Whether lockdown is coming to an end, or there’s still some way to go, time continues unrelenting. So as the legendary Nottingham record label, promoter and publisher I’m Not From London reaches its impressive 15th birthday, it continues to look ahead with a series of exciting projects, including the current Be Scene and Heard, a Youth Music project aimed at helping partial to fully deaf 18-25 year-olds get experience in the music industry. With one eye looking back over fifteen years of shaping Nottingham’s musical landscape, and one firmly placed on the future, we caught up with Managing Director Will Robinson to discuss the importance of I’m Not From London...
How did I’m Not From London begin?
Label-wise, I was introduced to Hot Japanese Girl who had a really good garage punk sound that I was very much into. I felt strongly about releasing their music and helping them out a bit. I'd been promoting gigs in Nottingham since 2005 when I started working at See Tickets, which gave me a bit of an insight into the industry and a lot of local links with bands, venues and promoters. At the time record labels seemed to have a kind of mystique in what they did, but they also appeared to hold things up as getting signed was almost the end of the rainbow for a lot of bands. We helped Hot Japanese Girl with a tour, shot a video and started recording them with the producers Phil Booth, Danny Clarke and Matt Thomas, who at that time were actually my original partners in the label. We recorded at their house which was a big studio, even the bath had microphones in.
How did things move on from that?
Things just developed from there with other bands getting involved. Captain Dangerous were recording in the same house, and suggested that we should try recording at their practice room. Eventually the producers moved in there. Phil later took it on as his own project and the result is the mighty recording studio and DIY venue that is JT Soar. It was a big learning process for me and I'm still really good friends with my old partners and most of those involved in the early days, but I'm always interested in what new bands and artists are doing. I mostly enjoy working with new bands who need help and I'm always trying to see how I can give them direction or assistance. They generally come to us with the recordings done and we don't tend to touch the recordings side apart from perhaps recommending our masterer, but we concentrate on helping strategise their release, investment in the bands, videos, online presence, their development and just project managing things they need help with.
Fifteen years is a lot of time in any industry. You must have seen a lot of change in music over the years?
Yeah, we're approaching our 40th release as a label. It's been both a lot of fun and hard work, with plenty of blood, sweat and tears thrown in. You learn a lot about yourself and how you work with other people in that time, particularly realising and accommodating the differences between the musicians and business people. Fifteen years ago, Myspace was just finishing and Facebook was coming in, the labels were still heavily into releasing CDs whereas a lot of new releases just do digital then want to jump straight to vinyl when their fanbase is large enough. As a label we tend to concentrate on downloads and vinyl. The other big push now is to get artists on Spotify and use playlists to gain attention and introduce them to new listeners, although it's very hard to make a significant amount of money from them unless you're regularly getting hundreds of thousands of streams. So for bands it's important to tour and to be regularly selling the physical music, merch and to be looking at sync placements for their tracks.
On the flip side, artists have a lot more control over their image than ever before and, if they go about things right, they don't need a label. I actually think it's more important and harder for a band to get a good booking agent first to enable them to tour to larger crowds and better bills and then bigger labels will notice them. It puts the band in a better place to make their decision of who they might want to sign to.
What state is the UK music industry in at the moment?
Unfortunately, musicians in the UK are not valued as highly as in other countries and it has become more difficult for them to earn a reasonable living. Most bands have a side job, unless they're on a major label or they're controlling and marketing themselves really well. Before COVID struck Nottingham we must have had about fifteen or more gigs happening on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night in just the town centre alone, from tiny DIY gigs to Rock City and the Arena, so it's a competitive market.
Promoting can be a lot like gambling, and it can be hard to put on paid gigs every week and still cover all the costs and try and make it work financially every single time, so we often do deals with the bars to make the events free entry so we know that the bands will get paid something for their efforts with an audience and I don't need to worry about guestlist requests from everyone. This is ideal for building up smaller bands or putting on a new touring band as it guarantees them a crowd and a fee in a strange city. It's a fine line though as the more free gigs there are, the less people assume they should pay for them and that becomes a problem across the board when it comes to valuing music. There's a lot of time and money involved in being in a band and there's a worrying trend within venues. I think the public in general have grown to think that music should be something everyone should get for free, which of course it shouldn't. That should always be the artist's decision.
What are your plans to celebrate fifteen years as a record label?
We were going to hold a big event in May and we had just secured a ten-year licence on a community arts venue, but obviously COVID struck and so everything was shelved. We were involved in the organising of two Nottingham online festivals, the Light Hustle that raised £6000 in £100 grants to help struggling musicians and freelancers in Nottingham and Nottstopping that supported and secured prizes for Notts key workers, which was really uplifting and well received. We released Unknown Era's A State Of Affairs album on vinyl and are just about to release Witch Of The East's Comfort Me single. That's been a lot of fun and definitely kept us busy!
We've always liked collaborating on projects and have recently partnered with a local brewery. Beer and music have always been friends and you can't digitally stream a beer so we'll be launching the I'm Not From London ale in October that will be available to pre-order. We'll be promoting our artists on the back of the cans with downloads to their music and also releasing seven new tracks and videos from bands on the label plus a few more surprises....
Can you tell us a bit about your new Be Scene and Heard project?
I'm always looking for new bands or projects, and I was exploring putting signers for partial or fully deaf people at our shows so that they could enjoy the music too. With that in mind we wrote a bid, which was successful, to enable partially to fully deaf people aged 18-25 to get involved in songwriting, recording and producing music videos. They'll be free to do any or all of it, to perform or direct and we already have a fantastic team of videographers and producers at Wigflex's recording studio, West End dancers and choreographers all trained in BSL, as well as BSL interpreters and a collection of very talented Nottingham musicians from different genres to help facilitate this. We hope this will result in some great music videos and a platform to any young deaf or hard of hearing person who wants to get into the music or film industry.
How can people get involved?
Anyone who is partially to fully deaf, and even people with hearing problems like tinnitus for example, and aged between 18-25. You don’t need experience in the music industry, just an interest in taking part. We need a minimum of ten people registering their interest before we can set a date and I would like to ask anyone interested to get in touch with me as soon as possible. It's totally free and it is a great opportunity to anyone who wants to be a part of the music scene but currently feels excluded. This will be a very organic exercise and once we have the team working together, we will see where it goes. Ultimately the whole team of participants and practitioners will decide the direction the music is taken. We're looking at doing this in February next year. It's a great opportunity and I'd very much like to thank Youth Music for funding this project.
Do you see the near future as a continued involvement with local community projects and collaborations with other local businesses?
Most definitely! We all need to have each other's backs like never before. We formed our community interest company Dedicated last year for this reason and we really enjoyed working with Trish and Ian Gardiner on the incredible Circle Of Light album project. The entertainment and hospitality industry have taken a massive hit with the pandemic; music was the first industry to go and by the looks of things will be the last one to come back, as it can't recover fully until there's a vaccine. I've always been interested in community projects and with the live music scene coming to a temporary halt, I think these types of projects are much needed. As well as exploring how we can have socially distanced gigs that are safe, fun and economically viable, I think there will be a big focus on live streaming and music videos for a while until the live experience is back again. I'm Not From London have always been very much about community as much as we are in collaboration with music, and as we move forward that's definitely something we'll be focussing on in a big way.
If any partially to fully deaf people aged 18-25 would like to register their interest in Be Scene and Heard, please email [email protected]