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Independent record labels attempt to recover after UK riots

posted 12 Aug 2011, 10:02 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 12 Aug 2011, 10:10 ]
Stolen Recordings, an independent record label that lost most of its stock in the Enfield fire at the Sony Warehouse, attempts to bounce back from the devastating loss.

ENFIELD, LONDON, ENGLAND, UK (AUGUST 09, 2011) REUTERS - Joining those affected by the spate of rioting seen across the UK, including small businesses who have suffered from the destruction caused by looters, are the music industry's smaller producers.

Some small independent music labels who represent world-wide artists such as Adele and The Arctic Monkeys have seen their stock literally go up in flames, after the burning down of the Sony DADC warehouse in Enfield, north London on Monday (August 8), which was still smouldering on Friday (August 12).

One label, Stolen Recordings, based in Tottenham where the violence first erupted on Saturday (August 6), represents artists such as Pete and the Pirates, Jeff The Brotherhood and Bo Ningen. They have seen all its CD and vinyl stock wiped out, including limited edition albums from Pete and the Pirates, like 'Little Death', and another, 'One Thousand Pictures', due to be record label Rough Trade's album of the week.

A shocked Merida Sussex, co-director of Stolen Recordings says the loss is felt more acutely by smaller labels whose stock is distributed by [PIAS], an organisation offering specialist services for the licensing, distribution, sales and marketing of premium music, film and comedy on an international basis.

"One is that we don't really have the buffer -- we're making the records, selling them and then we've got to profit share with the artists, so it's very sort of close to the bone," Sussex told Reuters Television. "The other thing is that Beggars (Group) or larger labels have multiple distribution points, whereas, and they have quite a big warehouse where they're based. We've just got a small amount of stock so if one warehouse goes, is burnt down in Enfield, then they've got other resources."

The local post office on the High Road, Tottenham, from which Sussex and co-director Rachael Robb sent out mail orders also burned down during the rioting. With limited stock left at their offices the pair, who are still reeling from events say it's too early to see how digital downloads will fare, considering all the support from fans' emails that they have received.

"I mean the only good part about it is I guess digital (downloads), you know, that our digital's not been burnt down and people have been really great sending us emails saying, you know, buying a download today, you know just showing support that way cause it's the one thing that can keep going," Sussex said.

With revenues for the British music industry dropping by 4.8 per cent to 3.8 billion pounds, according to PRS for Music's annual report on August 4, the news that 25 million discs were lost in the Sony warehouse fire could not have come at a worse time, with some labels facing the possibility of bankruptcy.

It is particularly saddening for Sussex, considering vinyl was actually making up ground against other music outlays.

"CD sales have gone down massively but digital's gone way up, but digital has less margin and vinyl sales have actually increased," she explained. "So one of the things we were most sad about was losing the vinyl, like the thought of vinyl sitting there in a warehouse melting. You know a lot of them are irreplaceable, like quite a lot of our stuff is collectable and hand-pressed and limited edition and all that's gone and we can't replace that again because that's what it was -- a limited edition."

There is some good news on the horizon, though, with [PIAS] having joined forces with AIM, the Association of Independent Music, a non-profit-making trade organisation for independent record companies and distributors in the UK, and set up a fund to "help and support" the independent music community, says Kenny Gates, Co-founder and CEO of [PIAS]. Sussex and Robb admit this is very good news for over 150 independent labels who lost stock in the fire.

"We got an email about it yesterday, and it looks like they ([PIAS] and AIM) have set up a pool that we can borrow money from in the interim to, you know ... get our stock manufactured again," says Sussex.

Details of the fund -- which is separate from the LabelLove online campaign, which was independently established allowing fans and members of the independent music community to pledge money online via paypal -- can be found on the [PIAS] Entertainment Group's website, including fund bank details.

UK Home Secretary Theresa May visited the Sony site in Enfield on Friday (August 12) to witness the devastation left by the rioters first-hand. She said that what she has seen "brings home the degree of criminality and violence that we saw on the streets", and added reassurances to the public and small businesses.

"What's key to us is that the police presence is there now, we're seeing arrests being made and people being taken through the criminal justice system," says May.

Among the stock destroyed was the entire UK catalogue of seminal Sheffield indie band Arctic Monkeys' new single 'The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala', due for release on Monday (August 15).

Much of the warehouse stock was due to be shipped out by independent distributor PIAS. Stock dependent, the company could resume distribution as early as next week but the real challenge for those worst affected is to re-manufacture.

Due to the time and effort that goes into the pressing and designing of records, there is industry speculation that the vinyl stock lost in the blaze could take as long as three months to replenish, while the lost CDs may only take 10 days.

Figureheads within the independent music community are urging consumers to invest in digital downloads of artists whose work has been lost to help them recoup and begin output again.