What is your role?
I am a DJ, curator, booker, record label owner/manager, event organiser and youth music coordinator & Mentor. I am also a Maintenance Coordinator for a CiC in Glasgow called Locavore.
How did you enter the music industry?
I started as a club photographer whilst at Uni in Stirling and then quickly moved onto DJing for a club night called Filth that focussed on underground dance music. Since then I have become more and more interested and involved in the scene and that led to wanting to be an active member of it so myself and longtime friend Ethan Harfield started Redstone Press to release his music.
Could you give us some examples of organisations which you think are changing the current model of the music industry?
The first that spring to mind is Discwoman as being a real catalyst in changing the model in the last 5 years. Then in no particular order - Unbound Events, OH141, Shoot Your Shot, T4TLVNRG, Genevieve Taylor (Promotion), Horst Music Festival, Risen Festival, Daytimers, Hannah Beasley Grant (Management, booker for Loko Club, Promoter for Repercussion events), Saffron Records, Crack Magazine, Meg Townsend @ Mixmag, Fuse Glasgow (Sofia Staune), The Cause.
Do you think it is possible for labels to work under a model of transparency?
With the cost of production I am very upfront about the level of expectation of sales with vinyl and that it is not a quick turnaround to getting paid. Those we have worked with so far have all put out records themselves so understand the cost of manufacturing/production vs payback and so that conversation hasn’t had to happen yet but with artists we intend to work with who have not released their own stuff before we will be very up front about the cost as it is a slow process and we want artists to be aware that even if the record sells well a profit is often difficult to achieve quickly or at all.
As far as publishing goes, we do not use a publishing company as we are still small and so do not see the need for it, we encourage artists to work with publishers if they want their music to be featured in different spaces such as adverts/tv but that is not our driving goal at the label as the music we want to release is meant for the club.
In terms of contracts we do the verbal agreement first and then send out a contract to each artist, this just defines the roles and expectations from our side and theirs. Also we work to a 50/50 split of any profits made once record manufacturing and release costs have been met.
I think due to the fact we never thought the label would get this far we have been rather slow to sort out all the formal/legal stuff but again I do not condone or recommend this and if I had the chance to do it again I would be on top of all of it so that I could communicate that with artists. But it is a learning process and being transparent also means owning the fact that we make mistakes and learn from them each time. It is better to be honest about what you have or haven’t done than to be completely silent and leave artists in the dark with regard to all aspects of the record release. Some artists don’t wanna know or aren’t too fussed and some are more detail orientated so it is also an exercise in meeting each individuals needs within the process.
Why do you think within ‘underground industries’ there is such a taboo nature of transparency with knowledge and also finances?
The taboo is also probably a little bit because talking money in relation to a passion project can be really dry and sap the enjoyment out of something you deep down know costs but you are not doing it for that reason. Like DJing for example, in the past I have tried to not to get too bogged down in the money side of it as I have always earned an income from an unrelated job so could afford to pay to play a lot of the time. This is changing slightly now though as I’m starting to take the gig aspect of things more seriously due to the more frequent opportunities I have been afforded. This has meant taking time out of my day job more regularly to play and so losing that income, which then means needing to find it through DJ fees and having discussions about fees is still really weird to me but if you don’t take yourself seriously with this stuff then those you’re working with won’t either. A lot of the sickest DJs I know play for relatively small or sliding scale fees in comparison to some larger fees being paid but they are able to supplement it with other work and choose to do so. It is a really small portion of the whole scene who can comfortably live on gigs and releasing music alone, that is something that isn’t talked about enough! As I’ve got more involved in the scene it is clear that it’s also an individual thing, some artists/agents/promoters are super willing to work together to make a party/project happen that is financially viable for all. Some others are not and are driven by profit or personal gain.
I also feel like a factor in it not being talked about is because those that make lots of money want to continue doing so and if the curtain was pulled back, so to speak, certain folk would lose the inflated incomes that they have become accustomed to - thinking massive name artists on 4/5 figure fees and the teams/promoters that work with them. So essentially gatekeeping and the after effects of the scene becoming more commercially successful and the toxic business traits that exist in the commercial music industry bleeding into the underground.
