Keep it real but keep it solvent: a handy survival guide for indie labels
Do it for the music and don’t overstretch yourself. Irish labels offer their tips
Rubyworks act Rodrigo y Gabriela
Fifa Records act The Frank & Walters
Owensie, who is signed to the Out on a Limb label. Photograph: Loreana Rushe
Deetrich, who is signed to Reekus Records
Popical Island act Land Lovers
Label manager, Rubyworks
Acts include Rodrigo y Gabriela, Ryan Sheridan, The Minutes, Wallis Bird, Funeral Suits, John Murry, The Original Rudeboys, Alberta Cross and Josephine
What is the one thing you would advise other indie label start-ups to do before they agree to release a record?
Ask yourself why you are doing it: are you doing it to help out some mates in a band? Or do you want to be the next Geoff Travis or Korda Marshall? Increasingly, bands are self-releasing; the demystification of distribution is the most punk-rock thing that has ever happened to the record business.
What’s the biggest mistake the label has made?
Niall Muckian started the label in 2002. I joined in 2005. I think the hardest thing to do is to manage outlay in a band’s career development against what you might get back; the investment is sizeable, particularly in trying to establish an act in the UK. We’ve made some mistakes, which are inevitable when you are dealing with music and musicians – it’s not an exact science. You learn from your errors, however, and the fact that we are still here and thriving shows we get it right more often than wrong.
What’s the best decision the label has made?
You can’t tell the story of Rubyworks without mentioning Rodrigo y Gabriela. Niall saw their potential back in 2001 when no one imagined two Mexican buskers playing Metallica instrumentals on acoustic guitars would sell a bean. They sold out the Hollywood Bowl last month.
Owner and label manager, Fifa Records
Acts include The Would Be’s, The Vincent(s), Saint Yorda, The Hard Ground, Slow Motion Heroes, Hope Is Noise and The Frank & Walters
Is there a correct balance between friendship and business?
This is the part I find hardest to deal with. I have so much respect for bands because I’ve been in one – Frank & Walters – for the last 20-odd years, and know what it’s like to succeed, to fail, and everything in between. Even if I don’t like a band’s music, the fact I know all the emotion and effort that has gone into producing it makes it very hard for me to be detached and businesslike when it comes to the harder conversations. We’ve definitely been lucky, though; there haven’t really been too many fall-outs, and bands that have left the label – bands such as Fight Like Apes – went on to bigger things. It’s great to think you helped a little.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a label owner?
We overstretched a few years ago and got into a bit of debt. We had to stop releasing for 18 months as we were broke. I guess it was inexperience. We started doing stuff in the UK and Europe on our own instead of going with label partnerships, which we had done previously and do again now. When all the bills came in together it was a shock. We got everyone paid off, but it left us very disheartened. I’m glad we got back on the bike, though. The last few years have been great, and I’m blown away by the current crop of artists, like The Vincent(s) and Saint Yorda.