How does IAMT Music work?

Codex Recordings is sharing its 80th release this week. It's One Man Festival. Congratulations! Tell us a little about the release. Is the title a response to coronavirus-related self-isolation?
— Yes, it turned out to be a very unusual release. First of all, this is because I didn't initially conceive it as a track about quarantine-related self-isolation. But it eventually happened to be prophetic. As I was writing this track, recording those phrases about One Man Festival back in December, I imagined those parties that I'd go to when I was about 16 or 17. I would walk half the city just to get to a club, to some rave event. When my friends ditched me and I had to go by myself, I still went there and had a great time. And this is exactly what I wanted to underline – the idea of how cool this is to be able to just go at it and dissolve in music and have fun all by yourself no matter what. But life made this track prophetic. Starting March, when all clubs shut down, people started making festivals for themselves, watching DJs play online in front of the camera, while also being on tough self-isolation. So this is the new kind of One Man Festival. Now things got a bit relieved but we're seeing there's a new COVID-19 wave coming in. Still, I hope that we will soon be able to meet at festivals, at various venues as it is already happening across Eastern Europe. I hope that the market will soon recover and the track's main message will once again be that of the people enjoying their solo visits to clubs, having fun.
In 2020 you've already had a lot of releases, and almost all of them came out on IAMT Music labels, why did you decide to focus on the imprints you manage?
— Indeed, in 2020 I probably release more tracks than ever throughout my career. In late October, my album will also come out. First of all, this is due to the fact that today we have successful labels, which we have quite a few: Codex, IAMT, IAMT Red, and we also manage a great imprint Set About, owned by Bulgaria's techno icons Metodi Hristov and Gallya. Also, now we have an opportunity to schedule releases without having to wait for mercy from any other labels. I can easily plan my schedule – when I want this or that release to come out – and this is how I maintain the pace of one release per each four weeks or so, thus ensuring growth for my Spotify account. I love the dynamics. Besides, this is also due to the fact that people now can't actually attend any offline events but they never stopped listening to music. So it's great we're able to satisfy demand this way. Aside from schedule, it's very important that a really great team has formed at our labels and I'm always sure that whenever we publish a track at any of our labels, these guys will do a perfect job. We've got awesome promo, we're great at working out playlists, we've got dope YouTube channels so when a track comes out at our label, it will reach out to as many people as possible, which is a key objective for me, as I believe it is for most artists who would agree with me on this.
You talk a lot about your team… Could you introduce them to us? Who's responsible for what?
— It will be a great pleasure to do that. We now have five people on the team – six with me.
Starting from the top, you already know me but the second man at the label – and sometimes the first one – is my partner Yevgeny Grinevich aka Greenjack. He is like my antipode or something. Sometimes he's like the other side of me – negative or positive… We always argue, pretty much about any topic, you name it. It often happens that when I come with some idea I struggle to prove my point to him and find arguments to convince the guy to approve it – and vice versa. Yevgeny also sometimes offers something he finds promising but I say I don't like it and so eventually we spend lots of time arguing. But anyway, when we reach a common view on the idea, when our visions merge, this means the idea is really worthy and we need to implement it as soon as possible. I realize that this is seriously nerve-wracking sometimes and I can even snap… But still, when there's such a tandem working as one, despite having varying opinions, this benefits the business. Yevgeny is a real workaholic. I don't even imagine how things would go without him. So yeah, this is great to have such a partner who can always spot me and also argue with me on some of my decisions, which is also really important.
Then we have Anton on our team. People know him, as Antai He's also an indispensable member of our squad. When we posted a vacancy a year ago, he applied. By then he'd already had rich experience as a chief exec at a major radio network in Ukraine so we got interested in his application. Having started working with us, he showed us we weren't wrong in our choice. He's the one holding the business on his shoulders. He has a colossal experience in this mechanical work and I admire his diligence, meticulousness, and ability to focus. He now consults all new staffers. To me, he is a really valuable team member. Besides, I can see that he finds working with us exciting and I'm really glad that a year ago he responded to our ad. I believe we wouldn't get here today if it weren't for his direct contribution. Now there's Natalie. She does SMM. We hired her early this year when Antai was no longer able to keep up with SMM tasks as the number of our labels was constantly growing.
