30th January, 2004 (Germany)
Transcribed & translated by Karsten Roekens
© 2004 Jah Wobble
(Note: retranslated into English from German,so it will be quite different from the original version of the text)
MONEY OR LABEL?
by Jah Wobble
Jah Wobble, author of this text, turned from punk bassist into a medium-sized entrepreneur. And as a such he now thinks: boss at last - for a handful of coke!
To tell you the truth right
at the beginning: I really don't care about the decline of the music
industry. It was always a stupid and not very professionally run enterprise.
According to the music industry the decline of the western civilisation
is caused by the technical possibility to make as many copies of a CD
as you like. So it is time for the end of the CD, you hear. Time for
the end of every record format. There will be only downloads in the
future. For a fee. Of course. Good news for the owners of publishing
rights (music publisher has always been a dream job). Bad news for record
And the audience turns out to be disloyal and mean: suddenly nobody wants to acquire music of the big stars anymore, who once sold zillions of records. Nowadays it's quite normal that even the big fishes are thrown overboard by their disappointed labels, let alone small ones and even smaller ones like me - more of that later. But before that I have to mention the increasing interlock between record companies and big industry. The following scenario: the long-serving bosses of big labels like Island Records lose their interest one day and sell the whole company to Polygram, for example. This on the other hand merges with Universal,which is of interest for a distiller like Seagrams, but it's part of Vivendi suddenly. In this scenario the small but fine company mentioned at the beginning keeps its independence for a while, but those in charge must soon discover that their balances have to stand up to the critical eyes of the mother company's shareholders and a host of accountants. Soon a modest profit of 500,000 pounds is not enough. The analysts had expected more. Cold sweat drips on the chart lists in front of the label bosses. Heads will roll Not only those of the artists. Bad atmosphere everywhere. Depression.
Which brings us back to me. My only interest in the music industry was its money. Money to make records. In earlier times it was easy. You went to lunch with some decision-makers, behaved yourself, said things like "You're right, my last records were not commercial enough", and that was it. Every time I assured them how grateful I was that someone wanted to support my career. And then I went and did what I wanted, and the result was as always a record that sold 5000 to 15,000 units. It may not sound much to the dear reader or the manager of a record company, but if you imagine you had to point at every single buyer with a stick, you'd get a stiff arm very soon.
Over the years I had such meetings with record company people regularly. And more and more often I carried a telltale smile. Around 1996 it became clear that everybody knew my trick and I wasn't that young anymore (but I have to stress that I still have striking good looks and a seducing body). I was in a better position than many mates: I still had a contract with Island. I had delivered a successful album, though followed by a commercial disaster. Then a fobbed off a package of three records on them, one inspired by William Blake, one Requiem, and one with Celtic Poets. Whenever I turned up in the record company offices they looked at me like I was an uninvited Jehova's witness. I fully understood it. My irresponsibility threatened their jobs. If I gave up my contract voluntarily, would their finance my own label? No. I mentioned the possibility of a one-sided termination on my own behalf. The boys and girls in the record company embraced themselves: within a fortnight I was a free man - a record company had never reacted so quick on something. If I was prone to paranoia I would have thought they were delighted that I was gone.
An own label: I always knew I would have one in the end. Twenty years ago I found out - unintentionally - you can make a record at home in your living room for pocket money. Here a few pounds for a studio session, there a few pounds for mastering, then getting 2000 units pressed for 35 pence each, just like that. I picked the records up myself and delivered them to the stores by car. It yielded a nice sum of money. We are talking about the early eighties, when such a sum was enough for one gram of pure cocaine, two return tickets to New York with the Concorde and a Ford Capri. And there was still some money left. Unfortunately I didn't invest the rest of the money cleverly, but carried it to my favourite pub.
I called my label 30 Hertz. Some 20 records are released there meanwhile. A profitable business. They offer you a bundle of solutions everywhere now. One call is enough. Or a mouse click. Somewhere somebody manufactures my CDs, presses the records, prints the covers, puts them into the cases, distributes them. Distribution is the main source of problems, but somehow it always works out. Sometimes you have to run after your money. It's part of the job. Just as the ongoing conflict of being band leader, musician, producer and label owner. It jumbles up your brain parts when you're just working on a melodic part and the phone rings and you have to compare the prices of tour busses or deal with a Greek distributor.
But most of the time it's fun. And the profit is alright. But it's absurd to found a record label just to make money: there are better possibilities to get rich. But I don't have to work 9 to 5 seven days a week. The days of gruelling marathon sessions in the studio to get finished are over. It's all on a more human scale. Of course I need helpers, staff. But it turned out a catastrophe when for a short time I thought everything was going fine and I could retire into the artistic corner and lead a sexy chef life. I had to learn that it's only me who can take care of 30 Hertz. Because I put my heart into the label. And an own record label has to offer something spiritual to the artist, too. As William Blake once said correctly, you have to create your own system. Otherwise you are the slave in somebody else's system.
You have to struggle for the eternity, Blake demands. I do. But if a big record company reads this and wants to support my career: please call me up! But I will never give up my own label again. Never ever.
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