With Nicholas Petracca’s ‘The Rubi Brightness’ out this week on PHW Elements we caught up with label owners Freddie and Alex for the latest installment of Ask The Label Manager.
1. Thanks for joining us and giving us some insight into your life and daily label manager duties. So let’s start with the obvious, what label or labels do you manage and where are you based?
Hey Mitch! Thanks for the invite of course, we are always happy to share about ourselves, and who we are behind the labels that we run. So if we start of with the first question, and then go along, then we believe that the readers will have a good look about who we are, and why we are in to this.
At the moment we are running 2 different labels, with Progressive House Worldwide (in many mouths only as PHW). That label saw the daylight back in October 2012 and after that we have been handing out around 250 different releases over the years. Our 2nd division, PHW Elements came to life in April 2014 and with that label, we have been handing out about 115 releases until now, and hopefully way more to come as well.
Freddie is based in the southern parts of Sweden, Alex is based in Belgrade, Serbia. And Pil is based in Washington DC, USA, we could also say that we are worldwide. 😉
Also, for all these years working together, non of us ever met, but that’s about to change soon we all hope.
2. Where does the name from your label(s) comes from? Is there a story behind how it/they came to be?
Progressive House Worldwide is our name, and the idea from the beginning was to bring on a fine line of progressive music, coming from all over the world, to give new and known artist as well a platform to use if interested in that. To understand this concept you might have to dig deeper, to 2009 or so, when we actually wrote a lot about music on our blog. Through that, getting closer to the artist, giving them a way to be seen through out the community, we had the opportunity to start the label first. Our main goal was to find a home for artists we worked with, and help them reach more fans worldwide. So basically the labels started of as we where asked to do it by great producers worldwide, not because we had an idea at first to ever do it.
3. Does your label(s) have a distinct sound? How would describe the labels vision and sound?
I would say that both labels have that, as PHW is our label created to bring on a more uplifting and progressive touch, both blended with progressive house and trance focusing on melodies and drive.
Our second division came to life as both me (Freddie) and Alex, running the labels, made a bit of change in music taste, or not change, but more broaden our music taste, that’s been leaning more to the deeper & techier side of progressive. Then we felt, that to be able to not confuse our followers, we set up another one, to bring on the deeper side of the genre that we really enjoy as well. We do hope that this shines through to the people following what we do.
4. We would guess you probably receive a lot of demos, how many would say you receive in any given week and what percentage would you actually consider releasable and do you reply to every submission?
Demos is always something that is arriving, everyday there is something new in the mailbox to listen to and check if it fits the vision and sound that we seek for. It is of course changing all the time, but I would say that there is everything between 15 – 40 coming each week. I though need to be honest to say that some of them falls off the list even before listening to them. Not sure if this is the right way to tell it, because it always takes guts to send something over to someone else, and be judged, as that is what will happen no matter what. That’s the industry I guess. But I would say, that a lot of people sending demos, do it in a way that wouldn’t be the right one, at least not for us. Sometimes you get emails and you see them addressed to 35 different labels, I always ask myself, if that producer really wants to join our platform with his/hers/their music or just seek for a label to release on? I never got the answer from myself, that yes, they actually send to us at PHW/PHW Elements, because they really want to join our release schedule and family. I would never take the time to listen to something sent that way if they spend roughly 2 seconds to send an email to us, then I do the same back I guess.
5. How long is the wait from when you sign a project to when it will actually get released?
That I would say changes all the time, depending on how much material that is in the pipes, but I could certainly say that an EP often get a release a bit quicker, than one that you put on remixes on, for obvious reasons. I often find it a bit funny, as sometimes you get a demo sent, and you make a decision to release it, but you feel some other artist can give his own reinterpretation and vision on it. You tell the artist that we set up a release with some remix on as well. That needs to get the time to be made. You need who you think is the right artist/act for that track, and you also need to see what time frame that producer has. Some of the guys that you work with make a track in a day, some need 2 – 3 months, and that you need to have in mind as well when signing something. So I wouldn’t say that there is a certain amount of time before a release is out, it depends on so many things. Giving them an exact release date after you just signed something is not easy to do, but usually it doesn’t take more than 1-2 months.
6. Who would you say are your core label artists? And do you think it’s important for a label to build a roster around a few key artists and develop a distinct sound in the process.
We definitely have some producers that are with us more often than others, and that I think is something that comes with every label to be honest, it is a lot about chemistry between human beings, as well as bringing on the sound that you really enjoy and that you want to place on your label(s). But not sure if I feel it is important for a label, some say it definitely is, and some would say it isn’t. For us that has never been a real big issue, we are open minded people running the labels and PHW / PHW Elements should always be considered as a place where anyone is welcome known or unknown. If a track is good and fits our vision and style – that is the most important thing here.
