Witch Hunter is a Nottingham-based label who, in their own words, are a “small independent label concentrating on limited runs of good looking releases, with an emphasis on d.i.y values and pay what you want downloads, catering to fans of hardcore, sludge, doom, stoner, punk and alternative music.”
Label head Chris Kaye used to book shows and play bands in Nottingham before giving that up to focus more on family life and have kids. After about five years away from the scene, he decided to start Witch Hunter as a way of giving something back. He was good enough to take the time to do an email interview with us to get us started this week.
Iron Hops: So let’s start here by doing just some general background on the label. It looks like you all have only been around for about a year, as least as an online presence. What made you decide to start Witch Hunter Records?
Chris Kaye: The label started in early 2010, and has been building up slowly under the radar, from 3 or 4 releases each year, to a whopping 12 last year. I was at a loose end, as we’d just had our first baby, so I had lots of free time in the evening stuck in the house.
IH: Was there a need you saw that you felt you could fill? Was it a particular band or regional scene that you felt needed more exposure?
CK: No grand plan, to be honest. I’d eased off from playing in bands and putting gigs on since 2006, but still enjoyed being involved in the scene, even as a fan of bands, going to gigs, buying record etc. This was my putting something back in again, with no focus on any band or genre, just what I was into.
IH: It seems like you’re primarily a Bandcamp label, but you do offer limited run physical copies of your releases.
CK: Physical product is always the main focus, the Bandcamp side of things and downloads are a bonus to get the band’s music out there and heard.
IH: What are some of the challenges you faced when trying to get the label off the ground? And how difficult have you found it to move physical product in this musical climate where the mp3 is the preferred format for most people who buy music?
CK: Trying to get noticed was the initial challenge, but luckily some good friends in various bands were up for being involved, so it all came from there. Keep them limited, good looking packages with a strong DIY aesthetic and they usually sell out. People will hopefully be into something if they can see the effort that as gone into the making of a release, and want to be a part of it.
IH: Do you have any sense of what the ratio is between your physical sales and downloads?
CK: Most releases are limited to 100 to 150 copies, it just depends on the package and what the band is into. 400-500 free downloads seems average, although some of the more popular releases (Iron Witch and Tree Of Sores) have gone into 4 figures. I always give out Bandcamp download links to the blogs, so even though they’re giving it away, it still brings traffic back to the label, and then hopefully someone will dig what we do, check out other bands, maybe pick something up from the store
IH: What kind of effect (if any) does a Bandcamp label like Grindcore Karaoke that gives away all of their releases for free have on the way you run the Bandcamp aspect of your label? It seems like all of your digital releases are name your price, and my guess would be that most people take that to mean they’re free. Is that a fair guess? What made you decide not to charge a specific price for digital releases?
CK: My attitude is, if you’re gonna download it, then I’d rather you did it directly from me, then maybe you’ll get involved with other releases and bands. I’d say about 5% of the people who download put something in the tip jar. Although the new feature that Bandcamp have launched where you can show your collections, share links and interact with other users has certainly given it a shot in the arm. Saying that, even though, it’s available for free, some people still buy it through iTunes or Amazon
IH: I read all the time about metal bands who can’t eke out a living from record sales or even touring and have to keep day jobs when they’re not on the road. Is it the same for labels?
CK: There’s not enough money in it to go full-time, all it takes is one expensive flop and you’re screwed. At the end of the day, it’s a hobby, that runs at a loss, and comes out of my meagre spending money. And that’s on top of having a full-time job, wife and kids.
IH: Is it possible for a small label like Witch Hunter to run at a profit, or is what you do more a labor of love than anything else?
CK: I’m not willing to risk the money/time/effort it would take to run at a profit, as my family come first, this is my bit on the side. It’s totally a labour of love, I know it’s a cliche, but I spend money on it because I love it, get to hear awesome bands and meet great people.
IH: We’re also a site dedicated to craft beer, so I feel like I need to ask one beer question. I know very little about British beer in general (New Castle, Bass, Boddingtons, and that’s about it). Do you have a good craft beer scene? What are some of the beers that fuel Witch Hunter Records?
CK: There’s a lot of great local breweries around here, and the highlight of the year is the Nottingham CAMRA (Campaign For Real Ale) Beer Festival, it’s like being a kid in a sweet shop, with so much on offer. My favourite breweries would be Nottingham’s own Castle Rock, I think Harvest Pale will always be my drink of choice. Grafton Hotel in Worksop was another great find, their Bananalicious beer was something different! I’ll always have a soft spot for Brains as I’m from Wales.
IH: Last question: what can we expect from Witch Hunter in 2013?
CK: More great music, more releases, more merch, and try not to lose as much money. Maybe try and release more vinyl with other labels, as it’s not something I can afford to do on my own