It’s Good To Be Bad: Emery talks record labels, crowdfunding, podcasts and new music

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Emery

RadioU’s history with Emery goes almost all the way back to the beginning. The week that The Weak’s End, Emery’s debut album, was released, they were a guest on RadioU’s morning show, The Riot. We called multiple times but the phone was busy and we mentioned it on the air. Suddenly Toby’s phone wasn’t busy any more. Why? His mom had been using dial-up internet to listen to our webstream and, as a result, the line was busy. After his mom heard us mention it on the air, she hung up so we could get through! Since then, Emery has released six full-lengths, gone on numerous world tours and started BadChristian, their own record label and podcast. Their guitarist, Matt Carter, took some time out from his busy schedule to talk to us about band and label life.

After years of working with labels, Emery decided to work with fans and make You Were Never Alone as a crowd-funded album. Did you feel like this changed your relationship with your fans?
MATT CARTER: It’s crazy because the relationship becomes so direct. You wind up inevitably with some really happy people and some people who are irritated by the delays or the pricing structure or the way things are worded. They don’t like the way some things “come across.” I think that’s all part of the deal. The real positive is that you actually wind up empathizing and learning about the fans’ point of view, and that’s a good thing.

When you started Emery, did you ever think you’d be running your own record label?
No way. I always thought that the two things I would not want to do would be recording bands professionally and running a label. Now I record bands professionally and run a label. In both cases, I didn’t want to do it, because I strongly wanted to believe that the people who did those things were capable of magical things that I wasn’t capable of. Truthfully, I’m not that good at either one. It turns out there is no such thing as magic after all.

Even when things are going really well, most bands end up in some kind of conflict with their record label. As a band, what do you want from a label and as a label owner, how do you provide that to your bands?
Well our concept of a label is pretty different than any other one out there, and I really only use the term “label” because it’s easier to explain. We don’t own any masters or recordings. We make handshake deals with artists that we love and feel like we can get along with. All of our finances are updated and transparent every month, and we pay every artist every month. So by imagining the opposite of all the things I just listed, you can extrapolate what sucks about traditional labels that leads inevitably to conflict. BC Music probably won’t ever make much money. Since we don’t own any of the masters, we couldn’t even sell our company for a big payoff. We are just a co-op of wisdom and hard work that wants to share our resources, infrastructure and experience because it would be a waste not to. Also, hopefully, there will be some living wages and financial upside to doing it.

As far as what we expect from other bands: nothing, really. We just want them to have realistic expectations and want them to be willing to work alongside us until they don’t want to anymore. Then they can leave whenever they want. Seems pretty simple to me.

You’ve got a successful band and record label, but that’s not all: You’ve got a podcast, also called BadChristian, that has a strong following. Podcasting is a space that is easy to enter but hard to make successful. What made you decide to start?
I’ve been primarily known for a set of 10 sad, heavy songs every couple of years for the last 10 years. That’s a bit weird and unbalanced, and I’d strongly like to be known more as a whole person and communicate other thoughts and ideas than what Emery’s music alone can do. Podcasting is one of the best ways to do that. We also have a desire to be present in and influencing changing cultures. It’s also super fun to push boundaries and create stuff. Podcasts are improvised and very fulfilling in a way that is very different from producing albums and playing the same music every night.

What is on the agenda for Emery in 2016?
We are not gonna wait as long to make another record, that is for sure. We don’t have the plans in place yet, but I badly want to start writing and jamming. I still enjoy that as much as ever—maybe more, because I’m much better at it now. S

A version of this piece was published in Substream #48.