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Q&A: Independent Label Market 2016: Sarah Bolshi from Sunday Best on the rise and rise of indie labels

 

Record labels in recent years have undergone a similar transformation as the beer industry. People no longer want the big brands, they want something local, new and independent. Craft beers and local breweries have popped up in every city neighborhood from Fremont to Fulham, the home-grown organic free-range option is what shoppers are now looking for. Added to this fact, indie products tend often to taste (sound) better and come with more character.

On Saturday 2 April, Independent Label Market takes place at London's Brewers Market for it's second Easter market in a row. Featuring labels such as 1-2-3-4, Brownswood, Erased Tapes, Future Disco, Heavenly, Marathon Artists, Secretsundaze, Tartelet, Warp, Wolf Music, and Sunday Best.

We caught up with Sunday Best label partner Sarah Bolshi about the trials and tribulations of running a successful independent label and what it was like signing David Lynch.

Ben Romberg: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Are you looking forward to the showcase at the Independent Label Market?

Sarah Bolshi:
Thanks for having us! Yes I am looking forward to the Label Market, it is a brilliant initiative run by and for very passionate music people. It’s a fantastic get together of all of us indies striving to put the best music out with considered formatting, care and attention to detail. It has really grown up as more labels get involved. It shows how the independent world of music results in individuals running labels rather than corporations.

You can be successful without chasing a chart hit through determination of spreading music that people really listen to and keep listening too. Also it’s a chance for music lovers to get their hands on rarities and one-offs that labels dig out or put together especially for the day. We’ve got some lovely David Lynch box sets available along with some picture disc vinyl from new artist Xylaroo (and lots of other goodies).

Ben: Can you tell us how you got Sunday Best started?

Sarah:
My business parter Rob da Bank (founder of Bestival) started Sunday Best parties in the late 90s and from that came the label that I have run along with our other partner Ben Turner pretty much since the off. First releases included compilations featuring then unknown artists such as Groove Armada and Lemon Jelly. The artwork was lovely, done by Josie, Rob’s wife who is now the creative force along with Rob behind all things Bestival. Following an initial couple of 12-inch releases we started signing and developing artists such as Grand National, Kitty Daisy & Lewis and dan le sac Vs Scroobius Pip and Valerie June.

I had another label prior to Sunday Best called Bolshi Records (hence my nickname) which I A&R’d, promo’d, tour managed and everything else essentially in the mid 90s, during which I learned the fundamentals of running a label. Jazz Summers was my mentor I suppose and he encouraged me to start Bolshi and when Big life sadly folded for a bit, me and Rob got together and I picked up Sunday Best with him and Ben. I did a deal with Pias for distribution who have been hugely supportive and we have been steadily signing artists and growing the label ever since.

Ben: How do you discover an artist or musician to join your label, what criteria do you use?

Sarah:
For me the only criteria is that the music is brilliant and we love it. That said, I think there is a bit of a Sunday Best sound. We don’t have a genre specifically, it’s pretty eclectic. We span quite a broad range of music from folk to electronic to spoken word. Artists come to us via word of mouth or demos. We work with artists for the long term and help them realise their vision musically and with their artwork etc.

Ben: The music industry has changed a great deal since you started Sunday Best, what has been the biggest challenge?

Sarah:
Breaking a new artist is very hard, it always has been. But when you have people discovering artists through streaming at low numbers you have to be quite robust to stick with it. So the biggest challenge has been decreasing sales from CDs and downloads which obviously have a higher price point. The advent of streaming has impacted things significantly but you have to embrace change and how people consume music. We tend to work with Spotify as a discovery platform and treat it like a radio station. If people like the music enough you hope they will then buy into that artist and invest in something more tactile and long-lasting like vinyl and CDs. Sales are lower than they were in the past so diversifying into other areas such as publishing really helps.

Ben: Do you think that new forms of music distribution like Apple Music and Tidal have a detrimental effect on independent labels?

Sarah:
You have to embrace every new form of music consumption as I mentioned before. You have to be positive about how the buying/ listening model has changed. Perhaps there are people that are streaming music that they would never normally listen to or have to invest too much in initially? Hopefully that in turn creates a long-term fan who invests into the artist with buying product.

Ben: Has the resurgence in people buying vinyl helped indie labels like Sunday Best?

Sarah:
Yes it’s great and I think it’s the physical format that will stay. It also helps indie record shops. We have already realised a vinyl record for each our artists anyway. It has always been my personal preferred format. I love the warm sound and the look and feel, it’s a very tactile thing.

Ben: Can you tell us what it was like signing David Lynch to your label? How did that come about?

Sarah:
Jason Bentley at KCRW was instrumental in introducing us to David Lynch and his music to Ben (Turner) and Rob in LA. David had created a brilliant piece of music called “Good Day Today” which everyone thought was an Underworld track. We loved it and eventually signed a one single deal. Underworld actually ended up doing a remix of the track along with Jon Hopkins, Sasha, Diskjokke, Simon from Basement Jaxx and Skream. We created a beautiful vinyl package with all the remixes on it. We have a couple left which we will have available at ILM (Independent Label Market). We have since released two albums - Crazy Clown Time and The Big Dream.

Ben: What advice can you give to other independent labels who are getting established?

Sarah:
It’s hard work but you just have to stick with it. Artists definitely have an appetite for signing to indies now rather than majors as we will work with artists from the grassroots and develop them. I think you have to consider that it is a long term investment emotionally and financially.

Ben: Do you want to give a shout out to any other artists or labels you think are doing something interesting right now?

Sarah:
We are very proud to be part of a collective of indies who are all doing amazing things:  Heavenly, Transgressive, Bella Union, Moshi Moshi, 1965, Wichita etc. so always a big up to those guys and girls. I’m sure some if not all will be at ILM too so check them out if you go.

Ben: Lastly, tell us what’s the song you have on repeat at the moment?

Sarah:
I don’t have anything on repeat particularly but I’ve just been listening to the new Underworld album which sounds amazing ahead of their show at the Roundhouse in London this week. I am listening a lot to some new music coming from Sunday Best. Look out for Xylaroo, Alice Jemima and L.A. Salami. Big names of the future! And Solar Bears new album came out last Friday.

sundaybest.net
@SundayBestRecs

Independent Label Market
11am-6pm, Saturday 2 April 2016
at London Brewers Market
Old Spitalfields Market
Spitalfields
London EC1 6EW
independentlabelmarket.com