Big Scary Monsters

By paul

Paul: Hello Kev, please give us a brief history of how Big Scary Monsters came into being?
Kev: It was about 7 years ago now. I was 17 and busy failing a-levels in Business, Computing and Graphic Design (ironically the three things which pretty much make up my life these days) when I started helping a friends band out. I didn’t know anything about the industry, but I bought Melody Maker and listened to the Evening Session on Radio One all the time, so figured those were appropriate enough qualifications. The band split up shortly after (not my fault!) and the label just kinda started itself with a couple of compilations and then we signed a few bands including old PT favourites My Awesome Compilation and Get Cape Wear Cape Fly. From there it just grew into an out of control hobby and here I am.

Paul: When you started the label did you have any goals which you’ve either achieved or are yet to achieve?
Kev: My initial goals were fame, girls and bags of money. I think it took me about two weeks to realise I was in the wrong game to achieve any of those, so the new aim was to release interesting and exciting music in new and challenging ways, which is something I’d like to think I’ve managed so far, but will never fully accomplish. If ever there’s a day when I can’t find a good new band or a way to release them, I think it’s time to give up and start thinking about Plan A again.

Paul: The label is often shortened to BSM…is this a conscious thing because you’ve ‘outgrown’ the full name or are you simply lazy and keep the
Kev: Just laziness really. I outgrew the name even before I realised the above goals were ridiculous, but have since learnt to live with it. There’s also the copyright issues if I was to shorted and stick simply with BSM. Oh and fun fact: I can’t drive. Go figure.

Paul: Do you have a favourite release? Are there any releases you are embarrassed about listening back to them?
Kev: I love all of my bands the same, although I do have especially fond memories of certain releases, not so much for musical reasons but more for what they meant at the time or because I feel like we achieved something pretty cool with them. Meet Me In St Louis‘ album is one of those. Through 2007 there wasn’t a single day when I didn’t talk about, write about or listen to that band, the album was incredible and still to this day new people are discovering them, despite (heartbreakingly) splitting up over a year ago now. This Town Needs Guns are another big one for me. I’ve worked with them from their very first release, selling a handful of 7″s to friends around Oxford to packing out venues all over Europe and having albums released in the US, Australia and Japan. My boys are all grown up these days! There is one release I’m embarrassed about . I won’t name the band but if people can guess then that’s fine. It was very early on, I only really liked one song of theirs (thankfully it was the single) and only did it because they were heading out on tour with my favourite band in the world at the time. However, they took ages getting the artwork sorted meaning the CDs arrived too late to sell on said tour and we never really spoke again. It’s burried deep within our back catalogue but every now and again someone reminds me of it. That said, I’ve never really been one for learning from mistakes, so if someone gets the support on The Get Up Kids first UK tour back, get in touch. All styles and abilities considered… 😉

Paul: Has recorded music become too disposable? Has the MP3, myspace and other websites cheapened the ‘product’ and overloaded the world with poor bands, and to an extent record labels, seeking fame and fortune for all the wrong
reasons? Has myspace ruined a band’s work ethic?
Kev: I do think that Myspace is starting to spawn a generation of lazy bands. A few months ago I was lucky enough to be invited over to Belfast to speak at the UnConvention music conference. There I met loads of really nice, friendly people who were unfortunately clueless about how to promote their bands. How, in the year 2009, anyone can consider writing “thanks for the add” on a strangers Myspace page a (for lack of a better phrase) marketing strategy, is well beyond me. I’d love to know if a band has ever been signed off the back of leaving such a comment. Granted, the site does work for some people (Enter Shikari being a good example, albeit a couple of years old now) but personally I think it’s a dead scene waiting to happen. I still believe there’s a place for a physical product though. When I first started the label I was the guy who bought limited edition 7″ singles from adverts in the back of music magazines, endlessly researched new artists and took pride in holding a nicely packaged physical release. And as it turns out, I wasn’t the only one. I’m lucky in that the majority of people who like our bands are very similar to me, not just in age and background, but the musical route we’ve taken to get to the genres we enjoy these days. Sales across the board are certainly declining, but in a slightly sadistic kind of way, I kinda like that. It keeps me on my toes and through the financial stress we’ve all been going through in the industry over the past year or so, I do have this inexplicable optimism and feeling that the weak will soon be separated from the chaff. Here’s hoping I’m not in the latter category!

