18th August, Green Man Festival
19th October Swn Festival, Cardiff
More details can be found on these videos I made for Twitter over on https://twitter.com/farmhandle
This is the smallest vinyl run our micro-independent record label (Shape) has ever done. We've done 150 before and 250 a couple of times, but never as low as 100. I’ve been asked a lot about it - things like “where did you get it pressed?” and “just, why?” so I thought it might be useful if I wrote about the reasons why I did it and what I have learnt.
The main reason I pressed 100 records is because it was how many I thought I could sell. I had never released or recorded anything as Farm Hand before and I started thinking at a hyper local, micro level - more craftsman than rockstar.
What have I learnt from pressing 100 records / this release in general?
It is very easy to tell what percentage of sales you are on with 100 copies. Full disclosure: I’m on 76% now.
Doing an album launch party at a record shop is a good idea. I did a live performance in Spillers Records, Cardiff for this one and it was a wonderful occasion. I sold 25% of the records there and then and really enjoyed chatting to everyone who came (thanks again). Spillers is a rarity - the staff seriously know their music - they are human algorithms.
Acting small time feels really refreshing, in an era of big data and success being defined by the countless numbers we look at be it followers, plays, likes etc (which are never high enough). It feels nice walk in the other direction from all of that and to go small scale.
The small numbers involved has meant I have been able to have direct communication with practically everyone who has bought a copy. This has happened in person at gigs, via email, DMs or comments on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. It feels great to have those conversations and I can tell people how much I appreciate them buying it.
Pressing a physical item means you can build your release around it. Release dates are relatively meaningless otherwise seeing as you can upload and digitally distribute the recordings as soon as you have the masters. The company I used (Mobineko) has a 12 week waiting time on vinyl, I saw this as a good thing as it gave me more time to get my house in order and try to get most of the admin and marketing stuff sorted.
I enjoyed trying to think creatively about ways of actually selling the records. It is one thing pressing the records but the selling them bit is the bit that can easily be forgotten. One of my main reasons for pressing records is because I enjoy the challenge of trying to make the outlay back (£653 for the records in this case). I can't afford not to make it back so it motivates me to get to work! I wanted to try things I’d never done before so I made music videos on my phone, wrote blogs and livestreamed gigs and process / behind the scenes stuff from my house. One afternoon I went live on Facebook and documented myself stamping, numbering and folding up the A3 riso prints and inserting them into their sleeves. The peak audience was 7 people. Overall about 40 people tuned in and I ended up selling 5% of the records during the broadcast. I plan on doing more of these as I enjoyed it.
I also worked with a great PR person (shout out to Anastasia!) who helped me get interviews and track by track features on some of my fav music places like Gold Flake Paint, Drowned In Sound and M Magazine and reviews on cool sites like God Is In The TV and Louder Than War.
I set very small aims. My first aim was to sell 20 copies by the release date as pre-orders. I achieved that the day before and felt good.
I did the pre-order via Bandcamp and overall I’ve sold 26% of them on that site. I 100% recommend using the site for small scale releases like this - the new app is insightful and great.
I hand numbered, hand stamped and folded and inserted the print into the clear sleeves myself - there is something quite nice about having had that 'relationship' with every single one.
It is easy to track the distribution. The only shops you can buy the record in are in Wales. I have some in Spillers, some in Hardlines Coffee (both Cardiff) 5 in Tangled Parrot Carmarthen and Hay. As far as I know at least one member of staff at each has bought a copy. I have huge respect for the people who run these places where we can sell our weird music operating outside of the mainstream. I know my music is niche - it is meant to be. It is non-commercial on purpose. It doesn’t sound like it does by accident, I like it.
The release has helped me reconnect with what Shape is. I had sort of got to the point where I didn’t understand what the label was for or what it did but doing this has helped me to be re-energised and excited about it’s future. I can't put my finger on why, it just has. It is odd promoting your own record from your own label though, I do find it tricky and 3rd person Tweets always feel lame.
I feel quite at ease with selling it at £15 - even to friends. Seeing as there are only 100 - I can’t afford to give anyone a copy so if someone really wants one, they will buy one. It feels so supportive than when a friend orders or buys your record.
The maths of pressing 100 records is almost ridiculous. It was £643 for pure black vinyl in disco sleeves. It costs £798.00 for 250. That is another 150 records for an additional £155. I didn't want 250 though, I wanted 100. The riso-sleeves were £50 (from The Holodeck in Birmingham) and the clear sleeves were £30. I'm aware I'm lucky to cut one cost as Emma kindly and skilfully designed the art / print / album cover for me in house (as in, in the house).