To me, Natalie is a guarantor of reliability. She always delivers on her obligations. She's really attentive to details, she can always propose something new. I'm absolutely positive that this team member will always complete the task set before her. I also have her work on my profiles across social networks. I find it great she's now working with us as I'm aware she was engaged in other projects. This was the case where we didn't search for anyone, I just came directly to her and asked her to work with us. I see that she likes her job with us, too. It's important for me to be sure that all employees enjoy being part of our team. When we hired Natalie, we had about 10 releases per month. Now it's 20 or even more. So I believe it would be really difficult to find another Natalie to help ours out. A really valuable asset, indeed, and it's great she's with us.
Olly is a freshman on the team. She joined us just recently. Unlike other team members – Antai and Natasha – Olly lives nearby, also in Barcelona. She reached out to us via email and said she would be interested in working with us. At first, we thought we'd already had enough people on the team but then we reconsidered and decided that it would be great to relieve Antai of part of the tasks and give the new girl a chance. Now I see it was a wise move. Olly joined the team really smoothly. She is a nice and outgoing person. She's always ready to come help other people, explore opportunities, even those that at first glance seem risky. Sometimes I even get embarrassed a bit about some of such ideas. Unfortunately, there's no textbook on how to run a music label. Some of our decisions we have to try out in practice for the first time, and Olly is precisely the person who's ready to help give it a try and bring to life all those unusual, non-standard moves and experiments. I have a true moral bond with this person and I'm sincerely grateful to her for all that she's been doing for us. See, Greenjack could criticize some idea, and then I could discuss it with Olly and find peace and support on her part. I enjoy the fact that she's always up for believing in new ideas, while also being able to provide her recommendation. Olly is a young girl and I believe this benefits us because she has a different perspective on many things on the market, on its cultural side. She often gives me valuable advice on how things should be done, and why. This definitely helps us all. So I'm glad we actually gave it a try when we read Olly's letter to us. I think Olly has a lot of new achievements ahead of her but I can already thank fate for having us make that step back then so that we could now work together.
Of course, we also have Alevtina (Alina). This is the freshest team member. She is a very experienced DJ. I've known her for a while. She's also from Ukraine, just like most people on our team. We initially decided to involve her as an adviser on out tech-house and house labels, of which I will tell you a bit later. I like that Alina is so experienced in her field, I like her perception of things in terms of work, I like her attitude. I remember when we had our first call, I liked the questions she put forward as we were discussing our label's work. I could feel right away that this person understand how market works, sees the causal relationships working in the industry of dance music labels. I hope she will hang on to us. See, we have a really gender-balanced team: three guys and three girls.
How many labels do you currently manage and are there any differences between them?
— I'm glad to tell you about my labels and how this kitchen is working. At the moment, we manage eight labels. The first one is IAMT, of course, and this why the business is called IAMT Music. This label has been out there for a while. It's already over 10 years old but it's only been nearly 1.5 years since we started managing our labels in their current format. There's also Codex, our flagship label. Last summer – it's been a year already – we opened an imprint Area Verde that releases progressive and melodic house, progressive and melodic techno. Its format is chiller, you know. We initially decided to launch it out of diversification considerations. We didn't want to stick to any particular genre. Besides, this is also the music all our team members like. It shouldn't be forgotten that many of us are DJs so we all love and also play electronic music. I love what we release on Area Verde. I would often listen to these melodic tracks over and over while flying somewhere. This is quality music. So the imprint is already a year old and it has already earned some loyal fans. I'm really glad seeing what we release there. We have already returned our investment and started earning off of it. So it has grown to a level where it can bring nice profit. Soon, probably in November, after we launched Area Verde, Codex and IAMT in its current rhythm, I got a message from a friend of mine who is one of the top techno artists in Bulgaria – Metodi Hristov. He asked me if I could recommend a decent label manager, maybe someone who runs our imprint, because he was also searching for a manager for his new label Set About. So I told him that it's we, ourselves, who run our labels. And I offered him to have a phone conversation in the follow-up of our text exchange. I said we could actually be the ones to manage and run his Set About label. We eventually came to an agreement and I'm glad we did. That's because Set About is a really cool label. We're very proud to be cooperating with this imprint. These artists that have their music released there, their tracks, their unique sound are all a great addition to the ranks of our labels. Now the imprint owned by Metodi Hristov and Gallya is gaining nice momentum, and almost every release there makes it to TOP 100, and more and more great artists start cooperating with it. I really enjoy the results of our joint work and I hope our fruitful cooperation with these guys will prevail. Then we decided to diversify the portfolio of our labels and launch another one that would be a tech-house imprint. So, having changed several strategies of attracting artists, we decided to start cooperating with Alevtina on the our Tech House label RIM. Now we're also opening a new label Holy. It will be more oriented toward house music and this way we plan to increase our catalog in tech-house and house formats. I've already told you of the six labels: Codex, IAMT, Area Verde, Set About, RIM, and Holy Now of course I have to tell you about our IAMT Red label. We opened IAMT Red to separate formats a bit when we understood that the main label IAMT is