7. What is your thought process behind remixer selection on a given project and how many is too many in your opinion?
Bringing on remixes is the most fun part of making releases I feel as your vision and decision is important for making the most out of the release. Sometimes you need the help from artist, as they might already have an idea or someone they know that would be interested. After we mutually agree that it’s a good choice for the release then why not go for it?
On the other hand sometimes you feel that given sound would suit someone so good and you sense there is room to build a specific atmosphere on the track. That choice can lift or give a totally different view/groove to the track and make it a possible chart breaker.
Knowing the actual vibe and sound of some artists can help a LOT when choosing the right guy for remixing and the thing is, listening to music on a daily basis can help you in that ’thinking’ process.
8. Do you sell merchandise and if so what do you sell, where is it available? and do you think it’s important to have merchandise?
Yes, we do sell merchandise. Most of them are available through Spreadshirt and DesignByHumans websites (should I leave links?). For the time being we only sell t-shirts, hoodies and stickers but we’re planning on expanding our store and start selling some CDs and posters if we work out all the ideas we have.
Having merchandise is really important in my opinion. Fans all around the world can get their piece of our ’cake’. Also I am assured that at some point it can increase traffic to our website/label and effectively can increase sales on our label. And fans are more likely to return to our page, to check it daily and that just builds loyalty between us and them. We love you <3
You can check out PHW merchandise: here
9. Where would you say the majority of your fans are based? And does that correlate to where the majority of your sales come from?
Looking up some statistics USA is dominating with more than 60%. Behind them are Russia, UK, Japan and other European countries. All those countries are somehow closely related with development of progressive house/trance we started listening and releasing and there are many examples in artists.
Sales wise – USA again has the majority of that. And the sales pattern is the same as the one mentioned above. I feel that people are more likely to buy actual music on internet there rather in some smaller countries in Europe (no offense to anyone, but for example in Serbia that buying ’culture’ is basically non existential).
10. What has been the most successful track or release on the label? Both from a sales perspective but also support or live / radio play form established Djs?
It is really hard to tell – there were many many many great tracks and releases that got massive support. The one it all started was now legendary Toby Hedges track ’Mirai’ that was like played in every big radio show there is. And the proudest and biggest moment for us happened this year. Back in April one of our releases titled ’Reminiscence’ by Ryo Nakamura reached #1 position on Beatport Progressive House charts. And that was, unreal. As I said then – man tears.
I have to say that from time to time Armin van Buuren likes to play and support live some of our PHW Elements releases and that is always so cool to see that he uses for his warm up sets on the big stages.
Considering overall sales for these 4 years in work the guy that tops every chart is definitely Alex H. Every track that we released from him is in front of every other release/single we had. His outstanding fanbase is the reason that this is happening I am sure of!
11. What artists would you love to have on the label?
Tough one. My choices might have been affected by recent gigs/festivals I visited but Guy J will always be our first choice here. He is the GOD of progressive house and everything he made recently was golden. His music will probably will be the way Elements sublabel wants to go in future. Beside him I’d love to see Pryda of course, Hernan Cattaneo, Jeremy Olander, Yotto, Lane 8; oh well the list is endless but these are the ones we’d love to have!
12. Where do you see the label in 5 years? And are you pleased with where the label is now since its inception?
Our goal in the next 5 years is to start organizing smaller label parties all around the world. We already have some plans and connections but it’s still ’young’. We want to start selling CDs and set up our own store with our own custom designed merchandise. Label will go toward self improvement and try to bring new faces and bring some great known artists as well. Who knows maybe Guy J appears somewhere in near future on PHW! 🙂
13. Living off the earning of a small digital imprint is unlikely, how do you supplement your income? Do you have a job outside of electronic music?
Living off that earning is basically impossible I have to say. The amount of money we get from sales at moment is enough to self sustain both labels, website and pay all the necessary things like track mastering, design services, pay upfront for some remixes/originals, anti piracy services, promo delivery etc. The thing many people are ’shocked’ about is that we never take money for ourselves (oh well Alex is a prick I buy some toys every quarter! :D) and all money goes toward PHW self improvement. It’s basically a hobby and we do it because we love music so much I guess.
Freddie is working as a teacher during weekdays and when he comes home he becomes one of the most annoying guys when it comes to labels (laugh). Jokes aside, Freddie is very dedicated in his work and carefully uses a lot of his spare time. 🙂 He though never fail to play his rounds of golf each week and watch Tottenham play football.
