Ask someone to name their ‘interests’ and the majority of people will say ‘music’. This, as we all know, is an incredibly broad answer though and of course the level of ‘interest’ can vary drastically from one person to the next. From casual daytime-radio listeners to 1960’s American-folk vinyl collectors; both would profess to an ‘interest’ in music. A good way of gauging just how hardcore someone’s musical fandom is would be to ask them one simple question; ‘What’s your favourite record label?’.
This one, simple question will instantly let you know the kind of person you’re dealing with. You’ll either end up with a blank stare or be forced to listen to a ten-minute heartfelt rant about about why early-nineties Subpop releases are the pinnacle of human achievement. Most avid music fans will have a favourite though and there are many factors that affect this decision. It could be due to certain artists that appear on the labels’ roster. It could be simply be because of their place in modern culture (see Subpop, Rough Trade etc); or, of course, a mixture of the two.
On a personal level, there has been one label that has stood out for me over the last couple of years and that’s Big Scary Monsters. Since first discovering the labels’ website back in 2007 I’ve probably found a brilliant new band of theirs on an almost monthly basis. From the all-out rock of, the now departed, Blakfish and The Tupolev Ghost, via the pop-punk brilliance of Copy Haho and Colour, through to one of the most exciting new bands in the country, Tall Ships; the label has been a beacon for all that is good about emerging British rock music.
The label itself was started by Kevin Douch when he was just seventeen years old and still in college; the fact that it’s still going strong, especially in this day and age, is really quite something indeed and testament to the hard work he puts in. This feature, however, isn’t just some declaration of love, there is indeed a point to it and here it is; August will see the 96th, 97th, 98th and, you’ve guessed it, 99th BSM release. Exciting, huh?
We therefore thought now was an appropriate time to give some kudos to the often-forgotten man behind all the fantastic music. So, as preparations for the labels’ 100th release begin, GoldFlakePaint caught up with the main man himself to reminisce about Big Scary Monsters first signing, their most recent signing, his proudest moments, and of course…The Fresh Prince.
Also, if that wasn’t enough, we’ve also got a bunch of free BSM Mp3’s, hand-picked by Kevin, for you all to enjoy too. You lucky people.
GFP: When did you first think of setting up your own label and what led you to it?
I was 17, still at sixth form, and thought that working in music looked exciting and glamorous. I think it was as simple as one day I thought “wouldn’t it be cool to run a label”, the next day I started one, and the day after that I sat back and asked myself “what does a label actually do?!” I had absolutely no prior knowledge of the music industry or anyone in it, so it was a fairly daunting task! It took a few months before BSM existed in anything more than name and my priorities quickly changed from there on.
GFP: Can you remember your first day?
Officially my first day was me going to sixth form, registering, attending one lesson, bunking the rest of the day, walking home listening to ‘White Pony’ by Deftones on my portable CD player – skipping with every step, of course – cooking a horrible fry-up then laying on the sofa watching Fresh Prince of Bel Air for the rest of the day, occasionally daydreaming about making a fortune through selling music. I know this because it’s what I did everyday and, surprise surprise, failed all of my exams shortly afterwards. As I said, the label was nothing more than a name for a long time! What I’d probably rather regard as my first ‘proper’ day in the job is the day I received our first release. It was a run of 500 compilation CDs which I’d had pressed in Australia as, even after all of the shipping and customs charges, saved me about £10, and every penny counted! My friend was round at my house and we were watching football when the boxes turned up. I remember opening them like it was Christmas and thinking that the excitement is something I wanted to feel again. Funnily enough, just before I started answering these questions today, the new Shoes And Socks Off album arrived. Our 96th release, and I still had that same feeling as I ripped open the first one.
GFP: Who were your first signing – and were they any good?
The first band I signed – after putting out a couple of compilation CDs – were Hiding With Girls. I’d had a text from the singer saying they were keen, wrote up a contract myself, which I later found out would’ve entitled me to 50% of everything they ever earned, not just in music, for the rest of their lives (which thankfully they didn’t sign!) and it’s probably best I don’t answer the question about them being any good. At the time I thought so! The single I released was called Marty McFly. That and their name should be enough to tell you what kind of music they played.
