Expert Advice: UK record label Transgressive’s strategy post COVID-19
In our mission to keep artists inspired and informed as the industry recovers from COVID-19, we’ll be sharing a special edition of Expert Advice featuring those on the frontlines of the music business: managers, label runners, and other industry execs.
The first interview of this manager series takes us to London where Transgressive Records’ co-founder and director Toby L is based. The independent record label represents a diverse roster of artists (including Wesley Joseph, Arlo Parks, MICHELLE, Flume, SOPHIE, Foals, Let’s Eat Grandma, Johnny Flynn and many more), and like everyone in the music industry, found that its plans were upended as a result of COVID-19. Read on for excerpts from our chat with Toby covering everything from how the company has pivoted in light of the crisis to advice on how you can use this time.
How has Covid-19 impacted your plans for 2020?
Less “impacted,” more “entirely altered” our plans for 2020, as per everyone else’s no doubt. We ended the ’10s fairly optimistically and reflectively, having celebrated 15 years of the company with more brand new signings planned than ever before in our entire history.
We’ve always revelled in the community spirit of running an independent music company – and a huge part of that is being in a room with each other and then being in larger rooms with artists and audiences. To have these core elements removed is a huge, painful adjustment, and can often be mentally and emotionally draining. BUT, we move on, because we have to. We are lucky that we now reside in a music industry that is hugely digital, where songs or videos are accessible via your phone, or vinyl can be ordered and arrive the next day.
So, 2020 is most certainly not what we expected, but we’re doing our best to do what we’ve always set out to do, which is ensure that great, important music finds its people.
We decided very early on that we weren’t going to slow down the releases [because] people need and deserve music more than ever.
How have you and your artists been using your time in quarantine?
It varies artist to artist – some are revelling in the circumstances; more than one of our artists has said to me already, “To be honest, spending this much time at home is what I’m used to – it’s weird that now the rest of the world knows what it’s like to live this way!” Some are getting ahead on writing or demoing new material. Some are fortunate to possess home studios and lots of good equipment and gear, which has meant their productivity is at an all-time high. Others, understandably, are less motivated, and are not feeling lightning bolts of inspiration.
We’re certainly not putting any pressure on anyone to react a certain way, or to produce instant results. Keeping healthy and positive has to be the priority right now. The key is being patient and supportive to everyone’s needs, realising that everyone has a different way of processing these surreal times.
In terms of the rest of the team behind the scenes at Transgressive – we’ve been scheduling and running our working weeks like any other, which is plenty of meetings (albeit via shaky digital video conferencing software), phone calls, relentless barrages of email and effectively trying to remotely run a multi-functional music company from laptops and phones.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised, and relieved, by our group productivity, but obviously some days are better than others.
It’s important to keep standards and hopes high, but to not pressurise yourself or anyone else if you’re feeling low on a certain day. That’s human, and we have to remember that there’s always tomorrow.
Quarantine or not, having a structured and planned-out day with clear goals and tasks, plus ideally a dose of exercise in there somewhere, tends to be the way we like to do things.
What is your advice to other artists who are struggling to get through this time?
Be patient, be kind to yourself. There’s no “correct” way to deal with these extraordinary times, and just because someone on Instagram seems to be living their best life, don’t get despondent (and don’t necessarily believe it, either).
We’re all fallible, vulnerable and sensitive and it’s important to be forgiving to yourself if you’re feeling down or demotivated.
Inspiration and motivation are sacred temperaments, and they’re not always there – just be appreciative when they are, make the most of them at that point.
Mapping out your days, your weeks, trying to get a sense of a plan together, is a good way to ensure that you’re making the most of your time. Find ways to stay connected, sharing moments with friends and family. And remember, this is just a phase, an era – we will surpass, and we will move on.
What are some resources that you recommend to the SoundCloud community?
- Download recording software at discounts
- Help Musicians
- Dive into records, activities, hobbies, ideas and classic films you’ve been holding off on
- A “go on, give it a go” mindset
This interview has been edited for clarity.