Name: Jim Perkins
Occupation: Label Owner /Composer
Current Release: Olof Corneer – Waves, Breaths and Dead Cities
Recommendations: I like graphic scores and visual representations of music, a good book for anyone interested in this is Theresa Sauer’s Notations 21. It takes a look at a lot of different approaches to visualising music taken by a lot of different composers /Abul Mogard, Half Light of Dawn, this is actually an entirely synth based, electronic piece of music. The production/craftsmanship is remarkable. It is really beautifully produced with huge sweeping gestures and filtered sounds throughout supported by a beautifully melancholy harmonic progression and very emotive.
Website/Contact: Visit the label online at bigoandtwigetti.co.uk
When did you start with your own label and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
It started back in 2008 as an imprint for my own releases and music projects. I didn’t take it very seriously initially and put out 2-3 releases a year of my own projects or from friends or artists who approached the label. The sounds I was interested in experimenting with largely consisted of piano, strings and other orchestral instrumentation and sometimes voice, usually manipulated through various signal processors, laptops etc and this was what I wanted the label to focus on.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. How would you describe your own development as a label curator and the transition towards your own approach? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
It started off as a bit lackadaisical really, with a lot of assumptions and guesswork. As things have started to pick up in the last 2-3 years, it’s become a process of constant learning and review as I continue to look at the way other labels approach promotion and distribution. I have some very clear views on what I think works and what doesn’t but I’m continually trying new ideas to extend and refine what’s already working.
What were your main label-related challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Initially it was a shortage of time, money and access to artists whose music I liked and that were available to release on the label.
Time and money are still issues and there are also questions about whether it’s worth trying to get heard on the usual; press, blogs and radio in a crowded environment or to focus more on streaming and licensing and a direct relationship with buyers/listeners.
How do you see the role of labels in the creative process? What is the scope and what are the limitations of what you are capable of doing?
To some extent this depends on what you define as the creative process. If you mean the creation of recordings for release then this can vary for each release, but it could be anything from providing feedback on unfinished recordings or tracks where an artist is stuck, to facilitating collaboration with other artists, producers, engineers and studios. Outside of that, it’s all the usual tasks involved in promoting a release. The limitations are almost always resource or finance related.
Whom do you feel your obligation to – the artists, the buyers, your own demands in terms of quality?
I want all of our releases to do well and with each release I want to see that we have tangibly done something to help grow an artist’s audience and generate some income for them and also given them opportunities to develop and grow through participation in collaborations; be it through re-works, collaborative releases or working with a producer they have met through the label. Now that we do have something of an engaged audience, there is an obligation to both the label itself and to the buyers/listeners to release consistently interesting and engaging music.
What are the most important conclusions you've drawn from the changes in the music-, music-PR- and music-journalism landscape? How do they affect labels in general and your own take on running a label in particular? What role do social media play for your approach?
The role of press is a complicated one and it has always been hard to evaluate the benefits. For example, an unknown artist getting 5 or 6 reviews on the Guardian, Clash music, the Quietus and similar titles might sound great but this won’t actually have the same impact as it would for an established artist and would probably have very limited impact these days on streaming, sales or engaging new listeners so the cost of the PR person required to secure those interviews might be better spent on someone sending music to playlist curators.
Also in 2019, I see labels that have only been running 1 or 2 years who do little or no press for their releases and survive through a combination of income from streaming, and licensing music for media (TV, Ads, Film Computer games). They promote their release solely on social media and very few of their artists are well known and they survive through releasing a lot of catalogue. I don’t find this a very creative approach as it’s all about volume and picking music that appeals to playlists, but it seems to be a sustainable approach.
I guess my conclusion here is that as a smaller label with limited resources you need to be sure you are spending your money as effectively as you can to support your artists and develop their audience. For a lot of labels, that might mean sacrificing things like high-profile press or vinyl until the audience/income is big enough for this to be sustainable.
As far as social media goes, I think it’s important for the label to have a presence on major platforms but I’m also fairly sure audiences prefer to engage with artists directly over labels, so it is more important that the artists maintain their engagement over social media. There are also exceptions, I quite often see artists with streaming figures in the millions that have just a few hundred Facebook followers but which have had huge success with playlists or who sell hundreds of albums on Bandcamp so it’s not always necessary.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
I use technology every day for a range of tasks, from shaping a sound in the recording to distributing the label’s latest release and posting on social media. But I think it’s important to remember that technology is only a tool to achieve a particular goal and personally I don’t find it that interesting as a thing in and of itself. What it allows people to do is what’s interesting i.e. the realisation of a piece of music, the digital distribution of music to an audience of millions within seconds. The creation of the music or expression of an idea is what some humans do well. Technology helps in the realisation and dissemination of that idea or piece of music.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives, including the artists on your label?
Collaboration is something that we already do quite a lot of and I think it will play an even bigger part in the type of releases which we put out in the future.
One method of collaboration which I see almost too often, is the rework album. It is usually released within 3-6 months of an album and features 6-10 tracks which have been reworked by other artists. The main aim is to help keep a release alive for longer and to introduce the re-worked artist to the re-working artist’s audience. It can be an effective approach and one which we use on occasion, but I think it’s starting to reach saturation point.
In terms of releases, it’s a major part of a label’s remit to set up collaborations between artists both within the label and with artists, producers, engineers and creators outside of the label. This is important to help artists develop and produce work which they couldn’t alone. Our recent release ‘Carried’ by Cenes was a collaborative EP where the artists were given 2 days, their instruments and some recording gear and tasked with creating and EP. I’d like to release more and more of these sorts of ad-hoc collaborative creations.
