Archive for Label profile

Label profile: Cross Keys Records (London, UK)

Continuing our recent “Label profile” series is the London independent Cross Keys Records, “a homespun label founded by a cohort of vinyl addicts whose hearts beat in time with the kickdrum”. Our kind of people, then.

Of late, CKR has put out releases by Coves and The Shutes, two bands currently making a name for themselves in clubs and bars up and down the country. We caught up with two of its founders, Ally McKay and Alex Eden-Smith, to find out a bit more about their operation – and what has possessed them to enter into the business of selling vinyl records in a largely digital age.

LFC: When did CKR start?

Ally: We started the label in December 2010 after about a year of sitting around in pubs talking about it.

LFC: What were your inspirations and motivations for doing it?

Ally: Our inspirations came from years of buying records, reading sleeve notes and boring various girlfriends to tears with late-night conversations about Stax and Chess, XL and Big Dada. Our motivation for finally starting Cross Keys was quite simple really. We heard a song so special that we wanted to do everything we could to make sure as many people as possible heard it and loved it. I don’t think we could quite believe we’d done it when we first held the 7″s in our hands. We’ve come a long way from that point and suffered some setbacks and disappointments but, essentially, that same ethos holds true today. We will only ever put out music that makes all three of us feel completely awestruck.

LFC: What was your first ever release on the label?

Ally: Freebirds by Lover Lover. A beautiful song that deserved to be a big hit.

Are you genre specific, or is it a case of you sign something that excites you?

Ally: I don’t think we are genre-specific. I mean, all the records we’ve put out could loosely be called indie-rock but that’s just the way it has panned out so far, rather than any attempt to stick to a rigid concept for the label. The three of us, Ally, Alex and Joss, met when we used to run club nights and DJ a few years ago, and our styles of music then would vary from reggae to rap, rock ‘n’ roll to electro, so I think we would consider releasing anything that we really loved. Our next release might be a balearic doom-metal version of Dolly Parton’s ‘9 to 5′ made up solely of looped samples of Alex’s cat Mackerel eating a packet of Dreamiez, you just never know.

LFC: How do you find bands to work with?

Ally: Mainly from the internet, I guess. Bandcamp, blogs, Soundcloud. But also from friends’ recommendations and going to gigs. I’m a voracious reader of gig listings, and always check out support bands for other acts I like. We get sent lots of demos and stuff, but the quality is pretty poor. I dream of one day opening an email and just getting a wave of adrenaline at the sight and sound of an artist doing everything right, but that’s pretty much never even half right. Some bands get the name or visuals right, but then the music just sucks. And those that get the visuals and name wrong, well their music pretty much always sucks!

LFC: Do you focus on UK talent, or would you sign an international band and introduce them to the local market?

Ally: We have only released music by UK-based acts so far, with the exception of a couple of remixes. Again, this is probably just a coincidence rather than any masterplan. We do like working with artists who are based in the UK, though, because we like building relationships with them and being there as the journey unfolds. It must be pretty crap for small labels who release international bands to hear about how good their gigs were by reading about them on Twitter.

LFC: Where can people buy CKR releases?

Alex: We use Bandcamp, which we absolutely adore as a service (crosskeysrecords.bandcamp.com). But also distribute our vinyl releases ourselves to the main record shops up and down the country. Piccadilly in Manchester and Rough Trade have been especially supportive. All our releases are available digitally on iTunes and Spotify etc.

LFC: What have you found to be the biggest challenges in running a vinyl-centric label?

Alex: There are a lot of challenges to be honest. The decline of vinyl has been well documented but it’s easy to think this is overblown when you see the queues of people outside Rough Trade East on Record Store Day. The truth is, there just aren’t many people going into shops listening to new bands and making impulse purchases. We pretty much set up the label because we’re vinyl fanatics so it’s difficult for us, we want everything we release to come out on vinyl but the production costs are so high and the immediate returns so low. The challenge is to stay true to what we want to do but to be sensible with the financials so that we don’t put ourselves out of business.

LFC: What have been your most successful releases to date?

Alex: We’re very proud of what we were able to achieve with the Echo Of Love EP by The Shutes, both in terms of sales and in terms of profile. Seeing the lead track ‘Echo Of Love’ sitting at #2 on the Hype Machine chart over this Easter weekend was a real moment and then following this with a series of blistering, packed-out shows was a real vindication of our belief in the band’s music and talent. We’re also very excited about Coves, they’re just starting out but they’re fast maturing into the whole package; great songs (the new ones they’ve just sent us are amazing), exciting production, thrilling live presence and a real gift for creating their own visual identity.

LFC: What can we expect from CKR in the future?

Alex: Well, our former accountant recently got put in jail so anything could happen! That had nothing to do with us by the way! We’ve got a new video and some big-name remixes coming on Coves and we’ve come across a few artists recently that we’re getting pretty excited about…but obviously we’d have to kill you if we told you about them. We just want to continue to work with creative people who we believe in and to help add something to the positive things that are going on out there in the DIY label scene in the UK.

