ZZK Records: Label Showcase and Interview w/ Founder El G

In this interview, Dubspot Instructor Adam Partridge aka Atropolis meets up with ZZK Records founder Grant C. Dull aka El G to talk about running an independent label, licensing, touring, struggles, and more.


Interview w/ Zizek Records Founder El G

In 2007, I spent my first four months living in Buenos Aires, Argentina working on a short documentary about the diverse music culture within this great metropolis. During my stay, I was introduced to the music of Zizek, which is a collective, label, and movement that started in Buenos Aires. I remember listening to their first volume they released and I was taken back by the unique sound; it was unlike anything I’ve heard before. Over the years, I’ve had opportunities to work with the labels artists. I have done remixes for El Remolon, as well as share the stage with other label artists including Chancha Via Circuito, La Yegros, and the founder himself, Grant C. Dull aka El G. In other words, I have been a long time fan and supporter of this label.

Currently, Zizek is reaching outward to the music community to get support for their cause. They are on the fine line of pushing forward or not, depending on the success of their crowdfunding campaign. It is not easy being an independent label and surviving in this industry.

I recently had the pleasure to interview one of ZZK Records founding members, Grant C. Dull. The interview explores the reality of running an independent label, crowdfunding, the history of the label, as well as other great insights that anyone who is interested in launching their own label will appreciate.

If your are inspired by this interview and by the music of this label, please check out their crowdfunding campaign. To learn more about the label or donate and support their community efforts please visit ZZK Records.

zzk records

What is Zizek? Can you please briefly tell us about the history of ZZK records? When did it start? What inspired it? How did it come together? Where is it based?

Zizek started as a weekly dance party. The idea was to put the emerging sounds of Buenos Aires and Argentina on blast. We wanted to create a space where people could go dance to all kinds of music in one night. Not just electronic, not just hip hop, not just dancehall or dubstep, but everything under the sun. All the stuff that we were interested in at the time. Cumbia became an early protagonist, from the amount of music and quality the producers were bringing to the way the crowd reacted. So essentially, Zizek became a laboratory for sounds and ideas as well as a raucous, fun, wild dance party at the same time.

ZZK Records started with this energy. We realized after a while that there was a lot of really good, really different, really authentic, original music coming out of the dance club, so we decided to start a record label. The record label essentially was going to promote the club, but soon after we started talking about it, we started getting offers to tour, so we said OK, let’s take it there. Let’s take the Zizek party wherever we can.

Originally and inevitably ZZK became a platform for artists experimenting with Latin American and electronic music. It is a platform for artists to create and grow. ZZK 2015 is just that, it’s more than a record label, it’s a platform, a production house, and a creative hub.

The party started in October of 2006 at an unknown club in San Telmo, Buenos Aires. The record label was born in March of 2008 with a compilation of the best tracks coming out of the club night, dubbed “ZZK Sound Volume 1 – Cumbia Digital.” ZZK is based out of Buenos Aires, but our team is also in Atlanta, Houston, and London. It has also been expanding artistically for the last two years; we’ve started to sign artists out of Argentina, with the inclusion of Animal Chuki in 2013 and Nicola Cruz in 2015.

How does the city of Buenos Aires influence ZZK?

I think ZZK is a modern day representation of Buenos Aires. It’s a place where ideas meet and clash, where cultures crisscross, mash-up, and where intellectualism meets the rough streets. Buenos Aires is a very cultural, artistic, and intelligent city. I came here and learned more about my own culture than I had growing up back home. Porteños are extremely connected and interested in art, literature, music, and culture from around the world. It’s a place to get connected to that. I think ZZK represents that thirst for information and culture. It’s also a very creative city. It seems everybody is either a musician, an artist or a performer. Thus, there’s a lot of creation, innovation and experimentation. Buenos Aires produces a lot of great art! Music, cinema, performance art, theater, culinary, and more. We definitely feed off that energy, and the city represents the music that comes from the artists.

