White Collar Criminals

Ulver are Raging Against the Record Label Machine

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Ulver

Norwegian black metal-turned-experimental outfit Ulver are completely over working with the record industry, and they’ve posted a lengthy missive to tell you all about how they feel. Hint: they’re angry, and they’re taking matters into their own hands from now on.

Ulver’s rant is well-written and articulated and there’s a lot of truth to what they’re saying about the changes in the record industry. But it’s hard to take seriously their claim that they can run their own marketing campaigns better than a label when they’ve got a QR code displayed prominently (on a website, no less, let alone anywhere! why not just a link?). It’s always great to see a band attempt to strike out on their own, though, so we wish Ulver the best. Here’s the statement in full:

THE ART OF DYING

Look, the pay you have held back from the workers who mowed your fields cries out against you,
and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
 (James 5:4)

Wolves are withdrawing, once again, in order to evolve. The record industry is in trouble, and the panic in the business has resulted in severe depression for musicians worldwide. We have new offerings, both music and a medium, but first:

Politics.

Much has been said, on topics like crowd funding, file sharing, the death of the physical format as we know it. Answers are ambiguous, but one thing is for sure: musicians are required to consider the direct financial implications of their activities far more closely today.

The top-heavy machinery, with their CEOs and managers and sales and marketing departments, is obviously a pricey one. When their expenses have been covered most of the money is gone, leaving the artists in the lurch. It seems a gross injustice, especially in a time where their manner of operation has become such an anachronism.

We can no longer carry the weight of this museum, so we have once again (first time was when we established our own imprint, Jester) decided to take the matter into our own hands, in a way more autonomous than before. We’ve been prudent enough to make sure we own our own material – since Nattens Madrigal that is – which is not at all a given in this shady business, and which in itself has given us disadvantages when it comes to advances, percentages and PR in the past.

The last five years the insidious disease that is the music business has really reared its ugly head. If you want to have your album manufactured, distributed and possibly promoted today it almost goes without saying that the label/licensee/distributor should have an unheard of allowance. But even more morose: a similar (disproportionate) cut off your digital sales and streaming income is expected. That’s after the bite of the Apple.

It’s a sin. They don’t do any actual work for this money. Certain suits have started to demand cuts from the live earnings of their bands/artists as a premise for signing them. Our hearts sincerely go out to the younger generation of recording artists, as we’ve seen literal slave-contracts signed by the “up and coming”.

It’s tragic really. Killed in infancy.

If only the Richard Bransons out there would take their humanitarian initiatives to their own artists first, is a thought. The promise of good promotion does not bring bread on the table.

And while we’re having a stab at the system: fuck iTunes, and Spotify et al., which is the same old story over again – oversized monsters, getting rich and mighty, while it takes years and lots of legwork for something, if anything, to come back to those who made the music i.e. their product in the first place.

In selling out, ULVER has always opted for the lesser evils, and we’ve been in the groove with decent folks, VME and Kscope in particular. But given the context, it has to be acknowledged: we’ve made quite a few external people and/or companies a lot of money over the years.

A look behind the scenes:

We played for a full house at the Norwegian National Opera, and since it was a big set-up, tickets were expensive. The opera folks made a killing, our managers at the time made a solid chunk of dough and the ensuing DVD/Blu-ray did very well.

ULVER? Same old song. In the red.

Our surplus that night went to pay the film crew, since the budget advance we’d got to make the film didn’t cover it. Besides, management had gross percentage paws in that purse too. Oh, the irony. To top it off, and after we were finally done, we thought, we got hit with a DVD authoring/mastering charge close to 5K (GBP), which seems to have put royalties on permanent hold.

Now, for being the ones who were actually on stage, had rehearsed and prepared for the gig, with all that entails, spent months afterwards making said DVD, editing, mixing, composing liner notes etc., we find it pertinent to question our negative honorarium as the typical token. We are very proud of the concert and following product. But much to our dismay, pride doesn’t seem to bring bread on the table either.

Neither does patience – virtue notwithstanding.

We hold heart over gold, truly, but we have dedicated our entire adult lives – 20 years now – to this band. We are getting older and more responsible and we also need to know that we can pay some bills and feed our kids at the end of the day. No one has worked more or harder for ULVER than … well, ULVER.

The harsh reality is that too many prey on us – in a hostile environment – we have no other choice than to rise up.

We have no beef with “curious cats” who tune in on unauthorized channels, download torrents etc. Such undertakings serve a similar purpose to that of labels and distributors – from which we see such a minuscule yield anyway. Forget about it.

But it is naturally a problem when even genuine fans no longer bother to pay for the work of their favorite artists.

