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Rune Grammofon celebrates 20-year anniversary

By Christian Gran Svenningsen Posted: 29. Nov, 2018

Label owner and entrepreneur, Rune Kristoffersen, with Rune Grammofon's first release "Supersilent I-III", released January 12th 1998. (Photo: Terje Mosnes)

The esteemed label with fans all around the world will celebrate in a fashionable way. It has been 20 years, he is sailing the ship by himself, and Kristoffersen has no plans of stopping yet.

Interview by Terje Mosnes for Jazz i Norge. Read the article in Norwegian here. Published in English with kind permission. Translation by Christian Gran Svenningsen, Music Norway. 

Rune Grammofon will release a brand new book and album, and if you are in Oslo Friday November 30th and Saturday December 1st, you can catch a special performance av Victoria in Oslo. Four artists from the label’s roster have been picked, two performances each night.

Motorspsycho and Maja S.K. Rakje will play the quickly sold out show on Friday, and I expect a full house for Hedvig Mollestad Trio and Fire! on Saturday as well”, says the 61-year-old man of the hour, Rune Kristoffersen.

“Are the four lucky artists that will have the honor of representing Rune Grammofon these two evenings your favorites?”

“Ha, I will never reveal my personal favorites! However, the selection had to meet certain criteria. Motorpsycho, Maja, Hedvig and Fire! are artists and people I admire and have a long history with, not to mention that they are still out there touring and making music.”

“Your anniversary will be celebrated with a release of a new book and album?” 

“Yes, we will release Hedvig Mollestad Trio’s “Smells Funny”, supplemented by our anniversary book, “Let’s Put It To Music. 20 years of Rune Grammofon.”A 224 page book containing a lot about Kim Hiorthøys Rune Grammofon covers and the way he works with our company’s graphical profile. You could call it a book of art, rather than catalog of album covers, and it gives the reader an insight to how Kim works before an album release. We have also included sketches and drafts that for various reasons were not among the chosen ones. Some of them because the artists wanted something else, so the book portrays an array of styles. Furthermore, there is an eclectic list of favorites from some of the Rune Grammofon artists, and prefaces from David Fricke and Adrian Shaughnessy. And, last but not least, a 7-inch vinyl with three exclusive tracks from Maja, Fire! Orchestra and The Last Hurrah!!.

“When you in 1998 started Rune Grammofon by releasing “Supersilent 1-3” and Arne Nordheim’s electronical music on the album “Electric”, you proclaimed that the idea behind the company was to publish Norwegian music you enjoyed personally, but also to be more adventurous and creative. Is this vision still present?”

“Yes. The goal back then was to release five, possibly ten albums. We now look back, 20 years later, at 200 releases from over 50 different artists, plus around 20 releases from our sub label “Rune Arkiv”The record business has changed a lot in the last few years, and I know just as little know about the future of the company as I did back when it all began. What I can say however, is that my gut feeling has always served me well. I have run the company based on said feeling and enthusiasm, rather than by calculations, budgets and traditional business strategies.

Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje. (Foto: Ellen Lande Gossner)

“I got in touch with Rune before any of his releases. He came to me with open ears, and I played him files from what eventually became the first “SPUNK” album. That evolved to nine albums with SPUNK and three others under my own name. Rune Grammofon is by far the most important label for me through the last 18 years. It is very important to me that I get to express my music with full artistic exposure, which is something I feel Rune fully respects and understands in every detail of the process.”
– Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje

“You have also said that you regard Rune Grammofon more as a gallery, than a record label?”

“Indeed, and I would say it applies even more now, based on the fact that I believe a release is a mere representation. Most of all, because I feel that the commercial aspect of it is so vague, and I do not know what I am doing these days! Record sales are decreasing even more, but due to Rune Grammofon’s vast catalogue, the digital sales through streaming and downloads evens it out to a certain extent. In certain markets, take the US and Germany, you still see sales of CD’s. Not to mention the fact that the vinyl has seen a rise in demand as well.”

