Interview with Efes of FS PROJEKT
Describe the making of your new single Kredo Tvoyo (Thy Creed) and why you released it independently. On Bandcamp it states the song is based on the computer video game Assassin’s Creed? What inspired this?
Indeed, Kredo Tvoyo was inspired by the Assassin's Creed game universe. I'm not going to shy away from the fact that this song, as well as my three previous special singles (Za Khladny Gory, Elfiyskiy Marsh and Iskusstvo Voiny), is an attempt to draw the attention of the respective target audience to my music and, thusly, to boost FS PROJEKT's coverage and exposure. In no way does it mean though that my intention to make this track was dictated by this reason alone. It just doesn't work with me. I usually can't do anything of a merit based on something (a plot or an idea thereof) that doesn't speak to me. I'm certain that one of the challenges in writing the lyrics for this particular composition was that the game's plot has very little to do with the actual history of the Order of the Assassins (which I studied as part of one of my university courses). And I wanted to write a song that would appeal to both the fans of the game and history enthusiasts. So I decided to build the lyrics around the сreed of the Assassins as is presented in the games and to question its morality. I intentionally give no answers, allowing the listener to decide for himself. By the way, non-Russian speaking listeners will be able to do this as well, as I've just released a translation video for this song. Go check it out on FS PROJEKT's YouTube channel!
As far as the making of Kredo Tvoyo goes... As usual I brought the fully composed and arranged draft of the song to Oleg Mishin (O.M., Catharsis, End Zone), my vocalist and co-producer. We recorded a preproduction demo, checked and double-checked the parts of all the instruments, verified the tabs, etc. Then I recorded the final guitars and bass at my home studio. Then the relevant materials were sent to Warsaw (Poland) to Pawel Jarosczewicz, who tracked the drums at JNS Studio. Simultaneously Rodrigo Abelha recorded the Latin percussion in Sao Paulo (Brazil) and Mike Trubetskov (EOL Studios) processed some samples in Melbourne (Australia). Then Oleg, his daughter Anna and yours humble recorded the final vocal parts for the song. I also recorded castanets and classic guitar. After this all the tracks were sent to Arkadiy Navaho (Navaho Hut Studio) for mixing and mastering.
As for why Kredo Tvoyo was released independently... I don't know how to answer this question, really. It's just the way it is. I'm an independent author. And keeping in mind how labels work today I can't think of a single reason why I should need one... However I'm always open to new offers as they present opportunities. If it's right and fair, why not take it...
Has FS PROJEKT only released those four singles, or are any full length releases out? How much has your musicianship improved through all the material you have released to the public?
Apart from the abovementioned four singles FS PROJEKT has released two EPs - Rozhdeniye Maga (2013) and Garpiya (2015). As far as my musicianship is concerned, I can say that it has been benefiting on all possible fronts since day one of FS PROJEKT. Nothing pays off as much as investing in one's own experience and skills. I also have the honor and privilege of being able to hire some great session musicians and studio professionals to record drums, vocals as well as to mix'n'master my songs, and I learn a lot from them.
Who are some of the musicians you worked with on your singles and EPs? Are any of them in established bands in Russia?
Here I would like to underline that I hire musicians only from professional acts. There's no place for amateurish stuff in FS PROJEKT. My songs are dear to me, and there's no way I'm employing anyone who doesn't make the cut. Besides, hiring session musicians from established bands and acts gives me a little extra exposure and weight, which is always crucial for any independent author. There's no point in employing no-name session musicians when I have channels and opportunities to hire well-known pros and not only get professional results recording-wise, but learn from them in the process of our cooperation, which is priceless. I have no interest in making FS PROJEKT a sort of a "nursery" for metal wannabes, especially when I'm the guy who pays for everything. And yeah, as FS PROJEKT's mastermind I'm regarding all of the musicians I employ as "paints and brushes" on the canvas of my imagination.
