Lion Music - 2001 Interview with Lasse Mattson

Interview with Lion Music head honcho Lasse Mattson. August 2001
From a Record Industry perspective, via Lasse Mattson
Written By: Wogboy

This is the 'In The Spotlight' page. Here we take a look behind the scenes, with the small but growing rock label Lion Music. Technically based in Finland, these guys focus and specialise on those neo classical and progressive rock genres. Of more interest though, is how a label like this goes about doing business on a day to day basis. Read all about it from the brains trust behind it all Lasse Mattsson, who answers some questions from Luigi Cisaria. (Aug 2001)

Thanks Lasse, I believe you (and Lion Music) are based on a small island in Finland?
Yes, actually we are located on a small island between Finland and Sweden. We all speak Swedish here and culturally we are Swedish. We are also independent in some ways. The place is called the Aland Islands (*Editors note: Nikolo Kotsev lives on the same island!).

What is the history behind Lion Music? How did it all get started?
Lion Music was originally started in 1988 as a production company. Our first client was guitarist Lars Eric Mattsson. We produced three albums for Lars, 'Eternity' in 1988, 'No Surrender' in 1989 and 'Electric Voodoo' in 1991. These albums were licensed to Black Dragon Records in Europe, Apollon in Japan, SKC in Korea and 'Electric Voodoo' to Leviathan in USA. In 1992 when Lars started the band Vision, we produced their debut album, which was released in Japan once again by Apollon and Roadrunner in Europe. Vision did well in Japan.

In 1995 when Lars returned after a three year break we produced the album for his 'Astral Groove' project which was the first release on Lion Music as a label. It was hard in the beginning to find the right distribution for our CDs so the first releases were quite sporadic. The second Vision release 'Till The End Of Time' came out in 1997, followed by Lars Eric Mattsson's return as a solo artist with 'Obsession' in 1998.

The same year we re-released two much sought after out of print releases, the first Vision album and Lars 'No Surrender' album. Our major distribution was still at this time through mail order. During 1999 we decided to become a real label, and our first signing was the legendary grammy nominated Italian guitar master Alex Masi, and we released his 'In the Name of Bach' together with Mattsson's all star 'Another Dimension' in January 2000.

The Internet Revolution during the late 90's opened a lot of doors for us, we could both find a new audience as well as distribution for our releases, and suddenly it felt much easier. During the year 2000 we also released Torben Enevoldsen, Denmark's finest guitarist, Rolf Munkes a great German guitarist with a melodic hard rock project.

Also, the legendary Swedish group Baltimoore and their fifth album 'Original Sin', the progressive metal project 'Condition Red' featuring Lars Eric Mattsson, Alex Masi and Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater), US power metal act Jarra and a best of album from Vision. The year of 2000 was when Lion Music really took off.

During the first half of 2001 we released another album from Denmark's Torben Enevoldsen, two Lars Eric Mattsson re-releases, the return of the legendary US guitar hero James Byrd, the Lars Eric Mattsson produced debut album by young Swedish power metal act Winterlong - Valley of the Lost. And probably the biggest challenge you could imagine, 'Warmth in the Wilderness A Tribute to Jason Becker'.

The label's artists up to now have been mainly neo-classical/prog metal bands. Why this particular genre? Would you consider branching out to other styles of rock/metal?
I only want to work with music I personally like, this includes neo classical/prog metal but also power metal and melodic hard rock. I hate nu-metal, death metal, rap metal and all that shit. If I did this for the money then I would not do metal at all.

Like yourself, most hard rock/metal label bosses say they are in it for the love of the music, and not the money. So, if the money isn't coming from the music, where does it come from?
I do many things. I run a studio and I am involved in a mail order business. Of course I would like to make more money from the label.

What does Lion Music look for when considering bands? I see on your website that you won't consider any demo's recorded with a drum machine.
Yes, every day I get demos from people who play widdly widdly guitar over a totally boring drum machine based backing, and I just can't stand it. Actually, we already have all the instrumental music we need so we are now looking for vocal projects mostly.

