Every now and then you get something that comes along in the world of music that is refreshing, heart warming and just downright good for the music business. In this case I’m talking about Tiny Dog Records, home of Flipron (who release their second album on the 2nd October), Scott 4 and Magic Car.
The label is owned and run the way you’d like all labels to be run in an ideal world, the artists are allowed to flourish, the bands stand and fall on their own merits without flashy videos and expensive marketing…in essence the label has the same belief as we do here at The Beat Surrender…it’s all about the music!
We took the chance recently to put some questions to label head-honcho Pete Jennison to find out how he started the label and what they would be looking for in a band.
First question I guess really should be…what inspired you to start a label?
I was managing an Americana band called Little Criminals. We produced a low-budget demo CD and I sent it off to a few radio stations touting for plays. Within a week, it was being played virtually every day on GLR- now Radio London – and the band went on to do a live session on Andrea Oliver’s afternoon show. After the initial excitement of that airplay, I sent off the CD to various labels in the hope that they would be interested. I could see that was going to take for ever, so, reinforced by three pints of IPA and the encouragement of my mate Kieran, who used to work for Rough Trade, I thought , “Why not put it out myself” – it seemed the obvious thing to do in my inebriated state!
Having decided that you were going to start a label, how much work did it involve in setting it up and getting it into a position where you could actually think about signing acts and releasing music?
Having invented the label, we recorded a four-track EP “Night So Blue” by Little Criminals and that became TDR001. We sent it off ourselves to Radio 2 and, hey presto, it was played on Bob Harris’s Saturday show. So far, so good! However, in the time before downloads, it took an eternity before we got that all important physical distribution deal, which enabled us to get the music available over the counter instead of relying on mail ordering it ourselves. That deal came about when we signed Scott 4, who had been on V2. “European Punks LP”, their joint album with Magic Car (who formed from the ashes of Little Criminals) received great reviews in everything from the NME to The Times and gained plays on both Radio 1 and Radio 2. We ended up selling about 2,000 copies, which was pretty good. Luckily, we got divvied up before our new found distributor went bust – back to square one! However, Kieran knew someone at Cargo and they stepped in and offered us a deal. We then released Magic Car’s own debut album “Yellow Main Sequence” and this was nominated for the Virgin USA Best of British Promotion in 2003. Tracks from it went on to be played by Bob Harris, Mike Harding and Johnnie Walker on Radio 2.
Have you missed out on anyone that you’ve regretted not signing that you had the chance to?
I suppose we get about 300 – 400 demo CDs a year from bands hoping for a deal – it’s a frightening number! Although you get some real howlers, most are OK but you are really looking for something better than OK. So far as I know, we have not turned down anyone who has gone on to be the next Coldplay!
What’s the one essential thing that a band or artist has to have to be signed to Tiny Dog?
When we sign someone, we look for a couple of key things. Foremost it’s the quality of the songwriting – without that it really is a non-starter. Phil Smeeton from Magic Car has a whole catalogue of excellent material; Jesse Budd (pictured above) from Flipron is one of the most interesting lyricists I have heard in a long time; and Scott Blixen of Scott 4 writes the sort of songs that are just crying out to be placed in TV and Film. That sorted, we consider how easy it will be to work with a band and how dedicated they are. Flipron are a good example of this. They are willing to put in the necessary hard work lined up for them by their manager Phil Taylor at Up All Night Music. I suppose we would still consider signing someone if they had great songs but were a total pain in the arse, but let’’ just say that it doesn’t help your case!
Why did you call the label Tiny Dog?
The label is called Tiny Dog after my dog Tiny, who is a cross between a Doberman and an Alsatian and anything but tiny – she doesn’t know a lot about music!
Does it make it easier or harder operating out of Norfolk away from the ‘scene’ of a big city?
Overall, living out in the wilds of Norfolk is not a problem. The whole thing is run from “The Doghouse”, which is a shed at the end of my garden, so my overheads are kept down to a minimum which is essential.
The Flipron £30 quid vid seems to have caught a fair bit of attention what with it being featured in The Sun, you must be pleased with that (and the money saved!)?
The idea of “The Incredible Thirtyquidvid” is that we wanted to make a video without breaking the bank – something that would say to others in a similar position – “Look, it’s cheap, just go and do it!” A friend of the band kindly did it for petrol money, top man that he is. We’ve just put another video on the web to gauge the reaction and it is getting more than 100 hits a day on You Tube alone. Again, it has all been done on a “mates basis” and has just been shown at Shorts Corner at the Cannes Film Festival, which was pretty cool! It’s also been picked up to be aired at the Reading and Leeds Carling Music Festivals.
What ambitions and plans do you have for the label moving forward?
Ultimately, for the label to thrive long term, you are searching for that break to take you up to the next level and ultimately that’s down to selling the stuff! But a hit may be just around the corner – let’s hope so, or I might have to sell the dog!