That being said, so far I've employed the services of the following session musicians and studio specialists: Oleg Mishin (O.M., Catharsis, Mango-Mango, Razgruzhat Vagony, ex-End Zone), Paweł Jaroszewicz (Hate, Antigama, ex-Vader), Andrey Itschenko (Arkona and hundreds of other bands big and small), Dmitriy Borisenkov (Chyorniy Obelisk), Evgeniy "Zhenk" Belousov (#####-5diez), Anna Mishina (Mrs. Greed and other projects), Rodrigo Abelha (Zambé, BandaRockCom, Nacionarquia, Iris Lacava, Luca Orsini), Arkadiy Navaho (Navaho Hut Studio), Paweł Janos Grabowskiy (JNS Studio), Alexander Dronov (Margenta, Valkiriya) and Mikhail Trubetskov (EOL Studios, ex-Gift of Madness).
With the geography of the musicians ranging from Russia and Poland to Brazil and Australia, one can safely say that FS PROJEKT is truly an international effort.
Shed some more light on how your previous singles and EPs were written and recorded. Were they worked on in the same studios or was each recording location different?
As of now, FS PROJEKT's releases can be divided in two groups: (1) Rozhdeniye Maga (EP) and Za Khladny Gory (single); (2) all the releases that came after.
The major difference is that "Group 1 releases" were pretty much a toe in the water for me. I had no in-depth experience in producing and recording. I had recorded some stuff before that, but that had been zilch as compared to what FS PROJEKT is all about now. Basically this was the period of figuring out the ins and outs of the production process and getting the hang of it. Back then I had no professional studio equipment at home, so I tracked all guitars and bass at Oleg's home studio. The drums were recorded by Andrei Itschenko at Orange Studio (Moscow), mixing and mastering was made by Dmitriy Borisenkov at Chyorniy Obelisk's studio, the keyboard sound design was performed by Alexander Dronov at his home studio. All the artwork was done by Max Master a.k.a. Paintrock.
"Group 2 releases" have started with the Elfiyskiy Marsh single. They can be characterized by the following significant changes:
- I was able to hire such a truly amazing and world-renowned drummer as Paweł Jaroszewicz;
- I started collaborating with Arkadiy Navaho, Russia's best metal mixing and mastering engineer;
- I employed the services of a new artist - Pavel Kurbanov;
- I finally acquired some state of the art studio equipment, so I've been autonomous in terms of tracking guitars and bass ever since (which has reduced the financial burden and time expenditures significantly). In fact, my guitar amps are one-of-a-kind pieces of equipment; having my own signature tone is an inalienable element of my creative vision;
- Oleg and I started working on keyboard and orchestra sound design without outsourcing anyone.
Don't get me wrong, the experience of working with such musicians as Dmitriy Borisenkov, Andrei Itschenko and Alexander Dronov is priceless, they're great musicians and I'm grateful for all they did for FS PROJEKT. Who knows, maybe I'll employ their services in the future once again. However, with Jaroszewicz, Navaho and Kurbanov everything sort of clicked into place, like a puzzle. Like Oleg, these guys understand everything right away. It does not mean that I just show them the songs and give them free reign. On the contrary, they're probably too polite and well-brought-up to tell me that I'm driving all of them nuts with my ultra-detailed zillion-page briefs! However, once they get the idea, they grasp and execute it to its fullest. Sometimes it even scares me a bit, as I have this feeling that they are actually able to see and "hear" inside my head. But I absolutely love it, because I leave nothing to chance during the tracking as well as mixing & mastering stages.
As far as the current organization of the whole work process goes, it's pretty similar to that I described previously when I talked about how Kredo Tvoyo (Thy Creed) had been recorded.
The most important thing here is that I managed to find the right people, which is the most difficult thing to achieve in any field. And I've been tirelessly working to further expand, enhance and build on this foundation. My approach is: "OK, the bass on the previous release is great. Now, let's outdo ourselves and make it sound even better on the next one", rather than: "Let's try something new". Basically, once I find something which works for me, I try to cut off everything superfluous and then push what remains to the next level. Same thing with people - the more we work together, the better the result.