Can you take me through your process on the basis of a release that's particularly dear to you? How do you decide to release it, what did you start with, what sources did you draw from for all tasks related to it and how did the finished product gradually take shape?
Our release process can be very different from one release to the next. Sometimes we’ll receive a finished release which is mastered and has artwork and other times I’ll see a piece of music performed live and offer to record it and in that case we get involved in everything from engineering the recording to helping with artwork and mastering, depending on how much help the artist wants or needs. In other examples, like the Exquisite Corpse I’ll have an idea for an album I want to create and contact artists whose work I like and whom I want to get involved. Selecting a release, from those sent to me is also quite a varied process. With some, I listen to one or two tracks and will agree to release almost instantly with others I’ll share tracks with label artists and get some feedback on what they’re thinking/feeling about the music.
The actual promotion in most cases, is a more routine kind of process which takes about two months from uploading a release for distribution to sending to press, blogs and radio as we build to the release date.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do the label and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I tend to plan my days the night before, just before I go to sleep. I keep a list of all the tasks I need to carry out and reprioritise them each night. As things tend to change a lot, a fixed timetable doesn’t always help but this process clears my head and if nothing else helps me to sleep.
My days are usually split between doing label stuff and writing/recording something. If I’m doing label-related tasks I’ll be doing any number of things relating to release promotion, listening to potential releases, preparing albums for distribution, working on artwork, feeding back to an artist about a release in progress, processing royalty statements, sending audio for mastering, sending tracks to playlist curators etc. I’ll get through as much of that as I can, then break for lunch for an hour, then pick up again until around 6. I rarely work past 6pm on the label and I’ll normally spend 1-2 days a week on it.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
That’s difficult to describe, I know that feeling/state of mind when it is happening, it’s usually a messy, slightly frantic state where all the good ideas pour out and then I need to go back to them and refine them into something more finished when I’m feeling calmer. I haven’t mastered any strategies for making this happen as it is quite unpredictable, but setting aside regular times to work on both the label and recordings means that it happens with enough frequency and when it isn’t happening, I focus on the more routine tasks.
How is listening to the actual music and writing or reading about it connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally?
Writing about music is a difficult task. I have great admiration for the few that do it well.
There has been an exponential growth in promotion agencies and there is still a vast landscape for music magazines. What's your perspective on the music promo- and journalism-system? In how far is it influencing your choice of artists, in how far is it useful for potential buyers, in how far do you feel it is possibly undermining your work?
Although the number of outlets that you can send your music to for review has increased I think the volume of music being put out there has outstripped that. Even among niche music, the landscape is very crowded and it’s harder to get heard. We do all our own press and although we do have some good connections with some press and radio, it is a constant battle to forge new connections and get music onto higher profile press, blogs and radio and as I’ve previously mentioned I’m not sure it is always the most effective way to get an artist’s music out there or build their audience.
I try not to be influenced to start putting out the sort of music which is doing well within the kind of niche in which we operate, just because it’s doing well, and is popular. At the moment (well over the past four years), I’ve seen a huge rise in artists creating felt piano music with the sound of a Juno 106 or modular synth underneath and emulating artists that are already popular using sample packs made by these artists. This sort of music does well on Spotify playlists but is often musically-speaking fairly uninteresting and uses very similar harmonic progressions and arrangements. I see labels base their entire catalogue on this music and do quite well from it. There is definitely a temptation to adopt this approach, because in many ways it is probably easier to make a success of a label which emulates rather than innovates.
In the same breath, I don’t want to not do something just because it’s popular. It’s important to disconnect the making of music from the marketing process. I believe artists should make what they want to make, ignoring the possibility of commercial success and as a label I should select music and create releases for the label which are interesting, engaging and which I want to listen to and then find an audience for this.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art?
I’m kind of a fan of latent creation and unknowing on the part of the creator. I like it when meaning is applied afterwards by the creator or by those perceiving it. My personal approach to the making of art in regard to being a label curator, is one of creating conditions where interesting things can happen but where the results are not pre-conceived. Which is why I’m an advocate of collaboration and putting together combinations of elements which could work well together and allow for interesting things to happen. The results then take on whatever meaning they are given by their creators or the audience that engages with them.
As a label making instrumental music, the music our artists create is rarely born out of a desire to make social or political statements, but you never know what a piece of music might come to represent once it’s out there. I guess I kind of like emergent phenomena, put some elements together and see what happens, sometimes nothing much, sometimes something unexpected.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of labels still intact. Do you have a vision of labels, an idea of what they could be beyond their current form?
I think labels at their most basic level still exist to promote recordings of music and help artists develop an audience for their recordings. As there are now there will be a variety of different approaches being taken, but I see collaboration taking a much bigger role and I’m interested to see if the typical release cycle of promoting around albums remains intact, for now this is still one of the better ways to get press and build a campaign to engage listeners, but more and more I am seeing artists and labels bothering less with press and just consistently releasing singles and compilations and facilitating collaboration between musicians, which allows for a much quicker process of creating the recording and then putting it out there.
Which is quite attractive from a creative point of view to just make the work and put it out there without delay of a release campaign. This would switch the focus on building a following around the label and artists directly through social media, mailing lists and on the streaming and download sites. This is supported by the fact that new distributors are cropping up which allow labels and artists to set up their agreements within the distributor and each gets access to the agreements/splits and is paid directly by the distributor on a monthly basis, this allows for greater financial transparency and supports a creative environment which encourages artists to make more work as they will see a direct correlation between their creative output and getting paid.