I think that’s it for now. Thanks for reading. If you'd like to take me up to 77% of sales please click here - I will send you a very appreciative email. Pleasingly I just did a google of 'Farm Hand International Dreams' and found out that the album is one of Wales Arts Reviews 'Best Welsh Albums of 2017'. Cheers!
I had a couple of Farm Hand gigs last weekend in Manchester and Talgarth. I must say I enjoyed them a lot. I feel like I am starting to hit my stride with it. I kind of started playing live before I was truly 'ready'. I started watching lots of solo performers on YouTube and got really into the craft of it and wanted to have a go myself. We had a Shape Records stage at Focus Wales 2016 and one of the acts we'd booked pulled out. I nervously asked the people who run Focus Wales if I could play. I had an enormous adrenalin rush when they said "Yes, ok then. Send us a biog and a press shot". I was like an overexcited teenager who had just started a band. I got more stressed about writing the biog than the music bit. The gig itself was fun but a bit odd and more people than I was expecting turned up. I was trying to be be fancy at the time and had a small mixing desk onstage mainly because I'd seen other people do that but in truth I didn't know what I was doing with the damn thing. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it, sounds came out of the PA and was glad of the experience. I've done 12 more gigs since then and enjoy them more and more.
One thing I have realised is: going on stage is one of my favourite things to do. I am compelled to do it and I need it. I'm hooked, I'm a lifer. I get in a funny mood if I have too long in-between gigs. Doing Islet gigs with my bezzies is such a massive high it is hard to replicate that on my tod but I am enjoying the challenge.
I played with Thomas Truax in Manchester and he was highly inspirational as a solo performer. His show is really honed and he was extremely entertaining and captivating. He had a 'trueness' to his performance - I felt like I could be at any point in history watching him (other than the fact that I and everyone else was filming him constantly for our essential Instagram stories). The gig in I played in Talgarth was in a chapel. Felt odd to be performing loud music in a local chapel considering I grew up being very quiet and sitting very still whilst going to Sunday School in a local chapel. Performing in those days meant singing hymns and doing recitals.
I've got some gigs coming up:
4th November - Spillers Records, Cardiff (album launch)
4th November - Printhaus, Cardiff (Quodega album launch)
14th November - The Social, London (Huw Stephens Presents)
6th December - The Lexington, London (supporting Sweet Baboo)
I put a video up the other week that was kindly premiered by Gold Flake Paint here. I would like to thank them for their kind words. I was asked to do a quote for the premiere which got edited a bit (for good reason!) but nevertheless, here is some more.
"I shot this video on my phone on the road between Glascwm and Colva in Powys. Most of it was shot by me on my own on the way back from a conversational Welsh group (I’m a new learner) in Llandrindod Wells. Then some of it (the bit with the sheep) was shot with my brother JT driving after we’d just been to see our Uncle sing in his male voice choir on the showground in Builth. Best gig I’ve been to in quite some time, I must say.
The lyrics are simply ‘Precision, Solution’. I quite often repeat the phrase ‘precision, precision, be precise’ to myself to remind myself to be more precise in my day to day decision making as I can be hugely vague and woolly. I also repeat the word ‘solution’ to remind myself to find solutions to problems instead of just ignoring them. This song is a hybrid of those two inner monologues.
The music is all from one keyboard loop. I was lucky enough to be given a loop pedal for my 33rd birthday (I’m 34 now, precision, precision be precise) by Emms. I’d never had one before and was disproportionately blown away by how useful and exciting it was. I nicknamed it ‘The Enabler’ as it enabled me to write music really quickly. This was loop #17 and it appears exactly as it was recorded on the loop pedal itself with added beef as it progresses. I really like the compressed, crushed, digitally quality of it. Each to their own, I hear you say."
Thanks for reading. Here is the vid:
Headline news on this, my own website, is that I have made a Farm Hand album called 'International Dreams' which will be released on 3rd November 2017 on Shape (surprise, surprise). We are pressing 100 copies on vinyl so you could say it is 'super limited'. Or you could say it is far more than I am ever going to need if nobody buys them. And this is where you come in. Hello there my new Bandcamp: https://farmhand.bandcamp.com. This is my 17th blog post so I feel totally relaxed and 'chilled' (read disproportionately uncomfortable) about doing a direct sales pitch. I'm not going to mention payday or the price of a pint but just know that I could have done.
THANK YOU to everyone who has ordered one so far, I appreciate it way more than I probably even should (lots of heart emojis). I should warn everyone else that they are selling like lukewarm cakes at the moment so do not hesitate for one second to order one! Oh hey https://farmhand.bandcamp.com
Anyways, just for context here are the quotes I put on the press release (yes, we did a press release, I'm sorry) to go with the video / single news:
Quote on International Dreams, the song:
As with many of my musical inventions, this started life as a ukulele riff. I use the uke to mess about on quite a bit as it is easy to leave lying around and play for a couple of mins whilst in-between doing other crucial things like refreshing Twitter. Anyway, I transferred the riff to keys and then made up a melody and then took the keys away again so now you can't even hear the riff I am talking about. The lyrics are about my continued desire (now in it's 34th year) and preparedness to play international football for Wales.