How long has Oleg Mishin contributed vocals to your project and co-produced your releases? How has your experience working together benefitted you both? Is he or has he been involved in other projects?
In fact it was Oleg who actually nudged me to proceed with the implementation of my creative ideas back in December 2013. I had known Oleg and used to take guitar lessons from him. So in 2013 (after a forced pause in our tutor-student activities) I came back to him with the initial intention to continue taking lessons. However, when I told him that the end goal was to release my own songs (already composed), he told me that I should believe in myself, stop beating around the bush, stop waiting for being ready, but start doing it right there and then. That's how it all began. He's a great inspiration and pleasure to work with. I hope he feels the same way. I think that being part of FS PROJEKT allows Oleg to further explore and expand his vocal potential as compared to his other projects and bands which are quite different from FS PROJEKT's style, music and genre.
How much experience has Arkadiy Navaho had mixing and mastering for bands?
Arkadiy Navaho has been in the mixing and mastering business since the 90s. In my opinion with his twenty-plus years of experience in the industry he is the best mixing and mastering engineer in Russia and the CIS, who is more than qualified to hold his own against any of his colleagues from abroad. I really enjoy working with him. And what sets him apart from many others is that he does not stop until the desired creative vision is achieved in fullest.
Who is Pavel Kurbanov and what sort of art has he done for bands in Russia and elsewhere?
Pavel Kurbanov is a really cool emerging artist from Russia. He's got his own studio, Pavel Kurbanov Design Studio, where he creates logos, cover art, illustrations, merch designs and all other kinds of artwork for bands from all around the globe. I've been working with him since the Elfiyskiy Marsh single. He also produced all the designs for the current FS PROJEKT merch.
As you have worked with musicians of different genres and styles, how much effort went into finding common ground with them?
I must be blessed to be working with the coolest musicians ever! I hope they feel the same way about me. Finding common ground was 100% effortless on my part. I have a very professional no-BS approach when working with anybody. I have the vision, I know what I want, I'm paying the money, but I do my best to be polite, lighthearted, respectful and decent. The proverb "do as you would be done by" works like a charm for me every time. I'm also very specific when it comes to conveying my vision to others, i.e. if a brief or an assignment needs to be fifty A4 pages long - fine, if this or that idea needs an hour to be explained, that's exactly what I do. I don't even know what else to add.
My first exposure to FS Projekt was Bandcamp. Are there other social media sites where you stream your work? How well has social media promoted you in Russia and other countries?
I guess that, for good, or ill, the social media is an indispensable attribute of promoting anything nowadays. On the one hand, it's cool, because getting one's material across to one's target audience has never been easier (provided one has sufficient budget for this), on the other - not so cool, because when everyone can do this, it means that there's no perk in this. People try to invent new means to effectively promote themselves on the social media. However, once one comes up with some cool and working idea, it becomes outdated and redundant in about a week. Besides, the ever-growing amount of amateurish junk music on the social media is suffocating, and really cool pieces of music often get lost and are neglected in this "sonic clutter".
I used to invest in promoting my music in the Russian social media. However, when the economic conditions changed several years ago (namely the RUB/USD exchange rate) I had to abandon this in order to simply keep on recording my stuff at the same high quality level. However, I can say that although those investments had brought some results, they fell short of being spectacular, as such results require more financing than a regular everyday normal guy's salary can allow.
But I can't say that social media promotion is something I really like. I may resume doing it out of necessity, but I'd much rather invest my time and efforts into interacting with heavy music websites, e-zines, reviewers, magazines, etc. directly, because if e.g. my release gets reviewed, then I immediately have some real content to post on my social media and add to my quote sheet, EPK and so on and so forth.
How badly did the economic conditions around social media have an effect on the project?
