LABEL PROFILE: A Conversation With Last Night From Glasgow’s Ian Smith

Last Night From Glasgow

We’ve become quite enamored with the relatively new label Last Night From Glasgow, and not just because of their music. Founded in 2016 by Ian Smith, the label offers a unique and novel approach to the music industry: paying their artists. Working as a non-profit organization that thrives on subscriptions might seem a lofty–if not unrealistic–business model, that they’re soon heading into their fifth year means they’re doing something right. At a time when the entertainment industry is in tumult as a result of COVID-19, they’re the rare business thriving during this drought. It doesn’t hurt that the music they release is ace; it’s been a point of pride that we could share their music with you this week. But don’t fret; we’re going to keep promoting this fine label and its music from hereon in. How could we not? 

We hope you enjoy this insight into the label, and after doing so, go back and check out this week’s Songs Of The Day. If you like what you hear, go and support them. You won’t be disappointed.

Visit their website for more:  Last Night From Glasgow

 

What was your music industry/record label experience before you started Last Night From Glasgow?

Other than being a fanatical vinyl collector and devourer of music documentaries I had absolutely no experience with the music industry. Probably a good thing, too! Luckily,that meant no bad habits, no “friends” who were promoters or pluggers; thus no pre-existing misplaced prejudices.

Tell me a little bit about your business model, and what was the catalyst for you in terms of coming up with such a unique concept?

The label operates as a non profit patronage. Patrons fund our base functionality. They provide the bulk of the operating costs. That allows us to manufacture, distribute,and promote music without assigning any costs to the artists themselves. Thus bands and singers signed are not working off a debt but instead are on a forward platform from the get go. Patrons are rewarded with all the music we release. When a new band signs, we hand them 500 new devoted fans, we manufacture their record, send it around the world to be sold in stores, we promote it, we manage all the logistics and they earn from the proceeds. It’s a very collaborative and socialist endeavour. I was explaining this to a mutual friend of ours yesterday and I think he had a eureka moment.

Most indies operate on say a 50%/50% split on profits. Some operate on a 100% / 0% profit split, meaning that the artist will start to earn once all costs are recovered. We operate on (at worst) a 75%/25% split on proceeds. So we could spend £4000 pressing records but the minute someone buys one for £20 the artist gets at least £15.

The catalysts were manifold, in essence. I live in Glasgow and in 2014 we had been given the opportunity in Scotland to vote for independence. I believed strongly (and I think recent history has proven me right) that leaving the union and forging our own path was the correct move, unfortunately only 45% of my fellow scots agreed. This left me feeling dejected and redundant in some regards and I wanted to find a way to make a difference.

Our whole country (UK) is governed by a selfish mentality, an I’m alright jack attitude prevails and whilst I accept there are bigger fish to fry in the world, that mentality is abundant within the music industry. “Why should I pay an artist for their music when I can give Universal £10 through spotify and listen to ALL the music in the world.” As we say in Scotland, everything was and is “arse over tit” and I wanted to do something about that. Luckily I had some friends who supported me and here we are now.

I remember, before lauching dreaming, of the possibilities if say 300 people funded us but panicking about maybe not even securing the 50 we needed, well now with 500 I dream of the possibilities of 5000.

What have been some of the benefits of the label you’ve seen? What are some of the drawbacks?

From a label perspective, the primary benefit comes from funding ourselves in such a way that we don’t have to chase commercial success. We obviously want that for all our artists, but we don’t pursue acts based upon their commercial viability. We have rejected quite a few bands that have gone on to generate a significant amount of interest, but we never really liked what they were doing and had no intention of selling out our credibility in the pursuit of the filthy lucre.

Not worrying about where the next cent is coming from provides a sizeable amount of creative freedom. We have been able to launch an imprint Komponist that releases experimental music, the whole label runs at a significant loss but we are happy to fund it because the music has value and deserves to be heard.

