December 15, 2016

Manic Kat Records – Interview

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I had the chance to chat with Pete James, CEO of Manic Kat Records, where we talked about the history of his indie label and what’s on the horizon for 2017.

Casual Punk Fan: Tell me a little about Manic Kat Records. What inspired you to start label?

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Manic Kat Records: The label actually started back in 2009. I was in a band that was touring and shopping around with some major labels. We had a couple big labels that approached us offering lousy 360 deals. In 2009, that was the peak of the 360 deal. It wasn’t really for us. We walked away to start our own label where we released our music from. A couple months later we picked up a couple of bands and thought we could make a good thing from it. After about a year and a half, I was swamped. I couldn’t handle everything on my own. I was handling everything from public relations, social media, recording, etc. You name it, I was doing it. It was a lot to juggle for one guy so I had to put it on hold.

I started the label up again in late 2014. The bands we signed back in 2009 were contemplating starting their own label or wondering if I was going to start this up again. We worked together and brought back Manic Kat Records. We’ve been going strong ever since.

What was the process getting started this time around?

We had no bands on our roster when we brought back the label. We were looking to start it from the ground up. It was a little different this time because it wasn’t just me handling everything. I learned a lot from the first time I tried back in 09 and I was able to put teams in place to help distribute the work load. I’ve covered a large majority of all of the ancillary parts of the label so I can focus on the overall business without spreading myself too thin.

That’s a lot of responsibility and commitment for one person. It’s good to see you have a solid team behind you.

I really do. Everyone shares the same ideologies about where we want the label to be. We want to grow this to the next level and help as many bands as we can. Their successful and their growth is mirrored back to ours. We pride ourselves on a very family oriented environment. We’re very involved with every band. That’s why we’re so picky with signing bands. At the end of the day we follow one golden rule: if we can’t like them as people, then it’s very difficult to have a business relationship with them.

Going off of the idea of record labels being family, what’s been the most rewarding part of running the label so far?

As of right now it’s seeing all the bands successes. The last 3 months have been the biggest wave of action for some of our bands. I don’t know if there’s a correlation with me going full time with the label 3 months ago or something else. However, I’ve been able to dedicate way more time and effort to the label than I used to be able to. Having a day gig is tough. Trying to balance both is a difficult thing. The last few months have been huge. Rival Town was featured in the Alternative Press December issue of “Bands You Need To Know,” and then Wired For Havoc is going to be featured in the same category soon. You know as well as I do that AP in our genre is pretty much the bible. Being featured in something like that is a huge thing. I helped make contact with the guys over there and they’re very supportive of the label and what we’re doing. It’s huge to have them on board.

Another huge thing that happened was here in New York. WSOU, one of the biggest college radios in the state, picked up Wired For Havoc on one of their segments called “Under The Stars.” It’s a show dedicated to pop-punk/emo/hardcore that we happen to fit into well. Wired For Havoc was also just added to Pandora. That’s huge too. Pandora is very picky about who they pick up so it’s a real success.

Listening to your catalog I found a lot of the artists have uptempo rhythms and a ton of energy. Do those characteristics go into the type of bands you’re looking to sign?

Honestly not really. There really is no formula. Other labels may have a formula like old Drive-Thru Records, but not us. I’ll listen to everything that comes through our doors. We have meetings where we sit down and listen to literally every demo that comes through. A lot of bands might think that people don’t listen to demos anymore, but we still do. Rival Town was signed by a demo submission and they’re one of our bigger artists. We sit down and dissect. Do we like it? What kind of genre is it? We try not to step on our own toes either. We’re not going to sign two bands that sound incredibly similar right away. We want to have a little bit of variety on the roster. We look for what we need and what we’re missing to fit with our overall roster and go from there. There’s exceptions of course where we reach out to bands who we think are exceptional too. Basically, bands can be signed in any type of way.

With 2017 coming up, what’s one big goal you hope to accomplish next year?

To continue growing. We’ve grown exponentially in the last few months and if we keep this pace we’ll be in very good shape. Off the top of my head I know we have tentative slating for 7 records to appear in 2017. If you’re a big label that’s nothing, but as far as indie labels go I think we’re doing pretty well. We have quite a few at the end of the first quarter, three second quarter, and then one later on. It’s great. We have 7 for now and it could potentially grow if we sign some new artists.

I think 7 albums is a great amount. It’s a good way to keep people engaged and on the lookout for more.

That’s the biggest thing right now too. We’re the new kids on the block trying to fight for market share and any kind of attention we can get. We’re keeping ourselves relevant. The best way to do that is to keep releasing music that we love and we think everyone will enjoy. One thing we’ve noticed is the turnaround from the 2007-2009 pop-punk sound that was huge at that time making a comeback. Bands like Four Year Strong and early A Day To Remember are coming full circle. That’s what we love and 2016 has been kind to us in that regard. If that trend continues then it’s our time to shine. It’s right up our alley.

It’s great to see people doing what they love in the music business. What advice would you give to someone who’s on the fence about starting a label of their own?

Definitely have the time to devote to it. That’s the one thing that will make or break you. Because if you can’t dedicate the time that it needs then it’s just a hobby. To make it successful you have to dedicate the time. You have to love what you do and be able to afford the sleepless nights and blood, sweat, and tears that come along with it. You don’t have to have a ton of money. People think that’s the end-all, be-all deal breaker involved with starting a label. You can be an independent label and be able to swing it. The biggest thing is still having the time and energy to devote to it.

Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call someone you don’t know. You’d be surprised at how many people don’t do that anymore. Some people hide behind their computers and think sending an email is good enough. That doesn’t usually work. I’m a media kind of guy. I’m used to picking up the phone and making those calls. That’s one thing I took from my day job. They don’t know me, but they’re gonna hear about me! That’s the way to make connections and break through. The industry is what it is and if you’re the new guy then most people can’t be bothered. Be patient with it. It’s like the new baby fighting for attention. What sets you apart from everyone else? What can you offer us that other labels can’t? Just stay competitive.

Thanks so much Pete. Looking forward to seeing what Manic Kat Records does in 2017!

Written by: Patrick Marion

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