Chicago-based label Transcending Records have an eclectic roster. Their roster stretches across niches in metal, presenting everything from genre-blending acts to trad doom torchbearers The Monolith Cult. Decibel caught up with label owner Mike Ramirez to talk about Transcending Records and premiere three new songs from Transcending artists Transylvania Stud, Frost Giant and Mountaris.
When did you start Transcending Records? What made you want to start a record label?
Based on our first official release, Transcending Records officially began in 2015. But before it was a label it started out as an eBay shop, with no intention of becoming a record label. I’d always wanted to run a record shop or a record label. But we live in an age of streaming music, digital downloads and piracy, so the notion of starting either seemed completely impractical. I’m a vinyl collector myself, Cds haven’t been of any interest to me in years. But I had a huge collection of rare 80’s and 90’s metal in my basement collecting dust. So a few years ago I started listing it all on eBay thinking maybe someone out there still collected CDs. Long story short those rarities sold and they sold well. I honestly had no idea how difficult some of the underground metal gems were to obtain in a physical format. So, that got the wheels turning in my mind. There was still a market for physical music after all. After working as a web developer for the past 20 years. I’ve been looking for something new and the idea that a record shop and label could be that something suddenly seemed possible. The label became a reality, while the shop is for the moment an online only shop, I’m hoping down the road a physical shop will be reality as well. I’m still a web developer by day, but the label has shown signs of having the potential of being more than a financial burden some day.
You have a pretty diverse roster, including Frost Giant (folk/death metal), Valiant (black metal), Monolith Cult (trad/doom metal), Transylvania Stud (desert rock) and Rotting Obscene (death metal). What qualities make you want to sign a band, if it isn’t their specific niche within metal?
I definitely didn’t want the label to be any specific niche within metal or even necessarily limited to just metal. To be honest, I regret a large portion of the releases we did in 2016. A lot of releases were done as favors for people. We had some manufacturing issues and a trademark issue towards the end of the year and beginning of this year that nearly killed the label. When I got things moving again this year I decided that any music released going forward would have to be something that I could really stand behind. I have rather diverse tastes, so our roster has certainly begun to reflect that. I’m really into doom, old school death metal, thrash and black metal. But I also spend a lot of time listening to shoegaze, indie rock, new wave and ambient. Bands that meld varying ends of the music spectrum are of particular interest to me. Grief & Bliss, Clouds Collide and Mountaris fall into that category by infusing metal with elements of non-metal genres. I’ve always appreciated artists that are unafraid to “transcend” whatever boundaries exist in other peoples minds. So, I think that’s effectively what’s become the quality that I’m looking for. But for good measure, we’ve got releases coming from Cardiac Arrest and Monolith Cult which keep the torch of old school death metal and doom burning respectively. Going forward, we’ll mix old school metal alongside an array of unique envelope pushing material, whether it’s metal or not. You won’t ever find us releasing any rap or country but I think just about anything else is fair game. I’d really love to add some good shoegaze bands. We’ve done blackgaze and doomgaze, but I’d love to find a great straight shoegaze band to release.
The Transcending Records office was recently affected by a flood. How are you recovering from that?
Well, insurance has covered a small percentage of our losses. The metal scene really rallied around us as well, which was really awesome. We’re still a young label, basically newcomers to the scene, so to be embraced by fans, bands and other labels (many of whom I’d had no previous contact with) was really incredible. It took a full two weeks to clean up the mess and get things back up and running, but we’re mostly back up and running now. It’ll be awhile before the financial loss is recovered, but I think we’ll be alright.
Can you tell us about some of your favorite or proudest moments from running the label?
Just seeing the bands grow and get recognition has been the proudest moments. That’s what it’s all about really. My favorite part is connecting with other music fans. I’ve met some people in the past couple of years while doing this that have become very close friends and that’s amazing to me. I mean I’ve been a web developer for 20 years, stuck behind a computer. You don’t make new friends that way, you just grow old and fat and develop arthritis in your hands. So having this business that connects me with people that have a similar passion for music has been a really nice change of pace. All the other garbage that comes with running a label, or any other business for that matter, is outweighed by the connections made.
What is the hardest part about running Transcending Records?
Finances. If you’re looking for a get rich quick scheme, record labels should come in around last on your list. Very few of our releases have broken even. Even fewer have shown a profit. The majority are a financial loss. The hope of course is that one of these releases will become some sort of measurable “hit”. But it’s pretty hard for a small label operating on a shoestring budget to get the kind of exposure necessary to make that hit. So we rely on fans sharing stuff on social media sites. Of course that presents a problem when the top social media site has made it more and more difficult to get visibility on posts, from the audience you’ve built on their platform, without spending a ton of money. Nearly our entire ad budget goes into post “boosts” now. Without going into the boring details of measuring click-thru and conversion rates and such, the financial aspects of advertising music can be really tricky. It doesn’t make a lot of sense if it takes $20 to sell a $10 CD (with free shipping of course). So, financially it’s hard to justify at times.
Conversely, what is the most rewarding?
Aside from what I’d touched on as far as bands getting their recognition, the most rewarding part for me is each and every time a new release arrives. A lot of these releases have a really long process prior to their arrival here as a tangible thing that I can look at and listen to. So seeing that process through and having it arrive here, opening the box and seeing the final product is a really rewarding thing.
After the flood, you posted on Facebook that the future of Transcending Records was unclear. Now that you have had a few weeks to process it, what does the future of the label look like to you?
It looks a lot better than it did initially while waiting for the water to subside. It actually took two days for the water to get out completely, so the initial posts were done with only a vague idea of the extent of the damage done. Chase Brown (who lives in Florida and remotely helps maintain the FB page and does our digital media stuff) made the post that alerted everyone to what was going on, while I tried to figure things out here. We lost a lot. I mean we filled a 20 yard dumpster to the top with all that had to be tossed out. But anyone familiar with the brief history of Transcending Records knows that we’ve endured a lot already, it’s been uncanny. This was just the latest in a line of hurdles that needed to be overcome. Now that everything is cleaned up, I’m only looking forward. We lost a lot, but we didn’t lose everything. We’ve got some great releases that are dropping this month and in December. I’m very excited about the Cardiac Arrest and Rotting Obscene vinyl releases coming out this month. And the four CD releases we have coming out, all on November 17th (Monolith Cult, Mountaris, Transylvania Stud and Valiant) are in my humble opinion, our best offerings to date. I’m also really excited about the forthcoming new albums from Frost Giant and Avarice and a couple new deals we’ve got in the works for 2018 that haven’t yet been announced. All in all, now that the dust has settled a bit, I think the future has cleared up a bit for us. We’ll be doing our best to push some great releases for the foreseeable future, and we’re already booked to vend at Maryland Deathfest and Chicago Domination Fest next year. I think we’re gonna be okay.