SEASON OF MIST – interview with Laetitia Abbenes

SEASON OF MIST – interview with Laetitia Abbenes


Contuing a small series of interviews in which I try to understand how the pandemic situation is affecting various areas of the music industry, I had a chat with Laetitia Abbenes who does Promotion and Marketing for Season of Mist label and who took her time to explain some details on how ‘life’ has been for them for the past months. Luckily it’s not a grim situation and below you find the transcript of our phone call in which you can see it for yourself.

How is it going with you guys? First of all, how were you structured when it comes to offices? Did you actually have an office or have you always worked from home?
We actually have three offices: France, Netherlands and the US. We have always worked in the office but somewhere in March we have started working at home. But we’ve now been back in the office since May. Here in Netherlands we’re usually two people at once so it’s not hard to have one of us staying home if the other one happens to be sick for example. It was like that already that only two of us would mainly be in the office, out of all the Dutch based team
You don’t get often visits from musicians for example, to be worried about these?

No, we are in the middle of nowhere in Netherlands and most business is done online as we work a lot via emails.
On the bright side, not having a bit amount of employees you didn’t have to part with any of your staff.
Indeed. Of course, everyone fears that’s what will happen. Especially at the start when nobody had any idea if there’s any income from the online shop and how it would be with working from home. But the Dutch government and the French government had some funds for companies who had losses. Government helped a lot of companies to be able to continue.
I’m glad to hear that. Not that it had to happen, but that there was support for such businesses.
Exactly. But on the other hand, it is very tough for the live scene. A lot of venues are firing a lot of their staff and some of them have to probably close for good.

How are you guys handling the merch nowadays? Has the production of merch been affected? Do you make your own merch or have own storage? Are there delays?
The merch is sent out via France where our main stocks are located. They had a very serious lockdown so when the virus hit France we didn’t know if employees would be able to go to the warehouse and make any shipments, even if the postal services would have been running. Nobody knew anything. Eventually it turned out that they were allowed to go in but they had to make two teams. The teams were not allowed to meet eachother and they had to work at completely different hours. This way we managed to pack and ship stuff even during the lockdown.
Do you know if there have been big delays in package deliveries?
I know there were a lot of them but to be honest I don’t know the situation at the moment. I’m sure there’ still plenty of them all over the world. Here in Netherlands, they compared the post deliveries to Christmas time for example. Things were slowed and more crowded than usual, but they handled it in the end. Nothing got lost. I don’t know the situation in other countries.
That’s good to hear

How about the releases that have been scheduled during the lockdown? How have you handled them?
Initially we had to look into if we are putting out the releases that were due for end of March and April. We had to consider that shops were closed and there were delays in deliveries. We decided to actually go ahead with those but consider these factors. For example, we did release the album by Benighted knowing that the physical copies would be available later than originally planned. Some other releases had to be postponed though. For example Carach Angren, we discussed with the band and together took the decision of postponing the date as we wanted the album to be available in the shops, as it was an important release. That’s why it got postponed about a month and looking back at it, this was a good decision.
So you’re saying that physical stores still have a big impact on numbers and it’s not like almost everybody is ordering online nowadays?
We did, of course, see a big increase in online numbers as far as I was told. But we also do distribution for other labels, hence our income is affected by distribution and shops and this section was dead for months. Good thing this is not our biggest source of income, but it did get rather affected.
What about the merch that was meant to be out at the same time with the releases? Did that lead to any issues?

Not really. We have cases where you prepare, let’s say, 500 special boxsets that you expect to sell on tour which comes with the release. So you end up with extra stock, but it all ends up in the online stores now. For Carach Angren we have ordered enough material but even without a tour, they have sold everything. So this wasn’t really a problem.

Another aspect I can think of when it comes to new releases, is that most of them, nowadays, come together with at least a release concert, if not a whole tour. Are you guys involved at all in live events and if yes, what can you tell me about this aspect?
We do not play a big role in the concert part, no. We encourage bands and state that it is a good idea for bands to go on tour after releasing an album and we might help negotiating some aspects of the tour, but it’s mainly up to the bookers.
But I know for sure that festivals are a big event for labels and their bands and these events offer lots of new possibilities. Yet, there hasn’t been any festival this year…
Yeah, this is a shitty situation for everyone. Everything is being postponed for one year, and the 2020 lineup goes to 2021 which means that bands who are releasing an album this year might not stand a chance of playing a relevant festival for them, like Inferno or Roadburn or so.
I wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of the organizers for the next months. I wouldn’t know how to find the balance between bringing the big names, keeping the existing bookings yet trying to add the bands who deserve a spot due their hard work and awesome recent releases.
Some are trying to add an extra day, but that’s not an option for everyone.
I personally wouldn’t like that, it’s already exhausting as it is. But let’s see what the solution will be.
I’m wondering though, how much new business is based on, let’s call them ‘festival encounters’ where people sit down together, have a drink, make a joke, discuss some business, introduce someone to someone else and so on?

There’s indeed quite some interactions taking place there. I know for example that during Hellfest, all the French offices are making new deals on the spot with either new labels or bands or distros and that part fell out this year. But if needed, I am pretty sure the people know where to find eachother online. It is not as fun and the negotiation process is not the same, but the business is not stopping. But in time we’ll see if there’s anything you are missing.

What about streaming events? Do labels participate in them or not too much?
We handle the PR part of the events, sending out the events, but we don’t do much when it comes to setting up ourselves. It was an interesting new aspect to learn about, live features on Facebook and Youtube and the help needed to spread the links or adding them to your page and so on. This was a learning curve for us, since it’s not stuff that was in use before.

Thanks so much for the insights in how the pandemic has affected the label and I am actually glad to see that overall it is holding ok for now.
That is true. But if this continues for much longer, the situation might change. So we have to wait and see. We’re doing our best to keep the business running and support the artists we are working with.
Hopefully people will keep buying merch and support via online purchases as much as possible. Fingers crossed!

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