INTERVIEW WITH KLAYTON AND JAMES RHODES
Where did you get started in the music industry, and how did that lead to creating a label?
Klayton: Playing in bands as a young teen fostered my desire to make music my livelihood. The reality of that at the time was you needed a record deal and those were hard to come by. Through circumstance, I eventually landed a small deal and that started me on the path of becoming a full-time musician. After several bad record deals that should have ended my career, it became clear to me that if I was going to survive and succeed in this business, I had to take matters into my own hands. That was the impetus of what led me to start FiXT.
“IF I WAS GOING TO SURVIVE AND SUCCEED IN THIS BUSINESS, I HAD TO TAKE MATTERS INTO MY OWN HANDS.”
James: My journey all goes back to simply being a fan of Klayton’s. His 90s industrial project Circle of Dust first drew me in and then I followed him over to his next project, Celldweller. I met him for the first time in the fall of 2000 through a Celldweller street team studio visit, and in the following years found myself managing the street team, becoming his first employee (running all of his merchandise and e-commerce). Shortly after starting to work for him, I got a job offer from his manager at the time to move from Iowa to Los Angeles. After only a year in LA, I realized that wasn’t where I wanted to live and moved back to Iowa, but with the idea of continuing to work with Klayton in some official way. Landing back in Iowa, we concluded the path forward was to operationalize everything we figured out to support his career and turn that into a record label and bring on other artists.
When the label first started, what was the initial vision, direction, and mission? What did you want to accomplish most?
Klayton: The initial vision was survival. I needed to figure out how to do everything from A-Z within my own means if I was going to survive in this industry. James was the first person I ever let into my world, as I was very protective of the very little I had built. He worked for free for a few years and made himself integral to my career as a musician and a key component in the plan to build a real label that would support not just me but many other artists. All these years later, we feel like we’re only just getting started!
“WE’VE GONE FROM JUST A HANDFUL OF ARTISTS TO 30+ ACTIVE ROSTER ARTISTS WITH A MISSION TO BUILD SUSTAINABLE CAREERS FOR THEM”
James: For me, the vision was always to build the machine that would serve Klayton’s own career the best, and by way of doing that, would inherently enable any other artists on the label a path to success. Klayton has always been the pioneer of forging new paths and then opening those up to more artists. As far as musical direction, the roots have always been finding unique multi-genre hybrids—artists with a special vision and ability to do something different than everything else out there. Early on, the mission was pretty simple—survive and grow our artists and build an audience. Now in our 16th year, the mission is a bit more evolved, and we’ve gone from just a handful of artists to 30+ active roster artists with a mission to build sustainable careers for them and our staff, connecting the music to global audiences while delivering world-class service. And service comes in multiple forms: artist and label services, service to our fans and customers. We’re a service-based company putting artists first.
As the label went on working with more and more artists, and the industry shifted from full albums to singles, physical to digital, how has Fixt adapted to that model and what are your thoughts on how things are changing within the industry?
Klayton: In several ways we were already doing things before it had become the norm in the industry. Again, much of those ideas were experimental and meant to help us survive an extremely volatile and ever-changing business. Releasing singles was something I started doing long before it became popular, and I gave away my music for “free” on MP3.com when everyone was selling their music so that I could participate in advertising revenue and stay alive. We feel like it was and now definitely is important to keep music coming more consistently vs the old school model of making people wait years for an album.
“WE EMBRACED STREAMING EARLY AND TRY TO BE A FORWARD THINKING LABEL, NOT HOLDING ON TOO TIGHTLY TO THE OLD WAYS OF DOING THINGS.”
