Britishhiphop.co.uk got to speak to one of the main driving forces behind the fantabulous Breakin’ Bread record label. After a long chat we got to find out all about the label and how it is run in a very candid and frank exchange. Peep what Skeg had to say to us as the promotion for their excelent new compilation LP gets up a head of steam…
What is the name of the label? Is there any significant meaning behind the name?
Skeg: Breakin Bread. It’s the name of a classic album by the JB’s (James Brown’s backing band) and we used it because it gives of vibes of sharing and having a good time.
Whats your latest release?
Skeg: Our second compilation “dirtybeatbreakinfunkandhiphop” is out in late February. It’s a 17 track CD that features hip hop, funk, beats and some stuff that’s a hybrid of all those things. It features some of our bestselling singles that haven’t been released on CD before and some one offs that haven’t been released at all yet. Basically it’s statement of where we’re at right now…
Do you do anything else other than release music?
Skeg: We’ve been running a club night for over almost nine years and we also have a DJ residency down at The Social. We do big live events at The Jazz Café every now and again and do live gigs and DJing all over the world.
What were the main reasons for starting up the label? Was it initially to put out your own, or friends stuff?
Skeg: We started the Breakin Bread club night in a pub in Stockwell in 1998. We got such a good reaction to the funk and hip hop we were playing that we thought we would try releasing some of our own productions under a label of the same name. Then it went crazy!
So, what would you say was the ethos or philosophy behind the label? I mean what are you trying to achieve?
Skeg: Just put out quality music with a funky edge. Music aimed for the dancefloor as well as headnod stuff.
Where is the label based? Is it a problem being based where you are, perhaps too many other labels in the area?
Skeg: South London. Not a problem at all, there are a few artists based down our way but no other labels to speak of.
What are your qualities that make you qualified to run a label? What skills do you need and what is your background personally?
Skeg: The main qualities are that we are interested in all aspects of hip hop culture and how it relates to the music that gave birth to hip hop. I am a qualified accountant but I’ve always been a music lover and I became a club and radio DJ at University. My label partner Rob Life is a hip hop lover who honed his DJ and production skills whilst still at school and has gone on to become one of the most knowledgable people in the UK with regard to breaks from all kinds of music (funk, jazz, country, rock etc). He’s also one of the UK’s top B-boy DJ’s.
OK, so was it hard to set up the label? What were some of the initial problems you encountered?
Skeg: It’s easy to set up a label but it’s difficult to run it well. The hardest thing was finding the time to run it properly and I had to give up my job to do so. Then the problem is making enough money so you can live. Still trying to work that one out!
Where did you get the funding? Was it a case of saving up hard, or do you have some benefactor behind the scenes to help out?
Skeg: I had a good accountancy job so our initial releases were funded from that. Now the releases just about pay for themselves but we make very little profit.
What advice would you have for someone starting up their own label?
Skeg: Don’t expect it to be easy and don’t set your expectations too high…
Now that you have been running for a while, what have you had to change in terms of business process in order to run smoothly? What would you say is the most useful process you have put in place, and what, in your eyes remains the hardest task to complete satisfactorily?
Skeg: We’ve just got more and more professional over time but we still don’t have time to do everything we want to do. We’re constantly working on that. The hardest thing is keeping your artists happy by accounting to them for sales and keeping their faith that you’re doing the best job you can do.
Is running a label what you expected?
Skeg: Not at all! It’s a constant learning process.
Who do you press and master with? What are the reasons for this? Are there price issues?
Skeg: We use a number of companies so that we can ensure the best service each time.
Would the artists supply their own artwork as well as music, or do you have a graphic designer who works with the label?
Skeg: We generally get artists to work with specific designers so they get a strong individual image behind them. We haven’t had any artists that can do their own design yet, but that would be nice!
Who does your printing?
Skeg: We do all our flyers with Print Club based in Hoxton. All our stickers are done by cromatics.co.uk.
What sort of advertising can you afford to do, and what have you found most effective? Classic Hip Hop avenues to take, would be to do stickers, print flyers, or take out adverts in magazines. I guess you would love a full page ad in the Source every month, but that isn’t really going to be cost effective is it?
Skeg: We do all of those but we try and save money wherever possible. The best marketing is always word of mouth and for this to be most effective we have to get our artists out gigging and DJing all over the place.
What other promotional activities could you undertake? Artists getting out and gigging must be one of the most important things?
Skeg: See above!
And getting tracks on Mixtapes?
Skeg: We do this to spread the word. If it’s a low level mixtape we’ll let them use our tracks for free, otherwise we’ll try and get some money for it.
As an indie label, how do you feel about the Majors? Are there certain things you are locked out of, like radio play?
Skeg: I am of the view that majors can’t replicate what we do with hip hop and funk because they don’t know enough about the underground. We’re not locked out of radio play or anything like that because of the internet. It’s been a massive help in spreading the word…
Do you have an online presence? What do you achieve with that?
Can you explain to the readers some of the problems that labels encounter when their material is freely distributed over the net by fans who may be unaware of the law and how you make your money?
Skeg: It costs us money to make music. As well as pressing costs there is studio time, travel costs and office overheads that all need to be paid for. It also takes artists time to create music and to do gigs you can’t have a full time job so artists need to get paid to live. If our stuff is burnt and / or ripped for free then it makes it more difficult to cover our costs.
Conversely, for small labels, there has to be some benefits too? What would they be?