The biggest drawback has been the limitations on growth – We have already budgeted to release (over various imprints) something like 14 LP’s in 2021. That’s more than one record a month. We really can’t do much more than that. Frankly, releasing  an LP every three weeks is insane! Being non profit and having money means finding ways to spend that money; what better than make records? And so it goes on. That’s not to say we don’t want to grow; we absolutely do. We have major plans from opening studios to setting up pressing plants.

I’ve noticed that while your label started off with younger, lesser-known independent artists, over the past year or so you’ve started releasing work by bands and artists who have had substantial major label careers. What’s the reaction been from these older, more established acts to this new way of doing business?

I think our roster speaks for itself, we very much are here to break new artists but having higher profile bands on the label helps raise profile. So we now have Bis, Close Lobsters, Starless, and our Past Night From Glasgow imprint will reissue music by The Bluebells and BMX Bandits. Just last month our Komponist imprint released Edit by Joe McAlinden formerly of Superstar and Linden. 

I don’t wish to sound arrogant, but I’m pretty sure that the deal we have provided all of these bands far outstrips what they were getting from majors in the 80’s and 90’s. Why else would they want to come to a label like ours?
Truthfully, our model proves far superior to a DIY self release model and far, far superior to the classic major indie advance/pay back.

I think it’s fair to say they are all big fans of what we are doing. Which is great because we are big fans of what they are doing, that’s why we have given them a home. Our ambitions are growing and we don’t think it will be long before we try and secure a really big fish. (If there is any really big fish reading this who would care to approach us please feel free!)

We have a worldwide distribution deal with Proper distribution. Our label has a publishing arm, an artist management arm, and a PR team. We have a plugging team, graphics team and label video arm, We are an Ethical Non Profit Business. Last Night From Glasgow won’t drop you if your album bombs.

A major label would offer all these things. But those last two things a major will never commit to. The two they can’t match are the most significant of all.

Aside from the live element, how has the COVID pandemic affected the label and your artists? Do you think the business model has been more helpful for your artists during this time in terms of revenue?

Clearly covid has been a killer for the music industry at large, while the local scene has been decimated. This year the label raised around £10,000 for venues and shops via our Isolation Sessions project.

Clearly the UK government being self-interested money grubbing scumbags would never going to step up and help the arts. I do believe everything will bounce back as they have in other times of national crisis that said there is no doubt that the state could do much more than it is.

We’ve never been busier, never had so much interest or growth. People are drawn towards positive news. Just this week we put on argurably the first two gigs Scotland has seen since March. We have ramped up production, signed more bands. Providing the world positive news stories helps a lot. Doing so has resulted in more customers, more press, and more patrons. We don’t want to stop there, though.  We’re determined to secure a sizeable following in the United States and then some satellite operations, if we’re lucky.

What advice would you give and what sort of expectations would you want people to have before sending their demo?

Research, Research, Research!  Don’t think we’re a folk label after hearing one of our releases and assuming we’d be a good fit. We are not an anything label, other than a good music label. Be genuine, be original–and this is a personal bug bear of mine–know your influences.

Realise we care about community and we want collaboration. We don’t want people pretending to get it, they need to get it. Talent is pivotal but being a good egg is hugely important. We are a giant family and our artist family now stretches to Brooklyn and British Columbia. Our name may suggest Scotland but our approach is worldwide

Give us notice, please. Nothing’s worse than receiving a submission the week after you’ve sent the album to die in Spotify. It takes the best part of six months to make and promote a record. We would like six months before we even begin, so twelve months notice minimum or any project works best. Unless of course it is “knock your socks off” great in which case we might move super quick to accommodate. Note, don’t tell us it’s “knock your socks off great” unless it really is.

Try to provide a sensible time line to your ambitions, be open to our input. You are the artist; you know the art. We are the business, we know the business. Don’t come in with pre-conceived notions about how this should be done. Ironically, those who have been around the block tend to give the most leeway. They know the truth of what we preach. The more controlling acts tend to have other inexperienced folks whispering in their ears about how things should be.

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