As our Label Talk series continues to be one of our most intriguing features, we wanted to do our next edition with RJ Crowder-Schaefer of MIghtier Than Sword Records. Mightier Than Sword may be best known for their blink-182 vinyl represses, but 2011 will see them emerge as one of the favorite indie labels in this scene. RJ and I discussed the past year for MTS, managing bands, blink-182’s next vinyl repress, and the music industry, among many other things. Read up and enjoy, RJ has a lot of great things to say!
It’s been a good year for Mightier Than Sword Records with a few new signings, some great releases, and vinyl pressings. How would you describe the last year?
Hands down, 2010 was the craziest year for Mightier Than Sword in the five years I’ve been running the label. Not only did we announce the release of our first blink-182 vinyl re-issue at the end of 2009, which carried us into 2010, but we went from releasing four to six records a year to releasing over ten records in 2010. Looking back, I think its fair to say that 2010 was the defining year for the label and has set us up for an extremely successful 2011.
Last year I learned so much about running a small business, and what it takes to stay on top of things; focusing on business goals and the big picture, while managing your time so you can take care of the necessary day-to-day workload. 2010, for me, was full of sleepless nights and countless to-do lists, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. 2011 will be even better.
What’s your regular day like at the label? It is it more kind of managing how your roster is doing as a whole and prepping releases, or is there a lot more to it that most people wouldn’t think of?
My regular day at the label is largely focused on managing current releases, making sure publicity campaigns are running smoothly, along with prepping and planning for our upcoming releases. Besides coordinating all physical production with various pressing plants, I also handle digital and physical distribution, keeping our online presence up to date (website, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), and fulfilling webstore orders, which can be an extremely time consuming obligation to keep up with. On the management side of things, I spend a lot of time talking directly with bands on the label, making sure things are running smoothly for them as well as sending updates regarding different aspects of their releases, press campaigns, etc.
There are also the mundane tasks like accounting, inventory, organizing and cleaning, but I’ve learned that like most things, the more you stay organized and caught up with these
RJ, you manage bands that are not signed on the label as well. How did that get started and do your priorities ever get hard to manage with both different jobs?
I got started with the management side of Mightier Than Sword with Such Gold. I released their first EP, “Stand Tall”, in late 2009. As for their 2nd EP, “Pedestals”, they wanted to work with a different label to get as much exposure as possible. I really loved working with the guys on the label, and offered to manage them, which has been one of the best decisions of my life. As a manager, having a record label as well has been a great experience. You know how labels think, and what they prefer. Management work has allowed me to better understand the artist’s mentality and what they want and need from a record label.
It has gotten a little tricky managing priorities, not necessarily between the management company or record label, but all of it combined. There are times when there just aren’t enough hours in a day to get things done, which can be both stressful and frustrating. I recently picked up Kingston, NY-based Nightmares For A Week and Point Pleasant, NJ-based Like The Stars. I’m also talking to a couple other managers about joining forces and launching a new company. Hopefully we’ll be able to announce that in the coming months.
Can you discuss the two sides to Mightier Than Sword? On one hand you do have multiple signed bands, but on the other it seems that you guys do an incredible amount of vinyl pressings, most notably blink-182 and The Ataris.
A lot of people think of Mightier Than Sword as a re-issue only label, which is totally understandable, presumably since the majority of them first heard of MTS because of the bigger vinyl re-issues, like blink-182 “Enema Of The State”. However, our first release back in 2006 was from a band called Prevail Within, from my hometown in Texas. I really like where MTS is at right now because it allows me to work on releases that have been incredibly influential in my life, and at the same time I get to work with newer bands to release new music to the world.
At this point, the bigger vinyl re-issues provide enough financial backing for us to work with smaller bands and help develop them. There is always financial risk in releasing a record, and the bigger vinyl re-issues help cover those risks.
Touching on the vinyl pressings briefly, how did you acquire the rights to press some of the larger releases like blink-182, The Ataris, and The Juliana Theory? Besides shipping delays, would you say they were all successes?
