuses on Asian talents. We were to produce it from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, our HQ. At that time, I was also trying to establish a distro house/center to help perpetuate DemonZend e-shop into Europe. This was in order to help reduce the shipping costs for shoppers from that continent. As it turned out, the magazine plan had to be shelved due to time constraint and production cost that was involved. We did not want to stretch ourselves too thin, because by that time BREAKtheSILENCE had finished recording and it was time to release and start promo work for the album. After the release of the album and some shows in KL & Singapore, we wanted to get the band exposed in Europe along with DemonZend. So Graham decided to make head way in UK, his homeland, for DemonZend.
Yes, we believe, the European, or rather the UK operations will definitely make a big difference in customer confidence. We also do not have to ship inventory into Malaysia and (incur the exuberant import shipping cost for us) anymore. We will keep it all in UK and distribute them from there. Logically, getting Asian or any band that we sign on known through a marketing arm in Europe makes sense also.
Where will the European office be located and why that specific city/country?
Dudley, United Kingdom. Graham’s hometown. May re-locate to London if required.
What has been your experience with DemonZend the record label? Has it worked out the way you envisioned when you initially had the idea to start releasing albums?
Its tough man! But exciting and satisfying beyond explanation. We knew it was not going to make us a million dollars overnight. It was an essential division in the DemonZend Enterprise. We wanted to expose ourselves through the albums. Reach the target audience in every way possible.
The label has worked out ok. We have learnt a lot about recording, band management, egos, etc. The label has also given us an opportunity to contact many radio stations, magazines and metal portals with it rather than an empty handed approach. We give some; they give us some. It?s all about getting exposed at the end of the day.
DemonZend will release albums. We have signed Rudra already.
What, if any, criteria do you use when you are looking for bands to sign to your label?
Well, lets see, BREAKtheSILENCE was signed based on recommendation from another label friend. I met them, heard their split EP. Like it. Signed them. Rudra was a personal preference. We just loved them from their debut. Followed their progress, got to know Kathi, the founder. He hinted a keen inclination to get signed to us if we ever wanted to pursue a label business. And we did.
At the moment we get demos from local bands in Malaysia. Mostly, Black & Death metal bands. We will keep listening and when the right sound or band comes along that catches our attention we will consider. With Graham in UK also helps with bands from Europe and UK. We do not want to make the mistake of signing every band that sends us a demo. We want to concentrate on Rudra first. Make that work well before moving to the next.
How do you find the bands that you sign to the label? Are they bands close to your locale or do you sign bands from anywhere in the world?
So far its just BREAKtheSILENCE (BtS) and RUDRA. Both outstanding musically and they are from Malaysia and Singapore respectively. Unfortunately, BtS, had line-up problems and disbanded soon after the 3 or 4 promo show. Fortunately though from the ashes of BtS, the vocalist and drummer have teamed up to form a brand new band. DemonZend will release their debut once they are ready to record. We will not restrict ourselves to signing bands from our locale.
How did you branch out into band promotion and concert promotion and how do you choose the acts that you promote?
This division is too young to elaborate at the moment. We planned a series of “Merciless Onslaught” shows in conjunction of BtS’s debut “merciless mercenary” by inviting bands from throughout Malaysia and Singapore to perform. Did two, in Kuala Lumpur and the other in Singapore. Had loads of fun doing it! Promoted our band as best we knew how. With the apparent internal problems faced by BtS, we decided to drop the whole series altogether. It costs money and when the band is not full on from the beginning, the shows aren’t going pull the crowd. So we decided to conserve our resources and perhaps wait till Rudra’s 4th album is released in early 2005 to re-start the series with a different title perhaps. There’s always exciting things to do in metal.
Since you have promoting shows have there been any that have stood out as great successes?
“Merciless Onslaught I” was the best I guess. We were the first to bring Rudra to Kuala Lumpur. They massacred the Malaysian bands! Awesome performance. Maybe we will bring them to Canada soon enough? Metal-Rules as sponsor? haha!
How do you go about licensing the titles you do from Metal Blade and Century Media?
We haven’t licensed any. We buy wholesale for now.
Do you maintain a large inventory of these labels? titles?
We maintain a limited and concise inventory of various labels.
Do you do any ?scouting? for new acts or do you rely on bands sending you their demos directly?
At the moment, we do not want to consciously do ‘scouting’ but rather wait for the demos. Why? Well simply because, we do not wish to over sign and not be able to deliver. We want to build the DemonZend business in a logical manner.
Did you ever expect and/or hope that DemonZend would rise to the heights and scope that it has with the label, management and production company?
Yes definitely. Graham & I work with a passion and this is the business that we want to be in when we finally retire! There are so many things we want to archive with DemonZend. As the days roll by, we are beginning to believe this could actually work out the way we want it to. Of course being in South East Asia does have its limitations but then again, with the likes of Rudra and Graham re-locating to UK, are steps in the right direction for DemonZend. We will continue to expose ourselves overseas, built upon the foundation and go with the flow.
