March is Metal Month – Caroline Distribution’s Sarah Wefald Talks Metal Distro

Posted by on March 26, 2009

sarah2EMI Global Music Services and Caroline Distribution distributes, markets and promotes a number of independent record labels. Of them, seven are Metal labels, including Century Media, Nuclear Blast, Season of Mist, and Earache. BITPOM caught up with Sr. Coordinator of Customer Marketing and proud BITPOM member Sarah Wefald to talk about the concept of March is Metal Month and what goes into working for a distribution company.

Explain the day to day of what your job entails as a distribution company.

We work with our labels on everything — from digital & physical distribution, marketing, radio, synch & licensing, and merchandising, among other things. My area of expertise is marketing our labels’ titles to physical and digital retailers. As a company, we’ve been working with independent labels for 25 years and now we have the muscle of a major label behind us and our labels.

Explain the impetus behind “March is Metal Month.”

We have seven phenomenal metal labels, and we wanted to put something together that would help get them a little more attention. We also felt it was important to partner with stores in a way that was educational and not just commercial. We saw an opportunity to bring our metal labels together with our retail partners to do something that would benefit all of them.

What makes Caroline decide if they’re going to distribute a label?

Sid McCain, our VP of Label Acquisition, tells me it’s partly how successful the label has been and partly the label’s “ears” — in other words, faith in the label’s creative future, and making sure it makes business sense. We work with powerhouse labels as well as smaller, more boutique ones.

Do you just distribute labels, or would you work with one band, like ADA did with the completely non-metal but buzzworthy Clap Your Hands Say Yeah?

We have a few distribution deals with established artists and their labels, all of them thus far likewise completely non-metal. We’ve already worked with Ice Cube’s Laugh Now Cry Later last year, Bobby V’s The Rebirth in February, and we’ll be distributing records from Lady Sovereign, Fat Joe, and Twista in the coming weeks, all directly with their management. We’re also distributing a comedy record from Ron White.

With consumers buying less physical music and going more towards downloading, how does that affect your relationship with retailers?

It’s important to get creative, and marketing becomes even more necessary. A store’s buyer might love a record but being good is not enough. There’s co-op advertising as well, but you can’t just buy your way into a store and expect success. Without radio, publicity, touring, or other drivers, sales can be difficult. We work to create a better artist/fan relationship with the retailer, through in-store appearances, contests, giveaways, and anything else we can come up with.

The significant portion of the market that’s evaporated due to downloading is a bummer to say the least, and it doesn’t get much more fun when so many music industry commentators seem to love nothing more than sounding the death knell of the record store. However, metal is a genre that is still 80+% physical. You can’t un-ring a bell; there’s no way to stop P2P. But it seems like when people want to buy a metal record, they’re buying it at their favorite record store rather than digitally. Maybe it’s that metal fans are into the experience of artwork, packaging, and cool things like that. Maybe it’s that selling your soul to Satan really does pay off. Either way, yet another reason to love metal

Caroline Distribution distributes many labels. What makes its metal labels stand apart from the others?

We have a very diverse label family, from bigger to smaller, twee pop to black metal, and everywhere in between. Our metal labels are among our most prolific. Most of them have at least two releases every street date, and many more if they have reissues or limited edition LPs. Some of them also have pretty sweet artwork. I can’t think of an instance where we’ve had to sell an indie record in opaque plastic wrap, at least. Only seven of our labels are purely or predominately metal, and a few other labels have some pretty great metal bands even if that’s not the label’s focus.

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