“Rune Grammofon has sold more records internationally than in Norway, correct? Is this still the case?” 

“Yes. I do not have the exact numbers, but I know for sure that I could not have kept the business afloat by solely selling to the Norwegian market. It is because of our catalog we survive, but the artists are the ones bleeding. The business model for streaming is just as bad as before, and artists cannot rely on income from streaming to cover their losses from the decreasing CD sales. First and foremost it is the medium/small range of artists who take the damage, since the smaller artists never made money from selling CD’s.

“When it comes to revenue from record sales, how do you communicate with the artists?”

“I try to tell “my” artists each time we start the planning and production of a new album, that they cannot expect to make any money. When writing contracts I need to include some sort of income for the company, because I cannot keep the company running without.”

“And the artists?”

“Well, they have other sources of income from live performances and publishing rights on their own material. That could have been a potential source for Rune Grammofon as well, where I could have demanded publishing and other rights from their performances, a so called 360 deal.

 “How could you defend such a demand?”

“By simply saying: “You would not have been booked to do these performances if I had not released the records.” No joke. I have witnessed so many artists from Rune Grammofon increasing their rates after good reviews. However, for the sake of my own pride, I could never do such a thing.

“It boils down to dignity?” 

“Yes. That being said, there are a lot of players in the industry doing business that way. It is not unusual that artists have to pay for the production of the records themselves, where the labels are left with all rights. Not to mention, Norway has an extremely good tradition of providing publicly funded financial aids.”

“Rune is an idealistic realist with a brutally honest approach to feedback. He is not a person who bloats about big words, but someone who is sincerely honest. Having someone like that by our side, who is always available for whatever you need, is a huge privilege. It has provided me with security and a feeling of belonging to Rune Grammofon.”
– Espen Eriksen

 “With or without financial aid, simple economic theory applies to Rune Grammofon as well; “Make money and pay your bills or get out.” How do you plan on balancing your gut feeling and enthusiasm for the narrower field of music, with the need of a healthy economy for the coming releases?”

“I could start projects for the first ten years without giving them a lot of thought, still knowing I would loose money, but I felt I had to release them. Either because the music in my opinion was so good, or because I felt that they were too important to pass on. It was all about cultural investments for the company.”

“What about now?”

“Nowadays I would think twice before jumping into something like that. I am not saying that I will never do so again, that has been the name of the game until now anyway, but there is a tipping point. At the same time I look upon it as healthy to take risk sometimes.”

“Even if it can cost you dearly?”

“Yes. To abstain from doing so will go against my vision for the company, and has always been kept intact: Never say no to an important or really good record because of money. If I come to the point where I assess projects based on the level of publicity it can produce, it would be a sign for me to step down. It would also leave me with a terrible feeling of regret.”

“Does it get more andre more difficult to consider money before music?”

“At times it is extremely frustrating and exhausting to stay loyal to the commercial mindset in the industry. You are a part of it, no matter what you want. At that point I ask myself why I even bother doing this. Suddenly an artist emerges with a brilliant record, and my mind switches. It is like a roller coaster. Some days I just want to let go of everything and quit, and others where I want to keep going until I am carried out on a stretcher.”

“You are 61 years old, and the retirement age in Norway is 67?”

“My goal is to at least keep it going until that point. The last couple of years I have tried to downscale. After all, I am sailing this ship alone with 14-15 releases each year, which is a little too much. Now I have to say no to international artists who want to release records on Rune Grammofon, and I have also stopped recruiting new Norwegian acts as well. A crucial choice that was needed in order to keep up the loyalty to the 50 artists that Rune Grammofon has worked with over the years. As of now, the goal is to release between eight and ten albums each year. However, I still have problems saying no when I hear something good.

Visit the webiste of Rune Grammofon, and Victoria Jazzscene. Jazz i Norge is a cooperation between Norsk jazzforum, magazine Jazznytt and the regional jazz centres in Norway.

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