Most of the vinyl re-issues happened by sending e-mails and getting lucky. There really isn’t a good story around most of them. I think the blink-182 re-issues provided MTS with the credit needed to be able to reach out to bigger labels and bands and be taken seriously. What’s been great about working on most of the re-issues is that I’ve been able to get to know the bands themselves, which is something that I never thought I would be able to say. It always blows my mind that I’m working directly with bands that I’ve loved since middle school; that thought always gets me pumped and keeps me going.
All of our vinyl re-issues have been successful. Even if a re-issue doesn’t sell as fast as a blink-182 re-issue, the fact that I’ve been able to be a part of each release is success in itself for me. Shipping delays happen, especially when you only have a couple people assembling, packing, posting and shipping orders out, on top of staying on top of everything else going on with the company. Despite the delays, 99% of our supporters are happy with how each and every vinyl re-issue comes out, and that’s the most important part. I do my best to avoid any delays because I know they are extremely frustrating, but at the same time, a three-week shipping delay is nothing compared to the years a record will be enjoyed in someone’s collection.
Giants like Warner Brothers can, essentially, manage lower sales for their bands and artists because those names are more likely to sell out larger arenas like MSG or Staples Center in LA. How do you, as a smaller label, handle the same issue of decreased music sales?
To be honest, the decrease in music sales hasn’t affected the label at all. I feel that we put so much care and work into our releases with regards to the packaging and sound quality, that most people view them as collector’s items. Also, the vinyl re-issues are records that were released years back, so people are buying them solely to own the record as a physical, limited edition package. For our smaller bands, I believe that there is such a strong music scene that has developed over the past couple years, especially within the punk/hardcore genres, that people are more interested in supporting bands that they love and believe in, even if it means buying a CD that they’ve already downloaded illegally.
We definitely aren’t a collector’s only label, but I believe that people appreciate the hard work that goes into a well packaged LP or CD and want to support small companies that are still paying attention to that aspect of music. When I was growing up, the 90’s west coast punk scene had a huge influence on me, with Fat Wreck Chords being one of the main reasons I wanted to start my own record label. I would buy every single one of their releases, sometimes without even listening to the band first because I trusted their judgment and knew I would love everything they released. I hope to some day achieve the same with Mightier Than Sword and do my part to help keep the music scene alive and influence people to start their own band, label, management company, whatever.
As I mentioned earlier, the label obviously does a fair share of vinyl pressings. How do you feel about the increasing digital age compared to your feelings about CDs and records? Do you think it’s just “in” to collect vinyl in the present, or do you see the resurgence in vinyl as something that will hopefully be here to stay?
I think there will always be a strong vinyl following, despite what a lot of other people think. Vinyl will obviously go through its ups and down in popularity, and right now it’s insanely popular, but I don’t think it will ever disappear completely. With vinyl, there is such an amazing physical aspect of music that CDs and tapes just don’t provide, especially with more and more labels releasing beautifully packaged vinyl re-issues.
As a label, Mightier Than Sword is starting to move away from CDs, but there are still plenty of people out there that want to buy CDs, so we’re still making them in small quantities. As things continue to change though, I definitely see us moving more towards vinyl and digital-only releases while moving away from CDs.
Mightier Than Sword recently welcomed both Latin For Truth and Last Call to the label. What do you see in these two bands and their futures with the label?
Both of these bands are young, and they’re working their asses off to keep their music going and getting in front of as many people as possible, which is by no means easy at the DIY level.
Latin for Truth has been around for a while, and all of their releases are dynamic and different from each other. A few people are put off by this, but I love how they keep changing things up. The full-length they’re working on now is really different than their last EP that MTS released, “Diatribe Or Die!” and I think it will be well received. The guys definitely have a vision, and it’s exciting to see how they continue to evolve and change as the band grows up and moves forward. They’re so young that they have plenty of time to try new things and keep progressing.
Last Call are the same way: young and full of talent. We re-issued their first EP “12:57” digitally a couple months back, and people are stoked about it. I’ve heard a handful of demos that they’re working on for their new EP, and everything sounds so good. I’m so excited to see these guys hit the road full-time and to get their new music out there. I know everyone is going to be impressed!
With the industry struggling the way that it is, how do you make decisions about who to bring into your family and how to market them?