James: We were experimenting with a single heavy focus before streaming became the single focused Goliath it is today. In the early 2010s, we were doing singles and merch drops taking an “album” and spreading it out into “chapters” and doing limited edition merch and CDs built around two tracks, packaged with bonus remixes and instrumental versions. Our mentality then as it continues now in the streaming era, is to not make fans wait years between albums, but keep a steady flow of consistent activity and be showing up on fans news/social feeds, inboxes, and playlists as often as possible. We embraced streaming early and try to be a forward thinking label, not holding on too tightly to the old ways of doing things. This means we’re pretty much always evolving to stay current, relevant, and ahead of becoming antiquated. We realize we’re not just competing with other labels, but with artists going completely independent, so we’ve worked hard to put ourselves in tech advantaged positions with the way we structure our distribution, direct deals with various DSPs, becoming Merlin members, joining A2iM (American Association of Independent Music), and investing into building a large network of industry relationships as well as thinking long-term, while trying to avoid short-term thinking.
What are some of your favorite releases and favorite accomplishments thus far with the label?
Klayton: For me there are so many cool releases and accomplishments we’ve had throughout our history. I think my view is more general—finding artists that were in bad record deals, giving them a good and fair record deal, and then putting our actions alongside our words and growing these artists far beyond the sizes they were when we first signed them. Artists like The Anix, Fury Weekend, Soul Extract…the list goes on and on. It is always such a great feeling for us when we are paying out real money to artists at the end of each accounting period. I know how important making money from your art is, especially when that is all you want to do, so paying artists money and helping them continue to pursue their dreams and visions is incredibly rewarding.
“IT IS ALWAYS SUCH A GREAT FEELING FOR US WHEN WE ARE PAYING OUT REAL MONEY TO ARTISTS”
James: We’ve had nearly 1,000 releases over the past 15+ years, and it’s all been so great that it’s hard to pick favorites, but there are definitely a few that are special to me personally, and, of course, starting with Klayton’s own projects (Celldweller, Scandroid, Circle of Dust). In no particular order, some of those would be the debut Scandroid album (this synthwave album took a side-project idea from being a one-off to a full-blown artist on our roster that is one of our top performing artists in it’s own right), Celldweller’s album End of an Empire (which we created a supporting hour-long documentary for titled Start of an Empire), and all of the releases we’ve done for Circle of Dust.
Outside of Klayton’s projects, a few other really special ones include, The Anix. I heard a track of his on my Spotify Discover Weekly and fell in love with his sound. Shared it over to Klayton as a possible remixer for a Circle of Dust track we were looking to get remixed and Klayton also loved his work. After getting a remix from him, we quickly hit it off, but he wasn’t actively releasing any original music. After a string of bad label and management deals, he felt completely torn down, like there was no point in continuing to pursue music. After showing him how artist-friendly we are, how we do business, offering him a fair deal, and just letting him be the creative visionary he is and to let us handle the rest, he’s been unstoppable ever since. He’s gone from 25,000 monthly listeners on Spotify when we signed him to over 300,000 monthly listeners each month across all DSPs globally. His last album REVENGE, become the most editorially successful album we’ve ever released in terms of the number of official playlist features, clocking in over 40 unique features across 20+ DSP playlists.
Other key accomplishments are less about specific songs/albums but being able to make such a big impact on an artist’s career and helping them reach exponentially more listeners and fans than they could on their own. The average artist on the roster sees a 350% increase in their Spotify monthly listeners and some have seen 10-15,000% or more! Fury Weekend went from 1,500 to 230,000. Soul Extract from 250 to 100,000. Young Medicine from ~20k to ~220k, and it’s a similar story with most of our roster. It’s incredibly rewarding to elevate great art.
For someone who hasn’t heard many FiXT bands, where should they start? What are the five essential FiXT releases?
James: Celldweller: End of an Empire (2015) – A definitive album in electronic rock music with insane production and futurist synths mixed with heavy guitars.
Scandroid: Scandroid (2016) – Our first venture into vocal based synthwave, which put FiXT and Scandroid on the map within the synthwave scene.
The Anix: Shadow_Movement (2018) – The first full-length album we did with The Anix. A total sci-fi venture into futuristic rock and was the beginning of The Anix connecting at a whole new level.
Essenger: After Dark (2020) – A cyberpunk synthwave meets EDM powerhouse. This album put Essenger into a league of his own.
Raizer: Resurrection (2021) – A bombastic cyber-metal meets drum & bass fusion from Eastern Europe. The group’s sophomore album, but really where they hit their stride in building incredibly catchy songs.
