“...there are more ways for unknown artists to get discovered, and more opportunities for fans to get turned on to something new and exciting than ever before.” A = Alan from Fool’s Gold N = Nick from Fool’s Gold M = Honcho Mike Sniper of Captured Tracks Z = Zena White, MD at Partisan Records Is there anything you miss about the way the record industry worked before the rise of the MP3? N: It’s easy to get nostalgic for an era when you could “live” with a record for weeks or months at a time before listening to something else. But now, it’s not just music consumption that’s changing: EVERYTHING is accelerated. You have to embrace it or get left behind. And it’s arguably a net gain—there are more ways for unknown artists to get discovered, and more opportunities for fans to get turned on to something new and exciting than ever before. I’m proud to play a part in that. M: <strong>The</strong> thing that’s changed the most with the digital age is press outlets. Instead of tons of options with high readership, it’s gone the other way, drastically. You used to compete with other indie rock for space in channels for coverage; now you’re competing with huge pop stars. It’s all been turned into this mess of monoculture. Music discovery is in the playlists and YouTube now, not reviews. Reviews were what entire P/R campaigns were aimed at. Z: I joined the recording sector in 2011 when most labels were struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel, Lord knows why! I think I saw that no matter what, the marketing of campaigns—the album cycle if you like—was still in the hands of the label and at the center of everything else. <strong>The</strong>re were a lot of frustrating conversations about windowing on Spotify… it’s amazing to see the health in the industry now compared to back then. It’s buoyant and positive. <strong>The</strong>re are always challenges to navigate, that’s just business. What are today’s most influential online sites and apps that can push a record to sell? N: <strong>The</strong> power is in the listeners’ hands more than anything else. Everyone talks about data—who do you think is generating that? You see artists blowing up out of nowhere, not because a gatekeeper anointed them, but because the fans did, and the sites and apps are reacting to that. So we just want to help our artists hit as many ears as possible—a performance slot at our festival DAY OFF, for instance—and let the sites see that genuine connection in action. M: I think the websites’ abilities to drive streams and sales is dwindling. If you have access to SoundScan reports you can see that getting that “big” award that used to drive a ton of sales has not had the effect it used to have on newer artists, only on already established ones. Playlisting is important. A: I don’t think reviews play a factor in sales anymore. <strong>The</strong> buzz of an artist can either come through word of mouth which is essentially social media now and there is definitely visibility that comes from playlists on the DSPs (Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, YouTube Music). And the playlist game is frighteningly powerful. Z: I’d say in this “post-truth” world or whatever, reviews are less important and peer recommendations are #1. Media coverage doesn’t lead to fans or to sales, it just creates more arguments for the various gatekeepers to care. Since CDs are on the way out and vinyl, although healthy, is a niche market, where’s the bulk of the earnings for labels these days? Z: For us, it’s about 50% physical still, which is pretty much the global average (IFPI 2017 global recorded music sales were 54% digital / 46% physical). <strong>The</strong>re are a lot more costs 12 the deli Summer <strong>2018</strong>
“First and foremost, it’s about the songs. If the songs aren’t great, there’s only so far you can go.” More info about the labels involved with physical of course, so there’s always a strong argument to seek digital growth. But physical is still important to us and our artists. Also, technology has had a positive impact on neighboring rights revenues as it’s finally starting to force improvements in the global structure of PROs. Everyone knows about neighboring rights now—a very unsexy subject... M: Streaming is about 70% of our overall business. CDs are still relatively strong though. <strong>The</strong>y’re still the dominant way to purchase music in big territories like Japan. <strong>The</strong> “Peak Vinyl” thing is a myth, too. That’s based on major labels finally putting their Prince, Neil Young, Beatles etc. records back in print and SoundScan collecting that info. Before the “Vinyl Boom,” a lot of records were selling a lot of copies; Billboard just wasn’t collecting the info on it as most vinyl shops weren’t reporting. N: Some would say CDs are back, baby! (When you can buy vinyl at Whole Foods and cassettes at Urban Outfitters, compact discs are the hip dead media on an upswing.) But the reality is that labels need to constantly be on the look-out for revenue streams in all forms. Is there any other physical merchandise that’s worth the manufacturing/distribution hassle? Z: If the demand is there, definitely. In fact, I’m confident that there’s always going to be a market for high-value physical product and merchandise for the right artists. Music is an emotional, intangible product and the very nature of people means they want to “wear” something they feel connected to. M: We kill it on cassettes. Not enough to buy a house, but we do really well with them. N: Fool’s Gold makes everything from coffee mugs to turntable needle cases. If it exists and we can make it fun and special, we’re down. Started in 2007 by DJs A-Trak and Nick Catchdubs, Fool’s Gold Records brought the underground electronic and hip-hop scenes to the forefront of independent music. Some of their earlier releases, such as “Day ‘N’ Night” by Kid Cudi and the first self-titled album by Run the Jewels, helped shape popular music as well. Since then, Fool’s Gold has been signing some of the most cutting-edge electronic artists from around the country. Captured Tracks was founded in 2008 by Mike Sniper, who first used it for his own band Blank Dogs. A decade later, the label has become the home to some of the most influential artists in their respective genres and many popular indie bands. Signing the likes of Mac DeMarco, DIIV, Wild Nothing and Perfect Pussy, the label has shown it can be host artists who specialize in several genres within the indie realm. Beginning with a focus on tailoring artist specific needs, Partisan Records has grown many independent artists from the ground up. Early on their catalog boasted acts like Deer Tick, who focused on a blend of alternative rock and Americana, but as the label grew, many diverse artists released their debuts with the label. Electro-pop group Sylvan Esso and acts like IDLES and Cigarettes After Sex are part of its growing roster.