The advertisement rates, both official and unofficial, have always been unreasonably high. The 2.5 time drop in the RUB/USD exchange rate just made it totally unfeasible for me (since everyone simply adjusted their prices to the new exchange rate) and was a signal to redirect my investments elsewhere.
How much more beneficial has corresponding with zines, e-zines, websites, etc. been for you as opposed to promoting on social media?
Social media promotion is impersonal... Like an ad in a retail chain store. Reposts, likes, retweets, etc. are just numbers. And although they may be important for some purposes, rarely do they reflect the actual state of affairs as far as public awareness and exposure go in such area as music. I know bands that have like a zillion subscribers and followers, but actually nobody knows them. And there are other bands that play sold-out gigs but whose social media following leaves much to be desired. I know for a fact that there are many people who don't follow FS PROJEKT on any social media, but they love and listen to my music.
Besides, it's not a natural process. I mean, if one has enough money, one simply pays the social media to force his stuff (even if it's mediocre at best) down the audience's throat (or ears to be more precise). What I want to say is that huge online following does not necessarily mean great music. What it means is the sufficiency of one's advertising budget.
Direct interaction with zines, e-zines, websites, etc., on the other hand, is way more satisfying, as you're actually trying to get your songs across not to some amorphous target audience, but metal enthusiasts, i.e. real people, the majority of which really love and feel for this kind of music. It shows in how these people react to my e-mails and what they write in their reviews.
However, as I've already stated above, the greatest benefit of all is that such interaction results in tangible content which I can immediately use for FS PROJEKT's further promotion.
Are your EPs and singles pressed into compact disc format as well as streamed on social media? If so, how many copies are you usually able to make for distribution?
As with many things, e.g. play-through videos, I thought that CDs were mandatory when I launched FS PROJEKT. So I pressed both of my EPs and the Za Khladny Gory and Elfiyskiy Marsh singles into CDs, 100 copies hand-numbered limited editions each. However I stopped doing this. Iskusstvo Voiny is a 100% digital release. Kredo Tvoyo as of now is physically featured only on two promo compilation CDs - Against PR - Death (Portugal) and Slowly We Rot Issue #10 2017 (Romania).
As to the reasons behind such a decision. Well, one has to admit that today no one seems to really care about CDs in general, let alone those coming from an independent author. The cost-to-income ratio is very low in this respect, so it's just not feasible. I use the already printed CDs for self-promotion purposes, as part of my merch bundle to express my gratitude to those e-zines, sites, blogs, reviewers and interviewers (like yourself) who are kind enough to spare their priceless time to review my work or interview me. So once I get rid (LOL) of those CDs, I'll press something which will better suit my needs, like a "gift & promo compilation" without any remastering and with some cool but minimalistic artwork and packaging. But I can say that I'm done with jewel boxed and fully bookleted CDs for the foreseeable future, unless something changes radically, of course.
How much has your distribution plan helped you reach more listeners? Are you able to save finances by releasing your work digitally instead of spending to print CDs?
I've been releasing and distributing my music in digital format since the official launch of FS PROJEKT. My songs are sold and/or streamed by all major digital outlets - iTunes, AmazonMp3, GooglePlay, Spotify, Deezer, etc. The thing is that distribution plans themselves do not do the promoting. I still have to invest money, time and efforts to boost FS PROJEKT's exposure. I'm doing this, trying new methods and channels to understand what works for me and what doesn't. But I think that abandoning CDs was the right thing to do. Of course it allows me to save money, as I don't have to pay for the design of CD booklet layouts and for the printing and packaging of CDs.
How much time do you put into promoting your work each day? And how do you keep up with the digital outlet sales?
