“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.