Just like many artists and labels, the press have found it hard to adapt to the new playing field of the digital age. What kind of support and co-operation would you expect and appreciate from them?
That largely depends on the blog or publication, some are very helpful and friendly and even apologetic if the review isn’t all that positive. Others just seem to badger us for promos and advertising (and sometimes won’t even negotiate on their rate cards) and then won’t cover the record or artist anyway. Another problem we have is that print magazines don’t take any photos anymore so will drop a feature if you can’t provide them with an exciting and unique press shot.
If they’re like the former we work with them and send them stuff regularly and do what we can to help, if they’re like the latter we just don’t bother with them.
The sad fact at the moment is that a good blurb on a retail site like Boomkat, Bleep or Other Music seems to influence far more people than the music press. And we end up writing some of that ourselves to some extent through our press releases. That and the fact that we have a very niche audience mean it’s not worth us paying for huge promo campaigns.
From your experience, has playing live – or organising live events – really, as many have claimed, been a positive factor for your label? How would you describe the relevance of a direct communication with fans and supporters?
Events are something we like to do occasionally and it's generally a positive experience, and each one generates new ideas for the next, but from a business point of view the amount of work involved versus the amount of publicity or income means that we don’t do many.
Are artists expecting too much from a label, would you say? How important is their own contribution – in terms of promotion, for example - to the success of a release?
I don’t really expect too much from our artists, as long as they record music that we want to put out. We usually invite them to get involved with the creative process of packaging and concepts which are a big, big deal for Ghost Box. After that I think it's entirely down to us to promote and sell the record.
How do you define success for your label?
Selling enough music so that we can keep on going and provide a dependable creative home for our small and intimate roster of artists. And balancing this with the ability to keep to our own aesthetic intent and to do business entirely on our own terms.
Music-sharing sites and -blogs as well as a flood of releases in general are presenting both listeners and artists with challenging questions. What's your view on the value of music today?
I’m sure music has been de-valued generally, but everything that’s contributed to that is also the reason why we can do what we do in the way that we do, without concern for the “music industry” as a whole. There are online tools and services to slightly lessen the impact of dodgy blogs and media sharing links, which we use to some extent. But ultimately they’re just part of the landscape. I’m optimistic that if we carry on recording interesting music that comes nicely packaged and contextualised, people will continue to pay for it now and then.
How do physical sales and (authorised) digital downloads compare in terms of income for you? Do you see models like Spotify as a problem or a potential solution?
Again, services like Spotify are part of the landscape and I can’t imagine they’re going to go away, but the income is pitiful and the only reason we don’t opt out is that I suspect it would drive more people to illegal downloads if we did. I don’t know how true it is but I like to believe that people who are really passionate about non mainstream forms of pop music probably don’t use that stuff much anyway (that’s based on nothing other than personal prejudice!). Can you even imagine a record collector speaking excitedly about a Spotify playlist ?
We’re also lucky to have a fairly mature audience too, more accustomed to the idea of buying and collecting music.
In how far do you see artful packaging as a way forward for you as a label? Are the objectification and value of music inherently related to each other, would you say?
Yes. It's one of the defining aspects of our label. In fact when we started, Julian and I always intended packaging to replace any identity or images of band or artist. We’ve never really bought into the old notion that all music should just speak for itself. Especially with our more instrumental and electronic releases I think packaging is vital to contextualise things.
It's also our duty to the physical product-buying customer to give them an object worth owning, if they’ve gone through the not entirely necessary step of shelling out for a record or CD.
From your perspective, what would be a workable model for the future for listeners, artists and labels alike?
1. Artists should manage the performance and recording aspects of their work by themselves without the interference of the label.
2. Mandatory high standards for design and packaging to help keep physical music retailing alive.
3. Firm sale physical distribution to retailers. Let’s have no more sale-or-return!
4. A bit more global agreement about digital distribution formatting and accounting.
5. The label shouldn’t expect too much from the artist once the record is out there.
6. The label should take all the risks with costs upfront and not recoup expenses from the artist. A fair fixed sales royalty agreed at the outset will mean everyone’s costs are covered and profits are shared fairly.
7. Artists should get everything in writing from the label. I’m amazed at how many small labels don’t bother with contracts.
8. The label shouldn’t be ashamed of trying to make money, and should always make every effort to claw in every penny of income due. There is a terrible climate of people expecting free work these days be it for performances, remixes, contributions to compilations and all sorts. People are shocked when I get an invite for the label or an artist to get involved in a project and my first question is “what’s the fee?” You can be a business or a charity but not both, and a fair society should value and remunerate artists and musicians always.
9. A label’s first priority is to pay its artists as agreed when they handed over rights to the recordings.