Paul: As someone who also ran a label for some time but became a bit fed up with the beaucracy of it all, would you recommend starting up your own label? What 3 top tips would you give to those thinking of starting out? Which labels do you look to for inspiration?
Kev: When I first began BSM I was really inspired by Drive-Thru. Like many of the US punk labels, they had an amazing ‘family feel’ and an overall brand value which I’m still yet to see matched by any UK label. At their peak you knew every band they worked with would be good and I, like many others reading this, no doubt, spent a lot of money on their CDs and merchandise. As my taste changed and my influences moved, the same US label theme stuck fast. Vagrant through Deep Elm to Polyvinyl and Equal Vision, from the outside at least, they all market themselves very well. I would recommend setting up a label if you’re looking to have some fun or release your own bands music, but if you’re hoping to make money or build a career out of it, I’d suggest not putting all of your eggs in one basket. I personally can’t see another record label following the model of Domino, Sub-Pop et al who started out as bedroom indie’s and have gone on to become superpower’s, influencing and affecting generations to come. These days labels need to do more than just sell records, whether this means you also dabble in publishing, management, merchandise or live promotions, that’s really up to you and what you’re best suited for. In all honesty, I’m still trying to work this one out for myself, so it’s certainly not an easy question! Three tips I would give would be:
1) Be honest. I’ve never understood why anyone would want to set up a small company to be perceived as being bigger than they are. People dislike major labels and other faceless organisations for a reason. Give yourself an identity.
2) Be ready and willing to change. If your distributor calls you tomorrow and says “All shops have stopped stocking CDs, don’t make any more” accept it, step sideways and keep moving forwards. A refusal to change is what’s killing so much of the industry right now.
3) Enjoy yourself. Remember you’re doing this because you’re a music fan. When that stops, you stop.

Paul: Are you bothered about popularity? What’s more important to you, being popular and selling records or artistic integrity? Is it possible for a
label to be popular and respected – can the music be both popular and an art form?
Kev: I think it can be popular and an art form, yeah. People (in 99.9% of cases, at least) make music because they want to express themselves to others, and labels should work in the same way. If you’re passionate and creative then that’s the most important thing. So long as you can live within your means and keep on enjoying what you do, I think that’s all you need. If you sell an extra few CDs and are deemed popular for it, even better.

Paul: Is there a glass ceiling for UK bands or is it simply a myth that homegrown talents cannot seem to push into the mainstream? Can a band from the ‘punk’ scene ever smash through it (Gallows aside as they’ve been the exception to the rule recently)?
Kev: It’s a difficult one to guage. Bring Me The Horizon, for example, have sold a lot of records, more so than a lot of supposedly big American punk bands, but they wouldn’t necessarily be perceived as being bigger. You Me At Six are another. How many people do they play to each night? Would that have been possible 5 – 10 years ago, playing the kind of music they do, being as independent as they are? Perhaps it was, perhaps it did happen and I’ve just forgotten someone, but it does feel as though things could be moving in the right direction, at least for some. It’s important to remember that a bands popularity can no longer be measured simply by the top 40, there are other things to consider just as there are other ways for bands to make money and sustain careers. So maybe ‘smash through the glass ceiling of the UK punk scene’ is the wrong term, maybe ‘push the boundaries’ of it would be closer to the mark?

Paul: Do you think bands and labels are more relaxed in the 21st Century about ‘selling out’ than they ever have been? Do you think it’s become
acceptable, even at DIY level, to sell records and be a success or do you think this is a reason bands are either held back or hold themselves back?
Kev: I’m sure there are still a small number of bands adamently set against ‘selling out’, whatever that actually means to them. I don’t know if it’s more acceptable now than before, although there are certainly less and less bands signing up to the major label machine, which to most people should mean less bands selling out.