Quote on the International Dreams Video:
I shot this video by myself on my phone. I upgraded recently and the salesman in the shop did an absolute number on me as I ended up having taken a contract twice as big as I budgeted for. The new phone has a HD camera and in order to get my monies worth I thought I would try and make some music videos using it. It was just meant to be a video of my hand pointing at aeroplanes (cos of my dreams to go international) but my brother (JT) lent me a phone camera tripod and I set that up and started doing some free form dancing. The dancing made the cut! I edited it on iMovie which involved a lot of Google searching things like "how to make iMovie videos look cool". Turns out Google didn't have the answer this time. Nevertheless, please enjoy.
I've got some live dates to look forward to and here they are:
4th November - Spillers Records, Cardiff (album launch)
14th November - The Social, London (Huw Stephens Presents)
I have finished my Farm Hand record. Hurrah!
Naturally I have been listening to it a lot and I feel highly enthused by it. I have never made a solo album before so it is new and exciting territory for me. I plan do a super-limited vinyl run for it and have been getting some quotes together over the last few days. I was about to place an order today when I realised something… I have been listening to it solid for 6 days and only today did I notice an entire track was missing. True story!
This oversight kind of gives you an indication of what I am like as a music maker. I have found out I am very instinctual and don’t like to agonise over decisions or want to tweak drum sounds for hours. I have always sort of felt guilty about it - like music is meant to take absolutely ages and needs to be painfully agonised over to make it 'proper'. I’m sure everyone reading this is thinking, "yeah mate, well that might help to make it sound better" but, it isn’t how I work. I have enjoyed the process and have learnt that I am the very opposite of a perfectionist, uber tweaker and maybe it will show - but I'm fine with that and you can decide for yourselves soon.
I was listening to a great podcast interview with John Grant recently (here - Sodajerker on songwriting) and he was talking about the need to just relax when recording and to trust yourself to come up with the goods when you are in that space. It was a useful thing for me to hear and I am currently feeling highly content with the fact that I can trust myself to go into a studio and come out with some recorded music. Dream big!
Anyway, looking back, the missing track thing is a result of Rob (who produced the album) and I kicking back and both having 3 or 4 premium Aldi stubbies. Everything is now under control and Rob has confirmed he will be wiring the track over to me soon. I hugely enjoyed working with Rob, he is a phenomenal producer and has bought this record to life in ways I wasn't expecting. We did 5 days together punctuated by long chats about how best to use an Aeropress coffee maker (Rob does some upside down thing), productivity hacks and being a dad. Check him out on Instagram here: @beatsbybob.
Any previous readers will note that I’ve mentioned nearly finishing the album quite a few times on this blog. Full disclosure - it took a bit longer to get over the line than I was expecting. Things got in the way a bit and invaded my headspace. Things like; I applied for a job as a Music Business Lecturer at University of Gloucestershire and very pleasingly, I got it. Well actually, I got half of it and am sharing it so will be doing it for two days a week starting in September. I'm excited to have a work anchor and share and develop my knowledge.
We also ran a From Now On event in late May which was wonderful. Thanks to everyone who performed, attended or worked on it. Thanks to Will Steen in Buzz Magazine for this 5 ***** review. It ends with the line "You could trust From Now On with your PIN number”. That made us smile.
I’m going to aim to publish a blog every week. I am writing that in public to try and make me do it (I believe this is referred to as ‘Accountability’ by proper bloggers). Writing this blog helps clear my head and hopefully gives people some value.
I recently upgraded my phone and decided to ‘go big or go home’ and got a Google Pixel. The salesperson in the shop did an absolute number on me and I left having taken on a contract twice as big as I had budgeted for. I was taken in by the promise of unlimited storage and a HD camera. Deep down, I think I wanted to be sold something bang up to date as I wanted to enjoy my phone and get more involved in social media. I have a few friends who pride themselves by having old phones with no access to the internet, no ability to take photos etc. I used to be caught up in that nostalgic and old fashioned anti-tech romance as I felt wary of having too much screen time and perhaps I was a bit scared by social media and oversharing. I guess I wanted people to think I’m too cool to bother with it. I’m from the hills of Mid Wales so rushing around and being super up-to date with tech has never really been in my locker… Nevertheless my head has been turned and am now embracing and enjoying it.
So much so that my latest interest (obsession) is live streaming. After I got back from my gig in Machynlleth Comedy Festival on Saturday I wanted to zone out in front of TV. What did I watch? Seeing as I’m consciously uncoupling from watching football (it’s hard for me), I went on my phone and watched weird and wonderful Live Streams.