So far the decision to work with a band depends upon whether or not I love the music, and how the band members are as people. When I was running MTS as a hobby, it was easier for me to only do a couple releases a year for smaller band’s, lose money here, make some of it back there, and be completely content. But running the company as a full-time job, with larger business obligations, rent to pay, royalties to pay out to bands, and increased competition within the music industry, I’ve had to be realistic with myself on what bands and releases I can and should take on. It’s been a frustrating fact to swallow, but there comes a point between hobby and job where you have to be financially realistic with yourself and turn some bands down, even if they’re some of your best friends. If I want to keep running the label full-time, this is just the way it has to be.
As for marketing, besides the standard social networking outlets, I think it’s important for bands to find other bands within their scene to link up with, tour together often and help spread the word about each other. The cheapest and strongest form of promotion and marketing is word of mouth, and if a band you like is talking up a band you haven’t heard of, you are definitely going to check them out. Finding a band, or a couple bands, that are close to your level and reflect similar goals, and then working together is the best way to get as much exposure as possible.
It was announced not too long ago that Transit (Rise Records, Run For Cover Records) would be releasing Something Left Behind on the label. How did that come together and is it every tricky coordinating releases with bands that are on other labels?
I met the Transit guys through them touring fairly regularly with Such Gold, and have been a big fan of their music since the beginning. They randomly e-mailed me one night about releasing their acoustic EP that they were planning before they moved to Rise Records, and I was so incredibly honored to have the opportunity to work with them. They sent me a couple rough tracks that they had already recorded and I instantly likened them to what The Starting Line did with their “Make Yourself At Home EP”, which I loved while growing up.
It’s been great working with the guys, and it has been one of the smoothest projects I’ve had the pleasure of working on. I wish them all the best with their new signing, and know they will be doing incredible things.
Mightier Than Sword will also be jointly releasing Such Gold and Into It. Over It’s split in the early New Year. Do you see this as being a big kick off to 2011?
Definitely. I’m obviously extremely fond of Such Gold, and Evan from Into It. Over It. is one of the main dudes that is constantly inspiring me to keep doing what I’m doing. The new songs from both bands are incredible and I can’t wait for everyone to hear them.
I’m also excited to be working with Chris and Chase over at No Sleep Records who we will be co-releasing the EP with. They are such solid people, and No Sleep is up there as one of my favorite record labels. I think it is more crucial now more than ever for bands and record labels to work together to build and strengthen the music industry, and that mindset is the exact reason this split/co-release is happening.
What else can we expect from the label in 2011? A Take Off Your Pants And Jacket pressing has been rumored for months now, but what about signings? Will we see Mightier Than Sword expand more into a roster-based label next year?
I have a list of twenty plus releases that I’m working on this year. I’m not sure if they will all be out before 2011 is over, but I’m doing my best to make it happen. The end of 2010 saw around five releases come out between Mightier Than Sword and the other label I run, Academy Fight Song, which definitely taught me to space things out a better.
We are definitely doing a vinyl re-issue of blink-182’s “Take Off Your Pants And Jacket”. We’ve actually had the license for six months or so, I’m just trying to lock down three limited edition 7”s to include with the LP. If you remember the original CD release, there were three different versions, and each had two bonus tracks. To keep with the original release, we’ll be doing three different versions of the LP, each having a 7” with two bonus tracks on each one. I’ve been hesitant to give full details on the release, but the idea is to do a triple gatefold jacket with a die-cut slit to house the 7”. It will definitely be the best blink-182 re-issue we’ve done to date, and we’ll hopefully be announcing within the week or so.
2011 will see Mightier Than Sword develop into a more roster-based label, and you’ll definitely be seeing more co-releases with other labels. As I mentioned earlier, we will be expanding the management side of the company, and signing some newer bands that we’re really excited about.
Mightier Than Sword Records is emerging as a label on the rise alongside No Sleep, Run For Cover, and Top Shelf among a few others. Though half of the music scene would like to describe our present world as a disaster, how excited are you about the future of music?
I don’t think the world is a disaster at all. Music has not only been influential in developing, who I am as a person, and how I view the world, but it’s allowed me to meet the raddest people, most of which are my best friends. We won’t be slowing down, and I’m completely optimistic on the future of music as a business and as a lifestyle.
Thank you so much for your time, is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks to everyone who has supported the label or any of the bands we’ve worked with.
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