For those of you that haven’t met me yet my name is Claire Peters and I have been working as a VT in the School of Media for the past year. My background is in French Cultural Studies and so I contribute to the Theory team from this angle. I am particularly interested in visual culture, film, and questions about representation and cultural memory. I have worked with Brum based film producer Roger Shannon co-ordinating a night in honour of Sir Michael Balcon, to recognise Birmingham’s cinematic heritage, as part of the Hello Digital festival, although it was more a case of ‘goodbye analogue’… I am now working with Interactive Cultures interviewing as many of the twenty-nine Knowledge Transfer partners as possible, to try and get some feedback about what Knowledge Transfer is and how it works from their perspectives.
On a sunny afternoon in early May I went down to meet Simon from Brownswood Recordings at Brownswood base in London, off the Blackstock road. He told me all about his experience of the Knowledge Transfer partnership, how it helped him to reassess his own music culture and commerce, keeping up with the current transformations within the music industry, and how it all started when he met a ‘crazy man from New Zealand’ at a conference…
Brownswood Recordings is the independent record label set up by Simon and Radio One ‘Worldwide’ DJ Giles Peterson in 2006 as an outlet for good new music. Four years on and they are as committed as ever to an eclectic output of “music with soul”; currently championing a range of genres and artists including The Soil & Pimp Sessions, The Heritage Orchestra, Ben Westbeech and Elan Mehler.
For Brownswood Recordings, the partnership with the Knowledge Transfer Fellowship started when Simon met Dubber at a conference he was also talking at; “I met a slightly crazy man from New Zealand called Andrew Dubber who approached me about this Knowledge Transfer Scheme”. Initially, Dubber came down to see Simon for a chat about what Brownswood Recordings were doing as a company, with a particular emphasis on the digital side of things. From Simon’s perspective this initial meeting was valuable; “it was really useful for me, even this initial meeting, because when you sit down with somebody in that situation it forces you to start thinking about how your business is structured, what things you are doing, what things you are not doing. Obviously, having somebody from the outside come in and say, have you thought about this, or have you tried that, from my point of view, is very useful”.
Simon goes on to explain one of the important aspects emphasised by Dubber was the notion of interactivity; “One thing he is always very keen on is involving your community; building your community and involving them interactively with what you are doing”.
From Simon’s perspective the Knowledge Transfer Partnership represented a sort consultancy, as he explains:
“The main thing from my perspective is that it enabled me to get an overview of where we were at, because when you are caught up in the day to day running of a business, it can sometimes be very hard to get that overview of where you are going and what you are doing; what you are doing right, what you are doing wrong and how things can be improved. So it’s really useful to have someone come in and really give that overview, and come up with suggestions and ideas.
The suggestions ranged from the specific; such as useful sites and software, to a much more general strategy for integrating all our sites and working with our community.”
This aspect of community was already central to Brownswood, Giles already has a lot of people who follow what he does from his Radio one shows; “one of our strengths is the community we have, so it is about how to really develop that and use it in a positive way.”
So what has this Knowledge Transfer partnership meant for Brownswood?
“I would go so far as to say it has changed the way that I look at the business, and strategise our digital side. It has helped me to see that you have to be really cutting edge, and take on board the things that are going on out there, and really work with them and use them to your best advantage, and constantly interact with your community. I guess those are the lasting things that we got out of it.”
Simon went on to describe how independent labels are experiencing the climate of change within the record industry:
“We are currently in a massive time of change, nobody really knows where it is going or how it is going to pan out. We are all a little bit unsure of what is going on, but there are lots of new ideas floating about. As somebody who is running a label, you are constantly analysing everything, thinking is this something that’s useful, is this a way forward, is it not?
It’s a difficult time, in the sense that the old order has gone and we are all waiting to find out what the new order will be. But on the other hand, it’s a very exciting time, because lots of people are being very creative, coming up with new ideas and there are new concepts around. You are constantly trying to analyse things and think how you can make the best use of them.
In a time like that, it’s quite hard to keep up with all the new developments, so it’s really important that you are working with people who can give you a new way of looking at things and new ideas, to help you to find your way through the maze.”
So where are Brownswood currently at as a label?
“We started the business four years ago, and it soon became obvious to us that we couldn’t survive as a record label just by releasing music, and that we had to develop a 360 degree business model; we had to do what people have always done which is make money wherever you can.It very quickly became clear that people didn’t want to spend their hard earned fifteen pounds on buying a CD, but that they did want to spend it on going to gigs. So we started the promotions side; we now run a number of different events in London. We have also been developing our brand associations, and now have brand sponsorship from K-Swiss [Simon is sporting some rather cool retro K-Swiss trainers…] and Havana Club Rum. We are making an album in Cuba through this sponsorship, which is exciting. So, we have developed out from being a record label into the brand world and live events.”