Interview with SubLevel Records CEO Kragen Lum (Heathen)

By Mick Michaels

COSMICK VIEW: Hello, Kragen! Welcome to The Cosmick View. Thank you for taking some time out of your day to chat with me, it's greatly appreciated.
Kragen Lum: Thanks for the interview!

CV: It's not uncommon today to see a lot of artists wearing many hats... songwriting, performer, producer, tour manager, etc. For you, you have taken it a step further with being the head of SubLevel Records. Do you look at it as a necessary component to surviving the "new industry" for an artist to evolve and be their own label?
KL: I actually started SubLevel Records as a way to release my own music with Psychosis and Prototype. I’ve always been the kind of person to take things into my own hands when needed. While I haven’t had many physical music releases in recent years, there have been a number of digital releases and, of course, the guitar books. I don’t have the distribution that some other labels have but I do like the ability to control my own destiny and release albums and books that deserve to be available.

CV: Does it ever feel more like a juggling act and less like a music career wearing so many hats at times?
KL: Sometimes, yes. I do have a lot going on but I really enjoy it. When I was a video game producer, I had to wear a lot of hats and manage large teams of people and large budgets. This is really similar in a lot of ways…except for the budgets. Haha!

CV: What have you come to appreciate being on both sides of business…as artist and as an executive?
KL: I think it’s been really interesting to see how different the business and art sides of it are. I’ve always known that they were different, of course, but in many cases the artists can’t understand the business perspective and vice versa. Learning to work with both sides and come to a common ground is always the goal. I used to absolutely hate the business side of things but I’ve really grown to enjoy it…well, most of it, and I want to pass on the business knowledge to the artists who I work with so that they have a better understanding of things.

CV: What do you feel are most artists' misconceptions about labels? Are expectations on the artist's part too high or even misconstrued regarding a label's true role in their career and their success?
KL: Many artists think that once they get signed they have “made it” and that they will reach success. Unfortunately, those high expectations often make for disgruntled artists who hate the record companies. We care deeply about our art and don’t want to compromise it for anything. Business often requires compromise. Knowing about how the labels and record deals work is really important as well. You really have to fight for every penny these days. And with streaming basically generating pennies, we have to be creative and find new ways to promote our music and merch. That and consistent output of music are really the keys to success right now.

CV: What about the opposite…what do you feel are common misconceptions labels have about artists?
KL: I think that many labels see the art and want to foster incredible music but sometimes lose sight of that when it comes to business decisions. Many of the people working at labels are in bands or were in bands so they have been there. It can sometimes be difficult to get artists to follow a plan without veering off course. As artists, it’s in our nature to look for creative outlets and following a plan doesn’t always sound appealing. Labels need that structure to release and promote albums on a timetable so it can be hard for them to see the artist side of things at times.

CV: From your point of view, how has the COVID pandemic affected not only record labels but the industry as a whole?
KL: I think that COVID has changed the music industry…and all entertainment, forever. People are creatures of habit. And they learned new habits during the last year and a half. How music and movies were consumed, where they shopped, what is important to them in terms of what they spend their money on, etc. I know that a lot of people want to get out there and go to shows but I think it’s going to be very tough to tour for a while. At least until the pandemic finally subsides and people aren’t concerned about variants and lockdowns.

CV: Can the music industry recover? Is there a silver lining we can all expect to see?
KL: It will just evolve. It’s already started to with the livestream shows and unique merchandise ideas. It seems that a lot of bands wrote music during this time as well so perhaps we will see a more regular output of music in the future. For the last 10 years or so, we’ve been seeing the bigger bands release music every few years, tour for a few years and then finally release new music. The industry became more about the touring and less about the music. The music was just a requirement to book more tours. I’d love to see things get back to the way that they used to be, when high quality albums were a regular occurrence. Bands used to release a new album every 1 or 2 years. I think of the mid ‘80s and early ‘90s when metal bands had so much incredible output.

CV: With live shows finally beginning to comeback, do you think it will be a return to many of the old ways of doing things or has this time off given lead to a new way of "doing business" in your opinion? Is a change needed as we move forward?
KL: I don’t really think we know yet. Until this first wave of post-COVID tours happens, we won’t know how the touring industry will be affected. Lots of tours in the US are booked for this year, but Europe is still pushing tours out to mid next year. Travel between countries may be different with COVID tests and other requirements. Certainly, when all of the tours happen in Europe next year there will not be enough buses, gear and crew to fill the demand. We’ll see how things play out.

CV: What do you feel is the biggest lesson learned from the events of 2020 as an artist?
KL: The most important thing that I learned from 2020 is that new music has a really, really short lifespan these days. From the first single, through the album release is about 6 months. 3 months after the album is released, the hype is over and people are onto the next thing. That’s just how things are in our short attention span, social media driven world. As artists, I think we have to understand and accept that and be willing to think outside the box to come up with new ways to keep the momentum going. Or just start new momentum.

CV: What can we expect to see coming from you in the second half 2021 and beyond?
KL: Well, I have several more guitar book releases planned for the rest of the year for Chris Poland, Toxik, Hatriot and Prototype. I also have new album releases planned for Heathen, Wreck-Defy, Vicious Circle, Prototype and Psychosis…a lot of stuff in just a few short months. I also plan to continue writing for the next Heathen album.

CV: Thank you again Kragen for spending some time talking and sharing with our readers. I wish you all the best and continued success.
KL: Thanks again for the great interview. Lots of interesting questions here!

Check out Kragen at:
SubLevel Records Online Store
SubLevel Records Bandcamp:
Kragen Lum Instagram:
Heathen Instagram:
Heathen Facebook:
Heathen Online Store:


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The Cosmick Voice
Music, Talk & Nothing But Business

My name is Mick Michaels...I'm an artist, music fan, songwriter, producer, show host, dreamer and guitarist for the traditional Heavy Metal band Corners of Sanctuary. Writing has always been a creative outlet for me; what I couldn't say in speech, I was able to do with the written word.  Writing has given me a voice and a way for me to create on a multitude of platforms including music and song, articles, independent screenplays, books and now, artist interviews. The Cosmick View is an opportunity to raise the bar and showcase artists in a positive and inspirational light. For me, it's another out-of-this-world adventure.

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