Interview – Matt Debondt
This month Open Music Europe is looking at independent labels and distribution, talking to Eyesome and Lo-Fi Clouds boss Matt Debondt about the challenges of growing his business online.
Label manager, Eyesome & Lo-fi Clouds
So let’s start with your role in the music industry.
I manage two record labels in distinct genres. One is in the UK bass music scene which contains everything from jungle drum and bass, dubstep, garage, grime, funk, all of that stuff, it’s called Eyesome. The second label is in the lo-fi, hip-hop, ambient, downtempo, neo-jazz scene, maybe even some pop. It’s called Lo-Fi Clouds, but the name will change very soon, that’s a whole different story.
Never sitting still! My role is basically managing both of the labels, dealing with the artists. We have a team of four people. I’m also making sure that the music is promoted in the best possible way, building connections with relevant people in the industry. Sometimes I do a bit of accounting and legal stuff. It’s a lot of multitasking.
Can you sum up your mood about the industry and how fair competition is in your markets?
Not so very long ago there was a company exposed by one of the producers in our lo-fi scene. He realised that these guys were releasing a lot of new artists and most of them were getting on Spotify editorial playlists with the first track they released. That means a lot of streams. So it turned out that the company had connections to Spotify and was gaming the system by releasing tracks under multiple pseudonyms and flooding the playlists with “different” artists to avoid the limit of one recommendation per artist per week.
It’s frustrating because you would think that if you do everything right, playing according to the rules of the platform, you would stand a chance. And then you realise that you’re competing with the platform itself, apparently. You put a lot of effort into educating the artists, making nice pitches, taking press shots, you know, everything that you should be doing and at the end of the day you realise the game is rigged against you, especially in those genres that rely most on playlisting.
I think with bass music it’s a little bit different, it’s more built on respect, credibility and skill. There is still gatekeeping going on but it’s on a smaller scale. There’s not so much money at stake and people care about authenticity, so there’s still the possibility to get out there and get known, even if you’re only a bedroom producer. But a label can help a lot too. Some artists think they can handle everything themselves, but I’m here trying to open doors every single day for my artists, every single day, and I think the value of that is sometimes overlooked. Some artists are looking purely at the numbers and are thinking “if I do this on my own Bandcamp, I will generate the same amount of sales, but I won’t have to give 50% of the money away!”. But you need to go out there and connect with the right people. Just publishing your music is not enough. On Spotify every day there’s thousands of tracks being pitched. Theoretically an artist could do all his own promo, but then it becomes a 36 hour job. Per day.
Okay. So if we are talking about undiscovered people, how do you find talent, choose artists and sign them before someone else?
Well I’m not looking at numbers most of the time, and that means I’m also not looking at whether or not this person has signed a tune anywhere else yet.
I think actually for artists it’s good to sign music with other labels rather than sticking to one. For bass music I find most new talent personally through a network, a friend of a friend of a friend. We have connections in Belgium, Germany, France, Portugal and Lithuania. For the lo-fi stuff it’s different, it mostly comes from people that are basically going on our website and then are submitting demos. I like those artists that do some research and take the time to find us and they’ve read through what we have online. And that’s kind of been a pretty good filtering mechanism for us to find new artists because I mostly jump on a call with them rather quickly just to get a sense of personality, who they are, what their thoughts are, and those artists often see us as like a springboard that can help them grow bigger. So they have all the right reasons to reach out, to read through our content, they have the right motivation.
So this is a question about your process. What kind of path do you have from the studio to Spotify?
It’s a whole checklist which I’ve built up over the years and depends on the artist. For bass music the release format is mostly EP, while the low-fi hip-hop scene has singles and then albums.
With both labels we are trying to pull musicians together who maybe have not worked together in the past, so the way that I build an EP is I’ll start thinking about who could be an interesting person to work on a remix for for this particular release. With Eyesome I like to send out promos of a mastered EP as soon as I can. The longer I send them out in advance, the longer that DJs have to hear and playlist them. Three or four months in advance is good. I will have somebody write me a press release and alongside that I write customised emails myself. I know there’s tools like Fat Drop and stuff like that out there, but I like to deliver the whole package personally. Then we set up the preorder system and organise some premieres on channels we work with. And I’m collaborating with Beatport, the artist creates a playlist for Beatport which contains music that has somehow influenced them or has some kind of related theme. Juno does the same thing. For lo-fi we have an application which we’ve built, it’s a little player with a news category which we use to promote preorders. Also we exchange playlist placements with other playlist creators and support each other that way.
The last question is more about the artistic side. Have you seen some kind of trends in genres that have been shifting, or has your label repertoire been evolving in a certain direction?
So at the start I already mentioned that we are changing the name of the label Lo-Fi Clouds. The term “lo-fi” has become a little bit clickbaity, and sometimes gets associated with library music by a lot of people.
I want to move away from that because we are doing a lot more than that. Moreover, most of the artists that we are working with are not just sampling from somewhere, they are actually recording their own music from scratch, if they don’t know how to play something they will approach a friend of theirs, things like that.
So the keyword “lo-fi” is diluted and just used to get into the results of search engines, but it doesn’t really reflect any style.
I had an interesting conversation with a Swedish producer of ours about changing the name. He thought it was a great idea. He called his music “ambient with drums” and I thought the description fits the label better than “lo-fi”.
I was talking to a Lithuanian producer two weeks ago, telling him I’m looking at the best process to change the name of the label. And he said “great, so I can finally come and release some music with you!” because he didn’t want to be associated with the “lo-fi” genre. That’s the shift that’s happening right now, we’re developing in our own direction.