Soul Extract: Solid State (2021) – A powerful mix of cinematic trailer builds, drums, and strings meets driving electronic rock with emotive vocals.
And so many more!
Dream release, you can sign any artist, put out anything they do, who would it be?
Klayton: Wow, tough question. There are a lot of artists I like that I think we would bring a lot of value to as a record label and could take their careers to a different level. Dance with the Dead, HEALTH, Drumcorps, Fear Factory, Volkor X, Muzz, The Browning and lots and lots more!
James: I’d absolutely love to work with Bring Me the Horizon, Sullivan King, Enter Shikari, Gemini Syndrome, Skillet, or Starset.
What upcoming FiXT releases are you excited for (that you can talk about)?
James: I can’t wait for the upcoming new album from The Plague. We rereleased a 2.0 version of his debut album Hope for the F.U.T.U.R.E. in 2022, but nobody is ready for what he’s putting out next—next level songwriting and a huge leap forward in sound/production and style. Over 16 years of working with artists and sometimes you just know something is special, and he’s one of those special artists. We also saw something special in Fight the Fade in 2021 and they have exploded in 2022 with more to come in 2023!
I’m also extremely excited for our first ever female vocal rock-based project Daedric. We’re only a handful of songs into the album and we’re seeing insane organic growth and engagement. 500,000+ streams across Spotify alone, plus millions of video views on TikTok, and we’ve barely even started. Big things ahead for Daedric. I foresee a lot of success with Kristyn and her producer team Geoff & Clayton behind her.
There’s also exciting things ahead from The Anix, Soul Extract, Scandroid, newcomer Prolix, and tons more. We’ve got multiple new releases every week.
What do you see for the future of FiXT?
Klayton: Big things! Our minds have exploded over the last year with possibilities. We’ve got the best roster we’ve ever had. We love working with our artists and keep the vibe of the label more about “family” than “business.” We are headed into a pretty significant growth phase, procuring some funding to do bigger things and planning on growing our current roster and signing some bigger artists. We’re being hit up more frequently than ever by other artists who are in bad deals or at a loss with how to move their careers to the next level who see by our actions what we can do as a label and are interested in making FiXT their home. There are so many bigger picture things we are working on behind the scenes and hope to be rolling out in 2023 and 2024, and I feel like this time next year we are going to look back and be proud of the things we have accomplished and all the things we still have yet to accomplish. We are living proof that you do not need to take advantage of other human beings and that being honest, fair, and hard working pays off. James and I are very clear on the ultimate vision—we want to be remembered in history for how we treated our artists and business partners and not for how much money we made along the way. The art and our legacy far outweigh money.
“WE ARE HEADED INTO A PRETTY SIGNIFICANT GROWTH PHASE, PROCURING SOME FUNDING TO DO BIGGER THINGS AND PLANNING ON GROWING OUR CURRENT ROSTER AND SIGNING SOME BIGGER ARTISTS.”
James: We’re in a massive growth phase. We’ve built out scalable systems and processes, worked extremely hard to get the right people in the right seats in the company, build the right culture and focus on the right things. We’re having significant year over year growth and each year is consistently our best year and we’re on a trajectory to double or triple over the next two to three years. Our history of success and continued efforts into film/tv/game licensing continue to blossom new relationships, opportunities, and revenue, and we see that growing significantly in the years ahead.
We’ve really built this like a family business, and our artists have a sense of community and belonging. We’re super proud of that. We hear other artists talk about never being able to get ahold of their labels—days/weeks to get a reply, or none at all. No communication, or they never see statements or get paid. We welcome our roster into a private Discord and make our staff available nearly 24/7, we have monthly Zoom calls with everyone on our roster invited. We’re really trying to build something different and something better than so many other offerings out there.
We’re playing the long game with multiple bigger artists stuck in bad deals just waiting to get free to move over and join our roster. The future is incredibly bright, and we’re having a ton of fun watching it unfold. And, of course, at the heart of it all is still our sense of service to our artists. Nothing makes us happier than seeing the artists succeed in a way they’ve never been able to before.