Marketing Your Self-Released Concept Album: A Conversation with Silent Line

There is nothing easy about taking on the responsibilities of marketing your new song or album, but if handled correctly the reward for your efforts will vastly outweigh whatever difficulties you faced along the way. That has always been the appeal of DIY promotion, and today there are more artists than ever taking matters into their own hands. Some admittedly have a better grasp on key marketing concepts than others, but I’ve always thought there is something to be learned from every marketing campaign you see. For example, you may not be in a Canadian metal band with a brand new high concept album being prepped for release, but if you take time to understand how someone in that position is dealing with the need to find exposure for their efforts you may learn a thing or two that can be applied to your future promotions.

With that in mind, I want to introduce you to Silent Line, which just so happens to be a Canadian melodic metal band with a brand new high concept LP that is being released later this week. The band has been around for the better part of the last decade, and along the way they have self-released everything they have produced, but this new record marks the first time the group has attempted a concept album. I thought it would be interesting to see how the members are marketing their release, especially given the fact they have no label to help them get the story of their LP in front of influential industry leaders, and thankfully for me the band was happy to oblige my request for an interview. You can find highlights from our conversation below, as well as a sample of the band’s new album.

I said this above, but it bares repeating: Even if you do not have a metal band of your own I can guarantee you that there is something in this feature that will aide you with your next release. Promoting a concept album is one of the most difficult tasks in metal PR, especially for a band that is still working to be recognized on a national level, and what works for the members of Silent Line will almost certainly work for your next release. Pay attention, take notes, and apply the lessons presented here to your own situation. The similarities may surprise you.

H: Let’s start with the basics. While I’m sure there are many Silent Line fans in this world who will read our interview, I’m willing to wager there are a lot of readers who will discover you through this feature. Please take a moment and introduce yourself.

SL:  Hi everyone! We’re a melodic metal band from Edmonton and we’ve been around in one form or another since about 2008. We’re pretty laid back until it comes to our live show, then we’re all business and focusing on making it the best, most professional set we can each and every time. Most of the time, we are planning for the next show or album and jamming whenever we can, our nights usually end with a few dead cases of beer and some greasy pizza.

H: I want to talk about your new album, Shattered Shores, but before we get there I’d like to talk about the band as people. I’m told you originally met in high school?

SL: Yep, we started jamming covers of our favourite bands like In Flames at the local “Rock Jams” which were a glorified talent show specifically for music. They were really amazing experiences at the time and was the only chance we had to play live until we were old enough to play bars. Myself and Randy were in the same grade, Andy was a grade or two below us, and Adam was ahead of us. We were introduced to Adam – who is a bit older than us – through a mutual friend who knew Adam played drums, quite the matchmaker he turned out to be. TL DR; we grew up in a crappy town and our only option for a passtime was to find other people and friends who loved music as much as us and wanted to dedicate their time to practicing!

H: Was metal the genre you immediately gravitated towards, or were their other bands and sounds created before you settled on what would become Silent Line?

SL: We’ve always been pretty set on making metal, it’s what comes naturally to us. We were called “Variance” before we switched our name, but we had the same songs and lineup so it was essentially the exact same thing. Really early on, in 2006, we were yet to develop our sound; at first we had “songs” that were just a bunch of riffs mashed together and didn’t have vocals. By the time we switched our name toSilent Line we had the whole first album written.

H: We might as well address your name now, as I’m sure it’s got many curious. Can you tell us a bit about the story behind Silent Line?

SL: Well… to be honest we are a bunch of video game dorks. On every CD there are multiple references to games we hold close to our hearts. For example, Born of a Dying Star, the song Titan’s Winter is a map from Heroes of Might and Magic III, on our first album, One Body Blade, the song Phoenix Down is from the Final Fantasy series and Attacker Takes Damage is an item stat from Diablo II. Our name doesn’t stray far from this sort of thing, it is from one of the most played games in our lives: Armored Core: SilentLine. Between it and Diablo II, our highschool years disappeared. On Shattered Shores, though, the term “…silent line” is incorporated into the song Erosion and refers to a lack of communication in a desperate time.

H: You’ve been releasing music since 2010 (One Body Blade), but your new LP is the first time you have created a concept album. What initially inspired you to turn your creative focus in this direction?