Like Cross Keys Records on Facebook here, and follow them on Twitter at @CKRecords.

Label profile: Hit City USA (Los Angeles, US)

For this week’s installment of our new label profile feature, we’re heading across the pond to sunny Los Angeles to chat to a great new-ish independent label called Hit City USA.

Since 2008, they’ve been releasing some very exciting new indie music from local artists on vinyl (as well as digitally), including Superhumanoids, who toured the UK a couple of years back, and Princeton, a fantastic four piece whose latest album, “Remembrance Of Things To Come”, was produced by the talented Andrew Maury. They’ve also recently put out the debut 5-track EP from the rather promising duo PAPA. We’re sensing a recurring theme throughout all their releases to date – they all sound vital, fresh, have a great pop sensibility and ooze a laid back, California cool.

If you’re not yet familiar with these guys, we hope the following piece will change that. We caught up with one of the label’s founders, Cameron Parkins, to find out more:

LFC: When did Hit City U.S.A. start?

HCU: We put out our first release in 2008 – The Franks’ Un EP.

LFC: What were your inspirations and motivations for doing it?

HCU: Part of it was the appeal of running our own label – curating releases, being actively involved in the music scene around us – and part of it was necessity – we had our own project, The Franks, and wanted a platform to distribute music on. So we founded the label, loosely initially, to do so.

LFC: Are you genre specific, or is it a case of you sign something that excites you?

HCU: Not genre specific – we put out music that makes us feel alive and excited and passionate.

LFC: How do you find bands to work with?

HCU: All different ways – we hear about them, someone tells us about them, they are our friends, we go to a show etc. Up until now we’ve worked with LA artists only, something we are looking to branch out on.

LFC: Do you focus on US talent, or would you sign an international band and introduce them to the local market?

HCU: We would love to work with an international band – until recently, we haven’t been equipped to do so, but we have the infrastructure in place now that a release from an international group could be executed well. It’s all about timing and making sure that if we commit to something, we can commit to it fully.

LFC: Where can people buy Hit City USA releases?

HCU: They can buy our releases directly from us at the Hit City online store (hitcityusa.com), from all major digital download services (iTunes, Amazon, etc.), or from select neighborhood record stores. If your neighborhood record store does not carry Hit City U.S.A. releases, call and request that they do.

LFC: What have you found to be the biggest challenges in running a vinyl-centric label?

HCU: It’s twofold: The cost in manufacturing and promoting vinyl is high, so each release is a major investment. Beyond that, in making sure that we produce the best quality product we can there are a lot of moving pieces and often you won’t actually know how something will look until it’s already been manufactured.

LFC: What have been your most successful releases to date?

HCU: Each of our releases are sacred and successful for many reasons. We have various ways of measuring success, choosing one project above all others would not do justice to our work and that of our artists.

LFC: What can we expect from Hit City USA in the future?

HCU: A lot, we hope. We know better than to make any promises here and now but projects are in motion. Expect more good music and more of that California cool you know and love.

Like Hit City USA on Facebook here, and follow them on Twitter at @hitcityusa.

Label profile: Killing Moon Limited (London, UK)

In an effort to try and raise public awareness of small, independent, DIY bedroom indie labels that release on vinyl (like ourselves), we thought we’d launch a new ‘label profile’ feature that highlights a few of our favourite ones from all over the world.

We’ll aim to bring you a new label profile every week (until we run out of good ones to speak to) – which will answer some questions you always wanted to ask but were too afraid to, and hopefully also offer some useful advice for anyone wanting to get into the business. Perhaps most importantly, we hope you’ll be introduced to some great new artists who are probably crying out for your support.

First up, we have Killing Moon Limited, a West London based seven inch and digital label which has put out some exciting releases from Strangers, Worship, Bluebell and most recently Eye Emma Jedi. We chatted to its founder and day-to-day operator, Achal Dhillon:

LFC: When did KML start?

KML: Circa January 2011. It just started out as a blog and progressively snowballed into something much, much worse as I found my mouth getting progressively bigger and bigger.

LFC: What were your inspirations and motivations for doing it?

KML: I was made redundant by an artist management company/major label imprint in August 2010. I felt the time I had spent there had been a complete waste – I think my perception of the music industry was becoming more stale the longer I spent in it. I seemed to have spent years just going around talking about which bands I had a weak association with in a vain attempt to seem a lot more relevant to the music industry than I really was. No one likes a ham, and in this line of work your reputation is everything. In my defence, I wasn’t ever really allowed to do very much beyond sitting on the internet for days on end and “discovering” bands and artists that the company I worked for had zero intention of doing anything with (although I didn’t know that at the time). They just didn’t care about new acts, and so I thought at the time I shouldn’t either. I guess you could say Killing Moon as a blog, label, whatever-as-a-conduit to try and get people looking at and talking about new acts that I like for one reason or several, is my way of making up for lost time. I didn’t want to have any more excuses as to why I wasn’t doing anything. I wanted to feel that I was doing something that materially helped bands actually get somewhere, in my own small way. A year-and-a-half down the line, I’m feeling much better about the music industry in general. There IS a Santa Claus.

