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An interview with John Kivel

An interview with John Kivel of Kivel Records

at Melodic Rock Fest 2, Eligin IL Saturday, May 1, 2010

Founder and CEO of Kivel Records, John Kivel has carved a respected niche for himself in the genre of melodic rock. Releasing a plethora of CD’s garnering favorable reviews from the likes of, bands such as Adriangale, Bombay Black, Farcry, Goodbye Thrill, Rockarma, Talon as well as singer Ted Poley all share kinship with the Kivel Records label. As a matter of fact, it is quite possible that right now, Kivel Records stands as the most prolific US-based record label for melodic rock music. Always impressed by the product quality (content, production as well as presentation), my interaction with John dates back as early as 2005 when I stumbled upon a copy of Adriangale’s “Crunch” and have been following the output of Kivel Records ever since. In addition to being a sponsor of MelodicRockFest 2, representation from Kivel Records’ bands was strong. Goodbye Thrill, Farcry, Talon, Bombay Black and even former Kivel artist Ted Poley were on hand to deliver modern melodic rock to an insatiable crowd. When not moonlighting as a camera operator recording a performance, John for who is always in sublime form, was more than enthusiastic to answer some questions about the business:

Q: It is a pleasure to see you once again…it seems to be an annual thing, whether it’s Firefest, the NY Kiss Expo…and now here at MRF2.

A: Once a year…once every two years…

Q: Exactly, always a pleasure…just a few informal questions if I may.

A: Sure, sure

Q: As a {record} label Owner, Executive Producer, A&R Scout and whatever other title you can apply to yourself, how do you have the time to accomplish it all…when it comes down to approving the final product and mixes, finding new talent…how do you manage it all?

A: That’s a great question. It’s really simple. It’s a combination of a couple things: time management and trusting the people around you to help you get the end result that you desire. I have a great team of people that I work with…Ty Sims, Producer/Engineer extraordinaire has delivered the “goods” for me on numerous occasions, Alex Salzman {Mastering Engineer} is also a fine talent. They know what I want and know how to get it. I can trust to hand it over to them and they will get it done in a timely fashion for me and I don’t have to worry about it until it’s time to review the final product. Then we go back-and-forth tinkering with stuff and I’ve got other people that, if I don’t have time to look at a band, I’ll pass it on to say, Laurie {Pauze}. She’ll listen to something and she’ll make her notes and then give them to me for review….of which I usually approve. So, I’ve got a lot of great people working with me that help me achieve that goal. And of course, you need to be good at time management as time management is key…and don’t get overwhelmed. Let “it” stay fun. The second it doesn’t seem fun, then it’s like getting up and going to flip burgers…and who wants to do that, right?

Q: Exactly.

A: …so that’s pretty much it.

Q: Despite the economic downturn {in the US economy, specifically} how is it possible that you continue to maintain such a highly polished product? From my standpoint, the Kivel releases possess outstanding artwork, the sleeve stock is second to none, the silkcreening on the discs themselves are beautiful…you just have a high quality product and I don’t know how you are able to maintain that level of quality despite the fact that people aren’t making as much money {these days} and things are getting more expensive

A: You’re right, you cannot ignore the state of the economy, but the things is this: Again, I have to say that I have a great team working with me, from F3 Studios to Starr Ridge Studios…these are great, talented people that help me deliver that goal. I’ll come up with these outrageous ideas for album covers and I’ll sit down with some of my graphic designers and ask, “Can we do this?” and {the response is}, “Yeah, we can do that,” “OK, Great!” It’s not everyday that you get a phone call and you hear someone on the other end say, “Alright, picture this…It’s an angel, and she’s on fire, and she just crashes to the ground…”

Q: That’s a beautiful cover (Ref: Talon “Fallen Angels”)

