Name: Jim Jupp
Occupation: Record Label Owner, Producer, Musician
Bands/Projects: Belbury Poly, The Belbury Circle
Labels: Ghost Box
Musical Recommendations: Francois de Roubaix, Pinkunoizu, Gryphon
What were your main motivations when setting up your own label?
Julian House and I started the label as a home to our spare time music projects, with a website where we could sell a few burn-and-print to-order CDRs. Design was always going to be an important factor, unifying all the separate projects and giving the context of an imaginary world to the music.
We copied the model from similar DIY, CDR labels at that time like Jewelled Antler Collective and Oggum.
How would you describe the situation for your label right now? What are the financial realities you're faced with, for example? How satisfied are you with the exposure you've managed to create for yourself?
Our label is still thriving and our sales continue to grow all be it at a glacial pace. Some of our artists are extremely popular and have a wide appeal and others more esoteric, but they all get the same care, attention and promotions budget. In the last two years there’s been a dramatic shift to vinyl, which causes its own challenges mainly due to the huge lead in times and large initial outlays on manufacturing.
I’m still surprised that download sales are increasing too, but CD is rapidly diminishing to tiny quantities.
We do all our own promotions and over the years we’ve built up quite a good network of radio and press contacts. Third party promoters cost the earth and would eat into our margins for what I suspect would be little gain in sales.
How, generally, do you see the role of a label today? What can a label add to the music scene that myriads of individual artists can't?
The difference with our label is a shared visual aesthetic, and musical influences that are a stronger factor for our artists than their own identities. That’s why we keep a small roster of friends and occasional guests who understand what we do completely.
Also in my experience most musicians either don’t want to be involved in or don’t have the kind of minds that are needed for all the admin. Everything can be done on a DIY basis but there is still a lot of tedious paperwork and aggravation involved in getting every penny that’s due to you as a musician, especially if you have a day job or a family. If a release is even moderately successful, the label is still important for looking after all the spreadsheets.
But there’s no exclusivity and most of our artists do their own self-released stuff now and then too.
Do you see it as a problem that so many people are setting up their own label nowadays – or artists selling their own music directly - thereby considerably increasing the overall amount of music available to listeners and potentially devaluing the label-concept?
Not at all, it’s down to the labels to look after their artists properly and offer them a decent service as well as creative support. For largely non-performing artists like ours, the label can also take on part of the traditional role of manager.
If you can’t find the right fit then definitely self-release! There’s always a limit to what you can achieve as a part-time one person outfit, but if it’s something a bit weird and out there that probably doesn’t matter.
And labels need to pay artists. Always. You would think it would be a priority but I’m amazed by how many labels (even quite large) don’t always account to their artists properly. Every single person I know who has been recording for ten years or so have horror stories of not being paid.
Do you see the label-concept as tending towards a new form? In which way, do you feel, could labels either add new functionalities to their existing catalogue, or shed others to focus on their core strengths, to become more successful?
I think the main thing for a contemporary label is to work with like-minded artists working in similar fields. Which I think is what the smaller indies always tend to do anyway. That way everyone is in tune with the audience however niche, and the label understands the creative directions that artist might take without having to nudge them toward something else.
How important do you rate the importance of distributors (including mail orders and outlets for digital downloads) for a label like yours? How hard has it been for you to find and work with distributors? What, do you feel, could be improved in this regard?
We’ve always avoided traditional SOR physical distribution, opting for selling fewer units at a higher profit margin. We used to do our own distribution by wholesaling to a handful of broadminded record shops around the world, mostly small ones but including larger stores and sites like Rough Trade, Other Music and Bleep. When the workload for this became too much to run from my home, we struck a deal with our digital distributors State51 to take on the physical distribution, but still on a firm sale only basis.
I never felt that SOR distro was fair and small labels used to struggle with the small returns, slow cash flow, and losses due to damaged or missing units.
The only exception to this these days is our consignments to retailers like Amazon and HMV but we hike our required return prices right up for these, so orders stay small, but we can have a presence there. Possibly a little reckless for some but it works for us.
Our digital distributors do a great job and reach most vendors around the world and the money seems to come back in eventually. One of the biggest challenges here for the label and distributor is the fact that download vendors don’t have an industry standard way of reporting sales – always a bit of a headache because sales can be sorted by product, artist, individual track or compilation so we have to do quite a bit of work to share out the proceeds correctly.
How do you rate the impact of social media on running a label? How do you personally work on creating a community around the label and how would you rate the importance of these social factors compared to the actual music being released?
I’m sure it’s very important but I’m not really part of the social media generation – we used to do more but I spent half my week policing everything for trolls, the mad and the stupid. We like to save time and use social media as a one way street just to push marketing, rather than invite a discussion. That’s not meant to sound contemptuous of our fans and customers, I’m always happy to talk to people who contact us by mail, but I suspect many people who feel the need to comment on things on the Internet don’t even buy any music.
Also I should add that most of our artists are anonymous and don’t often perform live so having a dialogue with an online community seems irrelevant. For most of them it’s a policy decision to be distant from the audience. Not great for all types of music obviously, but it suits us.
Having said all that I’m well aware that modern marketing techniques require fostering an online community through social networks - but my time on earth is limited and I don’t like staring at little screens every waking second.