Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Earache & Rough Trade
Question: I watched the recent documentry on bbc4 about rough trade and from what ive read before earache was distroed at one point during the early days by rough trade, im wondering did you as a label encounter the problems with them as a distrobuter as labels like mute etc listed eg non payment for records shifted due to the rough trade label feuding with the distro company? From:
Answer: The Story of Rough Trade documentary can be viewed on the BBC iPlayer, it charts the ups and downs of the fiercely independent late-70's London record shop, which became the first and ground-breaking UK indie label and also had a growing sideline as a UK distribution network for other Indie labels, this is what ultimately became the millstone that brought it down, leading to its demise in the early 90s.
The Rough Trade shop, label and distro completely revolutionised how music was created and consumed in the UK.It meant that bands did not have to be aligned or signed to one of the Major record co's to benefit from being able to deliver records into kids hands via the growing chain of Indie record shops which sprang up after the punk/New wave explosion, up and down the country.
Behind the scenes, its quite a task to store, wherehouse, pick, pack and deliver thousands of physical records to shops around the country on a weekly basis.Labels cannot do this on their own, and and its fair to say that Earache wouldn't have survived and thrived as a label in its early years without the distribution network- called The Cartel- and accompanying indie label 'logistical support system' that Rough trade had created.
Earache was actually distro'd by a provincial offshoot of The Cartel called Revolver based out of Bristol, as the head office bods at Rough Trade themselves had turned the label down, I assume because they were seeking more chart-friendlier labels than mine. The typical Indie label at the time was pedalling jangly, twee indie rock with a succession of Smiths clones.One label- Some Bizzare - was trying to push the envelope for the heavier end of the 80s indie spectrum with bands like Swans or Foetus, but despite that, Earache's output must have sounded like it was coming from another planet to them, it had literally zero commercial appeal to anybody in the wider Industry, so I was pretty grateful when Revolver took me on.
After Rough trade collapsed Revolver continued unaffected, luckily for me. Some of the ex-Rough trade management team who appear in the documentary formed their own marketing company called Real Time, which specialised in offering Indie labels a freelance marketing service.We worked with them for many years. Their stint at the helm of Rough Trade Distribution meant Earache benefited enormously from their expertise in the 'dark art' of marketing successful records. They taught me a more professional approach to marketing, plus they understood how to get records racked in vast quantities in the record chains, which was news to me.
The high street record shops in the 90s were still pretty much controlled and dominated by the Majors, and still are, but Real Time's experience meant Earache could compete with them by copying their strategy of offering retailer inducements, discount deals, utilising pluggers and the such like.With Real Times help, Earache had a run of chart successes, which saw Napalm Death and Carcass in the UK charts and Entombed enter in the Swedish top 5.