At The City Lane we love independent music from all over the world, especially so when it comes from our own backyard. HopeStreet Recordings is a Brunswick, Melbourne-based independent record label that is trying to “capture the crusty analog soul and funk sound of a bygone era with a hungry new generation of artists”.
Hot off the heels of Record Store Day, we spoke to co-founder and label manager Tristan Ludowyk about HopeStreet Recordings, Australia’s independent music scene, and got some behind the scenes insight into running an independent record label in Australia.
Most of those working at HopeStreet, including yourself are also members of the bands whose records you produce. How does this help the creative process?
I suppose this is more of a reflection of where the label began (as an artist run/produced venture) although while we didn’t set it up this way explicitly to help the creative process it definitely means that we see eye to eye with artists we’re working with, whether there are HopeStreet people playing on the records or not. In the early days the label really was a vehicle for us to produce the projects we were working on (with the exception of The Cactus Channel) but these days we’re not exclusively doing things this way.
Are there any downsides to this type of arrangement?
The only real downside is that if we only produced bands that we’re associated with we have a limited (but great) pool of artists to draw from, however there’s a lot of great talent in Melbourne. Like I said, we’re definitely looking outside our own backyard for future signings.
What are your thoughts on the independent music scene in Australia, and Melbourne in particular, at the moment?
That’s a big question. I think Australia is really making a mark on the world stage, and Melbourne has a very prominent role in that. There’s a lot of artists figuring out how to make their own way in the world, and there’s been some really significant releases from Australia. In these web 2.0 days it’s much easier to create recordings and communicate them, but the industry is obviously changing, like many industries are. No doubt, record sales are down on the past and there’s a lot more records, but in the past most bands wouldn’t have a chance of getting signed and so no one would ever hear them outside of their own town. Who knows, in those days, the bands that have launched careers out of Melbourne might never have been noticed?
How has the scene changed since you first started HopeStreet?
One thing that’s changed is that when we started pressing vinyl it wasn’t nearly as ubiquitous as it is now. We created vinyl releases because it’s a format that is close to our hearts, and the music we were producing has a strong group of fans and aficionados that are looking for great music on vinyl. Today, there’s a lot more indie artists and even commercial artists pressing vinyl. The main difference is that CDs have fallen by the wayside, at least in younger demographics. Vinyl has picked up the slack since it’s a nicer product. However I heard the other day that Miley Cyrus has a vinyl release, which I think isn’t good for anyone!
What are some of the challenges of running an independent record label in Australia?
Where do I begin? Of course running a small business in the arts is hard, but I think some of the Australia-specific things that are difficult for us are difficult for many Australian businesses, and that is that we’re competing with countries that have much larger and denser populations. Doing business around Australia can be hard since taking a band on the road is a big expense due to the distance involved, and there’s not a lot of high value shows to do. It means that a lot of cities and towns in Australia miss out on touring artists, at least for larger format bands like some of those on our label.
It’s also hard working internationally, and there’s been a lot of this in the news lately with issues around Australian’s paying more for content than our overseas counterparts. It’s a tricky situation, especially when it comes to digital since you could argue that the delivery costs are the same everywhere, however it’s not as simple as that, since to release a record in any country takes time and money, and those costs are generally higher in Australia, plus the market is smaller. We have the opposite problem too where we’re creating records here and then selling them in the US where things just go for cheaper, and it’s really hard to make enough margin on them. One thing we’ve always been proud of was that fact that we can make a bit of noise overseas with our releases and start building international profiles for our artists, so we navigate all these issues with their swings and roundabouts.
What do you prefer, playing music or producing it?
That’s an interesting one. I’ve been playing music live for a while now, and in the studio about half as long, but I think I have to say that these days producing music is a bit more rewarding. Mainly it’s because there are so many things that go towards making a great record, and while I might enjoy playing one part in a band, it’s the big picture stuff that is the most important. Producing music and listening to a lot of music has informed me both as a producer and as a performer – the way I approach different parts when I’m playing now is more about “what is my role in this song and what do I need to do to help the whole thing work” rather than thinking more independently about my playing.
It’s exactly the same way I’d think about how all the parts in a record fit together – it’s less about making your mark with what you’re playing and more about the whole being greater than the sum of it’s parts, and just being content to be one of those parts. I still like playing live but now that I’m managing the label and producing a lot more, I don’t do that so much these days. It’s a whole different game really.
The releases on HopeStreet to date have had a very vintage, soul/funk, eclectic flavour to them. Do try to actively stick to this sort of music or are you open to producing/releasing something completely different in the future?
Funny you should ask that. We’ve put out a lot of that kind of sound since it’s what we were exploring as producers when we started the label, and it was a sound and vibe we found hard to get on recordings we’d been involved with in the past. Like my partner in the label [Bob Knob] said recently, he wanted to “make records that sounded like what hip-hop tracks sampled” which I think we’ve done to a large extent.
Having said that, there’s an overarching aesthetic that is more fundamental and not necessarily a vintage/soul thing at all. That era and genre really captured the aesthetic well (and much better than a lot of contemporary recordings) but it’s something that we’re still working out how to describe – definitely something we’ll be exploring in the future.
What can fans expect from HopeStreet in the coming months?
We’re about to hit the studio with San Lazaro for their debut album, but in the meantime we’re working on new releases from The Public Opinion Afro Orchestra, who have an album in the works. There are a few other things coming too which I’m going to keep as a surprise!