I've been blogging (and hating that word) for quite some time now. I find it's easy because it's just me writing about any old crap that comes into my head, with complete disregard to other people and how bored they might get reading such rambling nonsense. So when Sean asked me if I'd like to write a column for DiS - a website I've been a regular reader of since day one, and indeed in it's earlier guise of The Last Resort - I was a little worried. In fact, it's taken me the best part of two months and tens of re-written drafts just to settle on a subject... Which, unimaginatively, is pretty much the same as my existing blog: A collection of thoughts, experiences and pointless tips from a struggling independent record label.
2009 > 2008
Happy new year and all that. I for one am pretty happy to see the back of 2008 with all of it's credit crunch talk and negativity. It started badly for us with Meet Me In St Louis deciding to prematurely call it a day, and it didn't end too much better with Pinnacle (partners of our distributor, Shellshock), Entertainment UK and Zavvi all biting the bullet around Christmas. It's one thing to be struggling yet feel as though you're getting somewhere, it's another to start a new uphill battle every single day, only to lose and start again from the bottom the next morning. The music industry, in the most part, didn't feel quite as fun anymore.
I'm writing this from The Four Candles, the fairly new Oxford city centre branch of everyones favourite dirty pub chain, Wetherspoons. My one and only resolution for 2009 was to enjoy myself more (I think the previous sentence alone tells you I'm winning) and with that comes the necessity to ensure I don't fall out of love with this wonderful - albeit hair-pullingly stressful - job of mine. The best way to achieve this, I decided, was to spend one day a week out of the office. And by office, I actually mean home. The corner of my front room, if you want to get really picky. I'm not one for all that feng shui nonsense but it's a well known fact that creative block can be eased by removing yourself from familiar surroundings, and they don't get much more familiar than mine. So here I am. 1.27pm in Wetherspoons, rum in hand, laptop fully charged and notebook ready.
Time to get creative
Despite the obvious distractions of £1.29 Sailor Jerry and coke and old men debating who they'd "like to smack," I've so far come up with 23 (and counting) new release concepts and formats. Not bad for 2 hours semi-drunk work. The ideas range from different ways to further the potential of digital music through to absolutely insane plots to tenuously link promotional ideas to releases in a way which might spark a bit of interest in this overcrowded market. It's not exactly reinventing the wheel, it's just making it a little smoother.
As the obsession with CDs "dying" and the contentious issue of the numbers of illegal downloads looks set to dominate the forthcoming months, it's never been more important for us labels (and I'm including everyone from my fellow bedroom DIY indies right through to the majors) to show a bit of creativity. It's something I've always tried to champion, but this year it's time to fully embrace it. Embrace it with double vodka and lemonade right now, in fact. Oh God it's only just gone 2.
My list - currently entitled 'The BSM Playbook: '09/10 Season' - is full of the ideas I hope will not only see us through what promises to be a long and rocky year, but will also show the music buying public that we're trying. I was drawn into this industry in the late 90's, clutching onto my limited edition Llama Farmers vinyl and Symposium promo's as if my life depended on it, and in some tiny little way I now feel it's at least partly my responsibility to ensure the next generation do just the same. You can quote facts and figures at me until you're blue in the face, I firmly believe there'll always be demand for a physical music product. Whether that's CD, vinyl, cassette or something we haven't even dared dream up just yet, there'll always be a crowd who wants it. Ok, finding these people and telling them about your product is far from easy, but my Wayne's World-aping philosophy of "if you put it out there, they'll find it" keeps us ticking and if a limited edition tape with free mug, half-price gig entry, a t-shirt which says "I love music and music loves me" and a link to free MP3 downloads is what suits our little fanbases needs, then that's exactly what they'll get.
Over the coming months I'm going to be thinking about this a lot more. Next month I'll be visiting Unconvention in Belfast for inspiration and ideas from some of the UK's key music thinkers and doers. In March it's SXSW and in amongst the live music, crowds of industry folk and BBQ's I'll be searching out the brightest sparks and, more importantly, the most enthusiastic supporters, to see what light they can shed on this subject. I'll be contributing to DiS every few weeks with ideas, suggestions and stupid possibilities. I'd love to hear what ideas some of you have and I'm sure I won't be the only record label owner reading with one eye on his release schedule.