Keeping Cork on the playlist with new releases throughout Covid

Downtown catches up with label, PR and record-pressing staff about their parts if the process of keeping live music releases coming during lockdown
Keeping Cork on the playlist with new releases throughout Covid

Eddie Kiely, A&R of Fifa Records: Provides album-promotion expertise.

It’s a changed game for the traditional record label model, but the process of working with artists on their new releases remains a huge commitment for indie labels like Cork’s FIFA Records, and their partners in other aspects of the industry. Mike McGrath-Bryan talks to label, PR and record-pressing staff about their parts of the process.


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.

Frank and Walters: FIFA Records connection.
Frank and Walters: FIFA Records connection.

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.

“In the case of August Wells, for example, it was my friend Graham Finn who gave me a call and sent me their track, ‘Here In the Wild’. I was seriously impressed. I passed it on to Ash and he agreed. Graham introduced me to Ken Griffin, of August Wells, and we had a lengthy discussion around our thoughts and aspirations, etc, and we agreed it would be a good venture for both the band and the label. We’re all together seven years now.

“For One Morning in August, the most recent addition to our roster, it was simply down to hearing their debut album, enjoying it, visualising the potential a relationship could bring, and starting a conversation,” Eddie says. “Again, Ash and I spoke, agreed they were a good fit for the label, and then discussions began, all very informal. A critical element for us is that the band’s mindset, attitude, and work ethic are a match to our own.”

Emperor of Ice Cream: Reunited after 25 years and have topped iTunes’ Irish charts.
Emperor of Ice Cream: Reunited after 25 years and have topped iTunes’ Irish charts.

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.

“A more established act may want to finance their own physical copies, such as vinyl or CD, so the approach would be different,” Eddie says. “It would normally be 80% to the artist and 20% to the label, after costs are covered. These are just examples; nothing is written in stone, and agreements can vary from act to act. One thing for sure is that the bands retain all rights to their music, and can walk away at any point in time, if they feel things aren’t working out.”

One Morning in August: Most recent addition to FIFA Records’ band roster.
One Morning in August: Most recent addition to FIFA Records’ band roster.

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.

“We do not get involved with the recording process, unless asked: The creating of the music is down to the artist,” Eddie says. “Most bands do keep us up to date with the recording process and would normally share the tracks with us as they progress and ask for our take. This way, the artist and label remain aligned throughout the process, but this is always by choice, rather than design. But, as a label, what we definitely would advise on are a band’s choice of singles, release strategies, release timeframes, etc.”

Once the mastering, artwork, and release strategy are settled, post-production, the label moves on to its first order of business: Media engagement. While FIFA Records does a lot of its own PR work in the international territories, Cork-based firm Blue Monkey handles the label’s press and radio in the Irish market, leveraging long-existing relationships and its reputation for championing new music.

“The process starts with the artist and the music,” says Blue Monkey’s Mags Blackburn. “We discuss goals and identify appropriate media to approach. Formulating a campaign depends on whether it’s a single, a series of singles, or an album that’s being promoted. Together with the artist, we write up a press release that carries the message of the artist. Each PR has their own style of doing this.

August Wells: Seven years with FIFA.
August Wells: Seven years with FIFA.

“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.”

While the media outreach is going on, the label gets to work on the physical pressing of the record: In recent times, FIFA has partnered with Dublin Vinyl, an independent pressing plant based in the capital, to handle manufacturing and distribution. From humble beginnings as a bespoke vinyl plant, the business has expanded to direct sales, mail order, subscription, and merchandise.“We’ve listened to our clients over the last few years”, says Dublin Vinyl’s Donagh Molloy, “and identified clear artist and label ‘pain points’ in an industry that has changed drastically over the

last 30 years, but a distribution model that is struggling to catch up with how to best, and most efficiently, reach music fans.

“We’ve invested heavily into warehouse and fulfilment software and infrastructure, and, now, can seamlessly integrate with the majority of major sales channels to manage an artist’s or label’s sales,” Donagh says. “We can even build web stores for the client. We no longer just manufacture vinyl: We now manage the production of all audio and merch products; warehouse; pick, pack, and ship all over the world.”

Dublin Vinyl’s Donagh Molloy and Hugh Scully.
Dublin Vinyl’s Donagh Molloy and Hugh Scully.

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.

“The songs stream instantaneously in the Bandcamp app; it allows you choose which songs you want to offer before a release, and you can set up album pre-orders, which can be a key component to some artists being able to afford, and pay for, physical releases,” Eddie says.

“Unlike iTunes and other services, you can upload and release immediately: There is no middleman; you don’t need to wait for any distributor or platform to approve your release. It’s just you and the platform, and all your Bandcamp activity goes straight to your email.”

Mags Blackburn of Blue Monkey PR.
Mags Blackburn of Blue Monkey PR.

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.

Power of Dreams: Top of Irish indie singles chart.
Power of Dreams: Top of Irish indie singles chart.

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.

“We have the new Power of Dreams album to look forward to in the early part of the year. We will also have the second album from One Morning In August, which is planned for... August (laughs).

“Other than that, we expect new music from Emperor of Ice Cream and August Wells, while there is also the expectation that we will announce further additions to the FIFA roster in the near future. We may also see some vinyl reissues of some classic albums from a couple of the bands on the roster.”

For more information on upcoming releases and more from the label, find FIFA Records on Facebook, and on Twitter: @corkFIFA.

Some of the label’s catalogue is also available directly at https://fifarecords.bandcamp.com.

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