Musicscan: John, please tell me a little bit about how 7HINGS started and what the basic idea behind the label is?
Seven Things Records: I began thinking about the idea because I had been working in the
experimental music scene for a while up until 2004, running the Paragon
ensemble (a contemporary music ensemble based in Scotland) and watching the
way audiences responded to the music (and also what they responded to), and
thinking "Hey, there's really something going on here - people are in to
this. Only I'm not too sure what the best way of REALLY getting a lot more
people in to experimental music is. Hmmm.". So it took until broadband
really took off, and iTunes got going, and all of those things, and then it
seemed obvious that we should go looking worldwide for people who wanted
this kind of thing, and getting it to them easily, i.e. through downloads. Seven Things is a label that bases its decisions about what to release
entirely and exclusively upon quality, and we're more than happy to shelve a
project, or send it back to the artist, if it doesn't come up to scratch. We
don't, in the first instance, think commercially (i.e. "let's put this out,
it's going to sell"), and we don't think about genre at all - primarily
because we believe that, in the world of the internet, if people like it,
they'll tell their friends, and even the most obscure thing can become a big
hit, however 'non-commercial' or 'non-genre' it may be.
Musicscan: The first thing that many people probably wonder about is if an mp3 label is a financially viable enterprise? Is that even of any concern to you as I imagine the costs are drastically reduced through digital distribution?
Seven Things Records: We make our investments in the music, rather than in the production of CDs
or in distribution. Yes, it does cost us to make recordings, but we're
finding that the most popular are beginning to recoup their costs for us
over time. We're in the 'long tail' - it's better to run with a lot of
recordings and see which will fly, rather than put all your eggs in one
basket and hope it'll be a hit.
Musicscan: What kind of deals do you work out with your artists as far as royalties and such is concerned?
Seven Things Records: That might be a trade secret ... It varies from recording to recording. We pay better than a normal 'commercial' label, and not so well as DIY.
Musicscan: How would you describe the relationship with your artists? Do you know most of them personally or is it mostly a business relationship?
Seven Things Records: I do know some of them personally, but business is business. I'm used to the
Musicscan: Do you think you have a different approach towards the music business since you are a musician yourself?
Seven Things Records: I think that's an interesting question. Possibly, yes, although I don't know what a non-musician me would be like to compare it with! I think being a musician helps when spotting potential, and it gives me a better handle on how to develop potential when it walks in the door. The things I've had to
learn are not the music-industry things, they're the non-industry-specific
things like negotiation, finance, strategic planning, that kind of stuff.
Luckily I'm also a science graduate and able to do my sums.
Musicscan: What are you looking for in an artist? Is there something that you could identify as the 7HINGS aesthetic?
Seven Things Records: I've been told I program more broadly than my taste, which I guess goes back to the thing of spotting potential. I'd like to think that I can spot
things of artistic value at 50 paces with reasonable accuracy. Essentially,
the choices I make are to do with being really grabbed by an artist's
musical imagination, and then being held by it as the music unfolds. If an
artist's work doesn't transfix me, then I'm not interested. I think that if I began to think in terms of an aesthetic, then a) 7hings would be trapped in a spiral of expectation and b) we'd start letting
sub-quality product out of the door.
Musicscan: How much time does the label consume? What does an average day of yours look like?
Seven Things Records: I run it full-time. An average day doesn't really exist. It depends upon what the pressures are - artistic, financial, strategic, promotional,
administrative. There's always something to do that needed to be done
Musicscan: Do you think that people will continue buying records in the future or do you think that basically all music will be available digitally pretty soon? Where do you see the pros and cons of such a development?
Seven Things Records: Once the major CD distributors disappear from the high street, then
downloads will really start to become more dominant than CDs. This is
because the majority of people buy their CDs on the high street out of
habit: once this habit is broken, they will need to re-evaluate their method
of getting music. Downloads are just quicker, cheaper and easier than CDs
and a lot of people will go for downloading over waiting days for CDs to
turn up in the post. To get beyond that, though, to not be able to 'hold the thing that makes the music' in your hands, as is one of the issues with downloads against CDs, is an interesting thing. I think what we'll find is that, for people who are very much engaged by the idea of 'physical manifestations of acoustic ephemera' (I.e. They like to 'hold the music'), they will begin to relate to their music devices in this way, in the way they used to relate to their CDs (i.e. 'this iPod has the COMPLETE Iron Maiden on it') or ("that computer has the ORIGINAL soundtrack recording of the Sound of Music on it") as being the physical things that somehow represent the music for them. So we'll probably get a proliferation of different-looking types of devices which attract
different sorts of music fan, much as different-looking types of CD player
attract people who like different kinds of music. I don't think it'll be
long before you know that the person you pass in the street is a heavy metal
fan because of the sort of mp3 player he uses. I also think we'll soon get
living room hi-fis that are connected to the internet and allow you to
search for music, download it and play it immediately in your living room in
much the same way as we now go to a CD rack, select a CD and put it in the
Musicscan: The internet still works as a democratic media where pretty much anyone can make his/her aesthetic material available to people. In how far do you think music will change due to that transition to another form of media (i.e. the internet and digital distribution etc.)?
Seven Things Records: It gets harder to sort out the great from the merely ok or the really,
genuinely crap, because there's so much of the latter about hiding the good
stuff in its smelly sea. Talent is talent, and there's a very, very limited
pool of it - no more than there was yesterday, and no more than there will
be tomorrow. I see my job as finding it, which perversely the internet makes
harder. The situation in music right now is, weirdly, a lot like that 120 years ago; nowadays everyone knows how to use Garageband and how to get their stuff on
MySpace, whereas back then everyone had a parlour piano and played it for
informal singalongs with their nearest and dearest. All of that amateur
activity in the 1890s simply meant that everyone had an interest in how the
music was made at their local concert hall; it didn't affect the number of
truly great concert pianists in the world at all. Similarly, just because
everyone knows how to make music on their computer and upload it doesn't
mean that there is a massive glut in the number of really world-class
musicians right now. Anyway, all those parlour pianos got smashed up by exuberant crowds in the 1930s. Computers - fear your future!
Musicscan: Are you happy with how the label operates at this point? Are there certain things you would like to improve in the future?
Seven Things Records: I want to improve the way we engage with and appear in the mainstream media - radio play, TV, etc. I'm not content to just let this music sit in a box labeled 'small niche market'. There's a lot of potential in experimental music, most of it as yet unrealized.
Musicscan: What are some artists that you would like to work with in the future?
Seven Things Records: Some of these are not with us anymore, sadly. So we can only work with their music: AGF, Maja Ratkje, Conlon Nancarrow, Johann Johannson, Philip Jeck, Steve Reich, La Monte Young, Margaret Lancaster, Biosphere, Morton Feldman, Janet Cardiff, Sigur Ros, Yannis Christou, Salvatore Sciarrino, Mauricio Kagel, Conrad Schnitzler, Otomo Yoshihide, Matmos, Trevor Wishart, Laurie Anderson, Peter McGarr, Kaija Saariaho, Fausto Romitelli, Taylor Deupree, Claude Vivier, Javier Alvarez, Jonathan Harvey, Erki-Sven Tuur…