As the founder of an independent label, what tasks does this entail in regards to signing, releasing, touring, branding, and distribution?

As the day to day director of ZZK I have been or am currently involved in all aspects of the label, artists, releases, branding, and distribution. We have distribution partners, so I’m not directly distributing.

When we first started the label, we winged it. We aimed high, said yes to most tours, made deals with a lot of different companies, and just went at it at a bullish pace, headfirst into the “industry.” Of course, we made a lot of mistakes, but those mistakes always teach us something, and we get better at it the next go around. This “go for it” attitude was reciprocal with the feedback we were getting. The energy and drive were feeding on the demand and interest, so we just went with it. Originally we toured everybody, managed them, took care booking, nd put out their records. We built the marketing behind it all. It was kind of nuts, but it worked… so we thought. After about six years of this pace, we slowed down a bit. We were neck deep in the industry, and the industry was beating us up. Non-paying distributors, a ridiculous touring schedule, and in debt to labels and companies just got to be too much. We decided to scale back the operation a bit and try to line up teams for everybody. Instead of being involved in all facets of the business, we just wanted to concentrate on the foundation of the label and the music. That’s where we are today.

In summary, as the founder of an independent label, I did everything I had to make ZZK a global force and managed to somehow not lose my mind or soul along the way. I have since returned to the roots of the idea and release great new music from great new artists. We also partner with people who are serious about helping us out while not making the same mistakes as before.

ZZK is currently running a crowdfunding campaign. What is crowdfunding and why is ZZK doing it?

ZZK’s current crowdfunding campaign is essentially to keep things moving forward. We just signed an amazing new artist, Nicola Cruz from Ecuador, and we want to be able to provide him with the proper promotion and production his album deserves. That involves publicists, radio agents, illustrators, graphic designers, and video makers. The label alone can’t afford half of that with what we’re currently pulling in, so we have been crowdfunding for eight years. We’re hoping our friends and fans give a little back to this independent operation that has been relentless in giving the world great new music from Latin America for the last seven years.

What are the challenges of running an independent label?

Every day is a challenge; you have to be creative and on your game all the time. You can’t get complacent, bored, unimaginative, or uninspired. You have to deal with the business side and the art side, which isn’t always compatible. You also have to be sensitive to some things and business minded for others. It’s a delicate balance.

I often hear major vs. independent labels. Both rely on licensing and touring, rather than record sales. What role does licensing play among the ZZK community?

We’ve had our hands in all parts of the pie, and we’ve had success and failures at all points. Licensing is key in the label game. Thankfully we’ve had a lot of licenses in the seven years. It’s one of the things that has helped us keep afloat for so long. We’re currently entertaining some offers from companies in Europe and the USA to work our licensing. We also have a partner in LA that has a large chunk of our catalog and is constantly looking for licensing opportunities.

How does a label go about getting their music licensed? How does it work? Who do you work with? If you don’t mind, would you be able to give us a general breakdown of percentages for future label founders, so they have an idea of what to expect? (no stress if you don’t feel comfortable doing so).

First and foremost you have to have good music. Something that both stands out and gets heard or seen. You can have the best music in the world but if nobody hears about it, nothing is going to happen. We work the marketing and PR angle as much as we can. We know we have good music, so we put a ton of energy into spreading the word, in every format possible including tours, videos, mixtapes, websites, artwork, merch, documentaries, etc.

Historically we’ve worked with a couple labels and a management company. The most success we’ve had is with Waxploitation, a current partner at the label. They approached us in 2011 with a solid roster and track record. Through Waxploitation, we’ve got placements on a bunch of TV shows, advertisements, and video games. We’ve been very lucky! Essentially you need to find people who have a deep rolodex and a lot of experience with licensing and synchs. Music supervisors are the gatekeepers, and you need to get your music on their radars.

As for percentages, it varies. Some companies take a lot while others take less. Let’s just say everybody is taking a piece of the pie, so you’ve got to be ready to divvy it up among a cast of those involved. There’s not really a standard anymore out there.