Skeg: The benefits is that our music is easily spread but it’s a fine balance because at the moment we certainly can’t live off what we’re doing. We’re in a break even position.
So, how does it work with your artists? Do you have people signed to the label? If so, without revealing too much confidential info, what sort of a deal would they be on? Would they be signed for one project, or an album and some singles, I guess it would depend on the particular act?
Skeg: We sign people on a project by project basis and we offer 50% profit share deals.
Do you expect any creative control over the artists output, or are they entirely free to come up with whatever they want? I would guess that you would try to come to a mutual understanding and agree on the level of commerciality.
Skeg: That’s right. We like to give artists as much freedom as possible, but we’re not going to release something that is going to make a loss. If we’re really worried about how something is going to do we will advise an artist to make some changes but it’s up to them to do this, we’ll never force anyone to do something they don’t want to do.
Realistically, how many units are you expecting to shift of each release? Have you found this disappointing and how do you see sales going in the future?
Skeg: Singles 1000 – 3000 units, Albums 5000+. This doesn’t always happen!
Do you have a distribution deal? If so, who is it with, what do they do for you, and are you happy with the results? If not, how are you getting round this and getting your product out there?
Skeg: We are distributed by Boombox Distribution Network a separate distribution company that I run with Disorda from Suspect-Packages.
Are you at all interested in overseas markets? The US for example? How important could overseas territories be to your bottom line?
Skeg: Overseas territories are mad important for us. We sell all over the world and get bookings in these places as a result. This is one of the perks of what we do when someone flies you over to their place and looks after you. We’ve started to sell some stuff to the States but not in huge quantities. They’re very resistant to UK hip hop so we find it easier to sell our funky releases out there.
What activities are you undertaking to get out overseas?
Skeg: We send out promos and make sure our distribution company can sell to all territories.
Are you actually making money out of this?
Skeg: No! We’ve been doing this for almost 9 years and so far I have spent more money on it than I have taken out but we’re building all the time!
OK, so what sort of return could the artists expect to see from any profit? Some indies split the money 50%/50% with the artists, whereas majors might only give between 5 and 15 points. What does that actually mean in terms of hard cash?
Skeg: We make a bit of money on some projects but the most we’ve ever paid an artist has been less than £1000. Any profits the label makes are put back into future releases.
What do you think of advances to artists? If acts don’t recoup they can get themselves into a bad position.
Skeg: Yes, I agree. At our level there is not any money for artist advances. We hope to get to this level in the future but we need to be sure something is going to sell before we do this…
At present, who are the acts on the label and how did they come to be working with you?
Skeg: Ghost, Natural Self, Rob Life, Color Climax and Ill Boogs are our main artists. Our new compilation also features relative unknowns such as The Abdominal Showmen, Boogaloo & Lotari Vs Smooth, Darwin & The Phoenyx and one off releases we put out from Cappo, Zero Theory and Tom Caruana. These are people we’ve met along the way as well as some old friends.
Right, so what can we expect in the future from you in terms of releases and label development?
Skeg: We’ll keep growing and hope to have each of our artists put out an album in most years. As well as future compilations and mix CDs.
Are you currently soliciting new material and demos from unsigned acts?
Skeg: Yes, all the time. Hit me up via the website.
If so, what approach would you prefer potential signees to take? Is simply sending you a poor quality demo and a hand written note enough, or do people need to make a better impression than that?
Skeg: That’s a way to start. Music doesn’t need to be fully mixed down we just need to get an idea of potential. It’s useful to have one page of information but a whole pack of info is not necessary.
What difference would it make if someone stepped to you with a fully recorded and finished LP? Are you going to look at them more favourably because you wouldn’t have to do much, or maybe that wouldn’t leave you the option to mould them or give them any direction?
Skeg: That is another way to do it. We’re not worried about moulding people in any way. It’s just a matter of whether the music fits into what we do and we’re always going to be flexible and try to find the best way to deal with a project.
Do you have any studio facilities and in what ways would you be looking to develop artists if you take them on?
Skeg: We’ve got studios we use and would make sure an artists music sounds as good as possible. We can help artists with production tips.
Does the label do anything to either give back to the community or try and stand up and say anything political? If it is the case that you are too small and you finances don’t allow you to do so, would you have any aspirations to do so in the future and if so, what would you like to achieve?
Skeg: We’re not particularly political but if our artists want to be they can go that way. All we want to give back to the community is some really good music and some really good parties. It’s all about having a good time and enjoying life.
You have entered what is becoming an increasingly crowded marketplace, with many new labels springing up almost weekly. Is this competition good for you? Do you think it is a fad that will pass, or will it continue to grow? Generally, although your label is slightly different, what are your thoughts about the state of UK hip hop?
Skeg: Competition is a good thing and the internet has created a level playing field which encourages artists and labels to do their own thing. I think this will continue but there will always be certain people who will do a better job than others and artists will congregate around them. I think UK hip hop is stronger than ever. In the last year there were more high quality UK hip hop albums than ever before in any one year but the media has ignored a lot of this and continues to slag off UK hip hop because it doesn’t filter into their radar. We now need to get to a level where 5-10 labels can put out at least one quality album per year and support this with live shows.
To bring this to a close, do your marketing bit and tell the readers where they can pick up your stuff?
As an introduction the label, which records would you recommend the uninitiated to pick up first?
Skeg: On the hip hop tip, check out Ghost. On a leftfield beats tip, start with Natural Self. For straight up funk, go for our Color Climax material. B-boys should check Rob Life mixes and Ill Boogs tracks.