I didn’t plan on it but an unconscious check of Twitter (you know the type I mean — when you find yourself on Twitter but you can’t even remember clicking on it) and noticed funny man Limmy say he was doing an improv storytelling live stream to promote his new book. I tuned in. It was marvellously funny and I loved it. There were a huge amount of people chatting in the live feed and he was reacting to it. It felt very now and very exciting. People were also constantly commenting that they had ordered his book so I guess it was working as intended.
When it finished I had a notification to tell me “On Par have started an Instagram Live video” (On Par being a Cardiff based production company). They were out on the street live streaming a pavement performance by Boy Azooga — I think related to the Save Womanby Street march (thank you all for marching). I ended up watching it all, enjoying it and feeling kind of like I was there… I was hyped but I very much I wasn’t there. I was very much in bed, in pyjamas with a cup of Pukka Night Time tea (5 star, highly recommended).
As I’ve mentioned previously, Emma has been in ‘Enough Is Enough’ a play created by ‘Be Aware Productions’ (created by a group of exiled Turkish artists — see this blog post for more info). It is fair to say they have embraced live streaming. They constantly live stream. They live stream the rehearsals, the sound check, everything. I thought I would find it annoying but I find the approach refreshing and compelling. I have always thought that being mysterious and cool was the best way to be, but times are changing and I want in.
Saturday night was the moment I realised that live streaming is unstoppable. With Instagram, Facebook and YouTube are all investing heavily in Live, I think Livestreaming is without a doubt going to be a major thing in the music business within the next 12 months. Perhaps it’ll become something some musicians enjoy doing but if not, it is certainly something their record labels will want them to do and it’ll become central to marketing campaigns.
I love gigs, I live in the middle of nowhere and have superfast broadband so I am the right market. I want to watch your live streams! I want to do live streams. Let’s all go e-gig crazy.
As the two albums I’m working on (Farm Hand & Islet) edge closer to being finished, my thoughts are turning to what to do with them and how to do it. It goes without saying that we will ‘release’ them, but what does that mean in 2017? The landscape has changed so much over the last few years that I feel unsure on how best to do it. As in, functionally, I know how to upload the music onto the internet and how to order vinyl, but for everything else I have swirling question marks. It is most likely that the question I really need to ask is “How not be disappointed by releasing music in 2017?”
When I first started releasing music in 2006, everything came really naturally to me. It felt relatively obvious what the best thing to do was and easier to be satisfied with the outcome. With Shape, our model was pretty much always press some limited edition vinyl (sold via mail order from our website, at gigs, markets and selected shops) with worldwide digital distribution. It was ‘released’ when it was on sale. We would host a launch party to try and make as much money as possible back on the releases straight away. On the whole, it worked as a strategy. It also felt like the process lasted longer and was more relaxed.
Maybe it is just me, but now it feels different. Now, releasing feels more like when you make it publicly available to be listened to (streamed) on the internet. It begins and ends pretty quickly and unless it takes off like wildfire you are left wondering what to do next. In terms of ease of distribution, things have never been better. We can ‘access’ a global audience after a few clicks. But also it means disappointment if that global audience doesn’t tune in.
Lately, I have enjoyed people like Trust Fund and Christian Fitness releasing their albums on Bandcamp literally as soon as they are finished. I feel excited by that approach. It is modern, instinctual and unfussy. I also love the relaxed approach Grouper has had over the years (FYI - I’m pretty much just crowbarring this in because I’m addicted to listening to Grouper).
The streaming platforms continue to change everything and we need to catch up and change our approaches. It is good news that ‘UK Recorded Music Industry Grew By 5.1% in 2016’ mainly owing to streaming but I’m not sure how that translates to niche micro labels and artists at the bottom. I remain optimistic.
I’ve even recently started thinking “should things be on sale before they are even finished?”. As in, as soon as you mention it / give an indication you are making a new album by doing an ‘in the studio’ photo or whatever, giving someone the opportunity to buy it at that point as that might be the only time they consider buying during this time when attention is such a precious resource. This approach is giving me a stick to beat myself with before anything is even out. Have I already missed sales? Oops. This approach was first introduced to me by Benji Rogers from Pledge Music who talks about “...widening the timeframe for sales” by letting your audience spend money and participate right from the start. This makes sense to me but, I haven’t done it. Yet.
I don’t know what exact point I am trying to make with this blog post. For some reason, It helps me to write stuff out and make it public - I suddenly get clarity. I’m leaning towards the fact that I and others like me need to get more comfortable with promoting our music ourselves. Get our hands dirty with marketing, try stuff out and try to enjoy the process.