It must be said none of this is actually possible without a focused effort and the vision. So far we are steadfast with it and with time I truly feel its possible to be on level terms with the rest.
How big of a blow was it that BreaktheSilence broke up right after their (brilliant) new album was released? Is Rudra currently the only band on the DemonZend label?
It was indeed very disappointing to say the least. We loved the lads as they were quite cool guys and we know they did their best to stay together. Unfortunately, the history of the band has been such all along. “Merciless Mercenary” was the debut release for DemonZend and we had much anticipation for it to do well locally and hoped for some positive ones overseas. We also had the budget for promo sorted. The break-up hit us but we knew it was eminent. However, we are glad the album is getting good reviews. We are quite surprised actually.
Currently, Rudra and another band are signed to our label with potential 3rd by December.
Do you expect that members of BreaktheSilence will resurface in another band in Malaysia?
In fact it has been brewing ever since the release of the “Merciless Mercenary” as it seems. AP (guitar/volcal) & Hezree (drummer) have teamed up as I said earlier and signed to us already. They have begun work on the new material which I believe was meant for the 2nd BtS album. AP was the creative mind behind “Merciless” so naturally you could expect a ‘kick ass’ CD. The band name has not been confirmed though. Dol (bassist), the founder of BtS, is in the midst of recruiting new members. Unfortunately, BtS and DemonZend have parted ways amicably as well. We wish BtS all the best.
How did you hook up with Rudra?
Rudra was a sort of a destined relationship for DemonZend. We distributed their Aryan Crusade CD online and later started talking about gigs in Malaysia through their then label, Trishul. It was not until Kathi, the founder of Rudra, started buying CDs from DemonZend that did him & I strike a bonding. I suppose Kathi was inspired with the work and vision of DemonZend. It was he who first proposed that DemonZend sign them on if we ever become a label. At that time, we already had BtS in the studios. It was an opportunity and honor for DemonZend to have Rudra, a renowned band in South East Asia in its stable. We jumped at it immediately. Rudra was also looking for a new record label so it sort of worked out. We hope to do the best to get them the exposure and promo for their 4th and most prominent release to date!
How do you keep your CD prices so low? Even the non-member prices are competitive! A small company is charging less than big online stores like Amazon?!?!
Well to be honest, we feel, we somewhat charge too high! Therefore, we are seriously looking at our price structure right now including shipping cost and tax. Don’t be surprised, if we revise all of them overnight for the better!
We manage to give such low prices for three reasons:
1. We try our very best to deal direct with the various underground labels thus eliminating the middle man.
2. Some online stores make a killing on shipping! We don’t. We found a reliable way to ship goods worldwide cheaply.
3. Our policy is that music should never cost an arm & a leg. Period.
What titles or what styles of metal sell the best in Malaysia?
In Malaysia? Well it?s hard to say. Some months its power or gothic and yet at other times its death & black. Predominantly its releases from Century Media, Nuclear Blast, Earache and Metal Blade that sells here the most.
Have metal CD?s been traditionally hard to find in Malaysia?
You could easily get Metal CDs abound in Malaysia if you know where to get them. DemonZend supplies these shops anyway. Unfortunately the market is also filled with pirated ones and even those are exuberantly priced! You can only imagine what a original import CDs will cost at the shops. Enter DemonZend, with its reasonably priced imports and we have people asking for obscure titles; which is good because we can now cater for this niche market. It?s part of building the customer base and business.
What plans do you have for DemonZend for the next couple of years or even further ahead?
Well, firstly, we want to get consistent sales figures selling merchandise worldwide. So we will focus on that always. Next we want to release more albums under our label.
We also plan to build a retail business online around the “MetaLegion” membership. This is a powerful element – the membership. With a good strong and active database, we could strategically align partners for various other member benefits relating to underground music industry.
Later, we truly would like to have distribution centers or DemonZend physical stores in various regions incorporating a recording/jamming studio, label division, marketing arm etc.
For those who want to know a bit more about the people who run DemonZend, tell us when and how you got into heavy metal, what bands grabbed you the most and continue to do so to this very day.
Its was 1988. I was 18. Dio’s Holy Diver would be the one! Later I got into, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Sepultura, Slayer, Manowar, Bathory, Rotting Christ etc. I must admit, in the early initiations, what I listened to were mostly Heavy/Power Metal, Thrash or Gothic stuff. It was not until I started DemonZend and later releasing “Merciless Mercenary” did I really venture into the extreme world of Death Metal. Amazing style this! Bands like Mastodon, Mercury Rain, Lacuna Coil & Rudra are the ones that capture my attention these days. Very innovative and fresh.
If you have anything else to add, please let us know!!!
DemonZend has come through a lot. Matured and moving towards a set goal. We believe anything is possible if the faith and intentions are honest and true. Graham & I are indebted to many of our customers who have supported us through the lean periods. We thank you all!
DemonZend would also like take this opportunity to thank EvilG & gang of MetalRules.Com for this interview. We look forward to a long relationship with you guys for years to come. Cheers mates!
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