Last year when I was first trying to get involved with the local arts scene John was the first person that gave me the time of day and has always been prompt and enthusiastic in his invaluable advice giving.
When I reached out it happened to line up with a new label that John was revving up - 4000 Records. We caught up for a beer in West End and a couple months later I'd built him the 4K records website.
We've kept in touch since and I thought it would be great to pick his brains about the ins and outs of running an independent record label.
When did you first fall in love with music?
My old man always had music playing. He makes his own speakers so was always testing them out and wearing them in, so there was always something on. Mostly 80's soft rock like Bill Withers and Simply Red but every now and then he’d throw something in there that would grab my attention.
The first visceral reaction I had to hearing a song was getting home from a bike ride - I must’ve been 8 or 9 - and Dave Brubeck’s ‘Blue Rondo Á La Turk’ was playing and it floored me. I remember asking dad to start it again and just sitting through the whole 7 minutes in awe. From then on I was on the hunt for that feeling again and thanks to dad I was introduced to many more wonderful musical discoveries. I think Pink Floyd were next, then Queen kicked off a now very long list!
What's your history with the Brisbane music scene?
I’m basically just a fan. Up until I was 30 I just supported the bands I loved - went to shows, bought merch, jumped on street teams etc. Then I figured since it was the only thing I really cared about and the scene had given me so must, I should at least try and contribute. I reached out to a few folks and started putting on small shows around town, which lead to managing a few bands, which lead to starting a label which instantly clicked as what I wanted to do, so I focused on that, and here we are.
How has the scene changed over the last 5+ years?
Brisbane seems to have always had a really close-knit and supportive community which was a really nice surprise when I was starting out with zero experience and zero contacts. The amount of energy and passion and desire to genuinely support each other to create and succeed is truly lovely in the Brisbane scene. I think we’re also (painfully slowly) coming out of the “boy’s club” mentality towards embracing a fully inclusive community.
What is the role of an independent record label in today's industry?
The value of an indie label lies in being curators of quality and something of a filter in a world where we have innumerable listening options. They are also ambassadors for their artists which often sees them spilling out into other facets of the music business too. I’ve also found myself playing the role of PR agent, booker, manager, negotiator, stage hand, drinking buddy, counselor, friend etc. etc. I think the short answer is simply, “whatever it needs to be”!
How can labels empower local artists?
There’s a lot to be said about the simple act of an external entity believing so much in an artist that they’re willing (and excited) to be work with them to bolster their music. I see myself as kind of a “hype man” for the artist which, aside from shouting about how great their music is, can involve getting radio airplay, music reviews, setting up interviews, festival applications, touring supports, helping with grants, whatever the artist wants really! I think there’s also a certain amount of weight that comes with an artist being on a label, no matter how small.
What challenges do record labels face in Australia specifically?
For smaller labels the high cost of postage really puts up a substantial barrier between reaching potential international fans. Also, the fact the Australia is isolated with a relatively small scene is both a blessing and curse. Bands are incredibly keen to help each other out. I’ve been able to book shows in towns I’ve never been to, with bands I’ve never met, and found couches for the bands to sleep on simply by reaching out via email to an artist in a town where one of our bands wants to play. Stuff like that is great! But it can also be a bit of a bummer, cos it’s tricky to break into some of the tight-knit circles that exist, especially when trying to get radio-play and festival slots.
Why did you start your first label, Valley Heat Records?
VHR was born out of necessity really. I was managing The Francis Wolves at the time and was pitching their debut album around but couldn’t land on a deal that felt right for everyone. So Brian (bass, bandleader) and I decided to just start out own. Initially it was just going to be a vehicle to release the bands’ releases and some close friends but it wasn’t long before I realised that I was passionate about the label above everything else. So we started putting out other local releases and it grew from there.
What was before VHR?
Before VHR I was operating just under my own name and then there was Earshot which was a catch-all for the bits and pieces I was doing with management, events and so on. So yeah, I basically just kicked around by myself, working things out from early 2014, then Earshot came around at the end of 2014, I started managing The Francis Wolves in mid-2015, VHR started in early 2016 and 4000 Records kicked off in Sept 2019.
Oh and I also started a local posterity project called Brisbane Music Graveyard in January 2015. It’s a digital archive, hosted on Bandcamp, of some local releases that might otherwise be relegated to boxes in attics and under beds. It’s an incredibly rewarding and fun side-side-side project!
How did your current label 4000 Records originate?