Can you go through the steps involved from the time a band is signed to releasing their album.
Normally the bands come to me with a finished product which we license and this is how we prefer to work. Winterlong is an exception. With this band we took care of the production and they recorded the album here in our studio. We will only be able to work like this a few times per year, since the studio is also used for other projects.

We get many CD's each week and about once a week I go through them. With most CD's it takes less than a minute to decide, unless I like it, then I listen through it a few times. What turns me off is when finished CD's offered for licensing are done with a drum machine. Add a Yngwie clone to that and you have the most common type of demo we receive. Also singers who can't sing in tune is a common problem.

The first step is often to send out copies to possible territorial licensing partners, for instance in Japan, Korea, Russia, Taiwan. Sometimes I get the finished artwork and something I get the pictures and stuff, then I put everything together and add our label details, bar codes and stuff. I make the CD masters in our studio. Then the artwork is sent away for the making of films and after that the CD's are manufactured in Germany.

After I have a finished product to release, it is time to work on the promotion. Since we are a not so big a label, we can't afford very big advertisement campaigns but I try to target the most suitable magazines. If there is one where we don't have distribution then I will not advertise there of course. Then I send out promo copies. I have a list of 600 addresses but I don't send everything to everyone.

Some guys are only into heavy metal, some are only into progressive stuff, some want AOR, some hate AOR. And you have to talk to the distributors. Usually I send the CD copies out a month before I have the albums so that they know what to expect. When you receive the CD's you need to push the distributors again.

Can you give us an insight into what a day/week would be like for you? It's not as glamorous as people think, is it?
I work a minimum of 12 hours each day, 7 days a week. A lot of time is spent in front of my computer e-mailing, arranging advertising, interviews, talking to magazines, websites, distributors. I am always on the hunt for new distributors. I make both promo packages and bigger packages with CDs for distributors, deliver them to the post office. I also do some work in our studio like mastering, copying stuff and such. It's not glamorous at all!

Recently Lion Music released 'Warmth In The Wilderness - A Tribute to Jason Becker'. Not only a worthy cause but also a great collection of music. For those who don't know can you explain how the album came about.
I was talking to a UK writer, Nicky Baldrian (From Strutter Zine) who suggested someone should some day do this and I immediately decided to go for it without really giving it a second thought. I must say that I did not know what I was doing then, because it has been an incredible amount of work, but I am very glad I did it. It's a 'once-in-a-lifetime' thing!

I have been working on this for about a year, practically every day. It is a double CD with 31 acts produced all for the benefit for a musician suffering from the disease ALS. Everyone took part totally for free and even Lion Music is donating their profit to Jason.

On the Jason Becker Tribute there are some interesting artists that I'd never heard of before. For example Cyril Achard, Tony Baena, Project Alcazar. How did you find them? Any plans to release further material from them 'cause they all sounded great.
Some found me, some I found. Cyril Achard is quite well known in France. I will be working with both Cyril and Project Alcazar in the near future. I was contacted by lots of musicians, but not everything worked out of course.

I'm looking forward to the new Alex Masi album, which you are releasing shortly. What can we expect?
Alex's best band album. There are some really cool songs like 'Crow Haven's Corner' and even a cover, 'Blue Monday, Blue Day' (Foreigner). It's 80's hard rock with amazing guitars and great vocals. All the songs are really cool.

What is your vision for the future of Lion Music and hard rock/metal in general?
I will need to grow a little so that what we do becomes more cost effective and that we remain focused on the type of act we deal with now. I want Lion Music to be a 'brand' that will guarantee a certain quality level so that people either hate everything we do, or like all or most of it. In general I think the market will grow a little but it will never be a huge thing again. Real hard rock/metal is hurt by shit like Limp Bizqit which is marketed as metal even though it is something else.

Check out all the great bands and artists mentioned in the interview by Lasse above, over at Lion Music's site.

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