Interview with MAGNUS BOHMAN, co-owner of Imperial Recordings and A&R for José González (Top 10 UK) - Jun 25, 2006
"We’re not about telling our artists what to do, we’re about helping them out in what they already do. We’re definitely not about packaging artists,"
... so assures Magnus Bohman, who broke into the international market with the signing of José González, whose album 'Veneer' shot to the UK Top 10 early in 2006.
Talking to HitQuarters, Bohman described the stations on the way to the top, peaking in Gonzalez' single lifted for a Sony commercial, and outlined the kind of artist his label is interested in.
How did Imperial Recordings get started?
It was co-founded by Joakim Gävert and myself. I used to work for Zomba Records in Scandinavia and we had distribution through Virgin in the Nordic territory. Joakim founded another label back in ‘97 called Grand Recordings, which was a sub-label to Virgin, so we’d bump into each other when we had sales conferences or big events.
Joakim left Virgin in the year 2000 and I left Zomba in September 2001, and we started planning Imperial Recordings just before that, but we actually launched it one year later. At first we did consultancy work for other labels, for example we worked with Nokia to get the financing. Joakim sold a part of his record collection and I sold my beautiful car, and now I’m glad we did this.
When you initially started Imperial Recordings did you intend to enter the global market, or were you more focused on the Nordic territories?
When we started out our intention was to be an independent label with an eye on the world market, but our main focus was naturally Sweden and the Nordic territories. From day one we had small partners worldwide, but we didn’t want to rush anything. We wanted the results of our work and the quality of the music we release to be the thing that would reach people.
Did you already have an artist roster when you founded the label?
We didn’t have a roster when we started out, but by the time we registered the label we already had José González - that was our first official signing.
Good choice for a first signing – how did you find him?
Joakim did. José had released a two track 7” single. Both tracks, ‘Dead Weight on Velveteen’ and ‘Hints’ are on the album now. Joakim found that single and played it to me, and I instantly felt that this was something we should do. It was the quality of the music, the way he played the guitar, and of course the way he sang.
It’s the uniqueness of what he does. We contacted José immediately, but it took quite a long time to convince him to work with us because he was doing research in molecular biology at the time. He had a lot of commitments at school. After a while he was convinced and things turned out well.
When you penned the deal with him did you think you would break the international market?
We didn’t think it would become what it is today, but we saw potential in the record. We originally thought it would sell a few hundred copies in each country, and that it would grow over time. We thought that some people would consider this a classic album, so you can say from day one we had our focus on 10 years from now, or even 20.
We were hoping to get concert hall gigs in three to five years, but it all happened in three to five months. And as the new songs came, and after the response we got from other people who heard the material, we started to realize that this would be much bigger than what we imagined it to be in the first place.
Currently the record has international distribution, but it all started with the UK, which happens to be one of the hardest markets to break into – how did you find licensing partners there?
What happened was that Mark Kirby at Agenda, a sub-label of Peacefrog, the company we work with in the UK, contacted us very early on. We had just released the first EP in Sweden, the music was still news to the Swedes back then, but they found it somehow and said that they want to license it for the UK market.
We kept them hanging for almost a year, because we wanted to find out more about the company, and we also wanted to review our options. Eventually we signed with them, and currently they are the company which handles licensing for most of Europe and the UK.
And the distribution in the US, I believe that’s also set – how did that come about?
In the US the album was released last September on Hidden Agenda– Parasol. Parasol is a relatively small distribution company in the US, but they’re very open to Scandinavian music. They also contacted us very early and we licensed the LP to them, but right now Mute is our partner for the US. They came in and made an arrangement with us and Parasol so they’re partners in some way. Mute will release the forthcoming albums.
Did you have to repackage the material to go global?
It’s still the same album. We are firm on keeping it as one album and nobody has an option to change it. This is again the long term thinking we have. Basically what we want is that when you look back you will not find ten different versions of the record – it will always be the same, be it Switzerland, UK or Japan. Of course the licensing partners are allowed to add extra material to the package, but the album is the album.
How much control did you exert over the actual song selection, the artwork, the image, before you passed on the record?
We believe in organic growth in terms of artist development. We also wanted José to be involved in the entire process so we had open discussions about packaging and all.
You also secured a deal for a commercial with Sony for José – can you tell me a bit about this?
Sony contacted us early fall last year. They presented us with a film with everything except the music in it and showed us what they wanted to do exactly. It was an easy decision for us because José liked it and so did his management and so did we. In the UK the album has been out for about six months at that point and it didn’t sell a lot, but it had really good press.
So this was a perfect follow up – a beautiful commercial with a single release hooked onto it - and things just blew up after that. I don’t think it would have been this big without the record getting all these good reviews though. The album was established in the media first, so when things started moving they just picked up easily.
What has changed for Imperial Recordings since you had this big break?
It’s great for distribution and acquiring other licensing partners. We have a lot more international partners now than we had in the past. And people actually pick up the phone when you call!
What’s next on the agenda for Imperial Recordings?
The next José González album is very important. We’re aiming for the first six months of next year to have it released. The album will remain in the same vibe as the first one, he has a few great songs already. Besides that we just signed another band, also from Gothenburg, Sweden, called Samuraj Cities. They’re supposed to be recording this summer and should have an album out this fall.
That’s quite a bit of work there – will you be looking for new artists to extend the Imperial Records roster?
Yes, but it’s a big thing for us to sign a new artist because we are a small company. We already have six artists, and some of them are going onto their second album, so there will be a lot of work for us. We are always looking for domestic as well as international acts, and of course looking to license our own records.
Do you accept song submissions? Do you accept MP3 demos via email?
We prefer CD’s because the mailbox gets overloaded with viruses, spam, and heavy emails. We’re on Myspace and we listen to music every day. So artists interested in playing us their music should just go there and add us.
What do you expect from artists who are potential signings to your label?
Being small, we need our artists to be original of course, but also to have things moving along for them already, so that we can add to their career. We’re not about telling our artists what to do, we’re about helping them out in what they already do. We’re definitely not the type of company that will find a songwriter for an artist, we might find a producer, but we’re definitely not about packaging artists.
Is Imperial Records genre specific? Would you sign a hip hop artist?
Come to think of it maybe Imperial artists do sound a certain way; for sure their sound needs to fit our profile. We wouldn’t do Pop Idol for example. The music we sign could be electronic or even dance - you don’t want to say no just on principle, but you definitely want to get that 100% feeling. But I guess at the core as a label we are pop/rock/indie.
Interviewed by Lukasz Polowczyk
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