A: Thank you, thank you…I’m very proud of that. Most people would say “You’re nuts, we can’t do it.” My team doesn’t say I’m nuts…well, they say I’m nuts, {laughs} but they don’t say that “I’m nuts, we can’t do it”…they say I’m nuts for thinking it, but then they do it anyway. For instance, the Adriangale “Crunch” cover with big weight hanging above the guy on a string…
And I have a great team from the economic point of view…you just have to be smart and cost effective. You have to spend the money carefully. You can still get quality work out there at affordable prices as long as you have good rapport with the company, you bring them a lot of business, and you try to figure out a way to work the budget and still get the right goal. We’ve done covers where we wanted to a certain thing but then ultimately say we can’t and figure out another way to do it because if we do it {the original} way, it’s going to cost double the money…so let’s figure out a way to get the same result for less money. We go all out with a lot of these things…like the Andriangale cover…that weight, positioned above the guy…we actually made that. I can’t tell you what it’s made of, I don’t want to reveal all of the tricks, but we go all out. As far as the production, it’s the same thing: cost effective, get the product done within budget, don’t write a “blank check.” You basically say you got to get it done between this date (start) and this date (finish), in this amount of time…and we have to get it done. And I give a little latitude on how much time we can all work…but most of my guys usually get everything done within budget.

Q: Great. Besides the festivals and conventions that I normally see you at, the Kivel product does not seem to have much conventional distribution. In terms of going to a {retail}store and being able to find it…or at least domestically. Does that stand to change in the future?

A: Well, let me say this: Conventional distribution, I find that, in this day in age to be an oxymoron. It used to be that when we were growing up, I could walk down two blocks and find three record stores. Now, I can drive through two states and not find one record store, OK? {Retail} record stores are all but non-existent right now. Even BestBuy, which was considered the new age of record retailers…they practically don’t even carry CDs any more. I remember visiting a BestBuy recently in Massachusetts and their section of CD’s was smaller than the area we’re standing in right now (approx dimensions: 25’ x 40’). So, shipping your CDs to a major distributor to get into all the BestBuy, WalMart and similar chains is really not cost effective. The people that shop in BestBuy and WalMart, the majority are buying mainstream music or catalog material…such as the “Soccer Mom” that wants to go get Poison’s “Greatist Hits” CD or Ricky Martin’s
Greatist Hits.” That’s whose buying at the Target’s and similar retailers. People that are buying our music don’t shop at conventional record stores…they shop online. They access iTunes,, mail order companies like NEH Records, Metal Mayhem Music, AOR Heaven and that is where our market and niche is. We do have our CDs carried at some various Best Buy outlets and WalMart, but it’s in locations where there is actually a healthy sale of Melodic Rock music. What you do is basically target your distribution where you assess certain regions and areas...for instance, I wouldn’t send a Bombay Black CD to a store located in The Bronx (Borough of New York City)…no one is going to buy it, OK? But I may send a CD from Bombay Black out to the Midwest, maybe Indiana or someplace like that where Melodic Rock is still selling very well and bands visit when touring. So someone who is out in another part of the country might be willing to take a chance {and purchase} a band like Bombay Black.

Q: Speaking of e-commerce and the NEH Records (i.e. online retailers of Melodic Rock music), do you have any plans to update the Kivel Records website? It hasn’t seen any updates since I first visited it back in 2005!

A: {Laughs} Well, you’ve got to have the one dig in there and that’s the one…I can handle that. I will be the first one to admit, on record, that I hate, loathe and despise my website with a passion. I refer to it as an archaic piece of HTML that borders on a little hamster in a wheel running around to keep it up there. Obviously, I’m not cheap about artwork and visual product and production…I just can’t get around to update the website. I’d rather put a band in the studio, make a {music} video, do some {album} artwork, put a band on the stage…get them to play shows like MRF2, South Dakota Rock Fest, Firefest, Z-Rock…than having to worry about updating my website. Every year I say to myself, “This year I’ve got to update my website…”and every year, I never get around to it. You’ve got me on that one and if you see my website finally get changed in the next month or so, take credit for yourself because it was you that got it done.

Q: Wonderful. Well, on behalf of Fireworks Magazine, John Kivel, thank you for continuing to champion the Melodic Rock scene and I hope to see more bands with as high a caliber as you have been releasing.

A: Well, thank you very much Brent.

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