Interview with Label Manager Craig Hargrave
by Kirsty Fraser
Two weeks ago Scottish band Mogwai released their 8th studio album ‘Rave Tapes’ to not only critical acclaim but also commercial success. The album had been much anticipated by many in the weeks leading up to its release and hasn’t disappointed. The striking cover design and haunting score clearly show that Mogwai are a band completely in control of their own destiny. Not only that, but the limited run of 4,000 copies of the absolutely lust worthy box-set package is still on my wish list. (I want it so badly!)
‘Rave Tapes’ made it’s debut in the top ten album chart – the highest ever chart position for the band – and was released via the bands own Rock Action Records label. A few weeks ago I chatted to Craig Hargrave, Label Manager. Read on to find out how the label have found a sustainable market and how Beyonce’s PR team must have taken a few tips from them.
How do you view the current music climate in terms of how people consume and listen to music?
I think the way that people consume and listen to music has definitely changed. That much is obvious. The idea of going to a record shop on day of release, handing over your money and going back home to sit down and listen to a new album from start to finish has pretty much gone.People are becoming a lot more selective about what they buy, they’d rather buy the hit single than the album I guess. Having said that, in the case of Rock Action our physical sales still hugely outweigh digital, it’s something like 70% physical to 30% digital in most cases.
Similarly, how do you view the current music climate in terms of establishing new music? Has it become more difficult, or easier for new bands to emerge?
It’s become incredibly easy for new bands to be heard. The upshot of that though is that the market has long since become over saturated. There are plenty of bands that have become ‘internet famous’; they maybe get covered on Pitchfork and their song picks up tens of thousands of plays but they find themselves playing to 50-100 people in venues across the country, maybe they’ll play big shows in major cities but the internet has really skewed things in those terms. Take the most recent Mogwai video we put out, at last count it had something like 191k views, does that mean that we’re going to see nearly 200k people buy the album? Hopefully yes! Though more than likely it’ll be a figure in line with the normal album sales.
Has Rock Action Records diversified in order to accommodate the changes that are happening within the industry? If so, in what ways?
Not really, no. Rock Action’s policy has always been to work with bands we like, music that we want to release and let other people hear so in that respect we haven’t changed what we do. We’ve maybe taken to putting tracks up on SoundCloud for people to hear but the basic process of how we put records out hasn’t changed.That process is: find a band we like, ask them if they want to do a record, get them to record it, work out what they want to do with it and put it out. Then we hope people buy it.
What is your opinion of the current generation of music fans? They have so much choice at their fingertips in terms of how they listen to and support music and the future of the industry ultimately rests on them.
There’s an entitlement that being blunt; is pretty annoying. The idea that ‘it’s OK to illegally download an album as long as you buy a gig ticket’ is a pretty warped logic. It would be naïve not to acknowledge that there’s not a whole generation of fans who genuinely don’t see anything wrong with downloading leaked albums to the point that they’re emailing a band telling them it’s great or they’re not into it before the record is even out. In 5-10 years you’ll have a far greater percentage of the music buying public who have grown up with the concept that they have a right to download whatever they want. The notion of copyright is already pretty much lost.
Rock Action release music via CD or LP normally, do you think the label will ever shift into download only territory or has the label found a winning formula in terms of size and capabilities?
I’d never be inclined to say ‘never’ but at this moment in time the people who buy music on our label have very little interest in digital releases. Without going into specifics the rough split across the board on Rock Action is something like 70% / 30% in favour of physical over digital so it really wouldn’t be in our interests to ignore the fact that people who are into the records we release by putting them out on a format they actively avoid.It’s interesting, for Mogwai’s ‘Les Revenants’ 10″ EP (not the album) we put a digital version up on iTunes with no press campaign or such – ages before Beyoncé did it – and saw a small amount of interest in that. As soon as we mentioned the 10″ physical release the vinyl version sold out almost straight away.