Eight Out of Ten Cats Prefer…

 As a record label, your relationships with your bands are a near infinite source of puzzlement, frustration, affection, admiration, and exhaustion.

What amazes me as much as anything is that no matter how well you think you know someone, when you offer to release their records you realise very quickly that you really were only just scratching the surface.  Aspects to people’s characters come out so strongly when you effectively take their baby off them, and try your best to pimp it to the indifferent public and the scurrilous press.

Every band seems to secretly suspect that they might be shit at the same time they think they might have possibly made the best album ever.  This polarised we’re awful/we’re awesome self-image is pretty standard for most artists I think, but it can make people somewhat challenging to actually work with efficiently.

One of the first things I try and do as soon as the possibility of working with a new artist arises is go through absolutely everything we do, and show them the entire process for releasing records, so there is as little mystery in it as possible.  Then, to paraphrase Al from (the awesome) Armellodie Records, I tell them that all they can really expect from us in terms of PR results will be “quite a few blogs, probably The List and The Skinny, a few plays on 6Music and a review in Mojo if we’re lucky”.  In my previous life as a design engineer expectation management was absolutely crucial to the client/consultant relationship and it’s something I have tried my best to bring with me into the world of music.

Nevertheless, people continue to make me laugh and cry in equal measure.  Band A might want to approve every last aspect of every last item of their press pack, for example, but because Band B basically had no idea or interest in how that side of things worked I could easily have just gone ahead and done all sorts of things Band A might not want, just because I am used to being left to get on with it.

Band N might be so shy of talking about themselves that all I can get out of them for the press release is an awkward sentence or two about who in the band plays what instruments, whereas Band O might inundate me with reams of prose which I have to somehow hack down into a single page for easy journalistic consumption.

Because Band Y only signed with us in the first place because they liked the full roster of bands we worked with and were really pleased to be part of it, I might end up annoying Band X by talking about all our other projects all the time.

Because Band S didn’t really know anything about the process of releasing a record, I might slip into the habit of simply going away and doing everything by myself as soon as they hand over the finished album, but that might utterly infuriate Band R, who want to learn and make a contribution and feel like they are part of the whole process.

I might horrify Band A by taking liberties with their artwork, but often that’s because Bands B and C didn’t really care about the artwork as long as it looked nice – their job is simply the music, after all, isn’t it?

I have bands who have been quietly unimpressed with the results of their PR campaigns, and bands who have been thrilled with the same results.  Bands who are always looking to achieve more, and bands who are happy enough simply pottering along and making some music as and when they feel like it without me putting them under pressure to be commercially successful.

I have bands who want to make a career out of it, bands who want to just show up every once in a while with some recordings and let me get on with releasing them, bands who would like to make a career out of it but aren’t even slightly willing to make any of the compromises needed in order to do so, bands who want to see the whole project as a work of art in itself and yet still want to sell it for less than a tenner, bands who want to play every gig going, bands who will never play, bands who want to play every festival one year and then realise they hate it and wonder why they’re being asked to play all these festivals, bands who secretly want to make pop music, and bands who delight in absolutely confounding their listeners.

You name it, we have pretty much one of everything here at Song, by Toad Records.  It’s an often hilarious, and often utterly baffling game of cat-herding, and try as I might I can’t really find many unifying qualities between the bands or the people on our label.  I suppose they’re almost all stubborn fuckers who are absolutely determined that they want to quietly and awkwardly go about things in their own way, and fuck everything else, but that might be the only thing that this motley crew of weird characters has in common at all.

So yes, whilst the practical side of being a label is relatively straighforward, and can be done well by more or less anyone who is organised, hard-working and persistent, the human side of it is hilariously chaotic.  See that picture of Arnold in Kindergarten Cop up the top there?  Pretty much like that, except at least there’s some hope the kids in that picture will grow up some day.  As Mrs. Toad says whenever anyone asks us if, being in our mid-thirties and having been married for five years, we’re considering having children:

“Kids?  Why would we need kids; we’ve got bands!”

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