4000 came about as the result of Brian and I deciding to finish up with VHR. I was loving running the label and wanted to continue doing so, so I came up with the highly unique and boundary-pushing name and hit the ground running with the new label once we announced the end of VHR.
What is the core ethos that drives 4K?
I run the label purely as a passion project outside of full-time work and family commitments, so at the end of the day I just try and generate and access as many opportunities and get as many ears as I can around the music that I’m helping to put out there. There’s so much insane talent in this city and I’m just trying to help amplify a few a those voices as best I can.
How would you describe the relationship between yourself and the artists?
Oh I’d like to think they’d all say we have great relationships! Everything’s very open and I don’t impose anything on them at all. They come to me when they have something to work on and we try make it the best it can be. Some of the artists like involving me in the whole process, from songwriting to artwork and others will message me and say hey so I have an album now, let’s put it out! So yeah, it’s different with each artist, but my overarching aim is to simply be an amplifier and take care of the boring admin-type stuff so they have more time to concentrate on their music.
What are the steps between approaching or being approached by an artist and them being signed to the label? Is it unique or similar for most artists?
All the artists on the label have strong roots in Brisbane and the surrounding areas, which extends out to the artists we collaborate with for our design work and everything else. We try and keep as much currency circulating locally as we can. There’s no hard and fast rule for how I bring artists in. Nearly everyone currently on the roster I’ve approached after having been blown away after a set. We have a chat and go from there.
What are some common label processes that unsigned artists or label owners-to-be may not be familiar with?
Every label operates differently, but for 4000, something that may surprise people is that I haven’t been inspired to collaborate with an artist off the back of a demo submission or Soundcloud link. All the artists on the label have come on board after I’ve seen them live. Also, the amount of time needed to package up and send out physical media and merch orders is quite substantial, although quite enjoyable at the same time!
What challenges have you faced with the label that you might not have expected?
I came into the label game completely blind and with no preconceptions. So every step has been a learning opportunity and has been both scary and exciting. The one thing I didn’t expect was for international shipping to be so heinously expensive!
What's been the most rewarding part?
Being accepted into the community so openly. As someone who entered the game late, has little self-confidence and anxiety issues, it’s incredibly heartwarming that I now have such a wonderful network of people who are so supportive!
Are things quite on the fly or do you often have a rigid plan?
Somewhere in the middle. Things are set up so that I have a loose plan for whatever we’re collaborating on with the artist, whether it's a single, EP, album, event, video etc. Most of the time the artist will have an idea of what they want, so at the outset we chat about what they want to achieve with the release (or whatever it might be) and we come up with a plan of attack from there.
Is there anyone else that's really helped you along the way?
Yeah absolutely! Heaps of people! I’m eternally in debt to Paul Watson and Kel Timmons mostly. For those guys, who were at the time (and very likely still are) insanely busy, to give me the time of day and opportunity to help with booking shows was just immensely kind. I was a random guy who had decided one day that I wanted to put on shows and they gave me some space and were always happy to have ideas bounced off them. They didn’t need to do that. I’m hugely grateful to those guys, cos without them, it’s very likely that my confidence and drive would’ve fizzled out and I would’ve just given up. Bless ‘em.
Then, specifically on the label front, Brian. Without his support and belief in me, we’d never have started VHR and I’d never have discovered my passion for doing this and who knows how I’d be spending my spare time now? Probably deep down YouTube conspiracy rabbit-holes!
Do you feel that Brisbane has a healthy dose of independent record labels representing the various sections of the music community?
Definitely! There are heaps of incredible labels representing pretty much every multi-hyphenated, fanciful genre you can think of. I think, as with many things, you just have to take some time to step out of the mainstream and you’ll discover wonderful worlds of niches and subcultures, which is definitely the case with Brisbane labels. They’re out there, just waiting for you discover their tasty sonic morsels.
What can people in Brisbane do better to support local artists and arts initiatives?
Money always helps haha! But seriously, a lot of creative endeavours are kept afloat by nothing but the passion of their creators. So if you dig what someone is doing, then buy it, share it with your friends, go to shows/exhibitions, leave the album playing on Spotify after you go to bed, send in radio requests, if someone compliments your band shirt, tell them where to get one for themselves, contact the artist and tell them how much you enjoy what they do, there’s heaps of things you can do to make a difference and support the unrelenting talent that exists in our small corner of the world.
What's on the horizon for 4k records?
I feel like I’ve got a nice rhythm with things at the moment so I’ll be extremely happy chugging on as is, releasing incredible music by artists I love and putting on some fun shows along the way!