Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Always Check The Label: Song, By Toad

Maintainer of a blog and later podcast of great value and no little righteous anger, Matthew Young did the one thing with his awareness and support of new music that we can never bring ourselves to and started a label out of Song, By Toad, a cottage industry the Scotsman called "the DIY front-line of (Edinburgh)'s homespun and rapidly expanding music scene". Pretty much everything he puts out is of the utmost quality, so we got him to share his secrets.

Why start a label?
Because I had people reading the site who were really enjoying the unsigned bands I was writing about, so it just seemed to make sense to bring the two together.

What's your ethos?
I just release music I personally love, and don't worry about the commercial viability of the band in question. And the artists never owe us anything - it's our job to produce a business model which gives them the best chance of being profitable, and their job to make the music, as simple as that.

Have you been influenced by any labels?
Mostly Fence Records, to be honest. I like the community they've built, and the way they take chances on everything from folk to indie to electronic to experimental. Also, they were incredibly generous with help, advice and contacts when I started up.

What do you initially look/hope for in a prospective signing?
Generally I have to like and trust them, but I've never met a couple of our bands, so it really is just how much I love the music. And, of course, if they are happy to work within our limitations, because we are pretty fucking tiny in the grand scheme of things.

What else should people looking to send you a demo know?
I don't care about anything but the music, so even just a Bandcamp link is just fine - there's no need to bother with all the accompanying PR bollocks or trying to impress me with achievements because I genuinely don't care. All that matters is if I like the music, and if we basically can get along.

If push comes to shove, what would be the most satisfying thing you’ve done through the label to date?
Probably Cold Seeds, because my encouragement helped it happen, to a large extent, and because I was able to do pretty much all the artwork myself, so I felt a lot more involved. Oh, and because it's on vinyl too, which I love, and wish I could afford to release more often.

What's your biggest selling release to date?
Meursault - All Creatures Will Make Merry

Anyone notable that you’re willing to admit you passed up on?
Hmm, well Sparrow & the Workshop, eagleowl and Withered Hand all turned down the opportunity to release with me, and all at times when I think I could have done a lot for them, honestly speaking. But they've all done so well anyway that I can't imagine any of them regret it for a second!
I can't think of anyone I've passed up where I have gone on to regret it, though. Because I don't judge the success or failure of a record on a commercial basis, I tend not to get myself in that situation, although there are always more people I want to work with than I practically can, of course.

What is the future of the common or garden record label?
Same as it ever was, although they are going to have to learn to become a little more multi-media orientated and a little more interactive, I think. But that's the nature of almost any product nowadays.

Do you still believe in the physical product?
Absolutely, but not in the commodity sense as represented by the old CD in a jewel case model. If you want people to buy something physical then you have to make it something very much worth owning.

One thing you've learned about being a label boss and can pass on to anyone looking to do likewise?
It's 99% admin and organisation, so unless you are obsessively passionate, don't even consider it. Also, longevity and determination trump show and flash.

What have you got coming up?
Yusuf Azak's debut Turn on the Long Wire, then The Savings and Loan's debut Today I Need Light. The in the new year we are going to be releasing Animal Magic Tricks, Trips and Falls' second album, and hopefully records by King Post Kitsch and Jesus H. Foxx. I'm also working on a sort of sub-imprint of the label which will be a little more throwaway, with minimal packaging, digital-only PR work and an emphasis on artists taking chances, experimenting and trying new things. Basically, a way to make a virtue of the more disposable nature of music nowadays and to take proper advantage of new technologies in a similar way to those iconic Penguin paperbacks, back in their day.

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