overfilled with incoming demos and the schedule is filled up until March 2021. We decided that it's time for us to open a sub label, IAMT Red, with a more melodic format, and redirect part of incoming tracks there. And now we see that this was a right move to make because artists themselves understood what this separation is about and for, so many are now sending their more melodic works to IAMT Red. And this is awesome because we are now able to actually release this music instead of losing in a massive flow some demos sent by brilliant artists. Many also ask, how come we have so many releases and how are we able to release so much music. The answer is very simple – that's because I actually sit and listen very carefully to all incoming demos. Moreover, I try really hard to respond to every letter, which is also a very important aspect because you've got to respect artists and appreciate their choice of the label by at least responding to them. We're grateful for choosing our labels as the promising ones for them. I've named seven labels but there's another one we plan to launch. It will be called Aorta. We will release completely different music there as another step toward further diversification of our portfolio. After it finally emerges, I will tell you about it in great detail in upcoming interviews. I believe it will be an interesting imprint for many artists because it's important for us to create rich infrastructure for promising artists and provide them an opportunity to jump on that trampoline, allowing them to deliver their music to wider audiences.
Could any label that's not yours engage with IAMT Music?
— Of course it's possible. And this is exactly how it happens with the Set About label. We do management as hired staff and, definitely, a lot of factors must be taken into account when you go for such cooperation. There are many things we look into when we make an offer toward such kind of collaboration. But you need to understand one thing: when an artist launches a label, or a promoter does, this is always a hard meticulous work. And you must be really focused and do everything on time. This used to be an issue with my labels. But I know lots of other artists also face the same kind of issue. They have their releases come out without a worked-out schedule, they make insufficient promo preparations… I understand while people launch labels. They do it to create new communication channels to reach out to their audiences. But when your communication channel is unstable, when it has flaws, this prevents you from building up a powerful brand. And in this case, we could be a great solution to address these issues. But if we talk about the terms of cooperation, they are not uniform. There's no template for everyone. We have to consider lots of circumstances when we approach the point of making a final offer to a potential partner. Of course, a lot depends on which artists have already had their tracks released on the label, how big is its catalog, who will do A&R, how long ahead is the schedule filled, how much time can the artist dedicate to the project, to communication, to engaging with us, do artists, promoters, label owners want full autonomy or more services we could offer, related to mechanical tasks… All this is about varying packages of services we can render. But whatever the package, we always try to do our job at our maximum capacity, with the same approach we have to our own labels. So, the answer is yes, it is possible, and we're always open to new offers and collaborations.
How many demos do you usually receive? Is it easy to get signed? How do you manage to fill so many imprints with releases?
— Yes, this is a good question. We get lots and lots of demos coming in. And I believe the secret to loading our labels so much is not because we set a bar too low for someone to get through to us – it's actually because we actually listen to every demo people send us. There are several parameters that will stop me from listening to a demo. That's if someone sends me a link to a demo without caring to actually write anything. I see it as disrespect to the one whom the letter is addressed to. Also, I won't open it if the link is not to Soundcloud but to WeTransfer or some other service. We have certain rules for sending us demos – they're posted on the Codex and IAMT Group's websites. Also, I always give this advice to artists, send personalized letters, don't copypaste them. If I read a letter that I see was written precisely to me, about you willing to have your stuff released on our label, I will definitely respond – even if I don't like the track. I'll let you know I've listened to it. It's very important for me to respond and say thank you to an artist. Another advice: if I told you I didn't like your demos but remain ready to hear more from you, don't hurl loads of other stuff at me right away. Send some in a month or two… If you keep sending stuff non-stop, like, "Listen to this one, too" or "Check this one out," I see it this way: You sent me two of your best tracks. I wasn't impressed. Then you start sending me all that other stuff you have in stock, which I assume are worse because you didn't initially choose to send them to me in the first place… I say, "No, I don't like this either." But you just don't stop. You send me more tracks that are even worse. On the other hand, if it's vice versa, if you say: "I didn't initially send you my best works," this means you don't really want to have your music released on my label if you send me second-grade stuff. So my advice is this: send me three to five demos, no more than that – because if our A&R manager listens to them so imagine how much they have to seep through. If our manager sees a letter with 10 demos attached, it will be a real tough job to check it out. Please, feel for our manager. Don't send us letters with different links where you have to jump from site to site to listen to them all. Put them all in a single playlist. Write us about the label. Tell us why you want to have your music released here. Tell us where you've already had your stuff released. Write, say, about the connection you have to the label, write something nice for God's sake. You have to understand that on the other end of the line there's a human being reading your letter. And if that person sees a non-personalized copy-pasted letter, they will have less will to focus on your work. Always keep this in mind. Always remember you've got to be nice to reach out to people. And please, read our demo policies. If you do it right, we will be glad to respond and – what's even better – to release your tracks on our imprints.