I think for dancers and festival attendees etc transparency over what the entrance fee contributes to would be really welcome as it would help folks to understand how much these things cost and what they are spending their money on, especially now with the living cost crisis. People are struggling and so see a ticket price and think “wow that’s a lot, I’ll pass” but might think twice if they knew that the their money was being spent ethically in the context of the party.
What were some of the main challenges and goals when starting out as a DJ/Label and how have they changed over time? What is it about DJing, compared to, say, producing your own music, that makes it interesting for you?
For me personally the main challenge/goal was finding places to play music. I started out at uni and was playing for one night there semi regularly during the last couple years of studying but after I graduated I moved back home to work. In the north east there are maybe 3 or 4 actual nightclubs in a 200 mile radius and of those 1 maybe 2 accommodated underground dance music. So yeah finding opportunities to play out was difficult and it took a long time to find a home for what I wanted to play. Luckily I was asked to be a resident for Hypnotic Groove, which is a night run by Johnny Wilson and Andrea Mackintosh from Inverness and was then able to play more regularly and slowly build a name for myself. Even now this is still a major issue for those starting out in rural areas, even still in Scotland most people only talk about Glasgow and Edinburgh when talking about dance music but there are really amazing folks who do not get any attention doing it all over Scotland, whether that be free parties or in pubs and back rooms of town halls.
My goals over time have changed as I have become more involved in the scene. Starting out I wanted to just play as much as possible for whoever would have me but as I’ve grown up I’ve really looked more at who I am playing for and what they stand for because I want to play parties that I will enjoy and that stand for the same things I do.
With the label the initial goal was to just put out Ethan’s records so he/we could play more, as a kind of vessel for both Ethan and I to make a name for ourselves but that quickly changed as we both realised how much enjoyment actually came from the process of releasing music, finding new artists and the relationships you build through doing so. That still really resonates with me as I love meeting new people and having the label really helps with making those new connections and sharing new music we believe deserves to be heard.
In terms of Djing rather than producing, I have just never really had the patience for producing. Saying that I’m in the middle of a production course at the moment hahaha! But I am mainly doing that because it’ll help me to better understand how music is made so I can give more detailed feedback/understand the process that producers go through when making a record for the label. I love DJing because I really enjoy sharing music with people, I love being able to put someone onto a new artist or playing something that makes people go scatty in the club and that has always been the case. Also to be honest it is also an ego thing, it feels great when people react positively to something you are doing and djing is no different. It’s also a lot less work than producing hahaha.
What advice would you give to someone trying to start a small label?
Advice would be to define what you want the label to be and where you want it to go. Having that defined idea and driving ethos really helps to channel your energy into creating something that has longevity. You don’t need to have it set in stone but a clear outlook is key, it may change over time but it does make it easier to create an identity and build up a following. Equally as important is being on top of the boring stuff like royalties, contracts, fees etc etc, get to grips with that early on so you don’t have to play catch up later as it is no fun and is a big anxiety creator! READ ALL THE INFO ON THE PRS/PPL/MCPS WEBSITE, I cannot stress that enough. Then if you want to be able to afford to put out records make sure you calculate all the costs, not just manufacturing but everything - artwork, design, mastering, lacquer cutting, shipping etc etc. Once you have that you can then be more aware of your capabilities financially and can be clear on release schedule timing with artists, with distribution companies which in turn helps to foster good working relationships.
It’s a lot harder to do these days but if you can gain a pressing & distribution deal with someone then do! That then covers the cost of making and releasing the record and you can focus more on curating a catalogue/artistic direction. To do this you really need a solid business plan and a lineup of artists that will sell as it is still a business and you won’t get that investment from a distributor if they don’t believe they are going to make their money back or a profit.