SL: It’s been something that I’ve personally wanted to attempt for a long time. I’m a huge fan of Coheed and Cambria and, if you aren’t a fan and don’t know, every album except their newest release are all concept albums. I think it makes the album feel more complete and cohesive. It’s like every song fulfills a purpose and belongs to the whole and with a deeper connection than a random assortment of songs that were written at roughly the same time and thrown on a disc. Having a riff or lyric appear in more than one spot connects those two ideas together and, for me, helps me appreciate the artist’s message a little more.

H: With that said, can you tell us a bit about the concept behind ‘Shattered Shores’?

SL: The main idea can be taken in two different ways: one is that we are truly stranded on this island, and the other is that it is a metaphorical island inside of ourselves that we are stranded on.  Either way, we have no memory of how we got there and no idea when it will end. It was written from a dark place, but, as some songs depict, with hope for the future. We wander the wastes alone in seemingly a never-ending remorseless winter broken only to bring about an inferno and there is an ever-present fear inside of us that we can’t identify. For example, the song “Black and White” is about aging and discovering not everything is simple, most decisions you saw as being black or white before are actually shades of grey and much more difficult and complex than you originally thought. Basically, everything is written from an individual’s perspective on this island and their travels and endeavors, but everything could be taken as a metaphor to real life situations. I hope that makes sense, it can be hard to explain the mess that is in my head.

H: It’s easy to understand how some may view that concept as a depressing one, and I guess that is going to be true for any story addressing feelings of isolation, but when listening to the record I get the sense you don’t see it as a doom and gloom narrative. How do you view the parable being shared?

SL: It started out being quite dark, but in the end I view it as a very stiff middle finger to depression. Yes, it is dominated by images and feelings of sadness, melancholy, and hopelessness, but the message is that no matter how bad it seems there is a ray of light somewhere ahead, even if you don’t know it. “Summersong” was written last but carries the concept of hope in times of hopelessness; as we could see the rest of the album coming together, it just felt right and came naturally. “Embrace the End” is similar, and does close the album. It should be an up-and-down experience that in the end leaves you elevated and defiant.

H: What came first, the concept or the songs?

SL: By a very slim margin a few songs came first, but by the second or third song we had the basic idea and the title worked out and everything flowed from there in roughly equal parts.

H: How did you shape the narrative through the music? Was someone in the responsible for making sure your story made sense?

SL: We incorporated a lot of rain and storm effects, they’re always present somewhere in the background even if they aren’t audible all the time. The music is more laid back but more powerful – at least in our opinion – than our last albums. On Shattered Shores we concentrated more on the overall feeling of the songs than the intricacy and complexity of each drum fill and riff. No one was responsible for making sure our story made sense: Andy wrote the lyrics for a few songs and I wrote the lyrics for the others and everything tied together nicely.

H: Member Mike Burton produced the record. Has he produced everything you’ve released? How does having a member with studio access and know-how help the band? Are there any drawbacks?

SL: Fortunately for this interview, I am the one writing it and if there is anyone more adept at shitting on myself than I am, I haven’t found them yet. We’ll start out with the benefits first though. I did indeed produce all our releases, and One Body Blade was my first real project ever, but Born of a Dying Star was co-produced with our old keyboardist Morgan Szucs. The major benefits include a lot of money saved – well, after purchasing all the incredibly expensive studio gear – as well as being able to take your time since you are not on the clock with every note you pick. There is room to be picky and strive for perfection in this sort of environment. If that take had a crappy out-of-tune chord, redo it. If that vocal take was 95% there, scrap it and go for the extra 5%.  Also, the amount of orchestrations, weird effects we experiment with for hours, and Pro Tools witchcraft on this album could simply not be done if we were to send it away for mixing somewhere else. Much of the orchestrations were added one at a time, sometimes subtracted only to be added back again. All of this eats up expensive studio time but since we own the equipment and plug-ins, this wasn’t an issue. We can create our own backing tracks for live use and bounce personal practice tracks for each band member (our drummer Adam would have each track as you hear it on the album but with all of the drums muted). An album with so many moving parts would be hard to communicate our intentions to someone else and would likely end up with us frustrating the hell out of them. As for negatives, the most detrimental point is that you get far too close to the mix and it is hard to be objective. Is that snare good? Does the guitar tone sound as amazing as you think it does or is it actually a wall of angry bees? I’ve always hated my mixes the second I am done with them, nothing is good enough. This album stands out in that we got Jens Bogren to master it, so he was able to provide mixing feedback as well as his magical mastering skills! I am quite terrible at guitar in comparison with so many people I know, so some of the takes were numbering in the hundreds. I’m not afraid to admit that. The only thing I am “good at” on guitar is writing our songs and the occasional sweep-picked lead run. We have been practicing our nuts off though and we are quite able to play all of this live. I think every band goes through a panicked phase when their new stuff is done. “Shit, we have to play that now?” At least for us, every album we make we try to challenge ourselves beyond our current skill level.