Hear what Neil Hamburger, via Mark Eitzel, has to say on the matter:


We encourage all conscientious music fans to buy their music direct from artists whenever that is possible, in the future. It will help more than you know.

Some might argue that we are not big enough, and thus have no right to life … and while we are clearly not Radiohead or Björk, that would be off the mark. Allow us to swag a little: ULVER sell respectable quantities, and is in digital numbers, according to current Last.fm statistics, # 4 out of Norway, superseded only by A-ha, Dimmu Borgir and Röyksopp.

If we’d gotten a cent a stream. We can dream.

Point is, we know there are resources – that things can be amended – so long as we can establish a modus operandi where we, the artisans, get more of the total take. We invest a lot in our productions, both in the studio and live, to make every next step better, bigger, more interesting. Tirelessly digging our own grave.

But there surely has to be a way to ensure both quality of life and the arts at the same time?

Which brings us up to speed: we can now, via new technology, sell our music directly to you.

ULVER with TROMSØ CHAMBER ORCHESTRA: Messe I.X–VI.X

This one will be released by us, here – in the ether – next year, putting it up for download only via our new app and related online channels.

That’s right, dear friends of ULVER: since many people carry smartphones these days we have, with generous help from Effektor aka Rune Michaelsen, developed an iPhone/iPad and Android app which we are offering for the price of $ 1.99, a sum we hope you can live with. This is firstly to cover development costs and hosting, but is also an experiment of sorts. If you download it will reinforce our faith and also give us a bit of revenue for further development.

More info on Messe I.X–VI.X – formats and pre-ordering etc. – will follow shortly. In the meantime, have a look at some of the material from the concert in Tromsø, which forms the basis of the album:


Live at Roadburn is also around the corner. Roadburn Records will release a limited edition vinyl in one thousand copies next year, while we will release it digitally from our new webstore – store.jester-records.com – linked directly to from the app and our webpages. Currently it is (of course) not allowed to sell music directly from within the application, but laws are being twisted so that hopefully soon artists can sell direct, and not be cutpursed by iTunes, Amazon, and other Digimons.

Certain of our albums will – depending on how much good or ill will there is – still be caught up in exclusivity clauses and contracts, but we hope to make most of our history of music available within the next year, as well as all future endeavors, and exclusive material.

We encourage all of you, once again, to buy digital directly from our webstore and not through iTunes etc. The quality is better, we get the money and we are cheap: EUR 5 per album, EUR 3 per ep. We have also collected some covers and curiosities available for EUR 2 download from the store until Christmas:

  • “Another brick in the wall (part 1)”, cover from Mojo presents: The Wall Re-Built! (Mojo magazine cover CD 2009).
  • “Be drunk”, from Die Künstlichen Paradiese – Charles Baudelaire (Hörbuch Hamburg/Radio Bremen 2011).
  • “In the kingdom of the blind the one-eyed are kings”, cover from The lotus eaters – tribute to Dead Can Dance (Black Lotus Records 2004).
  • “Strange ways”, cover from Gods of thunder – a Norwegian tribute to Kiss (Voices Music Publishing 2005).
  • “The night before”, discarded Lee Hazlewood cover (rough 2002).
  • “Thieves in the temple”, cover from Shockadelica – 50th anniversary tribute to the artist known as Prince(C+C Records 2008).
  • “Uno”, “Avhør”, “Brødre”, “Brødre rev.”, “Flukt”, “Gravferd” and “David til ulvene”, from Uno – original motion picture soundtrack (Bonnier Amigo Music Group 2004).

These songs are included for free in the app, along with videos and images etc. All in one place. We hope and think the app will be a convenient thing, making stuff better both for us and for you from now on. It will be possible for us to communicate and share our creations more efficiently and directly with you. God forbid, living in each other’s pockets.

Imagine, we could send you a push notification once a song is done.

There are so many of you over the years who have written to us – more than we’ve had the capacity to answer – telling us, in all manner of ways, what our work has meant. We sincerely thank you, all, and hope that you will stick around and follow us into the age of the quick response code.

We will of course keep manufacturing limited vinyl and miscellaneous beauty products for those of you who enjoy the tactile experience, and which can be ordered and shipped directly from us, or our close and/or equitable partners.

To avoid any possible misunderstandings: we might well release across-the-board CD editions with third parties, in order to suit our aims. But this will be in retrospect, after having first shared the music in a way and form attending to our needs.

To drive the point home: we’d probably improve our production greatly if it was not for these constant goddamn monetary problems. That is why we have also, albeit reluctantly, put up a general donations account on our website. If you believe ULVER is creditable. Names of benefactors will be publicised, with due respect, unless otherwise desired.

However, we will not pay our respect to the vultures. For they are our past.

ULVER, The Cayman Islands, December 5 2012.

Thanks: Seth B.

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