LFC: What was your first ever release on the label?

KML: It was a 7″ only release for a band called Strangers, in July 2011, a AA-side for It Was A Sin and If I Found Love. I actually wanted to release an entirely different track called Shine On You, but luckily I got to do that at a later point. It cost 800 quid to print up 500 copies. I had to ask my mum to lend me the money. I still owe my mum 800 quid. I’ve just reminded her about that and she says that while she’s happy I’m doing something that makes me happy, she would quite like her 800 quid back at some point.

LFC: Are you genre specific, or is it a case of you sign something that excites you?

KML: Yeah, there’s a specific genre – the “good” genre. In terms of any particular sound, the label’s not specific to any one genre in that sense. All of the releases I’ve done so far involve quite a large degree of personal attachment for me, not just to the song being released but the band generally. So yep, all of these artists excite me, in that they’re exciting people to work with.

LFC: How do you find bands to work with?

KML: I spend a ridiculous amount of time on the internet. Well, I do, but in differenciation to how Killing Moon started out, I had to source most of the bands, whereas now I seem to have a lot more people plugging their acts in my direction. It is a nice feeling to get out of that point where I had to work very hard indeed to convince acts to do a release through Killing Moon, and now it feels that I don’t have to go for the big sell so much. Otherwise I have some trusty friends, colleagues and contacts and we’re always sending each other new acts and artists to check out – which might seem a bit stupid from a competitive business perspective, but its a lot more fun this way; also, we don’t seem to be short of new artists at the moment so I reckon there’s plenty to go around. Then there’s other blogs, and it really helps that Killing Moon has become a bit more immersed in that community. I also really rate Amazing Radio as a platform for discovering new acts; media such as that and the ostensible online community such as blogs and music sites are really the lifeblood of labels like my own. It’s certainly vital for Killing Moon to exist that they keep doing what they’re doing.

LFC: Do you focus on UK talent, or would you sign an international band and introduce them to the local market?

KML: Being limited by finances and manpower, i.e. my wallet and, well, me, it’s only really been feasible to work with UK bands – I don’t ever want to work with a band that I’m releasing via Killing Moon without having met them properly or got to know them. The fact is, other countries are over there, and I’m over here. However, I’m hoping that’s going to change next year.

LFC: Where can people buy KML releases?

KML: Vinyls can be got from Rough Trade and our own basic Bigcartel shop, and live shows from the band in question. Digital releases; iTunes, Spotify, and generally wherever else my distributors decide to stick them. Failing that, use Google. There’s probably a ton of pirate sites you can peruse.

LFC: What have you found to be the biggest challenges in running a vinyl-centric label?

KML: Having to part ways with your monthly wage (I’ve had to work at the family business for quite some time in order to pump money behind the releases) is always a bit tricky, but by no means the biggest hurdle I’ve had to encounter (see above for the story of hard graft I had to put in to fund the first release…), and I am very grateful for that. Communication between several people simultaneously is always a bugger, and that’s where most fuck-ups seem to occur. I think maintaining the level of enthusiasm for everyone involved in a release, especially when you’re working with several different people, and staying on top of what’s-happening-when is probably the single trickiest part of doing a release. I would otherwise say just working endless hours on these releases is a big challenge – but I actually love doing this, so I could and usually do stay up till silly o’clock to get everything up to scratch because it just needs to be done, and nobody else is going to do that for me, or more to the point, the bands.

LFC: What have been your most successful releases to date?

KML: Ah, FAVOURITISM. I’m proud of every single release I’ve done so far. Subjectively, for me, they’ve represented a step up in terms of showing exactly what can be done with a little bit of money and a shitload of elbow grease. In terms of sales, Bluebell, Worship and Strangers have done pretty well. The remix EPs I’ve put out for Bluebell and Worship are probably my highest-selling releases to date, and they’re a lot of fun to put together. The campaign Eye Emma Jedi has gone very well so far, and I think it’s great that people still dig cool indie guitar bands. Especially ones with great names.

LFC: What can we expect from KML in the future?

KML: A lot of moaning. But also a lot of releases. I’m hoping to release the first album on Killing Moon in 2013. I would tell you who its for, but I promised I wouldn’t. Plus I quite like keeping people guessing. Also, I want to curate a festival one day. Maybe not any time soon, but one day.

Past LFC performance

MUMFORD AND SONS // OLD BLUE LAST // 24 OCT 2007