Anyone who has any interest in local music in Adelaide will know the amount of activity which exists amongst the South Australian community. From the musicians pushing innovative sounds at any opportunity, to the host of producers and engineers who record them, it's undeniable that although the Adelaide 'scene' may be struggling in some areas, there is still a buzzing hive of talent continuing to develop.
Dave Brewer and Ben Smith, founders of Pilot Records, represent only a small section of the community who are striving to keep local music thriving and to provide artists with the representation and management they need in a scene where many need to make their own lucrative opportunities arise. Brewer takes some time out to tell me about Pilot Records' origins and where he sees the label heading, now they're more than halfway through their debut year.
Where did the initial idea to start your own label from scratch come from? Being in Adelaide, it’s fair to say Pilot Records stands on its own in our music scene and the wider South Australian industry.
The initial idea came from Ben, who had the idea to someday start an independent label after getting into various punk labels as a kid. Ben and I were playing in a band together prior to Pilot Records, which came to an end when the third member decided to move interstate. We always intended to continue writing and playing music, but it wasn't until Ben came to me with the name and idea of applying for the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme with a model of a record label that we became serious about Pilot Records. We are not completely alone as a label in SA, but we are definitely in the minority. In fact seeing so many bands/artists and so few labels representing them was a big factor in deciding to go ahead with the idea.
Considering that yourself and Ben are musicians as well as label owners, would you say that you’ve got that extra bit of perspective and experience behind you when it comes to working with other bands and securing releases?
It has definitely helped. Just being around the local scene and having an idea of the venues and bands who are already out there is a great start. Being an artist and having first hand experience makes it easier to relate to other artists. Also funnily enough I think it makes us a little more tolerant with things like deadlines etc. knowing how easy it is to get lost in creativity world.
What would you say is Pilot Records’ most attractive factor to an interstate market? Were there any models you adopted from any other labels when you were forming your own – any inspiration?
Probably the most attractive part of the label for anyone is that if you find one of our artist appealing, you are more than likely going to like something about another of our artist, as we feel and have tried to engineer that they all compliment each other.
When we decided to start Pilot Records we looked towards the labels that put out the music we like – labels like Warp and Ninja Tune, as well as a couple of Australian labels like Rice is Nice and Inertia. A lot of research was done purely on the basics of how the industry works and how we can adopt it to suit our needs. There will always be similarities between Pilot Records and other labels due to the style of music we promote. We did take inspiration from our favourite labels although we didn't really adopt any exact model from them, which is largely due to the fact that as we grow and evolve we would like to find something that is unique about us and add something new to an industry we are very passionate about.
Is it just yourself and Ben representing Pilot on an administrative level at the moment, or has the team expanded over the year?
The label isn't even a year old yet, which sometimes is hard to believe! Ben and I run nearly all the administrative aspects of the business. The majority of our design work is outsourced to Studio Band who do a fantastic job - and we do get a very appreciated helping hand from a couple of people close to us. The crux of it is just the two of us though, even the music production (mixing/mastering) for the most part has been handled by Ben so far. Having said that, there's a whole group of fantastic people amongst the local industry who are always willing to help out when we ask - who without we would probably still be trying to get things off the ground. So I might just take this opportunity to throw a little 'thanks' out there... if you feel you deserve it, then you do!
What has been the hardest thing Pilot Records has had to face in its debut year, this far? Have there been any major lessons you’ve learned since the label started up?
I actually find it difficult to say what has been the hardest thing. There has been a lot more writing than I first anticipated, with contracts, events business plans, marketing planes etc. and perhaps coming to terms with the realisation that a lot of the work “behind the scenes” is actually work – it's not all just writing tunes and launch parties. We've learned a huge amount since we started back in January and still have so much to learn on our journey. Learning is a continuous process that we embrace, gaining extra knowledge about what we love is something I doubt we'll ever stop doing.
Any independently run project draws so much effort and time out from its creators, were you surprised at the amount of support others threw behind the label even if it didn’t necessarily provide massive pay-offs, i.e. money?
We've been overwhelmed with the amount of support that we've been shown from industry people, people that are passionate about the Adelaide/Australian music seen, local venues, bloggers, promoters/bookers, local radio and both Music SA and Arts SA have also been vital in their support. It has not been so much financially, but definitely enthusiastically. The simple fact that there are people who want to see us succeed is one kind of support that really, I don't think money can buy.
