Dimitris Lilis is the founder of Athens-based indie label, Just Gazing Records. I found out about him from Thanasis Christodoulou, an artist for whom he’d produced an album in 2016. Dimitris was supposedly well-connected and knowledgeable about the Greek music industry, so I was hopeful for an interesting interview. We met at his label office and talked about his work with Greek stars like Monika, the state of the Greek music industry and the challenges that face its indie rock scene. Thankfully, it turned out to be a very engaging chat.
– Hi Dimitris. Thanks for having me over to chat. Can you tell me about your early days in music?
Sure. I started off playing drums in a band called Relevant Box, which consisted of me and some friends who lived in Argos. Our hometown had very little experience with Western music, and I remember being asked why I was carrying a hunting rifle at age thirteen when it was actually my bass guitar case – that’s how little the adults around me knew about rock music (laughs). But since we were the only band in town, all our friends attended our shows, and we made a name for ourselves.
When I was eighteen, we sent a demo to a magazine called Pop & Rock. To our surprise, they gave it a write-up and even included one of our tracks, “Morning Song“, on their “Sessions 01” compilation, which was a big deal for us. Our self-titled EP was released on Olon Music two years later, and we did a short tour with a band called Diafana Krina soon after. That’s how I first got exposed to the Athenian scene.
– But at some point you went to university, right?
Yes, I later studied a year and a half in England. But whenever my mom sent me money for food, I’d use it to buy records and soon started DJing as a hobby. After returning to Greece with tons of vinyl, I took up DJing as a real job.
– And what happened to Relevant Box?
The band was on hold during my time in the UK, but we reassembled once I got back and self-released an EP called “Safety Plan“. I also started writing for indie fanzines like Sense and SONIK, but still wasn’t making enough money to earn a living, so my bandmates and I decided to get a job at a record store chain called Metropolis. That way we could stay connected to the music scene whilst working a day job. I was assigned to the Greek traditional music section, which focused on music from places like Crete, Thrace and the Aegean islands, and I worked at the Athens branch from 2002-2006.
– What led you to get involved in the Athenian indie rock business?
That started in 2007 when I put together a 3-CD compilation called “City Campers“, which was meant to showcase Athen’s music scene. The idea came from seeing what Rob da Bank was doing as a BBC radio DJ, and I partnered with Yannis Iliopoulos to get the project started. Once I assembled enough tracks, the album came out on The Sound of Everything, and it featured Sillyboy’s first release, “Never Lie“.
For three years my brother and I hosted the City Campers club night where bands from the album would play, and we later added DJs to the lineup like DIRTY Sound System, Optimo and Steve Aoki, all of which helped spread the word about us.
– So how did Just Gazing Records come about?
In 2010, Sillyboy brought me his debut album, “Played“. I thought it sounded great, so my brother and I started Just Gazing in order to release it. We secured distribution from The Sound of Everything, and “Played” became one of the major indie releases of 2012. It generated a lot of buzz from mainstream outlets, and we got support from both radio and MAD TV. So things started off pretty well for us.
– I’ve heard that you’re also well-established in the Athens radio scene. Tell me about that.
The success of “City Campers” and “Played” got us noticed by OffRadio, the biggest internet radio station in Thessaloniki. Nikos Komninos is the founder, and he worked alongside my brother at Metropolis record store. So we’d hang out with him, and he later helped us get our own show called “The Flying Lilis Brothers“. We normally played our own sets, but sometimes we’d get exclusive ones from people like Wolf + Lamb and Kris Menace.
In 2010 I started writing a column for Avopolis, and by 2014 I was doing a show for Avopolis Radio. They were drawing over 2000 daily listeners, which was huge for a local internet radio station, and I was put in charge as the Program Director in 2017.
– How would you describe the state of radio in Greece? Is it still a relevant format for discovering music?
