Record Label Guilt / by Mark Daman Thomas

While the cat's away the mice will...

Write blogs and drink Pukka detox tea in front of the fire and go to bed early, apparently. Whilst Emms is away on tour doing gig-theatre (see my post Enough is Enough), I'm holding the fort here. Child (just turned 2) is in bed, asleep. Now, it's me time! Time to write a blog and prepare for my uni lectures on Monday and Tuesday. I could have prepared them on Friday but I took the opportunity to make music whilst the boy was in nursery for the day. I'm working on a Farm Hand album and we're also 34% through an Islet album so I was doing a couple of bits for that. Ideally, I would be able to do more music in the evenings but I woke the boy up playing a deep synth bass line the other week and haven't wanted to since then! 

Anyways, I wanted to write about something to get it out of my system and into the wild. I carry around a decent sized dose of guilt owing to the fact that I virtually never respond to anyone who sends / submits music to Shape Records. There is far more than I could possibly have ever imagined. I want to apologise to everyone who has sent us music and not received a response. I'm sorry! We never wanted to be that label but it happened. 

The inbox went particularly wild after we were on a BBC Four Documentary about Indie in late 2015. To be honest, it was an odd moment for me. I had talked quite a lot in the interview about being in a band self-releasing on Shape but it was all cut (fair enough, it wasn't the angle of the show) but as a result, it didn't mention us being musicians. Oddly, the next few weeks felt like a turning point for me in terms of where I was heading as I found it really odd to be defined solely as being a label person. I realised what was happening after a prominent (old school) Welsh music industry type asked me how I was "enjoying the transition from being an artist to being industry?". Definitely a line in the sand moment for me, I'll get more into that another time, maybe. 

Anyway, we got a crazy amount of emails submitting music (and even quite a few CVs!). I filed them all in a folder called 'Release Requests' and never looked again, I feel guilty about that too. I find all that stuff really overwhelming. All of the emails we got imagined that we had opportunities to offer left, right and centre. At the time we barely had opportunities for ourselves!

Some emails we get are fairly bullish pitches, others are very sweet, beautifully crafted emails, others are just really weird. A lot of people ask for feedback. I guess the main reason I find it stressful is that we are essentially rejecting people by not responding. I find this very awkward and being seen as a 'gatekeeper' is an odd by-product for me and the last thing I want. Please don't make me a gatekeeper! I see us as the opposite, the very reason we set Shape up was to go around or maybe even straight through the 'gate'. I've met a lot of industry types over the years who love all of that stuff. They love being the person who signed 'so and so' and love to dish out the feedback. Not for me, no way thank you. 

There is no real excuse for not replying. I could say 'it's because we're busy' but I read the other day that anyone who says they are busy is just bad at time management. I agree with that to some extent. I could have found the time to reply. I guess I just never know what to write, people care so much about their music, just a I do about mine so anything other than "Yeah! Let's do this!" feels like a rejection to the sender. Maybe I'm making too much of it and no one cares, but at least it is off my chest now. 

We set up Shape to release our own music and happen to have released some by other artists, all of which we remain friends with. For the most part I've had a lot of fun doing so and feel we have helped nurture some artists and also released music which would not have been released if we hadn't have done it. But, for the time being, I'm done. No more releases on Shape that are not a project of mine, Emma or my brothers and that's about it. I feel like I've taken my curiosity as far as I need to in terms of releasing other peoples music. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to send us music, keep on keeping on, the world needs your music and we value your art. 

Edit 10 minutes later... I also want to apologise to most people I have actually replied to. I always make a right meal of it and give weird reasons and accidentally lead people on because I love their music. 

Clear conscious starts... Now?!