Paul: I’ve asked this question to a couple of people recently, but I think it’s interesting in terms of ‘fad’ music trends. Does the success of bands like
Kids In Glass Houses and You Me At 6 help the independent music scene or does it hinder it by inspiring bands to pick up an instrument and start
carbon copy bands who sound like the 4th or 5th generation of a certain genre?
Kev: A bit of both, I think. I like the fact that small bands can now achieve so much and find their way out to so many people, and if that encourages the younger generations then that’s awesome. It opens up possibilities for support acts and other associations which will draw attention to bands further down the independent chain. You’re always going to end up with carbon copies of successful bands, but just as long as my Utopian image of the future quality divisions in music is fulfilled, it won’t have to bother any of us! We’ll all be sitting happily in our quality controlled bubbles.

Paul: On a related note, could you work with a band you know would sell records even if you didn’t like their music all that much?
Kev: Nope. I’ve turned down bands in the past who I knew would sell a lot of records but I didn’t think it would benefit us to have them associated with the label. They’re probably all really nice people and dead into what they do, but I wasn’t and to me, the only value a label can have these days comes from consistency. 10 great releases will quickly be forgotten behind a couple of bad ones. Sometime next year we’ll hit 100 releases and I’m proud to say my only slight blip was the one I mentioned above, and the number of records the band would sell didn’t factor into my reasoning.

Paul: With the internet now such a huge tool for bands and labels, has the gap between indies and majors narrowed? Would you agree that indies and majors both exist to make money out of bands by selling their music to the public and that, as Trent Reznor recently said, there’s now very little reason why any band would want to work with any label in the future?
Kev: I guess in some ways the gap between majors and indies has narrowed. They may sell 1000 times more records than I do, but they also have 10,000 times the amount of overheads. I can understand why, in the future, bands might not need labels in the current model, but I also believe that things will change and labels will still have a place. The majors, for all their faults, are good at marketing and will eventually slim down and focus on this aspect of things. And indies will still be ran by creative people, used to working with underground artists on a small budget, who hold close relationships with the band members and can offer help, advice and experience which not only do the bands not have themselves, but also don’t have the time to learn. I don’t have any musical talent whatsoever and as such have never been in a band, but if I was out playing a guitar to hundreds of people a night all over the world, I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be thinking about sending my distributor the latest one-sheet info, posting out mailorders, chasing press for reviews, booking the next tour, maintaining the website and all of the other exciting jobs we get lumbered with.

Paul: Are you affected at all by Pinnacle going into administration? With this, Woolworth’s closure and Zavvi’s decision to shut their online store do you feel this could be the start of big changes to the way we physically consume our music?
Kev: Pinnacle were partners with our distributor, Shellshock, so the impact of them going into administration echoed around the whole company. I believe Pinnacle carried around 400 independent labels stock directly, which must’ve caused a lot more problems than we saw ourselves, but it was a very scary time for many people, and unfortunately probably not the last time we’ll face such issues through the next few years. Big changes are still a little way off, but it certainly changed the way I was looking at things. Thankfully, having set the label up and run it for the first 3 years with no distro, we’ve always been geared towards selling at shows and via mailorder, two things which are now essential for any small label. In many ways the whole industry feels as though it has now gone full circle and things we’ve always had to do due to being limited by resources, time or money is now deemed the ‘right way’. Whether or not this will still be the case in a year or two, who knows. I’m just happy to still have my nose above water!

Paul: How do you look to sign bands? Have you ever worked with anyone simply after they sent you a demo?
Kev: Over the past 2 or 3 years most signings have come from word of mouth in one way or another. Plus it’s a small world and our roster is quite large, so it’s now fairly difficult to find a band who hasn’t played a show with (or at least shared a drink with) one of our lot! The only band we signed from a demo, as far as I can remember, was Pulled Apart By Horses, and as it turned out I already knew the drummer anyway! Whenever I go home my parents always moan at me about the CDs left in their garage. A couple of years ago I stopped accepting demo CD submissions as all of the ones I’d had from the past few years had been stuck in a box under my bed. I never got around to listening to most of them, but felt too guilty to throw them out. So still to this day they sit there and everytime my Mum asks I always give the same answer: “I’m gonna listen to em soon!” – Gutted for me if I find the original Artctic Monkeys demos in there.