Lastly, vinyl isn’t everything, look at different ways of releasing music, vinyl is costly and not very environmentally friendly, we are at a stage where we are considering our options because of the myriad of issues within the vinyl industry at the moment. From huge pressing delays to staff shortages, Brexit blowback, material shortages and rising manufacturing costs it is a tough game at the moment. If you can build the label with digital releases at first and then once you have a following and the releases are doing really well then it might make more sense to invest in vinyl as you might find it easier to see financial return.
How do you expect the industry to look in 5 years time?
I think in the last 5 years the industry has headed towards a more fair and inclusive position, that said it is still woeful and very behind in most areas and there is a lot of virtue signalling going on but not a huge amount of learning. I would love to see more diversity and representation in all aspects of the industry, not just in DJ lineups (which are still problematic and need a lot of work) but in the inner workings of the industry - in head offices and management roles, press & media, in festival bookers, club bookers, security, club staffing, club staff training etc etc. All avenues of the industry need to work to become more equal otherwise the problems we face will not go away, you can’t just put on a diverse lineup and sit back and think “Well that’s me done my bit”. The power structures in place need to include those whose music and culture they are profiting from. I think we are going to see less genre specificity and more fusion between different styles of music, we already are but I see it getting even less defined but this is also cyclical and trends come and go so who really knows! I’m secretly hoping for a minimal revival so I can dig out all the stuff I was really into when I first got into dance music!
What is the most rewarding part of being within this industry?
Most rewarding thing is honestly the people you meet along the way, it’s a creative sphere and being part of something that allows for personal expression leads to making really tight bonds with like minded people. Also it’s having ownership of something tangible that I am passionate about, it is a privilege to be able to pursue a passion project and it’s something I try to be present with as much as possible as there are loads of pitfalls to doing it too, mental health and financial security being the main ones. I have too many incredible memories, most of which aren’t safe to recount hahaha. Some moments though I guess are playing our first Kelburn Garden Party set with all our friends there, playing Sub Club for the first time before Jeremy Sylvester (!!) and attending the Horst Festival Music Lab. All of these were really definitive moments that stick with me.
What is your favourite track/ album/ artist at the moment?
Oh god I hate these questions hahaha, at the moment my day job is really isolating so I spend loads of time listening to music and one massive highlight is Scratcha’s Soup to Nuts show on NTS. It is wild and chaotic in all the right ways and I am learning about so much new and inspiring music I would otherwise not know about. Also anything on local community radio station Radio Buena Vida, I love the station and what they are doing for the local community and the people they are showcasing. Honestly a real gem within a huge list of online radio stations!
Favourite electronic album atm is either DJrum - “Portrait in Firewood” (it is something I return to all the time), Batu’s album “Opal” or Toya Delazy’s “Afrorave vol.1” release. All three of these are totally different but all can be listened to at anytime for me and are super inspiring. Other than dance music I am constantly listening to “Good Kid Maad City” by Kendrick Lamar, it is still like a weekly listen if I’m driving or travelling I never get bored of it.
My favourite current mixes are by Souvenir’s TTT Tape, Mad Miran Ilian Tape Mix, Bake’s “c to the power of x Rinse Show”, Jon K (live for Kindred/live for clubnightclub/Cav empt tape), Rosehips live for Loose Joints, ionas Rinse show, The Physical Therapy RA mix and Elena Colombi’s NTS show. There are loads more but these I find myself listening to again and again.
All time GOAT mixes have to be Hessle Audio Trio at Freerotation, the vibe and the crowd noises, so good! Eris Drew’s RA podcast mix, truly one of the best things I have heard and selfishly very sick to hear a track off our first release by Ethan (Pseudopolis) included in it.
For my favourite tracks it’s consistently the stuff we release on Redstone Press. I mean why bother going to all the effort and spending all that money if you don’t bloody love the music! Big shouts to Liam, Henry, Lewis, Dom, Eris and obviously Ethan for making incredible music that I get to listen to as it takes shape. I’m excited for everyone to hear what we’ve been sitting on for the last 2 years!
Other than that if you want to see what I’m buying/listening to or playing then here is my bandcamp collection - https://bandcamp.com/lewis_rp