Heart of Steel: Interviews

Industry Profile
Century Media’s Marco Barbieri

Label Head talks about the Merger and Label

Interviewed by Keith McDonald

Century Media just recently celebrated its ten year anniversary. Started in 1991, the label has become a major player in the metal community with a back catalog that includes Nevermore, Mayhem and Skinlab to new releases by Scar Culture and Haste. The label recently took over the day-to-day events of Nuclear Blast, marketing and promoting their releases, adding to their already formidable roster of metal artists. I had the opportunity to speak with Marco who filled me in on what the label has been up to. You can check out their website at www.centurymedia.com to get more information.


How did you get started in the music business?

I’ve had a great love for music for as long as I can remember. I grew up in a household where music was always playing in the background and was an embellishment to life. My first experience to metal, and as a fan of a band, was when I was introduced to KISS in 1977. I became a devout follower of the band which led to my interest in other groups like Ted Nugent, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Rush, etc. As for the business, in high school I recognized that I needed to begin tailoring my life for the future and get a jump on what I wanted to do professionally. And while I was a big fan I never wanted to be a performer so I decided to help those fortunate enough with talent and so decided to get into the business side of it. I went to college (University of the Pacific) and majored in the field and began a fanzine, starting managing a couple area bands and booking/promoting shows. These combined experiences, along with my education, led to a job doing publicity at Metal Blade Records in 1991.



How did you end up at Century Media?

After being at Metal Blade for five years I felt it was time for a change. I had gone as far as I could within the company and desired new challenges and a new environment. When the opportunity at Century Media opened I took it, although many advised against it because at the time CM was a smaller label and wasn’t doing so well, but I felt the company had great potential and I wanted to contribute to optimizing its impact on the scene. I’ve been there six years now and every year has been better and more successful and I love it.



How did the merger between CM and NBA come about? How has it helped?

A few years back we began assisting other labels with marketing and distribution due to our strength and experience in the field. Nuclear Blast has always been a great label, but we recognized it could be better for them in the states so rather than directly competing with them we offered to help them but taking care of their day to day business affairs here, cutting their costs and overseeing their promotion and sales. It took some time to convince them but ultimately they decided to give it a shot and it has been a very fruitful relationship so far for both labels.



How important is a back catalog to a label? How extensive is CM's?

Back catalog is very important. Not only is it what a label is recognized for – the number of classic bands and records they’ve released – but also the continual sales of back catalog can be very important in financing and promoting new bands and releases. I think CM’s back catalog is very good; there are some great and consistent sellers, such as Iced Earth, Stuck Mojo, Skinlab, Nevermore, Emperor, Mayhem, Satyricon, Samael, Unleashed, The Gathering, Moonspell, Tiamat, etc.



How do you find new artists? How has the Internet helped?

We encourage bands to send in their demos and we will listen to them, but mainly we discover new bands from a buzz generated either regionally or in the underground. We like to work with bands that have drive and are willing to hustle to promote themselves, who have a good business sense and a solid line-up. The Internet has definitely helped bands, the fans and labels, as it’s an immediate resource that all can tap into and the information exchange is immediate. We also like checking out band sites so when we hear something good we can go their site and find out more about them and listen to some of the mp3s.



Does CM sign only heavy metal artists or others as well?

We are a heavy metal label first and foremost but I feel our tastes run the gambit of styles within the scene and we like to support all the sub-genres, such as traditional, progressive, death, black, gothic, hardcore, metalcore, power, thrash and everything in between. I would prefer to always work with bands with an edge as that are what we are all fans of and the territory we know best.


How hard is it to promote each artist on the label?

It can be difficult because there are so few resources open to us and it can be very demanding and time-consuming. We also release quite a few records each month, plus we also handle or oversee the production, accounting, distribution and promotion on some of the distributed labels. We definitely need to prioritize and have short and long-term game plans set for each release, and we work months in advance of a record’s street date to do much of this.



How important is touring? How expensive has it become?

Touring is essential for our artists and for the promotion of their albums. With the lack of mainstream exposure for underground metal it is difficult to spread the word about new bands and new releases and touring has become one of the best means of promotion. Also, heavy metal is a genre that is often times most appreciated in a live setting and the bands want to tour, see the world and meet their fans, and the kids just want to be entertained and experience a great night out. While touring is essential, it is very expensive and most bands and labels take a loss on the touring side of things, unless the band is more established and can command greater guarantees nightly to cover their on the road and start-up costs. Touring is especially expensive for overseas artists because on top of the flights there are also immigration work visas which must be obtained, equipment rental, transportation and crew costs on top of the usual day to day expenses.



How has the merger helped CM's standing in the metal community?

I believe the working relationships that we’ve built with labels like Nuclear Blast, Noise, InsideOut, Olympic, War Music, Black Sun, Regain, Mayhem, as well as the numerous labels we deal with on an only mail-order and direct sales basis has made Century Media a very well-known and respected label in the hard rock/heavy metal genre. We have proven that we are honest and up-front and are diehard fans of the genre and are willing to go to great lengths to develop the scene, these bands and to help make metal more readily available to the fans.



Any new signings that you'd like to plug or expect to make a big impact?

The last signing from the US office was Scar Culture from New York whose debut album, Inscribe, was released a few months ago. We believe in this young band and are encouraged by the finished album, which was shopped to us by Billy Milano (SOD), who produced it. The guys are down to earth and willing to work and have a good sense of professionalism about them and through continual touring and word of mouth we believe we will establish a nice foundation for the group to expand upon with their sophomore album. There are some other groups we are in serious discussions with, but nothing is finalized yet, as well as groups that we are watching based upon area buzzes, early demos or underground interest, yet we don’t feel the time is just right to pick them up.



Is getting a record deal just the beginning for a band or the final stop?

Honestly getting a record deal is only the beginning. Everything that comes before is just practice for what potentially lies ahead in the future.



What advice do you have for an unsigned artist?

Knowing the music business is important for bands so they have a good grasp and understanding about how agreements, recording, touring, publishing, marketing, accounting, etc works as it will only make it so much easier on the band and the label in the long run. So many bands do not understand how the business works and it is often times these misunderstandings, which lead to, wasted time and future frustrations down the road. It is also important for young bands to get as much live and promotional experience as possible early on as these are the same rudiments for the future and can and will only make you stronger and more prepared for what lies ahead.



What's the future for CM?

I would like to see us continue to develop talented artists and to expose them to a larger fan base and get bands to always sell more than what they are currently selling. To establish better relationships outside the metal genre so we can promote our artists not only via traditional mediums but also cross promote them via alternate avenues. We will never forsake the roots of our genre but we need to take care of all of the metal outlets as well as others to inform more people about these exciting and deserving bands and to the rich wealth of the underground so that it can be appreciated and recognized by more people and so that it will always continue to live. We would like to see some of our bands go on to major labels so they can have more financial backing and a greater possibility to realize their dreams as we recognize our limitations; plus I always thought it was cool growing up to see bands like Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth move on to a larger label – to me that is a key part of artist development. We want to continue to find new and exciting artists and to keep the hard rock, heavy metal and hardcore scenes alive with great music, and to continue to streamline our operations and make our company more efficient and even more effective. I would also like to continue seeing CM’s mail-order and direct sales divisions continue to grow and flourish with more titles available, faster turnaround time and an even larger customer base.

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