Unspeakable Axe Records' Eric Musall: "Sometimes it takes getting dirty to find the good stuff"...

We look back at the past year from a different perspective this time as the independent label owner guides us through his highs and lows of 2013...

Hello Mr Musall, and welcome to Metal as Fuck! It’s good to welcome someone from the ‘other’ side of the music industry to our circle of friends! And so to business  - Have the past eleven months or so constituted a good or bad year for music overall? “I'd say good, but I always say that. I firmly believe that if your tastes are even a little diverse and you're willing to do the digging, there aren't a lot of bad years for music. Sometimes it takes getting dirty to find the good stuff though, and some genres and sub-genres will have bad years while others have good ones. Gotta go with the flow a little bit".

Sensible advice. So how’s that digging gone for you in 2013? What was the best album you heard this year? “Excluding anything I might have been involved with, I'd say Tribulation's The Formulas of Death or Cultes des Ghoules' Henbane. Both great efforts from bands pushing themselves out of established comfort zones”.

Popular records both!  And how about the worst? “I try not to listen to the entirety of anything I'd hate enough to call it out for sucking, and if I haven't heard the whole thing, I probably better not call it out anyway”.

Okey dokey, we’ll not push you!  You run a label, what do you think about this? Vinyl seems to have made a small comeback this year – do you think that progress will grow next year, or will the ‘vinyl renaissance’ still be limited to bands doing limited runs for collectors and die hard fans? “It might continue growing a little bit as everybody's favourite fetish object, but we're never going to see a true, full resurgence either.  It's a collector's format - a niche within a niche”.

Here’s another niche that seems to have gotten bigger  - Fan funded recording projects also exploded this year – what’s your view of them – Have you used the system, or would you consider doing so in the future? “I haven't used it.  Wouldn't rule it out, but for the label I'm trying to fund everything from my day job (what else are the damn things for?), and I take a dim view of labels that have to sell so many pre-orders or whatever to send something to press. That's a weird business model. As for the big labels putting vinyl reissues of classics on Kickstarter, all I can say is that it's ridiculous. Earache and the like have more change between their couch cushions than I have in my bank account and PayPal account combined. Grow a pair and just reissue it, or let someone else do it.  Now when it comes to bands using fan funding, I don't mind it, as long as it's handled responsibly; these are guys with (usually) very little money, and it's harder and harder to make any doing what they do; so why not ask the fans to help a little up front instead of just downloading for free on the back-end and not helping at all”?

That’s an interesting point in terms of ‘major’ label involvement in these things. Could you see fan funding expanding into other areas – providing tour support for bands, et cetera? “Possibly so. It might be a worthy use of fan-funding to get a band to come play in your crummy little town where no good bands ever play. But there's probably a good reason they never play there, so unless you're independently wealthy, I don't see this as viable. Now, just generally funding a tour that otherwise might not happen, with no specific destinations in mind..? Yeah, maybe so. Though I do still think that the bands and labels that can AFFORD to go out on a limb, generally should.  Occasionally you'll take a small loss, but if you're routinely taking big ones, then you either aren't good at music or aren't good at self-promotion - and either way, fan-funding wasn't going to save you anyway. (Maybe Kickstarter could be a trial balloon for musicians to find out no one wants to hear them”.

Haha yes! I suspect that may already be happening in some cases! Another way bands have found to augment their incomes is by offering ‘VIP Experiences’ – what do you think of those? “That's going on in a lot of industries. Collector's Editions of video games that you pre-order and get a Master Chief statuette, or whatever.They're starting to discuss special packages for fans at movie theatres - not really sure how they could make theatre popcorn any more expensive; maybe it's dusted with gold flake. Anyway, I'm OK with it up to a certain extent. It shouldn't be exploitative overpriced bullshit, but if they're getting their value worth, then fine. Fans do need to be protected from themselves a little bit; some of them are kids and teens with more money and enthusiasm than sense. They're called "fans" for a reason - don't take advantage of them”.

Right on! now we’ve heard which album you like the most from 2013 – who impressed you most in the live arena? “Didn't see any shows.  I'm a hermit. You'll find me with my headphones on if you come 'round my house. If money and time allow though, I'm going to make a couple exceptions in 2014”.

Ah, you’ve anticipated our next question - What awaits you musically in 2014? “Buying a ton of new music, and releasing a bunch as well. Besieged is working on a new album - hope I hear it before I die. If I can release it too, that's a bonus”.

And finally… Anything else you think might come in handy for our readers to know over the upcoming (and largely dreaded) holiday season? “On a suddenly-serious note, someone I knew from high school recently took his own life. He was married a little over a year, and he had kids. We're all getting older and a lot of us are getting sadder and angrier, which is probably what drew us to metal, oh so long ago. So I'll pervert one of metal's foundational texts here: Only death is real, but don't be in a hurry to get there. We have so much more left to do and time is short enough as it is. See your friends or family when you can, and enjoy being with them... and buy some good music”.

Sound advice again Eric – thanks for taking part!