It used to be, but it’s harder to tell now. I don’t have the same connection with younger listeners that I used to have, so I can’t say much about them, but it still matters for people over thirty who grew up with it. I came up listening to Rock FM 96.9, where they played Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Sebadoh and bands from K Records. Because of stations like that, bands like Mogwai and Death in Vegas gained enough fans to sell out shows in Greece. So the generation that came up in the 90s still have expectations of radio, whereas I think younger listeners treat it more like a jukebox for requesting popular music. That’s why Avopolis Radio matters to me; you can tune in and hear Greek traditional music, or you might hear a mix of all-female grime artists. That type of range is hard to find at other radio stations because it’s not what the executives want. So playing Bad Brains on a Saturday night between 6pm and 8pm isn’t something I do anymore. To be honest, I can hardly play a well-known band like Planet of Zeus without someone complaining (laughs).
– But who’s complaining? Your bosses at radio stations other than Avopolis?
I’ve been at meetings where people said we should play more pop music because it gets the best responses. So playing an 80s Washington punk mix would be hard. It might work if I called it a “skateboard playlist”, but the higher-ups still wouldn’t like it. And the public doesn’t help much either; I get excited messages from people whenever I play a song like “Kiss” by Prince, but the same people say nothing when I play a Minutemen track. So in light of stuff like that, working at Avopolis radio feels like freedom.
– Let’s talk about your work with Monika, who’s become one of the more famous Greek artists in the last ten years. How did the two of you first meet?
She used to live in the countryside near my hometown and even dated one of my best friends, Leonidas Oikonomou, so we go back a long way. She was also in a band called Serpentine, and they would play at the same shows as Relevant Box. She released a track in 2008 that got a lot of attention called “Over The Hill“, and became famous through MySpace soon afterwards. Then she signed with Archangel Music and released her first album, “Avatar“, which did pretty well.
Because her career was taking off and I was busy DJing, we didn’t see much of each other in the late 2000s, but we started hanging out again in 2010. For about two years we’d go record shopping, and also became interested in the music production on records like “Songs In The Key Of Life“, Aloe Blacc’s “I Need A Dollar” and Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black“.
That happened because we took a trip to New York in the summer of 2013. By that time, things had gotten hectic with her career. At age twenty she had a #1 album and was getting recognized all over Greece. It was a big deal because she was singing in English and writing in ways that Greeks hadn’t done before. Even English speakers found her accent and lyrics fascinating, and it brought a lot of attention to her personal life. So she took a break by traveling to New York with me.
Soon after we arrived, I started trying to contact Daptone Records. They’d released some of my favorite albums, and I really wanted to meet them. I first reached out to their lawyer, and later went with Monika to their studio. We stood outside and called them until Thomas Brenneck and Homer Steinweiss came down to let us in, and they let us sit in on the session. Monika later asked if she could play them her music, and once they heard her voice, they started asking questions about her. Unfortunately, we had to leave for Greece some days later, but we started forming a plan for how to collaborate with them. The idea was for Archangel to fund the album, and I started sending out emails to get the process started. We traveled back to New York later that year and met with Homer when he was working on Diane Birch’s “Speak A Little Louder“. One of the tracks that didn’t make the album was given to Monika to sing demo vocals for, and once he heard her perform, Homer agreed to produce her album.
All the credit goes to Monika for sealing the deal with her singing. Even with all my emails and phone calls, nothing would have worked unless she had the kind of voice they wanted to hear. So we started recording “Secret In The Dark” in 2014.
– How were you able to find a label to release the album outside of Greece?
We did a music showcase in New York, and the promotion was handled by a PR company called Tell All Your Friends, along with marketing help from an agency called Matte. One of the guys who attended was Josh Madell, the owner of Other Music record store. I set up a meeting to play him the album, and he offered to release it on his label, Other Music Recordings. So that’s what we did, and distribution was handled by Fat Possum.
– Why didn’t a major label deal happen for the album?
No-one at the majors was interested until after the album blew up. Even labels like Astralwerks said it “needed more work” when I played it for them. But I knew we’d be fine once Fat Possum got involved – whatever they touch generally does well. By Christmas, the album was close to #1 on the French Indie Spotify playlists, and PIAS’ Le Label did a good job promoting it. Even Sony France made us an offer to get our publishing, but we all agreed to stay with Other Music and Fat Possum.
– Were you Monika’s manager during this time?
