Paul Bibeau created Spitfire Records in New York in September 1998. He developed the company from his bedroom to become one of the premier independent record labels worldwide. DIO, TESTAMENT, Zakk Wylde, Alice Cooper, Sebastian Bach and EUROPE are just a short part of a big list of artists and bands who dealt with Paul’s company. In 2005 he successfully negotiated a partnership with Eagle Rock Entertainment (Eagle Vision), a London, England based audio and visual company. And all of this was just a little part of his successful career.
Metal Shock Finland’s Chief Editor Mohsen Fayyazi has recently conducted an interview with Paul and asked him a few questions which are mainly focused on the record labels and their role in the Metal music industry. Some of this conversation can be read below. But the whole of this interview would be published in the next issue of Metal Shock Times.
Hello Paul, how are you doing?
I can’t complain!
You worked for Warehouse Records & Tapes, Relativity Records, Mayhem Records Inc. and you founded, launched and rapidly developed Spitfire Records. So you know many things about the record labels, would you explain the role of the Record companies in the music industry?
Well, in the old antiquated business model, record labels functioned as follows: the banker, the career path developer, the sound/style creator, the radio hitmaker, the public relations conduit, the video director and the marketing muscle. Those days have long since run it’s course.
When I started my industry career, record labels were being devoured by multinational corporations. At the same time, radio stations were purchased in large blocks by Clear Channel Communications, de-emphasizing the disc jokey and their influence on airplay/talent. Record retail had shifted from cool mom and pop tastemaker stores to chain mall and big box outlets that drove up the industry marketing costs by charging enormous fees for retail price and positioning. If you were a label, you had to pay to have your songs on the radio and you had to pay to have your CDs in the stores.
MTV had exploded but was now completely exploited by the new corporate industry. Again, pay per play was the norm and hits/image coupled with a bottomless open wallet became the springboard to stardom for a select few in this brave new world.
Suffice it to say, I hated it. I was a major metalhead and I am proud to say I am still to this day. I worked for the independent label and distributor, Relativity Records. The company included Important Record Distribution (Metal Blade, Roadrunner, Nuclear Blast, etc.), Combat Records and In-effect Records. At the time, we were solely and fiercely independent. Shortly thereafter, Sony Music purchased 50% of the company (corporations never only want 50% off a business) and everything changed.
When I came up through the industry ranks, I felt privileged to be in the game. I was passionate about music, loved to perform music and felt I had my ear to the ground. I felt my love for music coupled with my experience as a professional musician and my tenure running independent record stores would provide the talent I worked with the insight to allow for a competitive advantage. I just wanted to unearth great talent and work in tandem with the band to develop their career. To me, the was the pursuit of happiness. That’s what I lived for…
Can you tell me what has been changed from the old days up to now?
Little did I know, the real change had yet to come, MP3’s/file sharing and Napster opened the proverbial Pandora’s Box and the industry has been in a tail spin ever since.
Label’s have little or no pull these days and yet they spend money like drunken sailors at the port of call. Corporate Radio has a shrinking audience and doesn’t take chances or try to discover, much less break talent. Record stores are gone and physical product sales continue to decline. Having said that, the industry still thinks they can use their power to break artists from the sky down, not the ground up. There is no patience for talent development so local scenes began to dry up while clubs shut their doors.
Artist and repertoire (A&R) doesn’t exist anymore. It is a copycat business. If Nicki Minaj is all the rage, every major label will go on a quest to secure the rights to someone just like her.
I am old school. The business as we know it is in the final stage of agonizing death throes. You know what? I am alright with it! It has to die! I see a new level playing field developing where the cream will always rise to the top. Bands that are smart, write great music and can tour their balls off have a shot these days. If a band is savvy and can use the internet tools at their disposal can build a huge global audience and market their music directly to the fan base.
I have always been a Kiss fan and I witnessed how they become the hottest band in the world. The played every dive bar in every possible market and did it again and again and again. The crowds grew larger, word of mouth spread and the venues got bigger. Kiss didn’t need a record label for any reason other than to provide them with the necessary start-up cash to record and deliver their albums to the label. Casablanca didn’t give a shit about Kiss. The label was all about Disco. Kiss become the label’s cash cow by their hard work through touring and putting on the greatest show on Earth!
