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 on.
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 Media?
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 States?
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 unknown bands?
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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