The label’s roster boasts the likes of Oisima, Urtekk and No Birds – would you say that Pilot Records will continue to focus on this ‘hybrid electro’ genre?
It's very much our focus due to the fact that we are heavily into that sound, however we have stepped outside the electronic genre with Ride Into The Sun – they're great at what they do and we give them the same support as all of our electronic based artists. I can't deny that I had a smile on my face when I found out they brought a synth into the band though! We're big fans of music from many genres, electronic and otherwise. The hybrid thing has been happening since the 1960s with Pink Floyd and various krautrock bands, it's just evolved over time. What we like about it is that back in 60s the guys playing with synths were creating this whole new thing with the newest instruments available. With new technology comes new possibilities. I guess at the end of the day what we look for in music is purity. We most likely will diversify in the future, but electronic music will always be a part of who we are and if something in the music resonates within us it doesn't matter what it is, if we feel it needs to be shared, we will put it out.
Looking at the Adelaide music scene at present, do you think that it’s becoming easier for bands to lock down the representation they need to adequately push their music and their image, or are we still behind in that sense?
It's been becoming increasingly easier to self distribute your own recordings via the internet with do-it-yourself sites like Bandcamp or via an aggregate for a fee or percentage, although effectively reaching a broader market and the people within the industry who are going to promote and book your band is where it can become difficult. So yes, we feel that Adelaide is behind other cities in regards to bands' opportunities to turn from amateur to professional. That's not to suggest that it can't be done, as there are people in Adelaide who know how to do the job and there has been many successful artists from SA, although we feel that most bands who leave for other cities are in search of the infrastructure that isn't really there.
Currently there's a lot of political attention on the state of live music in Adelaide. We think the key to really creating a thriving scene is not only improving venues and event promotion, but ensuring that local producers, promoters, agents, managers, labels, licensors etc. are fully supported and are able to successfully run a music industry to an international standard in conjunction with the rest of the country and even the rest of the world. Our smaller size and population doesn't mean we have to sacrifice quality. Successful artists will tour abroad regardless of their origin, but a solid infrastructure with a true means to succeed gives local bands a realistic opportunity without having to move away at the very beginning of their career.
Now you’re in charge of an independently run, Adelaide based label, what do you think is the needed next for Adelaide musicians and our industry to appear strong and cohesive in the eyes of our interstate peers?
It really comes down to quality, consistence and event turnout. Good bands and composers, performing at a high standard and releasing well produced recordings. Good promotion and distribution with effective visual design and good band and industry imagery. It all leads back to good quality entertainment. Healthy turnouts to both local and touring artists – if a band tours to Adelaide from the eastern states, they will be much more likely to return for another tour and praise their experience here if the events are well planned and run smoothly, the venues are maintained, have good sound, atmosphere and most of all a respectable turnout resulting in a fair payment to the touring artist. The more often Adelaide can produce and provide at a high standard the more respect it will earn as a music and arts hub.
Does Pilot Records have any events coming up that the public should be aware of?
Yes! We have a few:
Friday, 14th September
Pilot Presents: Sparkspitter & Brokers
The Ed Castle – 233 Currie St. Adelaide.
Sunday, 30th September
Labour Day long weekend 'All Label Affair' feat. Oisima, No Birds, Question Question, M-Thirteen, Pilot DJs
The Ed Castle – 233 Currie St. Adelaide.
Friday, 19th October
Pilot Presents (line up TBA)
Friday, 26th October
Oisima 'Goddess' EP launch
Cuckoo Bar – 137 Hindley St. Adelaide.
We've got something in the works with SoundPond too, however we haven’t set a date and final details just yet. That and all other shows will be announced through our website and Facebook pages (www.pilotrecords.com.au and www.facebook.com/pilotrecordsaustralia) so stay tuned to find out about future events!
Looking ahead to 2013, where do you hope Pilot Records will be in terms of upcoming projects?
We're currently reviewing the possibilities of holding a Pilot Records mini-festival, we haven’t confirmed anything yet but it's coming together. If all goes to plan we'll be hosting something like this in early 2013. We'll be looking at further releases for our entire roster over the year and if the opportunity arises maybe even add another artist onto the roster. We'd also love to organise a Pilot Records east coast tour. I've looked a little into the logistics of touring three or four artists together, but there's a lot of planning and costs involved but if all goes to plan we'll be travelling interstate a few times over Summer.