I was the guy looking after the project, but I didn’t consider myself a real manager, which is why I tried finding her one. We’d fly out to LA, and I talked to different people about managing her, like Alexis Rivera, who used to manage acts for Italians Do It Better. But real management isn’t as simple as everyone thinks. It’s not just about making business decisions for the artist – it also requires that you spend what’s needed for their career. You need money for things like media promo, access to special events, and even a new wardrobe if it’s necessary. So even though we had some offers, none of those managers had the time nor money to invest in Monika’s career. They saw her potential, but didn’t want to commit the time or finances. So I stayed on as the manager and United Talent started booking her shows in the US. The highlight of those gigs was opening for Carly Rae Jepsen in San Francisco. It exposed us to a tour life we’d never seen before, since half the budget for her dressing room was our whole production budget (laughs).
– What made you decide to use ATC Live for booking the European tour, instead of sticking with United Talent?
Because they’re independent, I felt ATC would make more of an effort for us. As a new artist, you’re not guaranteed to have a lucrative tour just because you sign with a famous company. For a big-name agency, Monika is just one of many names on their roster. So if the commission is 10%, the agent will gladly book twelve of his artists for €500 each, since he gets €50 from all of them, and earns €600 in total. But the independent agent is motivated to fight for €2000 for a show because he doesn’t have a large roster to profit from. He might only have one or two clients and gets a €200 commission for each one, so he has to work harder for them. I had to keep that in mind as Monika’s acting-manager.
– Did “Secret In The Dark” have a publishing deal?
Yes, it eventually got signed to SONGS Music Publishing in LA, which was a company built on the fame of signing Major Lazer’s “Lean On” and music by The Weeknd. Their catalog was later bought by Kobalt Music Group.
– What was Greek reception for the album like?
No-one here understood it at first. People were like, “What’s this? She’s lost her identity. Who told her it was okay to make a soul-funk album? “. It took a while for people to get it, but when she later played at the Stavros Niarchos Cultural Center, she packed the place. So people came around to it.
– Given all the momentum you had in 2015 and 2016, why didn’t Monika find bigger international success?
Well, things came to a halt in 2017 due to all the pressure that had built up, and Monika needed a break. There was a month where we flew from LA to Paris four times to play different shows and it burnt us out. We started playing international shows a year later, but Monika had gotten married by then and her priority became her family. She was much happier being on a Greek island with her husband than taking a thirteen-hour flight to play shows in the US. So 2017 was our last year of touring the album, by which time Monika was already working on her Greek album that came out in 2019.
– Did you work on that album?
We put together the lead single, “Stala”, but it was released to mixed response, which took me by surprise. It made me question myself a bit, and I decided to take a step back and focus on Just Gazing instead. I’d gotten the chance to travel the world and make connections all over the music industry, which I wanted to use for the benefit of my label and the Athenian indie scene.
– Let’s talk about the Greek music industry. If an artist from Athens is aiming for international success, what’s the best way to pursue that?
I’ve never really talked about this publicly except one or twice in my columns, but I’ve come to understand that breaking an act internationally requires three things. Firstly, you need an artist who’s willing to tour the world, regardless of the destination. Planet of Zeus is an example of a band who does that. Secondly, the artist needs a crossover sound that most people can appreciate, which is something Greek acts like Naxatras and Stella have. Thirdly, you need to work with a good PR agency, and having a back-catalog is a plus since it gives them more material to work with. If an artist comes to me with all these things, then I can contact my friends at labels or agencies and say, “Guys, this project is ready to go. The artist is willing to tour, their sound has crossover appeal, and we’ve already paid for a good PR campaign “. That’s how you get people in the industry to take you seriously, as opposed to just putting out an album and expecting it to get noticed.
– Talk to me about the importance of the third point: PR and promo. How much does that really matter if a Greek artist already has a good album?
Even if you have the best record in the world, it makes no sense to overexert yourself in promoting it from Greece when you can’t pay for any real PR. Do you know what it costs to pay for proper music publicity? On average, a three-month promotion costs €6000. How many records are made in the Greek underground with a PR budget of €6000? To even spend €2000 for one month’s promo is beyond what most people here can afford. So there isn’t enough money in the local scene to make anything happen, and the big indie labels here would rather spend money on releasing as many albums or singles as possible, rather than redirecting some of their resources into promoting the best ones.
