May 28, 2024

Labels Interviews: File 4: Stefan Herwig / Dependent Records: ‘Some Labels Are In The Process Of Watering Down The Scenes’ Identity Instead Of Strengthening It’

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Stefan Herwig once started Kugelblitz Records and moved on with Off Beat. He set up Dependent Records in 1998. The label got an instant success thanks to famous bands like  VNV Nation, Covenant, Mesh, Velvet, Acid Christ And Suicide Commando. Dependent became a great home for intelligent Electronic artists. Other ‘big’ names like Pride And Fall, Seabound, Mind.In.A.Box, Rotersand, Click Click, Front Line Assembly, Decoded Feedback, Fïx8:Sëd8 ao joined in.

(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?

Stefan: Yes, absolutely, there was a ‘label philosophy’ and it did evolve over the years quite a bit, it did actually evolve 3 times and it continues to evolve right now. When we founded Dependent we only had the plan to sign with 5 artists (hence the hand as a logo, originally) and work very intensively with those artists. We signed the artists for short-term deals, brought some of them to quite a big status and then found out that they used the first option to hop out of deals and sign with Major label companies for bigger advances. That was disappointing. Also, some artists developed a real problematic persona, when they became successful, and we struggled to deal with that as well.

So, as hard as it sounds: we had to ‘ditch’ the idealistic approach. On top of that came the industry crisis in the early 2000s, which made life as a record label very difficult. Well, to put it short: we learned a lot since then.

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)’?

Stefan: Well, we are always looking for good vocals and a decisive artistic vision at first. The project has got to ‘make sense’ to us, not only the music, but everything. Sometimes we receive good demos, but they are all over the board stylistically, and then we will struggle to market this kind of stuff properly. But then again: GOOD VOCALS are one of our prime conditions. And yes, the dealings with the artists have to be smooth. If you dislike artists from the get-go, it will end up being a difficult collaboration, so if artists appear ‘difficult’ during the first talks, we will think twice.

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?

Stefan: Well, all the promotion strategies, the timings, the ideas behind it, the distribution channels, etc… have changed -drastically. The music industry from 20, from 10 or even from just 5 years ago has little in common with what we do now. Be available on very channel, digital and physical. The one thing that has not changed is that we are being committed to great artists and releases in the long run.

Dependent has an own fanbase from people that have recognized this, this makes us very proud. But we also stick to physical release, vinyls and special editions. It is a better form to release music.

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?

Stefan: Well, people stay more at home, so they also listen to more music. They buy a better stereo, buy albums on vinyl, etc. Also the shortfall of festivals means that some people have more money in their budget to spend on recorded music. It is kind of ironic, but the shortfall of concerts gives the labels and the recording artists a little boost. Obviously for everybody who is in the live performance and booking business, this situation is entirely catastrophic, and I sincerely hope that it will evolve soon.

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?

Stefan: Well, it’s been a tough place for music magazines, especially printed ones for years now, and we have seen many big print magazines go under, that is no secret. I do have a soft spot for good journalism & good reviews that bring good music recommendations to the people. But I see that for instance streaming recommendation algorithms have become so good, that the air gets even thinner for music magazines. I hope the magazines and print people will evolve and survive. One step would be to curate own playlists on Spotify, to keep the magazine identity and recommendation function alive. But also better reviews would be helpful; some reviews are being too optimistic and not critical enough.

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)?

Stefan: Well, we have had our fair share of chart successes, and this is nice (and keeps us afloat, obviously), but the real accomplishment is to ‘develop’ artists to enable them to have a successful career and have a good input on the music scene, instead of watering it down. I think some labels are in the process of watering down the scenes’ identity instead of strengthening it. Artist development is STILL the goal, after all, we still love Electronic music. The moment from when you get a REALLY good demo is almost like the moment you fall in love with someone: your hair starts to stand up, the heartbeat is rising, you have this big smile on your face. It is amazing that music can do this to us still.

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Inferno Sound Diaries
I have been working for over 30 years with Side-line as the main reviewer. My taste is eclectic, uncoventional and I prefer to look for the pearls, even if the bands are completely unknown, thus staying loyal to the Side-Line philosophy of nurturing new talents.

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