In the next weeks, I’m hoping to close some new deals for the future of the label. We will have our hands in licensing and placements, and it’s key for us to get our music out there and synched. It’s true, we cannot make ends meet on record sales alone.

What is public relations? How does ZZK go about doing their PR, is it in-house or do you work with PR companies? Do you find good PR to increase sales and bookings? I find PR to be a very interesting part of the industry. Artists are able to get a lot of good PR placement, but it doesn’t really seem to do much for them in the long run. Any experience with this or suggestions on how to go about PR.

Public relation is how you communicate what you’re releasing to the world. We mostly do it in-house, but for bigger releases we contract publicists in different regions. We also work with a music company in London called Kartel who helps us connect the dots for press, PR, and distribution.

PR is essential. As I said before, it’s half the game. You have to swing for the fence as much as you can and hope something hits. You never know when something is going to hit, so you have to work as hard as possible to get the word out there. Sometimes the best PR and music gets unnoticed, it’s happened to us at ZZK. Other times you do the same job for an album and it takes off. I really can’t quantify how this happens, I guess it’s just the magic of the moment. You have to believe always though, if you don’t believe it the music, nobody else will. Good press definitely helps sales and bookings. It’s all interconnected, hence working PR as much as you can. I also think good music somehow manages to penetrate through the hype. As we’ve seen, you can spend fortunes on the PR campaigns to create the hype, but if the music doesn’t live up to the hype, things can go wrong real quick.

My suggestion is to not rush things. Try to line up the best PR campaign you can and have as many assets as possible. Feed the machine as much as you can. As an indy label, you really have to be active and have your megaphone cranked up loud to actually get heard because there is so much music coming out these days. This includes all formats including digital, physical, touring, photos, artwork, remixes, videos, etc.  Everything has to be on point. I’m not saying we always do this but we definitely always try to have something that stands out for each release. Whether that be a remix or a mixtape or a website or a video. Best case scenario, is you have all that ready to go. Don’t skip out on the details. The details is what’s going to differentiate you from the rest.

If there is information regarding ZZK, or running a label you would like to share that these questions did not allow you to?

First and foremost you have to be in it for the love of the music and game because chances are, you’re not going to make all that much money. If your heart is it for the money, get the next boat on to some other industry! If your heart is in it for the love of the music, the energy, and the magic, then you’re headed in the right direction. Mind you, that’s my opinion, and I could be wrong! Maybe I should just become some industry douchebag and just focus on the money… Naa, that would suck. I feel very lucky to be doing something that inspires me and so many others. Inspiration is my current currency.

About Zizek Records

zzk records

ZZK Records has just turned 7. What began as a weekly party in the underground Buenos Aires music scene has turned into nothing short of a musical revolution. The epicentre of the “Digital Cumbia” and “Folktronica” laboratories, ZZK Records is renowned for reviving South American sounds for the hyper connected 21st Century. With artists like Chancha Via Circuito, La Yegros, El Remolon and Frikstailers, to name a few, nothing has been the same since ZZK decided to bring their sounds out of the sweaty club nights and showcase it for the world, in albums, tours, videos and more.

In recent years the label has been expanding in vision, depth and roster. What was once an Argentina centric label has branched out throughout the region, with the recent signings of Animal Chuki from Lima, Peru and Nicola Cruz from Quito, Ecuador. The label has also collaborated with the legendary Bolivian indigenous singer, Luzmila Carpio, closing the circle even more between the ancient native traditions of Latin America and the digital revolution the world is currently undergoing.

ZZK has also delved into documentary film making with 2 current projects in development and production. A Musical Journey, a documentary made during La Yegros debut European tour in 2013, tells the story of how ZZK has infiltrated European dance floors and reaches a crescendo with La Yegros 1st show in Paris, sold out with the audience singing along. The Nu LatAm Sound is a documentary series which aims to tell the story of the whole region, where this music came from, how it got there and where it’s going.

Connect with ZZK Records!

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | SoundCloud

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