What is the name of the label? Is there any significant meaning behind the name?
The label is called PUMA STRUT; the idea is that a lot of b-boys wore Puma State trainers back in the day, so the name represents music for b-boys to strut to.
What were the main reasons for starting up the label? Was it initially to put out your own, or friends stuff?
I have made music for a lot of different labels and I have usually been pushed in a certain direction.
This is a way of putting out music exactly the way I want to here it.
So, what would you say was the ethos or philosophy behind the label? I mean what are you trying to achieve?
I first heard hip hop in 1983, as soon as I heard it I loved it. A lot of what I here today does not have any of the original character, energy or essence. We want to make music that represents the original ideology and vibe of the movement while still moving the art form forward.
Where is the label based? What is the music business scene like there? Is it a problem being based where you are, where most of the action seems to take place?
We are based in Brighton; there are a lot of small independent labels based here all of whom help each other out whenever they can.
A lot of these have hip hop links but are not totally hip hop based, that makes us stand
I think that the internet has made it possible to be based anywhere; as long as your music is dope people don't care where you're from.
What are your qualities that make you qualified to run a label? What skills do you need and what is your background personally?
There are a lot of labels that are run by media types, people that have studied media at university; they want to start hip hop labels because it is cool because they like it as a fashion.
I have no business experience and no qualifications. I started the label out of complete love for the music; I have been involved with hip hop since the age of fourteen (I am now 32) and still as into it as I ever have been.
I have two main qualities that have really helped me run the label one is good communication skills; the second is being straight with people there is a lot of BS in this business and that is something I can't deal with.
OK, so was it hard to set up the label? What were some of the initial problems you encountered?
Basically you have to do your homework, first of what is your market? What is gonna make you different to all the other labels out there? Who are your artist's? are they really good enough? Etc.
Secondly where are you gonna get your product pressed? What format's are you gonna use? How much is it gonna cost? Etc.
Thirdly and most importantly (and most difficult) who is gonna distribute your product? Are they the best for the style of music you are releasing? Why would they distribute you? Do they pay on time? (probably not) Etc.
Once you have answered all these questions and more then all you need is the cash to start up!
So yes it is difficult to start a label especially if you run the whole thing on your own, are an artist and hold down a full time job.
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?
I have benefactor in my dreams.
I borrowed £1500 (a tiny sum to start a label) and pressed the first records (1000 7's) these got to the USA and sold out within a month.
As soon as the money came back we did the next etc.
What advice would you have for someone starting up their own label?
Talk to as many people in the industry as you can, if you have a label near you who are cool talk to them, you will need as many contacts as you can get.
Really think about your product, logo, image etc you have to stand out from the crowd.
Remember it's no good being all style and no substance and watch that quality control because if you let that slip the only way is down.
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?
I am still waiting to change, you can't really change until you have some cash behind you, and we are releasing our first LP this year which we are hoping will help with this.
The two hardest things are accounting and chasing late payment.
Is running a label what you expected?
It's one of those things where it's a lot of hard work but when you hear your tune on the radio or some one e-mails you from Australia to say thanks and that they love your label it makes it all worthwhile.
Who do you press and master with? What are the reasons for this? Are there price issues?
For our 7's we have always used GZ in the Czech Republic, they master our stuff to and we have no complaints.
We are one of the few labels that issue our 7's in colour cardboard sleeves, this costs a lot more but I want heads to have something nice for there fiver the retailers charge.
GZ are definitely good value even with shipping and import tax.
Would the artists supply their own artwork as well as music, or do you have a graphic designer who works with the label?
I use a couple of friends of mine Casual.T he designed the logo and my man Leigh (Debut 75) is working on stuff for us to.
Gadji designed the new website. You definitely have to have a circle of friends to help you out while you get started (unless you are loaded).
If an artist came to me with something and I liked it and thought that it represented what the label was about I would definitely be down.
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?
I wouldn't bother with the Source these days, but there are a couple of other mags that would be nice.