Download or streaming?
— I'd put it this way: the very question is losing its relevance these days. Streaming is biting more and more off the pie. A year ago when we started getting serious with the company, download was dominating our profits. For the past several months though, streaming has been on top positions, which is due to a number of factors. DJs don't buy music, while people keep listening to music. It was DJs who used to be top downloaders of music. Other people prefer streaming nowadays as it's more convenient and practical. In all parameters, it's a wiser choice than downloading files. Of course, download remains the domain for DJs, both professional and amateur, who download tracks to play them. At the same time, I understand that at the times of COVID, when most DJs are forced to stay idle, doing no gigs, download has no chance compared to streaming, And this is vividly reflected in our sales results and the recent moves by download monopoly Beatport. They are trying to introduce a new service – Beatport link – that would allow DJs to work directly with the record box and play music without having to buy and download it. So we all see the direction those businesses are moving. It will be interesting to observe these developments as they unfold. Definitely, if even Beatport is making efforts to shift its business toward streaming, the answer to your question is obvious: the future is streaming, only streaming.
COVID is causing serious harm to the global economy – has it affected the music industry and your company in particular?
— COVID has really done major harm to the music industry. Artists had their tours canceled and for many label owners who perform on stage touring was the major source of income and the main business activity. Certainly, COVID has devastated the global music market, the global touring market, and the club market, as well as the DJs' wallets. Our industry is perhaps among most affected ones, along with air travel. At the same time, unlike aviation that still gets some government support in critical situations, I don't know how our industry is going to recover. On the other hand, speaking about our company, IAMT, this business is undergoing a phase of rapid growth. And perhaps this is why we haven't really noticed the blow the pandemic delivered. Perhaps we noticed the effect in terms of download sites such as Beatport. But I will touch upon this issue a bit later. In the end, I think we did lose something as a result of Covid-19. We lost a couple of percentage points of our growth. But I'm definitely determined to regain positions once quarantine restrictions are lifted. The black stripe cannot last forever, right? So the market is eventually supposed to regain positions. I sincerely believe in this and will do my best to make sure the crisis doesn't affect our financial performance too much.
What would be your advice to those willing to launch their own label? Is it worth for novice artists to go for such an endeavor?
— Terrific question here. My advice to those willing to launch a label is this. Think of the name. Think of the artists you want released on your imprint. Think of the genre you prefer to stick to. And think of the ways to attract artists. The task – and I always talk about this when we meet with my team – is to see it as weights. Imagine weights with a huge brick on one side, saying No. Your task is to put on the other side as many arguments as needed to overweigh the No brick. And this is exactly what we've been working on all along. We always seek to establish new assets our company will own to have an artist say yes. So think about your assets, think about ways to attract artists. If you're able to set up some local parties, do that. Book artists and tell them you will have their tracks released on your label. If you're able to invest in a promo campaign, do that. Search for arguments to convince artists. Determine your style, determine your leaders, and act. Of course, I wouldn't recommend young artists who are yet to learn many things about the industry, to engage in this with the only aim to put their tracks somewhere. If it's solely about this, I strongly recommend you not launch an own label. This would be a stupid move. The only tracks you will release will be those of your own making as you won't have any connections to attract good artists to your label. It will eventually all boil down to you throwing your tracks out of the window. It would be easier to just create an account on DistroKid and release there. But once again, this is a path leading nowhere. You thereby deprive yourself of an opportunity to develop, you don't get an opportunity to improve your production upon hearing negative feedback from labels, you don't get to learn to be patient and wise, to learn to read demo sending rules, understand the music industry, get knowledge from label managers and other artists… So if you still have no experience, don't launch a label. Get your stuff released elsewhere. Accumulate contacts, knowledge, and work to build your reputation before opening your own label. And good luck with that.