I met a lot of people in the PR world during my time with Monika, and Jessica Weber was one of them. She runs a radio promo agency called Cosign that hosts their own showcases at CMJ and SXSW. They did really well for us when we worked with them, and I’d love to send her another act to promote, but I can’t do that without the budget. I can’t even reach out to Pitchfork, even though I have the contact info for several guys there. They simply wouldn’t care about a non-promoted artist.
– But shouldn’t Pitchfork want to support good music, even if it’s not been paid for? That would be in line with their brand.
No man, they have policies for that stuff. Not even your local magazine would do that. If I tried to get an unknown artist featured on Avopolis, the Chief Editor would say, “C’mon, no-one knows this guy. Our daily traffic is only 10,000 people, so who’s going to read about an artist with no fans? “. I’ve seen it happen. So if that’s Avopolis, can you imagine how strict Pitchfork are? Besides, Pitchfork isn’t independent anymore. They’ve been bought by Condé Nast, so it makes even less sense for them to take any chances. In order to go mainstream today, you need a publicity agency.
– So did Khruangbin use an agency to get famous?
Of course – they used more than one. Look, any manager who knows what they’re doing is spending money on their client. So an up-and-coming artist shouldn’t be surprised if their manager one day says, “You’re in debt to me for €20,000. But don’t worry – when I’m able to get you €20,000 for a show, you can pay me back. Until then, I’m spending money on your wardrobe, photographer, videographer, Art Director, and PR, and it’s €4000 for each of those “. Even the most talented artist in the world can’t avoid this. That’s why I got out of the mainstream music business, since the one thing I couldn’t afford was the paid publicity.
By the way, I don’t understand how an indie artist can spend €2000 to record an album without setting aside some money for promo. It just makes no sense at all.
– Have you had any bad experiences with artists disregarding the importance of paid promo?
All the time. I have artists who bring me their albums and say, “Hey Dimitris, I made this album and spent €2000 on pressing vinyl for it. Can you release it on Just Gazing? “. I have to be honest with them and say, “Who told you to press all those copies when you don’t even have good artwork on the cover? And why spend all that money on vinyl instead of saving some of it for PR? “. But y’know what they tell me? They say, “Who cares? The music is good, so the album will sell anyway “. That’s €2000 out the window as far as I’m concerned, and it’s reflective of the work ethic many young musicians have here.
– So what’s a possible solution? Any ideas?
Athenian indie labels could easily band together and create a music collective or committee that regulates how they all do business. Let’s say there’s twenty of us, and we create a common treasury that each label contributes €1000 to. When it comes time to spend €2000 on a vinyl release, we can just take the money from there. Not only that, but the committee could vote on which albums deserve their money. Whoever has the most industry experience could be put in charge, and the rest would only have to lend their support. It’s not a difficult thing to do.
– So why doesn’t that happen?
Because the Greek scene is closed-minded. Instead of everyone talking with each other, they’d rather talk at each other. Yet no-one has earned the respect to make decisions on what music is good and what’s not, or what business moves an indie artist should make. At least in the US you have guys like Rick Rubin who not only produce albums, but are taken seriously as veterans whose advice can be trusted. None of that exists in Athens because all the artists and labels think they know best. Not even a well-known producer with tons of experience like Alex Bolpasis can tell a band what to do, and neither can I. If an artist brings me a record and I feel it’s unfinished, I’ll say “Is this album really done? You might want to work on it a little more “. But they’ll just say “C’mon, we’ve already spent so much time recording this. It’s done, so take it or leave it “. I’m not going to argue with someone like that.
– Do you think it’s more a problem of work ethic or a lack of business acumen?
Both. Here’s an example: Sakis Rouvas released a song in 2001 that I still play to this day. It’s called “Disco Girl“, and was well-received in France. It was recorded in Paris, and rumor has it the labels there wanted him to tour in France. But rather than build a career for himself internationally, he chose to return to Greece and play shows here because the short-term money was better. So that’s the work ethic and business acumen even our biggest artists have.