I think the best avenue for labels on a budget is to hit mags for reviews. Again do your homework, look at the mags and look for reviewers names that have written good things about music in a similar style as yours.
Phone up the mags and let them know what your about, who knows you might get a label profile?
This is still hard as a lot of mags these days don't have a dedicated hip hop reviews page, they seem to of merged it into a category called URBAN.
This means that there are a couple of hip hop reviews and the rest is jiggy soul shit.
Also some mags only review stuff from the major promo mail out companies, that's why you see the same reviews for the same records in every magazine.
Note: buy what you want to buy, not what they want you to buy.
What other promotional activities could you undertake? Artists getting out and gigging must be one of the most important things?
Most of our artist are DJ's so that works well for us, we will be starting up a regular club night this year which is obviously gonna help us financially and with promotion.
And getting tracks on Mix tapes?
Yeah, we have had our tracks on a few mix tapes from Japan and the USA; as long as these are not big commercial releases it's cool with us because as you said it is great promotion for us.
As an indie label, how do you feel about the Majors? Are there certain things you are locked out of, like radio play?
I don't think that there is an avenue for decent underground hip hop in this country on a major radio station; I mean Westwood plays tracks that are so wac he has to tell his audience to "GET USED TO IT" to me that is insulting my intelligence.
I don't really care about majors or national radio, hip hop is meant to be underground, I am only interested in the worldwide underground hip hop community of B-boys, DJ'/Producers, Graffiti Writers, Emcee's & Beatboxers and the radio stations and magazine's etc that support true hip hop.
The majors can get as jiggy and blingy with it as they like, they are nothing to do with what I am doing.
Do you have an online presence? What do you achieve with that?
Yeah, without the website we would not have been able to communicate with our fan base or artists.
The fact that anyone anywhere with internet access can get in touch is invaluable.
We would not be doing so well in the USA, Australia and Japan without it.
Can you explain to the readers some of the problems that labels encounter when their material is freely distributed over the net by fans that may be unaware of the law and how you make your money?
I don't really have a huge problem with that, if someone is gonna copy a CD they will.
I used to copy tapes back in the day but it was always with a view to copping the vinyl.
I mean hip hop on vinyl is a DJ/collectors market heads will always want the vinyl with the sleeve notes etc.
Conversely, for small labels, there has to be some benefits too? What would they be?
I suppose if people are copying it they like it if people like it they play the more people play it the more people here it, so as far as I'm concerned it's all good.
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?
Yeah, it depends on the project, so far everything is on a 50/50 profit split but this will probably change as we get bigger.
I personally would like a one of payment up front for just beats; this is something I would like to do in the future.
I don't want to run things like other labels.
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.
Well I have a vision for the label (it is my baby) and if tracks don't fit into it I won't release them.
People are free to release those tracks themselves or take them to another label.
I have even finished beats of for people to get them to the standard I am after.
Realistically, how many units are you expecting to shift of each release? How do you see sales going in the future?
Our 7's are all limited to 1000 copies only, we do not repress. Some of our 7's we could of easily sold 2000.
The point is to release a series of sought after tunes and create a vibe about the label
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?
At the moment we use all the small independent distro's, I have whittled it down to all the good one's who are cool and pay on time Cargo, Soultrader etc.
As far as a bigger distro deal, I am more interested in licensing our label in other territories; I am in the process of sorting this out for our forthcoming LP
"FRIENDS IN LOW PLACES".
You are interested in licensing in overseas markets? The US for example? How important could overseas territories be to your bottom line?
People keep telling me that the USA is really hard to crack, but we sell most of our product overseas we get a great reaction over there.
The idea is to develop our relationship with all the underground heads out there that seem to be digging the label.
What activities are you undertaking to get out overseas?
As I said we get a lot of people contacting us about our music from overseas, I always answer people's enquiries in person and get a lot of great contacts that way.
Are you actually making money out of this?