Paul: What do you look for in a band? With the MP3 as prevalent as it is, is touring as vital now as it was 10 years ago?
Kev: I look for a band who’ll work hard and not see signing to a label as a “wahey, we’ve made it! Time to put our feet up and watch the cash roll in” ticket. I like artists to be creative, coming to me with good ideas as often as I go to them with stupid ones, and I also like bands touring as much as possible, although appreciate that this isn’t always an option. We’re not in a position to pay anyone a wage, so who am I to ask them to give up jobs and dedicate themselves to music. Of course, if they insist, I’m not going to say no! I’m a record label manager after all, not a careers counsellor.

Paul: I’ve seen some amazing press packs over the years – what advice would you give to bands sending you music to check out? Photos? Ten pound notes? Cds? Ten-page biographies?
Kev: Well as we’re not taking CDs anymore, £10 donations via PayPal would probably be best! Emails with a link to Myspace or somewhere else to stream music is usually good. I hate it when bands send unsolicited MP3 attachments to as many labels as they can fit in the ‘cc’ line of an email (Googlemail isn’t quite the bottomless pit some people think it is!) so would definitely advise against doing that. Oh and do your research. To the best of my knowledge I’ve never signed a funk band with 4 rappers, a brass section and influences ranging from 80’s metal to Mozzart, so I probably won’t be looking to start with your band.

Paul: What’s next for BSM? Where do you see the label in five years time?
Kev: This year we have crazy amounts on. Coming up are albums from Blakfish (which we’re co-releasing with Hassle), Wintermute, Mutiny On The Bounty and a couple more which I’m not announcing yet. We also have an EP from Shapes, as well as a split with Holy Roar Records featuring those guys, The Tupolev Ghost (whose mini-album came out 2 weeks ago), Brontide and Holy State. There are three parts left in our 2009 Collection series (4 CDs featuring new, unreleased, rare, live, demo and remixed tracks from our roster) and a compilation of our favourite unsigned bands, which is released on limited edition CD and MP3 in a couple of weeks time. And as if that wasn’t enough, we have showcases at The Great Escape, In The City and Swn festivals, tours all over the UK and Europe, the 2nd annual Meet Me In St Louis day celebrations and the return of our 5-a-side football tournament, where Team Punktastic will be looking to retain the trophy. So yeah, quite a bit. I’ll get some of this out of the way then get back to you on the 5 years thing if that’s ok? Even thinking about 4 more like this will probably kill me!

Paul: And finally…when will the CD die and what will replace it? How long before BSM phases the shiny plastic discs out and replaces it with
something else?
Kev: A nice big question to end it all on, thanks Paul! When will the CD, the life and soul of the music industry for the past 20-odd years DIE? Hmm… I don’t know if it’ll ever die. I’m not old enough to remember but I’m sure people went through the same thought processes for vinyl when CDs first popped up, and they’re still doing ok. For me, the CD is a versatile format which offers enough options, as well as cost effective duplicating potential, to give it another good few years yet. I don’t know if it’ll go down in history as the last great physical music product, or if it will just become an item of value and live on serving the needs of unsigned bands and tiny DIY labels refusing to give in. In the mass market it’ll eventually be replaced by a cloud networking system where music can be streamed anywhere, anytime, on a number of different devices all hooked up to the same system, therefore giving you your preferences, settings and recommended playlists on your computer, mobile phone, handheld music player, TV or whatever else you login from. Spotify, the first software to embrace similar technology, will probably fall the way of Napster, being sued and disappearing whilst others move in and capitalise. People like Sky and Virgin will follow Nokia’s example and enter the market and even the iPod will disappear. All this time, however, the underground fans, the ones who care about the artists and the scenes, will continue to vy with their friends, competing over who has the best collection of limited edition, hand drawn/numbered/packaged/delivered obscure products from the coolest band nobody else has ever heard of. I just hope that one or two of those bands will be ours, cos it sounds more fun than sharing my music collection with every other person in the world.

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