– I understand what you’re saying about needing paid promo to sell albums, but what if an artist wants to use his music to explore sync opportunities and collect publishing royalties? You don’t need PR for that.
Publishing? The Greek music industry doesn’t even have a performance rights organization at the moment. We had one called AEPI, but they were hit with a scandal over non-payment of royalties in April 2017. They eventually had their license revoked, and the company was taken over by the Greek government. €42 million in publishing royalties is still owed to Greek musicians, which the government is supposed to be paying out. But of course, it hasn’t happened yet.
– But don’t Greek artists know they’re supposed to get paid when their music gets synced? Why didn’t they protest the non-payments?
A lot of Greek musicians don’t know what ASCAP or PRS even is, and when their music gets played on places like BBC Radio, they have no clue about it. But I’ll be honest with you – I didn’t understand the importance of publishing either until my time with Monika. So I’m speaking from first-hand experience when I say we don’t even know what to inquire about.
The Greek music scene is one where most people find their fulfillment in releasing an album so they can tell their friends about it. Instead of getting paid properly, they’d rather say, “Look, here’s my album. Do you like the artwork? That’s me playing. Have you heard it on the radio? “. So many Greek acts will settle for what I call the “pat pat”: the ego trip of being recognized in the street as someone who plays in a band, instead of being someone who actually makes a living from their music. And since they get patted on the back for it by their friends, the trend continues.
These conversations come up every time I write my column. My peers come up to me and say, “Stop being so negative! We should be grateful that people even listen to our music at all “. But when I ask them how they expect to make a living from their music, they say “Make a living? I work as a lawyer and play music on the side. I don’t expect to make much money from this “. Do you think someone like that will ever demand their royalties? Of course not.
– But it’s hard to believe that upper-level bands will settle for that. The guys who sell the most albums will surely expect to get paid from their publishing?
I know artists who sell records and never even ask the label about their numbers. They feel so lucky to have the release that they refuse to “bother” the label with questions, which is ridiculous. If you want to stick around long-term, you need to know how much your vinyl pressing costs, how many copies you sold, and what your percentages are.
Picture this scenario: you get signed to an indie label in 2017, and your contract says that you get your masters back after three years. Now it’s 2020, so the label comes to you and asks, “Do you want us to transfer the masters to another label, or take them down from our streaming channel so you can reupload them to your own? But keep in mind that if we take them down, you’ll lose your current streaming numbers “. Most Greek indie artists aren’t even prepared to handle that kind of negotiation, much less provide the proper answer.
– I get what you mean. It sounds like a bad situation.
It is. And it’s sad when people don’t show any sign of wanting to help anyone other than themselves. When Athenian artists want an international release, many of them come to me because I have access to platforms like Juno Records and Beatport. If I like their record, we’ll make a deal for my percentage and I’ll get the music onto those websites. But not one of those artists has ever come back and said, “Hey Dimitris, I contacted a record store and made a deal with them to stock your label’s albums. So if you offer me a percentage, we can all make money “. That kind of thing doesn’t take much effort, and it’s not like I’m asking for anyone’s charity; if you sell ten of my records to a store for €10 each, you’ll get 20%, which is a good split. As a label owner, I don’t have time to call all the stores in the world, so there’s a free sales job just waiting for anyone who wants it. But if I make that suggestion to someone, they’ll say, “Sorry man, you just want me to do free work for you. How much of a salary would I get? “. Are you kidding? At least prove what you’re capable of before demanding a salary.
But that’s just how things are here.
– Let’s talk more about Just Gazing. What artists do you have on the label, other than Sillyboy?
We’ve released music by artists like Raed Raees, Kyrios K and Smalfeels, and collaborated with a label called Won Ton Records to put out albums by Metaman and Regressverbot. There’s also an upcoming Whereswilder album that I’m hoping to put out. They’re the best indie rock band in Greece at the moment, and with The Orchard as my distributor, it could be a promising release. But the thing is, even the best Greek bands have a hard time competing with the ones from the UK, France and other European countries, so it’s challenging to break them in those territories.
