Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Q&A with Matt Blanks

I met Matt Blanks at a Recording Academy event in Portland, OR. He had that "I'm in a band and I know what I'm doing" look, so I started a conversation with him. I learned that he has a lot of history in music publishing and is an insider with (in my opinion) the best pizza joint on the Oregon Trail: 
Sizzle Pie!!! GASP! #Rockstar. #Swooning. #CanIhaveyourautograph. 
So I sat down with Matt in Cyberlandia and asked him some questions. If you're into grunge, metal, pizza, and you hate rabbits, get to know him and his people. They good people.

 Blue: Where are you from and how did you end up in Oregon?

Matt Blanks: Originally the Bozeman, Montana area. I moved to Denver, CO in 1997 trying to expand my opportunities in the world of art and music. Denver is a great city but after years of busting my ass there without much headway I decided Portland OR was a better place for me to work towards my vision of creating, promoting and publishing music that is more on the experimental side of things. In June of 2012 I decided it was time to come to Oregon. I spent the first 6 months or so traveling around the Oregon coast, recording music in my mobile recording studio (see video below). After floating around the coast for several months I finally decided to settle a bit in Portland and throw down some roots. I started my own business which doubles as an Art Gallery and Web Design/Development studio and connected with some local businesses in the area. Soon after, I met the President of Relapse Records one night at a show through a mutual friend and started kicking ideas around with him about how to market his label and restaurants on the web. Before I knew it he offered me a job, which I happily took!

B: Tell us a little about your history in music.

MB: I've been a musician since my teens. Listening to music has always been very important to me, and I could have been considered a "music nerd" as far back as age 12. As I started getting more and more into performing and playing the next natural progression for me was being able to record and publish it. In the mid 90's I got a 4-track and began putting together my own compositions. Having gotten the "bug", I then teamed up with a good friend and started a proper recording studio using ADAT machines and traditional outboard gear. When computer based recording began getting more accessible and affordable I decided to focus on learning that. About that same time I started managing a small Record Store in Colorado. This is where I really got in the trenches. As a product buyer I was talking to labels and distributors on a daily basis and began seeing all of the moving parts in between retail stores, labels, artists and distribution companies. After several years in music retail I got a job offer from one of our distributors, Red Distribution as a sales & marketing rep in the greater Denver area. My duties there mainly included working directly with retail stores in promoting our releases as well as working with their product buyers in keeping our products on the shelves and ordering new releases. After that, I moved on to one of the first Digital Distribution companies at the time - a small company called Synergy Music. In addition to digital distribution, the company also handled physical distribution, radio promotions as well as lot of other developing artist services. One of the more exciting projects we worked on was developing the "TouchStand". This device was a touch-screen computer that could be put into any retail store and allow customers to scan the UPC of a product and listen to streaming audio. In addition to being a listening station, it would also allow customers to special order items from that store. Sadly, the retail side of the industry at that time was just beginning to be hit with declining sales due to digital downloading and the chains that had been supporting our kiosk (Tower Records, Musicland/Sam Goody) were closing down. After that gig I decided to open up my own business in graphic & web design. I worked with a variety of clients in the music industry, some of the better known ones being Bonnaroo Music Festival, Warner Bros Music, Sanctuary Artist Management, and a bunch of others. Around this time I also decided to start my own label which for the most part focused on releasing my own music. I continued to work with these companies for the next few years, and then after a brief stint in TV/Broadcasting I finally made my way out here to Oregon and began working with Relapse Records.

B: What is the story behind Relapse Records? How did it start? Where is it headed?

MB: I handle all of the Website and App Development. Relapse is and has always been a tastemaker in extreme music. You can probably find a lot more facts about the label on Wikipedia than I can type out, but essentially it started in our President's folks basement in the early 90's and has since become a world-renowned music publisher. Relapse has always embraced technology and strives to be on the cutting edge of content publishing and delivery. We have a presence on pretty much every website out there - Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Spotify, the list goes on and on. We are working on some exciting projects at the moment that include Spotify Apps, Mobile Apps, a new and improved Website, and the list goes on!

Sizzle Pie Face!
B: What is your relationship with Sizzle Pie?

The president of Relapse Records, Matt Jacobson started Sizzle Pie a few years back after moving out to Portland and establishing a west coast branch of Relapse Records. Many of the pizzas are named after our own bands (Pig Destroyer), and we've even ran some promotions where certain merchandise is available only at the restaurants (Limited edition Red Fang Vinyl). While we don't go out of our way to promote the two companies as having a shared interest, we definitely see the value to cross promoting the two. It's very interesting to see how the two entities feed off of each other and has given us a lot of options and ideas when it comes to promoting our music. Another recent endeavor has been in a Bar/Venue/Club we call White Owl Social Club, which is just a block away from Relapse HQ. We've been able to bring in some pretty high profile acts, many of which are on the Relapse roster, so it's also an interesting way to promote our music.

B: What is your marketing philosophy?

MB: Make things fun and interesting. Don't worry about what people say is "safe" .. or "wrong" or "right". Go with your gut feeling. Get out into the real world as much as possible and network with people who have similar goals, and that often helps get the gears turning when forming strategies. Follow what's happening in the world of technology and embrace it. Even if it doesn't seem to pay off initially, get your music out there by every and any means possible.

B: What's with the rabbits?

MB: Rabbits are evil!!!!!

B: What are some tips you have for an indie band coming up in the mean, mean world where the good die young, the high die high, and the old go broke?

MB: Don't copy other bands sound or image. Work your ass off. Write great music. Give people a real reason to support you. Be creative with merchandising. I've watched bands rise from playing in tiny clubs of 50 people to opening up for bands like Slayer and Metallica at music festivals overseas within just a few years, simply because they took the time to write interesting and compelling music - and at the same time touring hard, playing hard, and giving those people who loved your show lots of options to remember you by. Print up goofy stuff like lighters, beer coozies, bottle openers with your logo and URL on them. Be serious about your web presence - don't rely on Facebook and Twitter as your only means of connecting with fans and exposing your sound.

B: If you could drink a Bloody Mary with any historical figure from the past, present, or future, who would it be and what would you talk about?

MB: Frank Zappa, no doubt. He was so far ahead of his time! Way back in the late 60's and early 70's he was recording and publishing his own music, pushing the limits of what society considered entertainment and was completely non-aplogetic about using profanity and cutting edge imagery in his art. He lived and played by his own rules, and really paved the way for the place modern music is currently. I would definitely consider him the musical genius of our century. Although I think he was more of a beer guy, he may not have enjoyed a bloody mary!

B: If you could go back in time, what would you tell 12 year old Matt?

MB: Dude, keep shooting for the stars - you'll get there if you work hard enough!

B: What's next for Matt Blanks?

MB: My goals in the immediate future is to get Relapse to a place where we are dominating our web presence and becoming a portal of discovery. Long term goals involve me spending more time developing my own label and getting some more music projects going!

B: How can the people find you?

The usual places, here are some links!

B: Thanks for visiting Uranus!!!

MB: You're welcome, I love Uranus!

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