It can be taken as read that the music business has been (and indeed still is) experiencing a time of seismic upheaval as old models for success are being challenged largely due to technological shifts that have forever changed how we consume music. Two young Dubliners, Jack Rainey and Dan Finnegan, have taken it on themselves to rip it up and start again, seeing not a crisis but an opportunity. Paper Trail Records is a new label that’s not only striving to showcase exceptional music, but also embrace the shifting sands of ‘the biz’. With their first release on the horizon, the (really great, trust us on this) Zen Summer by spacey Los Angeles indie-folkster Cloud, we sat down with these audiophile upstarts to find out what Paper Trail is all about.
How did Paper Trail come about? You guys both have pretty different working experiences, right?
D: I’d been working in Sargent House for about two years. I first started in LA and when they decided to make Dublin their European base I came back here and did a lot of work with Michael Rowe, who used to do Richter Collective. It was so completely invaluable at so many levels. Cathy – who runs Sargent House – is an independent label in a world dominated by majors, so you’re already an underdog. And then also she’s a female in a world that, to it’s detriment, is male-dominated. She came from the background of being a music manager and working with bands that labels just didn’t want to touch. So that’s how the management/label idea came about, and it seemed to be working for them. It was totally invaluable to see somebody who made that shift purely out of necessity and have thrived from there. It’s impossible to say how much of an asset to me that experience was. From the get go I just loved it and I kind of became increasingly aware that this is what I wanted do my own thing eventually. Shortly after I went to visit some friends in New York and Jack gave me the first Cloud record, Comfort Songs, and I immediately really liked it.
J: We were both listening to the Cloud record a lot, and I had heard Tyler [Cloud]talking on a podcast about how he had a new record in the works and was potentially looking for a label. After I was in New York, I had gone travelling for a while. Then one day I had an email from Dan essentially saying ‘Fuck it, let’s give it a go. Let’s try get the new Cloud record’. I always knew I wanted to work in music but after college I was a bit and like so many people in their early twenties, I panicked and took the first job I could get. I started working in a big insurance company in New York essentially doing risk analysis for commercial business. That ended up being pretty useful experience for what we’re doing now!
D: It certainly helps in preventing us being passed off as some dudes with their heads in the clouds that don’t really know what their doing from a business standpoint.
Do you want to give me a bit of an idea about what makes your business model different to what people would traditionally associate with a record label.
D: I guess the traditional set-up is that an artist finds a manager who represents them and helps to negotiate the best deal possible with a label. A label’s traditional function of course being to put out records. We’re trying to cut out those middlemen by functioning as both. One of the toughest things about a manager’s job is trying to persuade a label that the given expenses for any project are actually necessary, whether it’s working with a certain producer, or putting together a tour. As an artist, it can be really difficult to squeeze that money out of a label, whereas for us, we can just evaluate what’s going to help an artist’s career and just do it immediately. We’re side-stepping all of that bureaucracy of negotiating for expenses.
From an artist’s point of view, our model can be a real help in shaping their idea of what they want to do. They come directly to us and say, ‘I think this is the plan we need to take,’ and we discuss it with them and then put it into action straight away if that is what’s required.
J: It doesn’t need to be a wrestling match of opinions, which of course allows us to justify our faith in the people we’re working with in terms of putting money into artists. We see the investment in the artists from a longer term perspective than if we were purely focused on their output. For us, the label side isn’t this big platform to make money or whatever. We’re viewing it as a way of boosting the artist’s career, raise their profile, grow the touring side of things for them and ultimately make them a bigger artists down the line.
D: One thing that gets brought up is that people assume that through this model the artist is going to come out worse financially, but we’ve always been clear from the start that we’re not dipping into any percentages twice, like a ‘label fee’ and then a ‘management fee’. It works out better financially for an artists while giving them considerably more creative control. They don’t have to talk about all these other third parties about artwork or producer choice or anything like that.
You were saying about the internet being such a game-changer within the industry, it’s almost shifted what you even expect a label to do. Like you guys are doing 300 vinyl records and then digital download, and no CDs. Do you think the role of the label has evolved from not being so closely connect to production of huge amounts of physical product?
D: For us, it was a weirdly difficult decision not to make any CDs. We kind of had to ask ourselves if that was ‘allowed’. Realistically, at least 90% of the music I listen to, I listen to digitally. Vinyl is great obviously, lovely big artwork and always nice to have something physical you can hold. When labels are only concerned with physical sales it leads to problems like I was saying before. They may be hesitant to bring an American-based band over to Europe for example. That’s an expense that doesn’t necessarily translate directly into physical sales, whereas for us bringing an artist over here to tour is going to grow their profile, which is eventually going to lead to more sales [in the long-term]. Not being beholden to the traditional label model as the be-all and end-all of what we do allows us embrace things like streaming. If streaming is bringing an artist’s music to a bigger audience then that may well translate to better ticket sales for upcoming shows or better merchandise sales for the artist. All these alternative avenues that can get opened up to you when you’re not just purely concerned with the ‘How many CDs or records can I sell of this artist?’ concern. It’s more about their long-term career as opposed to pushing their immediate output.
So, you guys obviously have a busy couple of months ahead of you, what’s in the pipeline?
J: We’ve got our first release, Cloud’s Zen Summer, coming out on April 7th, which is, of course, really exciting. It’s a super nice progression from the first record and strikes me as something people will enjoy coming into the summer. We’ve got a follow-up release lined up as well. We were really eager to grow the label organically through friends of artists, so Tyler sent us on some stuff his friends were doing, one of which was Beach Moon/Peach Moon, which we loved. It’s lo-fi indie stuff but with math-y elements. We’re really looking forward to people hearing it. We’re currently in top secret talks with some Irish acts too!
D: We’ve got an official launch penciled in so we’re hoping to raise a bit of awareness about what we’re doing and finally show off some cool stuff coming up in the next year, including a couple of Cloud shows in Europe.
Paper Trail’s launch party takes place in Roasted Brown on Thursday 12th March. Their website is all fancy too, check it out at papertrailrecords.com
Words: Danny Wilson
Photos: Killian Broderick