While live music has been halted by the Covid-19 crisis, we can, hopefully, start looking toward the latter end of next year for some resumption, assuming vaccines work. Musicians and producers all over the country have kept going in the meantime, enhancing their body of work by DIY means, with some unveiling new projects and others resurrecting old bands and line-ups for reunions. Most of them intend to go live as soon as they are allowed.
Cork-based FIFA Records (‘Forever in Financial Arrears’, fact fans) has, for 15 years, been a platform for an array of Irish music, from early excursions from Fight Like Apes, to the ongoing sonic adventures of Leeside legends, The Frank and Walters. Having built a national profile and business network, the label has had a surprisingly busy lockdown, from the unlikely return, after 25 years, of Leeside dream-poppers Emperor of Ice Cream, to a debut album from new signings, One Morning in August. The label’s A&R, Eddie Kiely, talks about how the label came across two of its artists and began their working relationships.“It really varies from act to act, but the key factor is that (FIFA co-founder, Frank and Walters man) Ashley Keating and I both like the music, and believe we can benefit the act. It could be that myself or Ash will come across a band; that maybe through a demo being sent in, catching a band live, or a recommendation from someone,” Eddie says.
Once an agreement is reached to work together, the nitty-gritty of how this benefits all parties is hammered out. Not every band reaches the same agreement with the label, with some artists taking on a full engagement regarding business and strategy, and others preferring to work collaboratively on different aspects. “Bands can be at different stages of their career,” Eddie says. “A new or young band may require more guidance and financial backing. In that case, the label will recoup its costs before any earnings are split, but, more often than not, any profits would go to the band in order to fund future projects.
The making of a record is an artist-centric process, with label involvement in the creative aspects being the subject of contention since the birth of the industry. To that end, Eddie shows trust in the artists, as recording and production progress.
“From there, it’s sent out to the media,” Mags says. “Each campaign, single, series, or album differs in approach. An album campaign is multi-faceted. Not only are you seeking radio play, you’re also looking for radio interviews, print features, and bloggers’ reviews. Your initial approach is to media that the single or album appeals to. Then, as in life, if enough buzz is generated, it will grow as more people hear about it.”
Equally important to matters musical, as a release date approaches, is a digital strategy. FIFA, as an independent label, has largely eschewed the rush to streaming services, in light of inequalities regarding in-platform promotion and royalties. While releases eventually end up on the likes of Spotify, labels like FIFA can ill-afford to rely on streaming for recoupment, and that’s where indie service Bandcamp comes in, says Eddie Kiely. “The most important thing is that Bandcamp gives you control of the commercial aspect of your music business: You control your pricing, creatives, and upload whenever you want. Bandcamp’s payout model is one of its most lauded features: They only take 15% of digital sales and 10% on other merchandise. Compare this to Spotify’s payout of less than a cent per stream.
2020 has been busy for the label, even with the restrictions of lockdown and having to rely more heavily on media for promotion in the absence of gigs and festivals. Emperor of Ice Cream’s well-documented return has yielded #1 positions on iTunes’ Irish album and singles charts, as well as the national independent single charts, while returning Dublin indie heroes, Power of Dreams, are two for two on the top spot in the Irish indie single charts, since their return. Radio airplay is also encouraging, with tunes from the label’s roster impacting in 33 countries.
The label is in a good place heading into the new year, then, and can, hopefully, match the return of live music with an expanded presence, says Eddie.