Progress Productions is a Swedish label set up in 2004 by Torny Gottberg. Torny already had some label-experience as he worked before for the legendary Energy Rekords. We still know him from his involvement with bands such as Project-X, Cryo ao. Progress Productions is the home of EBM, Dark-Electro and Electro-Pop bands such as Agent Side Grinder, Cryo, Henric De La Cour, Spark!, Necro Facility, Dupont, Code 64, Kite, Wulfband, Sturm Café, System and many more.
(Stéphane Froidcoeur / Courtesy by Inferno Sound Diaries)
Q: Was there a kind of ‘philosophy’ when you set up your label and did it evolve over the years? How would you define your label activities today?
Torny: Progress Productions started in 2004, but already before that, I had ideas of starting something of my own as I was not really happy with the way that Energy Rekords where I worked was going. I have always been more interested in building something from the very beginning and to evolve with bands while Energy Rekords in the end I felt was more about licensing stuff for the Scandinavian market.
But April 20th, 2004 I finally took the step to form Progress Productions. I always loved the way labels like Cold Meat Industry and Ant-Zen were setup. That many bands together build sort of a family and that we grow together reaching small goals that we setup. To be honest it´s really the same way I work with the bands we have today. We never thought of ourselves as a label vs. band thing. It´s really a collaboration between label and bands. And the great thing is that so many bands have become friends over the years as we have no internal competition and that’s the way we really wanted it. The funny thing is that when I started Progress I did reach out the other labels we had in Sweden back then as the scene is so small and I had the idea that we all could maybe work together to make the scene a little bit bigger and everyone told me more or less ‘You will not have a chance, you will not last a year’ etc. Well, here we are 17 years later…
But the idea and philosophy behind the label is still exactly the same. Finding new interesting bands, working together and building slowly. I do believe in the ‘quality over quantity’ thinking. Something I think a lot of people should really think about. For me every release is of equal importance and it does not matter if it´s a newcomer no one knows about or one of our more established artists. If I have decided to work with something, it deserves my full attention, and that’s also a reason why we NEVER release more than one record at a time, so nothing drowns or disappear.
Of course, it means that we don’t have several hundred releases in our catalogue, but at least I know that every single one of the releases we have made have been given the time it deserves. So, in that way we have maybe not evolved since the start, but of course one has learned and adapted a lot since 2004, but we are 17 years in more active than ever I would say.
Q: I can imagine you must have specific and explicit criteria to sign an artist/band. Can you give us more details about this aspect and how important is it for you to know the person(s) hiding behind the ‘artist(s)’?
Torny: Well, for me it has always been really important that I like what I hear. It´s hard to explain, but there is something special I feel every time I find a new act that I want to work with. Something just clicks. After this I normally have a meeting with the band several times to get a feel for the persons behind it if it´s not someone I know since before. Just so we know where we both have each other and that we feel that we are both interested in working toward the same goal. Even though we intend to have a lot of fun together it is always mutual work to reach the goals that we set up together.
I think talent and attitude are of equal importance for me. There are several bands that I really like, but I have felt that it simply will not work out in the end and in those cases I would rather see that someone else can release it and I will support and buy it rather than to release it via Progress. Earlier I always asked the other already signed acts what they thought about something when I found something that I felt was interesting. I still do this from time to time. Of course, I will have the final word in what to do/not to do but it feels important that a new band also fits in well with the other acts and I really respect and value their opinion.
But I don’t really look to, and I really don’t give shit about how many followers a band has on Facebook or Instagram or something. This is something that we build together as we go along. Good music and great attitude gets you there… not followers on Instagram. Or at least it´s what I want to believe. That good music is the foundation for something.
Q: You are already active for numerous years now so you must have seen a lot of things changing and evolving; think about social media, streaming platforms, Youtube channels… but also economic crisis etc. What are the pros and cons of these changes/evolutions and in, which way did you had to adapt/change your strategy and activities?
Torny: Well I don’t know how many that knows this; but I also work a fulltime job within digital distribution in Sweden as a senior label manager/marketing besides Progress. I also founded Border Music’s digital distribution and at the moment we are building a brand-new independent platform for labels. So, I’m very aware of anything new that’s happening. Also, one should have in mind Spotify is a Swedish player, so I have more or less at least weekly contact with them on what’s going on etc. So, in this aspect we are of course very up-to-date on what is happening.
However, I think streaming is something that both has brought good and bad with it (like many other things) as I always have considered labels to be sort of a quality filter for music and nowadays anything can be added to these platforms and the listeners can more or less drown in material. It´s really a double-edged sword. On one hand I like it as anyone has the potential to reach people quickly and that you more or less, at least compete on similar terms. But like I said, on the other hand the scene has been overflooded with material which I think is not ready to be released yet. No quality filter, just straight out.
Of course, the whole marketing strategy has moved a lot as well. From in the early days; placing adverts in magazines (which we still do though) to doing more digital promotion. A big pro is of course that this is a cheaper and much, much, quicker way to reach people, but on the other hand it´s harder to get people’s attention nowadays than before as we are simply pumped with information. I think it´s in the movie “Seven” they say: ‘To get people’s attention nowadays you can’t just tap them on the shoulder, you need to hit them with a sledgehammer’ and in a way this is true. As record labels we also have a lot of new things that compete for consumer spending. People spend more money on other stuff than buying records. So, we as smaller independent labels are of course always struggling. But on the other hand, it´s also an interesting challenge for us. We can’t sit on our ass doing nothing we need to follow / learning / evolve with technology which I think is interesting and good.