No, I am breaking even. The label won't start making any cash until we start releasing albums and have the right
distro / licensing deals in place. This will start happening this year.
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?
Well you can't really expect to make big money on 1000 x 7" records. We do the 50/50 split and this usually works out at around £250/300 for the artist.
What do you think of advances to artists? If acts don't recoup they can get themselves into a bad position.
Well yeah they can, but I have never known an artist actually have to pay anything back, I often hear artists that have been signed then dropped moaning about a lot of stuff, but at the end of the day they have got a nice studio and had a great year out of the deal.
So it's not all that bad and anyway they should read the small print.
I have seen the industry from both sides being an artist and a label owner, both sides are hard.
If my main thing was to make money I would not have got into music in the first place and definitely not underground hip hop.
At present, who are the acts on the label and how did they come to be working with you?
We have a lot of people working with us right now the main in house
producers / DJ's are Gadji, Bobby Boucher, Chubby Digits, Casual.T and I Beathoven.
We are also working with a lot of emcee's and producers from around the globe; you will get more of an idea when we drop the forthcoming compilation LP this year.
What records have you put out so far?
7 x limited edition 45's:
Beathoven - The Funky devastate Pt 1 b/w Well Do You Punk?
Bobby Boucher - The Bubble Bust b/w Journey To The Centre of The 45
Gadji - Gadji @ The Barrio b/w Do My work
Chubby Digits - De-composed b/w Spanish Harrys Old School Party
Omid - Sho'nuff b/w Topology Crew - We Rock
Beathoven - The Funky Devastate Pt 2 (The DJ Format remix) b/w Raw Chille
Zaire Black & June 22 - Life' Work It Out b/w Instrumental version
Right, so what can we expect in the future from you in terms of releases and label development?
Our first LP as mentioned before this is gonna shock a few people as it is the first LP to put cut'n'paste tracks on the same level as vocal emcee cuts.
Solo LP's from Gadji & Beathoven a 12" with L.A producer Presto & L.O.W.D (west coast battle champion) plus some other surprise stuff we can't yet disclose.
Are you currently soliciting new material and demos from unsigned acts?
Always looking for hype tracks and artist's, I am afraid that we get sent a lot of demo's which are really not up to par.
There are a lot of people making music that really don't know their history when it comes to hip hop and it really shows in there production.
Note: don't send us anything which uses sample CD's or pre programmed sounds, be original.
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?
The main thing is to only send stuff if you really think it suits our sound. We get a lot of stuff which isn't even hip hop it just shows that the people making the music and sending the demo's really don't have a clue what they are doing.
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?
If someone had a finished LP and the whole thing was dope it would make a lot of difference, it would show that they new what they were doing I'd love it if I didn't have to give them any direction.
I would definitely prefer that.
Do you have any studio facilities and in what ways would you be looking to develop artists if you take them on?
I have my own personal studio where I produce and remix etc. I don't really want to have to develop anybody I would really only take some one on the label if I thought they knew what they were doing.
The artists we sign have to know their hip hop history and have a love for the original ideas behind hip hop that is the main criteria.
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?
Well we want to give back to hip hop by representing and releasing music that is true to the original spirit and foundations of the hip hop movement. We want to keep true hip hop alive before it is totally destroyed by commercialism and the thug mentality.
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?
It is definitely hard for small labels the only way to survive is to have quality acts and be individual with what you do.
I believe we do both. I am sure that this is a fad as I believe that lots of people are into hip hop right now as a fad.
I come from the era of the London Posse, Demon Boyz, MC Mello and Hijack etc and I really don't think that any of the new hip hop emcees or crews have half personality and character or skill musically or lyrically as those guys.
Are there any UK artists that you might potentially like to sign if they were available, or get to collaborate with any of your acts?
Well I would love to work with anyone of the UK acts I mentioned above, any of those guys would be a dream come true to me.
To bring this to a close, do you're marketing bit and tell the readers where they can pick up your stuff?