GFP: Who were your most recent signing?
Well this morning we’ve announced the signing of Dad Rocks!, which is the singer from Mimas’ solo project. I’ve known Snaevar for a couple of years now and have really fallen in love with the music, so I’m hoping other people will like it too. Behind the scenes we’ve actually just signed another band, although they split up 5 years ago. Weird, eh? All will make sense soon, but I’m not telling anyone about it for a few weeks at least. Sorry!
GFP: Can you describe an average day?
An average day is actually quite boring. I wake up about 8.30, walk the 10 yards from my bed to my office (ie the corner of my front room with the computer and shelves of stock), stopping en route to shower, then spend most of the next 14 hours answering emails, of which I currently have 42,566 unread in Gmail. Great. There’s usually around 100 mailorders a week to post out, so they also take up quite a bit of time, as does writing and sending press releases, chasing journalists to write about our bands, keeping the distributors updated with what’s going on, maintaining the website, booking gigs and tours, updating accounts and planning new releases. I try and limit myself to 4 days of work a week where possible, as it seems to keep me more productive. If I know I have a day off coming up I’m able to set targets and work around it better than if I’m just sitting here beating myself up about not doing enough, or spending too much time checking my Fantasy Football team, for a full week. Lots of very clever people have theories about how working less is actually a lot more productive, so I’m sticking with them.
GFP: Whats been your proudest label-related moment to date?
There are quite a few. I worked with Get Cape Wear Cape Fly from his 2nd ever gig through to the day he signed a very big deal with a major label, which was a great experience. On a similar note, Meet Me In St Louis were a band I worked with from an early stage and really believed in, and although they never signed to a major label, are probably one of the main reasons half the people who know about BSM do so, so I was proud to work with those guys and see the kind of cult fanbase they built during their all too short lifespan. Another very proud moment was the first time John Peel played any of our releases on the radio. He played two bands back to back (putting one on at the wrong speed and getting the name of the other mixed up) and called it a “BSM segway”. I was at my girlfriend of the time’s mum’s wedding when I received a text telling me about this, so I made an excuse, ran home, listened back online and sat there with both arms aloft for about 10 minutes in celebration! My girlfriend dumped me shortly after citing musical differences as the reason.
GFP: What would you say you’ve learnt about the industry since you started?
I’ve learnt all sorts, mostly useless stuff, though! I’ve been doing this job for almost 10 years now and have seen a lot of people come and go. I think that if you’re in it for the right reasons and manage to stick it out long enough, the industry can be very rewarding. You have to look at it like a sales job. There’ll be good days, and there’ll be bad days. You mustn’t get carried away by the former and you’ve got to learn how to bounce back from the latter. If you fail at either of these things you’re gonna hit trouble! Most days it’s about finding little victories, though. I’m a big fan of writing comprehensive to-do lists, as the feeling of an empty one at the end of a day is unbelievable!
GFP: Have you ever had any regrets about setting up on your own?
Some, but they tend to pass. Every now and again I feel a little lonely, like I wish I had a partner to share ideas/work/responsibilities/debts with, but on the other hand I love having total control of my situation. I only sign bands I like, I work the hours I choose, I do things at my own pace, in my own way, and never have to think about all of the office politics bullshit so many other people face. That said, a wiser, older partner probably would’ve stopped me making a lot of mistakes over the years!
GFP: Have you seen the industry change a lot since you started?
Yeah it’s changed a lot, mostly through the invention and increased use of digital technology. I was lucky in that I started the label when the internet and MP3s were already around, so it wasn’t a difficult task adapting to them. A few years earlier and everyone was limited to their local area, but now you’re promoting to – and competing with – everyone in the whole world. It’s pretty daunting, and I imagine those changes must’ve ended a lot of careers of people who couldn’t make the transition. Everything since then has felt like a steady learning curve. I have no idea what will happen next, or if an independent record label will even be relevant in another 5 or so years, but I’m excited to find out.