– What kind of deal does Just Gazing offer its artists? A record deal? A distribution deal?
That’s all the same thing to me. Usually an artist will bring me an album, and my job is to see how completed it is. That means evaluating everything from the artwork and packaging to the press release. Since most artists won’t have all those things, each deal I offer will look a bit different. But if they come to me with an album that’s mastered, with good artwork and a believable press release, I’d probably suggest that we both chip in money and buy some promotion for it. If the record is good, I might even pay for the promo myself, as I’ve done in the past. But in either case, we always split the revenue.
– Have you ever had to work extra hard to secure a deal for one of your artists?
That actually happened recently. BTS is the biggest K-Pop band in the world, and one of their members is called V. He recently said that one of his favorite tracks is “Secret” by Sillyboy’s Ghost Relatives. When I heard that, I told the UK label who licensed the record, Claremont 56, to tell our Asian partners to maximize the free promotion. If I could, I would’ve taken a flight to New York and tried to secure a publishing deal since Sillyboy’s music works well for sync, but I’m still working on it. That’s what you do when the biggest boy-band in the world is promoting you. You don’t just sit on your hands like I’ve seen other labels do in similar situations.
– Let’s talk about distribution. I’ve heard you speak negatively about platforms like DistroKid. Can you elaborate on what the disadvantages are with that?
It’s a service many Athenian bands use, but I can think of two reasons why it’s not the best option. Firstly, Distrokid isn’t part of the major label infrastructure, which is what most streaming platforms serve. For example, most of Spotify’s shares were bought by major labels, not by companies like Distrokid. So their releases aren’t likely to be included in Spotify’s most important playlists. Those playlists will focus on major labels and important distributors like The Orchard, who are owned by Sony. This is how big companies recycle their money, and it’s just common sense. Secondly, how do you know Distrokid is paying what they owe you? Every million spins on Spotify is supposed to pay €3000 – €4000, yet there’s several cases where people have claimed that Distrokid misreported their numbers. The Orchard can’t do that because they service many well-known indie labels, so there’d be an uproar if the numbers weren’t honest.
I also think about these things in terms of community. When artists on my roster get booked to play festivals, they do it together. We have a show in September where Sillyboy, Raed Raees and Smalfeels are all on the same bill, which makes everyone look good. But if an indie artist would rather go solo with Distrokid, be my guest. That kind of mindset doesn’t interest me. I’m providing a system that delivers honest numbers in exchange for paying The Orchard their percentage, which means I’ll always have your back. If I see your music blowing up in Germany, I expect my distributors to maximize that, and if it doesn’t happen, I call them about it. How do you expect to have that kind of dialogue with a faceless platform like Distrokid?
– So what does a good release look like to you? Walk me through the ideal process for Just Gazing.
Sure. The first thing my brother and I do is send out the album to bigger labels that we respect. Secretly Canadian might be an example. Our hope is for them to say, “We love the album and want to license it. How about we print 5000 copies of vinyl and split the earnings with you 50-50? “. A similar situation happened when I licensed Sillyboy’s Ghost Relatives to Claremont 56. They managed to sell all the vinyl copies and even had success with digital sales, plus sales in Japan. So we split the earnings 50-50, and it was decent money for us.
A second option could be that the label wants to pay us an advance in exchange for a smaller royalty percentage. They might offer a €10,000 advance and 20% royalties, but to be honest, the 50-50 split tends to be the better deal, especially if the label has the kind of reputation that leads to higher album sales.
Next comes the promotion, which would be included in our licensing deal with the bigger label.
– Why not establish your own relationships with promotion agencies, rather than rely on bigger labels for that?
Because promo agencies will only work with you if you keep feeding them albums. I’d have to deliver at least four albums per year and pay an average of €2000 to promote each one. So let’s say I want to release albums by Whereswilder, Smalfeels, Noda Pappas and Tfatfy. I’ll go to a promo agency and they’ll say, “Cool, we’ll need €2000 for each one. If you can advance us half the money, we’ll get to work “. It’s the same with physical distribution: you guarantee them X amount of albums, and they’ll give you an estimate on how many vinyl pressings to do, usually based on your streaming numbers. But since I can’t pay €8000 for all those albums, I have to focus on pitching to bigger labels.