Alex is a transport engineer and he works during weekdays as well. Our time might be limited but we somehow manage to keep everything up and running.
14. Do you pay advances or remix fees? And is it reasonable to do so in your situation?
Yes we certainly do that! Since our budget is limited we have to carefully see who can we afford and who will give us the most exposure and reach on the scene. Also one of the other thoughts is – will they money ever be returned through sales? Most of the time that’s not the case, but if the artist is good and the release gets loads of support and exposure that’s not so important. And I think from time to time, it is great to splash some cash and bring someone new to the label and refresh it a bit. Though there sometimes is amounts ask that is ridiculous, it’s just to leave those guys alone because it isn’t worth it. You always have to value, what’s in it for us, and whats in it for the artist, that always needs to match if we are to do it.
15. Who is your distributor and have you been with them for the entire existence of the label?
From the very beginning we were under Proton SoundSystem management and distribution system. And we NEVER regretted doing so. People who run all that are one of the most professional guys I’ve ever met. I won’t mention what benefits (and there are a lot of them!) we get from them but who ever asks me about them I definitely recommend Proton. Without hesitation!
16. Are you or have you done label nights and if so how have they contributed to the label’s growth?
Unfortunately not yet. To be honest, label managers still haven’t met even 😀 But label nights are surely the next step in our project.
17. What’s your favourite thing about running a label?
Almost everything. Coming back home, relaxing from regular things you do, sitting back in your chair and forgetting everything around you and focusing on label work, sending emails, chatting with artists, sending tracks to mastering… And then when you start listening a good demo and get goosebumps – priceless.
18. What advice would you give to anyone trying to get a release on the label? How do you suggest they approach the demo submission process?
Do your best when making music and don’t be afraid to send it. Know your skills and don’t spam email inboxes too often. Many demos need time to be listened as there are many of them coming our way during the week. Also, NEVER EVER EVER send music other than the style we release. Like, the thing that gets me chills is when someone sends a big room pop cheesy track (no offence again to anyone). If you follow these ’rules’ you will probably get an answer. Send the track as good as possible, feel that it is your final version, see so the mixing is good, upload it on a private Soundcloud link, and send the link in for listening. Let us know something about you, it’s always a friendly way to think. If someone only send a private link, and nothing more, is it okay if we only send a yes or a no back? That’s a good question to think when sending something over.
And also, don’t get down if your track is not good enough or is not right for us at this moment. That should be more inspiration for you to improve your sound and reach us again. The sentence I always use: ”If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no.”
19. What if a demo is good but needs refining? Do you have time to help the artist and give them some tips?
This is the key thing if you want to make a perfect release. Fine tuning or even talking with artists what parts of the track we like less is important. I have to say that some artists don’t like changing whole parts of the track but that is sometimes needed. And doing this is the job of a true label manager, when you communicate with them and find ways to improve the existing track.
20. Who does the labels mastering? and do you ever have tracks mixed down by an engineer for better results?
All of our masters (both PHW/PHW Elements) are done by Argentinian engineer Matias Ricciardi. We have to tell that all masters are done on analog equipment and we’re very satisfied with them every time.
Yes, but that’s not done all the time to be honest. It takes more time than regular mastering and we do it only for tracks that need it.
21. This is tough but if you had to pick your five favourite releases or tracks on the label what would they be?
We love all releases! But with 5 minute thinking current top 5 would be like this:
PHW :: Zuubi – Come Home, Ryo Nakamura – Reminiscence, Alex H – Silver Lining, Eleve – Children of Venus, Inkfish – For Life (Blood Groove & Kikis Remix)
PHW Elements :: MdM – The Mirror / Sonic, Shai T & Nissim Gavriel – Imagination, Alfonso Muchacho – Pulse / Last Horizon, Loquai – Fog Lights, Vlada D’Shake – Nostalgic Memories
22. Lastly, what advice do you have for someone just starting a label?
If you want to start a label to earn money from it – don’t do it. Carefully plan everything and after that, learn from your mistakes because you will make them. Take advantage of it, and learn from it. Don’t rush. Make your release schedule for at least 3-5 releases in advance. Find someone who can make nice visual representation and design of your label name. Have in mind that there are many labels out there and you should not try to compete but rather release music you like and you think needs to be released. Be prepared to invest some amount of money in the beginning for masters / promo delivery / design. And lastly, enjoy it. Nothing matters if you’re not happy while doing it. 🙂
You can check out the PHW Elements Beatport catalog: here