Now, bands can record an album on their computer with Pro Tools without the need for a large cash infusion. Bands can write and craft songs that they feel from the heart. Songs that aren’t written just to receive airplay on a shitty radio stations. Bands can proffer their wares on Itunes and other digital sites and make the biggest piece of the financial pie. At the same time, new global markets are opening and yet another generation of metalheads rise to piss-off their parents!
Vivian Cambell and Paul Bibeau during the Holy Diver Tour.
What do you think about the 90’s and what happened to the metal music industry that led the old school metal to go down and it was nu-metal that seemed to be on the top?
I have come to realize that everything moves in cycles and why fight it. I love some of the bands and songs from the ’90’s but like every era, much of it just kinda drops off and is forgotten. Having said that, great bands always seem to develop in the underground with a sound and style that differs to the current fad band(s). Fads suck. If you are a band and your style is no longer the flavor of the month; don’t change. It always will come around again. I hate bands that try and stay current with trends. I am all for growth, but don’t change what brought you to the dance. I will never forget seeing the CD booklet for Metalica’s “Load”. It had an alternative looking new band logo, the band had short haircuts, eyeliner, Cuban Suits with Cuban Cigars and Martinis. Not to mention the songs…Don’t bother, your band will look like idiots. Stay true to who you are!
DIO released 2 albums “Killing The Dragon” and “Magica” via Spitefire records, where you in touch with Ronnie during those days? Can you tell me how did you find him and would you tell me if you have any particular memories of him?
Actually, I first meet Ronnie and Wendy when I signed him while at Mayhem/Fierce Recordings during the recording of “Angry Machines”. I had a great relationship with Ronnie. I learned a ton from him and I would enjoy his company all the time. With Ronnie, it was never so much about these are the songs that I, Paul Bibeau and the label want you to make. He and I would meet and discuss the overall album concept or direction, he would play some rough ideas or songs to me and he would would always be open to hearing my thoughts. Ronnie was Dio and he wouldn’t need a guy like me trying to tell him what to do. He was the King and I am honored to have spent so much time with the man in his Court! He was that great as a musician but even better as a human being.
My best Ronnie James Dio memory happened when I was young on the “Holy Diver Tour”. He played the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans and my friend Kirk WIndstein and I went to the stage door in the alley after the show. We waited to meet him and when he came out to get in his car service, he signed autographs and took pictures with us. I went to take a picture of him as he got into his car and my flash didn’t go off. The car took off, stopped, backed up and Ronnie got out. He took several more pictures with me (you can see them on my Facebook page) and invited us to hang with him and the band that night in the French Quarter. That was Ronnie. He was special! Little did either of us know, we would meet again and work together. You see, take care of your fans!
Wendy Dio, Paul Bibeau, Ronnei James Dio, John and Simon
You worked with many rock musicians and bands, and you had a very good career, but I’d like to know your opinion about your past, present and future? What are your plans for the future?
People always tell me to write a book, maybe one day… In many ways, I felt I was becoming the character Paul Bibeau and was loosing who I really was in the process. I got tired of fighting with financial partners, I just wanted to work with the talent, make and market great music. That’s when I was in my zone. All the rest sucked. That’s why I tuned my back and walked away for such a long time. Never called anyone. Never asked for work.
I am honored to have worked with so many great industry like-minded professionals and so many great musicians and songwriters. I must of been involved in well-over 500 projects in some form or another!
Money and career are not important to me. My plans are being are and have been all about being a dad. I have two sons, Robin (15) and Peyton (12). We formed a band seven years ago and I played bass, while Robin played guitar and Peyton played drums. They are now a full fledge band, Bibeau and we are working on their first record for delivery sometime next year.
I still consult and shop an occasional project or two. My desire comes and goes and I recently I started to launch a new venture and my financial partner unfortunately is dealing with some serious health issues. I eventually want to form a talent agency for management and marketing.
I’ve heard you’re playing guitar and you have a band, would you tell us more about your current projects, what have you been doing recently?
I played music for years growing up in New Orleans. I played in Victorian Blitz with Kirk Windstein from Crowbar and Down, Danny Theriot and Sid Montz. Those were great times and it gave me a unique perspective that most label heads couldn’t appreciate. I could always relate to talent because I was on the other side of that fence.
My sons band has a home recording studio and rehearsal space, so I play music with my boys as often as possible. I am enjoying recording as well as some photography and video production. At the end of the day, I remain happy while trying to isolate myself as often as possible from the insanity of society and all that entails..
Thanks Paul for giving me your time.
The pleasure was mine, Thank you and warmest regards!
* Interview by Mohsen Fayyazi