How to Survive as an Indie Record Label

In an industry dominated by X Factor, it's refreshing to see indie record label ClubAC30 going strong - here's how they do it.
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When I interviewed Exit Calm guitarist Simon Lindley recently he cited the music from ‘Factory Records’ as a big influence, so it’s fitting that their debut album was released by Club AC30 – a label with the motto “Because Why The Fuck Not”. The independent label will be hard pressed to match the likes of Tony Wilson et al but their attitude is certainly refreshing in a modern music industry dominated by reality show bands and the hoovering up of cash by the likes of Simon Cowell.

It all started when some guys got “sick of going to shows to see a band we like, only to have to sit thorough a couple of dreadful bands and a dreadful DJ”. We’ve all been to those sort of gigs but brothers Nick and Robin Allport and their friend Duncan Jones decided to take matters into their own hands and started their own club night. The lads’ thinking was “It's so easy to spend £100 on a night out in London anyway on a gig ticket, a few beers and travel home. So we just figured that if between 2 or 3 of us we didn't lose more money than that, and had fun -then it's a good thing to do right?” Their love of “noisy guitar, dreampop, post rock and electronica” proved a hit and becoming a record label was the next logical step.

Club AC30 have put on bands such as House Of Love, Swervedriver, Chapterhouse, A Place To Bury Strangers and The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. The label have released records by Exit Calm, Air Formation, Hearts Of Black Science, Sambassadeur and many more not to make money, or to be fashionable or because the NME would like it but because well, as they so eloquently put it, "Why The Fuck Not?"

However given that mainstream and the likes of Olly fuckin Murs is where the money is, how has Club AC30 survived into its 6th year? Robin, one of the founders, let Sabotage Times know the secrets to the labels longevity.

Don’t overstretch - give bands an ‘Album by album’ only deal

"I guess it depends on the size of the label but a label like AC30 has very limited resources, so we can't necessarily commit to more than 1 thing at a time with any 1 band. To sign a band for more than 1 album, you need to have the resources in place to record, plug and release the subsequent albums and singles.

"It means we're not holding bands to ransom - they can go elsewhere for their next album if they want to, or they can stick with us should we both be happy with that.  I would imagine that many labels take a similar approach right now, just with "options" on the next records in the contract.  This basically means that if the label so chooses, they can do the next album for an agreed amount."

"The label will be hard pressed to match the likes of Tony Wilson but their attitude is refreshing in a modern music industry dominated by reality show bands and the hoovering up of cash by the likes of Simon Cowell."

Get your music out there

"The industry is changing so fast right now, and it's vitally important to adjust constantly to what's going on.  Not just about the obvious stuff like what bands to work on, but for example how to plug the music. Whilst it’s not necessarily any harder for an independent label, it's just about knowing what to do.

"You can go one of two ways with this. Either you can plug everything yourself, in-house.  This is the cheapest way of doing it, or you can outsource it to professionals. Sounds simple? It's not as easy as all that.

"If I wanted to plug something in-house, then I'd need to know a massive amount about who to send to in each area (there's lots of ‘em: national & regional press, national & regional radio, digital/online, TV). So there needs to be a lot of research into who to send to for each area, how to approach them, what to send, whether to phone or email them or try and get meetings face-to-face.

"The easier option is to outsource each of these tasks.  Then, the problem is that you need to find people that a) understand your music, b) are within your budget and c) will actually consider doing the work! We've had loads of pluggers listen to our stuff and refuse to work on it – which sounds like a bad thing, but it isn't. I'd rather have a plugger tell me they don't like it and refuse to work on it, than they just take our money and do a shit job.

"What we’ve done is tend to do bits ourselves sometimes, and outsource other parts - mainly press and radio. Digital plugging is also starting to become something best done outsourced as well, as there's just so many sites to keep track of."

Learn and adapt constantly

"I'm learning constantly - every week I can't believe how stupid I was the previous week.

"For example we were told that a major TV channel wanted to use one of our acts on one of their shows.  Naturally, we were really happy about this.  Then I find out that it won't happen because we're not on something called the PPL Schedule X. Uh?  So I go away and find out what on earth this is, who to speak to, which of the 12 forms I need to fill out, how much we have to pay, where to fax it and so on.

"Then a few weeks later, we're on the PPL Schedule X - but hang on, the band aren't registered with MCPS yet!  So I get the band to fill out the forms to do this, they send them to me with the cheque to MCPS, I go over the forms and send them off.

"A couple of weeks later, MCPS says each band member has to apply individually with separate payment.  So I hassle each band member to do this separately. Then I go back to the plugger and tell him that it's sorted. But hang on, the band don't have publishing so we can't use the track on the telly. Meh. It’s a constant learning process."

Vinyl still has a place

"We're a bit old fashioned, so we still love our physical product - however, we're also massive nerds, so the digital stuff is great too. My stance is that it's not a release unless there's a physical product. MP3 only releases are just shit ain't they? I know it's the way it's going to go in the future, but we might as well put out nice, limited, fun product as well while the pressing plants are still making it."

Embrace new technology

"I mean, how awesome is Spotify? I can listen to pretty much anything, instantly. Now that it's being released on a hi-fi of sorts - it's going to revolutionise everything yet again.  It'll be like having the world’s best jukebox in your living room."

"MP3 only releases are just shit ain't they? I know it's the way it's going to go in the future, but we might as well put out nice, limited, fun product as well while the pressing plants are still making it."

Don’t be afraid to look back

"We’ve staged reunion gigs with the likes of Chapterhouse and Swervedriver, plus The Primitives will be playing at our Reverence 3 nights. There's a few reasons why we do this. Firstly, for me, very important – mainly because I get to see bands that I loved for years play at my Club! Secondly, it pleases the people that come to our nights regularly as they have made a direct contribution to those shows happening, by supporting us for all these years. Thirdly, it's also important to prove to the agents and managers out there that we can do the bigger shows."

Be prepared for a lot of bloody hard and varied work

"Just today so far I’ve done…

The artwork for an advert in the Stool Pigeon

Filled out various forms for a video going to MTV (yeah right)

Filled out a digital metadata submission form for an EP

Listened to a test pressing to check for errors

Replied to about 50 emails concerning reviews, bands, gigs, videos etc

Chatted to a band member about the ins and outs of digital plugging

Tried to work out if one of our bands can do an awesome support tour or not!

Oh and this interview of course!

"In between all that I’ve got my eye on the following things coming up.  The immediate few weeks we've got our Reverence series of shows at the ICA (our third run of these) - featuring Serena Maneesh, The Primitives and Robin Guthrie.  We're also hosting Seefeel as well on their comeback, also at the ICA. As for upcoming releases; The Zephyrs new album is out this week, a new Exit Calm EP is out early October, and we've got albums by Ringo Deathstarr and Tripwires in the can, ready to rock in the new year."

Thanks to Robin Allport and the guys at Club AC30, check out their website

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