GFP: What are your thoughts on today’s download culture?
It’s a big subject and one which my opinion on has changed a lot over time. Using This Town Needs Guns as an example, I was initially very negative and angry about illegal downloads. This was a small band who live around the corner I’d agreed to work with, as much as a favour as anything else. Vinyl pressing was expensive and they’d never really played outside of Oxford, so every unpaid download felt like a kick in the teeth and another step towards losing a lot of money I couldn’t afford. Each time I went to a pirate website which told me how many times the tracks had been downloaded, I felt like killing someone. But over time the bands profile grew. The downloads continued, but the mailorders, t-shirt sales and number of people at shows also grew. The guys started getting requests to play shows all over the world and this year alone have toured the UK, Japan and USA, something I genuinely believe wouldn’t have happened without all of the people downloading and sharing their music over the past 3 years.
The internet stretches much further than my distribution network, after all. It was important we stopped looking at each of those downloads as a lost sale and started thinking more about how we could harness that support. Since then, with each of the bands I’ve worked with, I’ve looked at sharing differently. Some of them we’ve even leaked ourselves! It’s not something I like other people to do – it’s a job which needs to happen on our own terms – but the more people hearing the music, the better. So long as enough of those people then want to buy the limited edition 12″ vinyl version, or a t-shirt, or go and see the band play, or even check out their labelmates, it’s ok with me. The concept of buying music is already alien to the next generation of kids, so it’s something we all need to get used to sooner or later.
GFP: Which non-BSM albums or bands are you listening to at the moment?
Actually, none. I’m terrible for listening to music which isn’t my own and it’s always embarrassing at the end of the year when someone asks me my top 10 records for the previous 12 months and I can only name 4. In my defence, we’ve had a lot of bands recording recently so they’ve taken up all of my listening time, and at the end of the day, I’m a fan of these bands first, their record label second. Cheesy, right?
GFP: What was the first record you bought?!
I’m not sure now. I remember owning a Jive Bunny album when I was really young, but the first records I remember buying myself was a Michael Jackson tape and ‘Code: Red’ by the Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff.
GFP: What do you have planned for the rest of the year?
Too much! This year we’re running a 52 part singles club (the ’10 Collection), releasing a new MP3 track every Monday morning. So we’ve only just crossed the halfway point of that, with loads more awesome bands coming up. There are albums from Talons, Mimas, Adebisi Shank, Shoes And Socks Off and 2 or 3 more I’m keeping to myself right now, as well as EP’s from Tall Ships, Dad Rocks, Hold Your Horse Is and Men. We hit our 100th release next month, so have a big DVD compilation planned for that (only available from the day after the 99th until the day before the 101st, then it’s deleted forever), a bunch of tours and showcases at a couple of festivals. At somepoint I’ll need to think about our annual Christmas Tour and then start planning next summer’s 5-a-side football tournament. On top of this I’m hoping to squeeze in a holiday, a haircut or two and finding the balls to delete my inbox.
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For all things BSM please head on over to the Official Site, where I promise you’ll find at least one band to fall in love with.
Kev also writes a great little blog, which you can read here.
Now, as promised, here are those free Mp3’s. Enjoy…
Tall Ships – Books – http://www.bsmrocks.com/mp3/tallships-books.mp3
Dad Rocks – Nothing Keeps Up – http://www.bsmrocks.com/mp3/dadrocks-nothing.mp3
Hold Your Horse Is – You Show Up – http://www.bsmrocks.com/mp3/hyhi-show.mp3
Shoes And Socks Off – Vice Magazine Has A Lot To Answer For – http://www.bsmrocks.com/mp3/shoes-vice.mp3
Talons – Commiserations Buff Orpington – http://www.bsmrocks.com/mp3/talons-comiserations.mp3
Kevin Devine – Carnival – http://www.bsmrocks.com/mp3/kevindevine-carnival.mp3