After promotion comes touring. The bigger label will introduce us to some agencies, and the talks could go like this, “Guys, Mac Demarco is going on tour. Do you want to open for him? “, and I’ll say, “Sure, my band has four guys. Can we get €500 per show? “. Now all of a sudden we’re managing the band, and that’s how things get rolling.
– What are your hopes for the future of Just Gazing? Would you like to be bought out by a bigger label?
No, I’d like to remain independent and find the funds to drive my business for a year. That means I’d own my masters and secure a publishing deal to pitch my releases for sync placements. I’d release an album every three months and work with a good promotion agency to get the word out. In fact, if I could replicate the recent success of Sillyboy’s Ghost Relatives with each of my upcoming releases, I’d make enough money to fund all my operations.
I’d also like to have two employees on monthly payroll. One guy would be responsible for booking our bands within Greece, and the other would assist the publishing company with whatever they need, plus working to get our acts touring internationally within six months of their album release. I’ve yet to see a single Greek label who put together that kind of operation, so I know it’s a challenge.
– Not even Panik Records?
Panik might have succeeded on a local level with artists that play traditional Greek music, but will any of their acts play at Coachella? I don’t think so. I’m talking about labels who can launch their acts internationally, not just in Greece.
– So if the labels aren’t doing things right, what about bands? Are there any bands around who make good business decisions?
Planet of Zeus is doing it right. For a band that always self-released their albums, they made a good decision to put out the last one on a label called Heavy Psych Sounds, which provided some career opportunities. For example, when their booking agency learned that the album was coming out on an international label, they extended the tour to include shows in the US.
1000mods is another example of a hard-working band. They played shows, saved their money, and bought a van so they could tour the DIY way, just like bands in the Washington punk scene did.
I’d also like to mention the Greek trap scene. Unlike the rock guys, the rappers actually got together and made their music successful. Sure, they’d rap about shallow things like drugs and partying, and they even pretended to have beef with each other. But then they’d jump on Instagram and say it was all made up to sell records. It changed the Greek music industry when Spotify app downloads went up 110% nationwide because of those guys. Greece had already turned its back on streaming years earlier when Spotify launched a huge campaign with Cosmote, the biggest communication provider in the country. Hardly anyone signed up for it, even when the subscription was free. So I have to give credit to the rappers for not only introducing Spotify to their generation, but helping all of us get paid by making streaming more popular.
– We’ve talked about a lot of negatives, but are there any upsides to the Greek scene?
The music itself is the only promising thing (laughs). Say what you want about the business side, but Greece does have great artists, and the time of year is coming when people start to appreciate that. Pop and dance music generally rules the summertime, but once the fall arrives, people want to hear new, exciting artists, and Greece has a lot of that.
– So what are your future hopes for the Greek scene?
I’d like to see more artists have a good understanding of how their careers work. Because of the success we’ve had with Sillyboy, he’s now familiar with terms like publishing, promotion and internationally touring. I’m tired of artists telling me, “I need to get paid from abroad so I can tour there. Are you working on that? “. I’d rather they understand that money could come from a licensing deal with a foreign label, which could lead to international touring opportunities, and we’d need to take enough vinyl and merchandise to sell. That information is like education for some artists, but for others it’s just gibberish.
– Thanks for talking to me Dimitris. It’s been a very enlightening interview. So what’s next for you in 2020?
I have Whereswilder and Noda Pappas albums to put out, so I’m working on a plan for those. It wouldn’t be satisfying to release them without any promo, so I’m waiting for bigger labels to get back to me. But perhaps we’ll focus on the local market by pressing 200 copies of vinyl, selling them across four shows, and spending the revenue on promo. We’ll see what happens.
The upcoming Sillyboy album is great, though it’s different from his older material. I’m waiting to hear the new Villa Boas single, and I expect Tfatfy’s upcoming album to be even better than their last. I also have a collaboration that’s unfolding with an Asian label, so we’ll see how that goes.