I don't actually have some sort of a schedule. It's not like "I spend 15 minutes on promotion every single day". It varies and depends on many things both musical and not. I try to do this naturally and comfortably. I take these things slow, give them time to get the full picture of the results, try avoiding rash decisions, etc. It doesn't mean that I'm inconsistent. I'm always googling stuff, searching for new sites, blogs, and zines to send my EPK for reviewing. Unfortunately many things about online promotion and the opportunities offered by so many "heavy music promotion agencies" are bullshit and don't bring desired results. If such an agency offers to "send your stuff to like a zillion+ sites for XXX USD..." and says that "we can guarantee no results"... C'mon, you must be friggin' kidding me! What kind of a promotion agency is that?! I can and do all of that stuff myself for free, it's just a matter of being persistent, consistent, patient and disciplined. Had I some extra cash to invest in more costly promo campaigns I'd have better results. And theoretically I can do this by putting some of my non-musical expenditures on hold. But I won't do it, because I don't want to have the negative feeling of "I can't afford this or that because of my music". My music means so much to me, that I can't bear the thought of tarnishing it in some way, even to boost its own exposure.
As for keeping up with digital outlet sales. It's pretty simple. I use Reverbnation for my digital distribution. And this site provides me with all the necessary info and very detailed sales and streaming reports.
How much internet exposure has Reverbnation generated for FS Projekt since you began promoting through them?
Some, I guess. I'm constantly participating in promo opportunities they offer. But Reverbnation is not a PR or promo mechanism, rather a distributional, organizational and representational tool. PR and promotion are something different. And sooner or later every independent author understands that it is he and he alone who should be doing this. Not a hired pr-agent or somebody else. And this is what I'm doing currently, i.e. trying to pinpoint my target audience, to really know them, not like "power metal fans" or "Tolkien admirers". It's far too broad and needs to be really narrowed down. The natural question is "How to do it?” And the answer is trial and error. And it's not free. One has to invest into certain research activities to understand how to obtain and then actually obtain this data.
How do you go about getting to know your fanbase as opposed to finding listeners through a public relations team?
Well, that's the question I get asked a lot by fellow musicians... Same thing goes for writing a good press-release or forming a professional press kit. And I have to point out that I never give away any free information that may somehow affect my competitive advantages. I've been investing in acquiring this kind of knowledge for a long time, and I surely can tell anyone interested how I do things but for a certain fee. However, I can describe the process in general. Working with a PR-agency is disgustingly easy, you pay'em and they deliver whatever they can. The trick is that you pay your hard-earned money for their "whatever", which is hardly measurable in any coherent manner, since the data for such assessment is unavailable. You're not in control, and it's really hard to judge whether this or that move was right or not. However, when promoting yourself on your own, you're in total control. This makes all the difference, as well as what you do with the things you're in control of. It took me a lot of time and effort, trial and error to understand this, and I'm still making my first steps in this direction, but even now the picture is way clearer than it used to be when I employed others for my promotional activities.
What changes would have to occur for you to consider releasing your work on CD again?
The whole idea of printing CDs was my response to my listeners' demand. It wasn't like I couldn't live without having my music on CDs with fancy booklets and all that mumbo jumbo. There are always better things for me to do rather than checking and rechecking booklet layouts, looking for, negotiating with and visiting CD printing companies. This whole process is a huge pain in the ass. Anyway, I printed the CDs and found myself in a situation when nobody actually needed them. Not only did the majority of those who had demanded the CDs suddenly disappear, but those who didn't, told me that I (an independent author not backed by anybody, for crying out loud!!!) should be selling them at the same price as is charged for the CDs of well established bands and acts. I think this is totally irrational and unacceptable, because if I do so, I won't even be able to pay off the costs of making them! It's nonsense. Anyway, I ended up with two boxes of CDs that nobody wanted to buy. To tell you the truth, it's a rather unpleasant feeling to put it mildly. I decided to do something about it. I made some merch - A3 posters, embroidered patches, button badges, stickers and fridge magnets. So now I have this cool little merch bundle which I use for gifts to those listeners who come up with some fan-art based on my songs or for promo purposes, or as tokens of my appreciation to those bloggers and reviewers, who welcome my efforts to promote my music and write some cool and helpful reviews, interviews, etc.
