French label Season of Mist started out as a student hobby for owner Michael Berberian, but became more than a hobby upon his graduation in 1999 with the signing of Norwegian black metal legends Mayhem. Since then, the label’s strengthened and diversified, signing the likes of Cynic, Kylesa, Atheist and Morbid Angel. Metal Insider caught up with Berberian to discuss the label’s signing philosophy, what it’s like to run a label from France, and his take on the state of metal labels in the record industry.
Season of Mist has gotten pretty aggressive in signing established bands, such as The Dillinger Escape Plan, Kylesa, and now Morbid Angel. Was it a conscious effort on your part to really start going after American bands?
It didn’t matter if they are American or not, we’re just looking at bigger bands. The way I see it is in this day and age, in this current market, the major labels have a life expectancy of 3 or 4 years and that’s it. As I can’t think of anything else to do with my life, at some point we decided to step up as a label and become bigger. At one time we were pretty established in France as a distributor, the same way Caroline is in the U.S. We do the same job basically. So that gave us some financial power to try to build the label to another step, and that’s what we did by trying to sign bigger bands. We might have overpaid a little for sure, on some bands we were really aggressive on, but we use them as locomotives to attract other bands. Like, if we hadn’t signed Dillinger Escape Plan, we probably wouldn’t have signed Kylesa afterward. That’s what we did back in 2000 as well when we signed Mayhem. That was a really big move for them, and it was very dangerous for us because we weren’t established as a company or anything. But signing Mayhem, back then it was the best deal they got, and while maybe we didn’t get as much money as we should have on Mayhem, it attracted a ton of other bands and helped build the label. And that’s what we did last year by signing Dillinger and Morbid Angel, it’s pretty much the same idea.
So you signed Morbid Angel, huh?
When is their record going to come out?
Same original lineup and everything?
There is a change of drummer because of medical reasons. Trey had two surgeries from what I understand, in the past 12 months. So his back is pretty fucked up. At the moment, I’m not sure at all if he’s going to be able to play drums totally, but we also don’t know if he’s going to be able to play drums as he used to, and what Morbid Angel needs. So right now it’s unclear whether it’s going to heal or not. Right now the Morbid Angel drummer is Tim Yeung, who plays in Divine Heresy. He became famous by winning the fastest drummer in the world competition a few years ago.
That’s awesome. Are bands coming to you now, and managers coming to you with their bands? Has it gotten out that Season of Mist is a go-to label that will sign?
S: Oh yeah, that’s the nice thing is that like 3 or 4 years ago, I wished everyone knew who we were and now they pay attention, you know what I mean? Most of the big bands at some point were being approached, and while we’re fighting witheEOne, Metal Blade, and Century Media, we’re on the same level. Now we’re an option for most bands.
Yeah, absolutely. Is the Dillinger Escape Plan just a one-off?
Dillinger Escape Plan is a one off, Morbid Angel isn’t. There is another big thing we’re gonna announce within the next month that’s as big as those two. and that’s not a one-off either, it’s going to be a long term thing. We can’t give the name right now but it is going to be another band of the same size signing to us, that we’ll announce within the next two weeks.
Great. It seems like the label got a little bit back on the map with Cynic. Would you agree with that?
Yes. We’ve had some success with other bands over here in Europe, but in the US it was quite awhile before we had an album that got some buzz, and Cynic was the band that pretty much helped us, and was a stepping stone to bigger things.
How hard do you find it to run a label that is in the US from France?
Our current setup is that I have 20+ people working in France, and just 3 in the US. So pretty much everything is done by the European office. Whether it’s graphic design, web design, e-shop, we basically have some people here who are just working with synchronizing with the US team. and what we need in the US is promotion, marketing, some of the shipping, and a good distributor. We have all this, but most of the stuff, we try to externalize it to some companies which are fitted for the right bands. I don’t want to have all these people on retainer, and I want to have them when I need them. So its work on a project-to-project basis, but the core of the structure is in Europe, and no offense, but I find it easier and more efficient to work this way so far.
How important is the United States to the label?
Right now it’s our biggest country, the biggest market, so of course bigger numbers. But overall if we compare; if Europe was one country the numbers would still be bigger than the US. But Europe is not one country, its 12 different markets, and 4 major ones.
Are there any trends that you’re noticing in the metal label industry?
This year I’ve noticed quite a buzz with the licensing. That means even big companies in Japan that have stopped caring about metal for years, like Universal or Columbia are now approaching independent distributors and trying to get some licensing. It’s something I’ve noticed in Japan; an interest where they didn’t have interest in 10 years. But now they seem to be interested. Let’s see how that goes. I’ve also noticed in the US, when you keep trying to get on the scenes you want, and they’re really aggressive reversing policy, so that’s a new player too. and compared to Metal Blade or Century Media, eOne is also a distributor, so they’re very strong. I think this label is the strongest because they’re not only a label. We are a big distributor in France. I mean surviving as only a label is rather difficult, I would say.
So I think the labels which are gonna stay long term are the ones that have been able to diversify. Whether they are booking agents, merch companies, distributors; you can’t just be a label these days.
You need to multitask.
I call it the Highlander Effect; less and less labels out there, but each label that folds makes the other one a little bit stronger.
There can be only one!
Pretty much in the end, but I hope that’s not gonna happen. That wouldn’t be good for us.
No, I think competition is healthy and the more outlets there are out there promoting..
Well especially because all of us now we have more differences, like Century Media has always been very open minded; from black metal bands to Vampires Everywhere, versus labels like Relapse who have a one-genre style and stick to it. Metal Blade has signed Pentagram and Solitude and is trying to create something and going out from the metalcore scene, which they’ve been doing for the past 5 years. and we’re doing our own stuff as well, which is a mix of progressive, technical things like Cynic, Morbid Angel, crazy stuff like Dillinger. But we for example, would never do some things that others would do, that would be more conservative Each of us, we have our own trademarks.