But I still try to keep maybe not a whole foot but at least a few toes in the old-school promotional way of working, sending out physical promos etc. I think they key is ‘Don´t be afraid of changes, embrace them’. I mean look what happened with Napster. If the major labels would have understood it´s true potential directly instead of fighting them for years we would never have had any piracy. Thankfully Spotify and other services have more or less eliminated that scene. But I was never afraid of piracy and really never cared if people illegally shared files/music. You just needed to make sure that you released stuff that was WORTH buying. Not having 2-3 good songs and 10 fillers on an album. I know this might sound a little controversial, but the major labels really created this problem themselves and the independents as usual had to pay for their mistakes. And today an average person spends 110 Euro / year on a Spotify account and that’s far more money spent per person than the music scene has had for a long time. And I do believe that people that are still interestedin buying music will continue to do this. Physical sales will never disappear. I mean just look at all the vinyl selling on re-released material. Once again…. don’t be afraid…. Embrace!
Q: The ongoing pandemic has affected all artistic life and activities so what’s the true impact on your label activities and do you think it will also affect your long term objectives?
Torny: Well, a lot of things that were planned did not happen, that´s for sure. We were about to have loads of parties all over the world for our PROCD100-celebration. All of course, got cancelled. But who I really feel the most for during this pandemic are all the venues, tour personal etc. Thankfully Sweden has been pretty generous in supporting people/venues etc. with money and even though it´s not enough it´s still something but I can’t even understand how hard it must have been on them. And I really hope, to be honest that when venues are opening up, that people are not cheap asses asking for guestlists etc. A ticket is not so expensive so do support them when we all get there.
But for Progress I pretty quickly made the decision not to let Covid-19 have any effect on at least the release schedule. I think maybe now it’s more important than ever and that people need new music. Touring and the promotion will have to come later. So, no I don´t see it affecting us in the long run. We more tried our best to do something during these weird times. I created something called “One Hour With”… which is an hour where we invite fans/listeners from all over the world to join their favorite artist/band for an hour to hang out with them, ask questions etc. This has really been a huge success and people have really enjoyed it. But of course, all the bands are missing playing live a lot. But we really just need to hang in there, things will turn for the better and then we will all be back. But like I said what I really find somewhat devastating is record shops, venues, concert agencies, tour/crew personal etc. I really hope we all get the vaccine during the Summer so we can all meet and party in Autumn. However, this is still wishful thinking on my part, but I hope… I really do. Culture is important and we all need it.
Q: Do you think media (magazines, online platforms etc…) still have an impact and a role to play today? What’s your relationship with ‘journalists’ and how important is their work?
Torny:I still think this is really important. At least personally. We are operating on such a small scene so I think we as labels should be extremely grateful for ALL support that we can get. And 99% of people that work for smaller online zines/blogs etc. don’t get payed at all and most work is done on pure passion. This is something I highly respect and also a reason why I still do send physical records to quite a lot of people, at least it´s a small appreciation and something for their hard work. I’m sorry, but I can’t do it for everyone even if I wished I could so don’t feel bad if I sometimes just send you a download link. It´s very expensive for us to send stuff out. Funny enough it’s the postage costs which are the worst in this case.
With this said I don’t know what kind of impact it does have today as so many can listen on Spotify/YouTube or other streaming sites so easy, but for me (40+ year old dinosaur) I still read/check and discover things through these platforms. I try to treat all journalists fairly and nice as I know (I used to run a physical magazine myself) how much work it is behind it. Even though it´s online it´s still a shitload of work behind it. And like I said a BIG, BIGGER, BIGGEST even ENORMOUS hat off to all of you people keeping the scene alive with magazine, fanzines, blogs or podcasts etc. You are worth your weight in gold in my book. Keep up the excellent work and I promise I will try to do my part of delivering music your way.
Q: What do you consider as your biggest accomplishment(s)? Do you have specific goals/dreams you want to achieve and how do you prepare and see the future of the label(s)? And what are your biggest regret(s)?
Torny: Well, this will sound cliché like hell. But I do think every time we reach a small goal we set up and when we reach it it´s a big accomplishment. And honestly I’m always extremely humble every time someone gives me the chance to work with their art. I think this is way a record label should think. You should be grateful that people give you this chance. Even though it´s a lot of co-work they still have chosen YOU as a label to work with something they might have spent YEARS doing.
My biggest dream was however to build up a label that has a friendly attitude where we all respect each other within the label. And I could not have wished for better people to have with me on this journey. I really love all the people that are in the bands on the label. But we of course always aim to reach more people / new people and constantly develop together with the music market. But my objectives from start I think we have nailed and I’m really so grateful for this. In regard to the future of labels, I think we will see more labels like Progress in the future where you simply are not just a person that releases the music, but work with setting strategic goals/aims together with the artists. I’m not afraid of getting my hands dirty doing merchandise on festivals, being a stagehand, booking agency. The 1980/90s ‘label bosses’ I think/hope will go away and never come back.
Regrets….. hrrmmmm…. I don’t know. Maybe I could say it would have been smart doing Progress earlier in my life, but then again life is too short for regrets and you need to see the result that has come out of what/when you actually did something. It´s always better to look 1 day in the future rather than look back 1 day as we all learn as we go. If you stop feeling that you learn or loose your drive, then I see no purpose in doing this. As it´s for sure not the money that drives or motivates me running Progress Productions.
Last words: I really hope you all stay safe out there, and that we soon can catch up and enjoy together what we love the most: MUSIC. Meanwhile don’t forget to support the independent music scene. Buy something without pre-listening…. Take a chance… who knows….. it might be the BEST thing you have done. Or if you have a specific release you like…. Surprise a friend with a gift which lasts longer than a coffee or an expensive IPA….