So, you see, for me to resume releasing my music on CDs (and I mean like full color jewel boxes or digipacks), I must be sure that my listeners will buy them at my price. Otherwise, it's just a waste of time and resources. I'd much rather invest in some new merch once the old one runs out, or in some new promotion scheme, or something. Because, frankly speaking, I agree that CD-format is dead and has been such for a very long time.
How often do you mail those promo packages to fan artists, interviewers and reviewers?
Well, if one posts a photo of some original art or a video and says that it's inspired by my music... or if a reviewer, interviewer or blogger comes up with a helpful and honest publication concerning FS PROJEKT, he gets a free merch package as a token of my gratitude. It's as simple as that. One good turn deserves another. And this is a matter of principle for me, I never neglect those who are really supportive of my music.
How much are you able to conserve your finances while making the material that goes out in your promo packages?
I'm not (laughs). The design, manufacture and shipping of the merch cost money. So what? I consider this to be an investment rather than an expenditure.
Would you consider recording and releasing a full album if you had enough material?
The funny thing is that I already have more than enough material to record at least two full-length albums. Basically now I'm recording and releasing the songs I composed back in 2006-2008. Of course, I'm reworking and rearranging them. But the majority of plots were conceived back then. I have the material, what I don't have is sufficient funding. I take pride in the fact that my songs are professional in all possible respects, especially, production and its quality. However, one has to keep in mind that this doesn't come cheap. And with my wallet being FS PROJEKT's only source of financing and my having to work non-musical jobs (and thusly, taking away the time from working on my songs) to finance my musical activities (for obvious reasons, if you know, what I mean), it's really hard to think and plan in terms of albums. Don't get me wrong! If there's a beneficial way to release my stuff in an LP format without compromising the quality (there's no scenario when this is acceptable for me), I'll go for it. But for the time being I'm planning to stick with the single/EP and quality over quantity approach. My music deserves nothing less!
Is there new material you are working on and planning to release this or next year?
I'm currently recording my third EP which hopefully will be out sometime in 2018-2019. It's too early to fix a release date yet, because there are many variables to consider. As of now the pre-production stage is completed, and I'm in the process of recording the final guitar and bass tracks for my new work. Several things that I can tell you as an exclusive: a) this will be the longest of my releases in terms of its overall duration; b) it will feature quite a few guest appearances by various renowned Russian metal vocalists; c) one of the songs will be a fantasy metal oratorio. Needless to say, that the sheer volume of the work ahead is enormous, but I'm pretty excited about how the demo versions of the songs evolved during pre-production and I'm really enjoying the sweet feeling of anticipation.
Will you work with artists and musicians you worked on for past releases, or are there new talents you’ll work with?
Yes, as I've already mentioned, I'm all for consistency. Many of the musicians I've already worked with will be featured on the next release. There will be new names as well. I don't want to disclose them just yet. As the Russian saying goes: "Want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans". Everything will be revealed in its due time.
How actively will you seek new musicians to collaborate with once your new release is out?
Well, it's not like a have a specific goal of seeking out new musicians for every one of my releases. The decision-making process in this respect is pretty simple and goes as follows: there's a song; at a certain point during composing or arranging it, I understand that I'd like something different here in terms of vocals or percussion (since I track all guitars and bass myself, there's no point in inviting guest guitarists or bassists); then I fool around with the idea, to narrow it down to exactly what I want it to be, e.g. what kind of voice and vocal delivery I want for this particular verse; once the idea is crystallized, I look at the professional musical community and find the person who's right for the job (having checked out his portfolio, of course). From then on it's just a matter of negotiating terms, fees and other conditions. So, you see, I'm not inviting new musicians simply for the sake of inviting them or to show off, or whatever. It's the music itself that "tells" me when I need to hire somebody new, and when I don't.