H: Shattered Shores is being self-released, which is admittedly what initially drew me to this album. You don’t see many metal bands taking the release of a concept record into their own hands, but with Burton on the boards I get the sense you guys prefer having control of your material. Did you try for a record deal prior to settling on a self-release plan?

SL: We did send our previous albums away to the big boys like Metal Blade, Nuclear Blast, and Century Media to name a few. We also sent press kits and albums away to smaller labels as well. It’s a brutal market out there and instead of waiting around we decided to take matters into our own hands.

H: To be fully transparent, you have hired someone to help promote the record. Is this your first time working with someone in that capacity?

SL: Yes we have! And it is the first time. It’s also the first time we’ve paid for professional artwork and mastering. We’re now wishing we did this before since Jon and all of Asher Media Relations have incredible contacts and have worked their ass off to promote our album. It’s not something we would hide, we know several local bands who have also hired promotional help, it would be impossible to do in addition to the album and still have a life.

H: What have your experiences been like thus far? Has bringing an outsider made a noticeable difference in your reach or exposure?

SL: Most definitely it has, we’ve got some articles and tunes up on Bravewords and MetalNationRadio with more to come, including you sexy bastards at Haulix Blog. But seriously, we really couldn’t have done this on our own, the best way to promote is to hire people who are skilled and have contacts from years of work. We have to support each other, and we are not afraid to pay fellow Canadians and support their careers in music as well.

H: Do you feel it’s better to outsource individual needs such as publicity and retain control of everything than signing a record contract? Is DIY your plan, or do you ultimately hope to sign a record deal?

SL: It’s hard to answer since we have never been on a real record contract, but it goes without saying there are some horror stories involved that make us happy we retain all our material and copyrights. If we had a vetted and reviewed contract in front of us and it would mean we could tour full time and release music, then we would jump on it in a heartbeat. It’s what we’ve always wanted to do after all.

H: What advice would you give to other up and coming artists who may be trying to promote their own unique release?

SL: If you’ve got something you really want to promote then do whatever you can to get it out there. We sat by as our last albums were released and received little coverage since we didn’t do anything except set up a release show. As a band there are only so many things you can concentrate on and achieve at any one time. Don’t spread yourself too thin or compromise on anything.

H: What goals do you have for the coming months, and what would you say is the biggest obstacle standing in your way?

SL: We’re organizing a big release show with some of our fellow Edmonton bands. This means that we are playing the full album Shattered Shores front to back, which is going to be a feat in itself. Planning the show  to be a handful too.

H: Do you have a plan to overcome it?

SL: Lots and lots of practice and perseverance. We just had a practice session on October 3rd and we completely shit the bed on one of the songs, we couldn’t play it to save our lives. The next day we got it nearly perfect after just a few run-throughs. There are always going to be obstacles, there are always going to be failures, but it’s not the end of the world. As the old Trailer Park Boys saying goes, “That’s the way she goes, boys. Sometimes she goes, sometimes she doesn’t cause that’s the fucking way she goes.”

H: Well if good music is a sign of career potential I think you’ll be just fine. Before I let you go, do you have any final thoughts or comments to share?

SL: Thanks so much, the last comment hit us right in the feels. We can’t thank people enough for spending some time listening to our music, even if they’re not fans. The response so far has been amazing, and we need to thank the online magazines, promoters, publicists, and our promo company enough for the awesome job they have done. We just hope that people get as much enjoyment out of listening to our new album as we did making it! Thanks for the great questions.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.