In the latest Musiio by SoundCloud podcast episode, host Hazel Savage talks to guest Simon Raymonde, co-founder of indie label Bella Union and bassist for Cocteau Twins. 

Simon founded the label in 1997 with the intention to release his own band’s music but soon they started releasing music by other artists. Among his signings are Fleet Foxes, Beach House, John Grant and James Acaster’s music project Temps.

In this episode, Simon explains his considerations when signing artists, the realities of the “vinyl resurgence”, and how difficult it is to know which songs will be hits. Here were some of our top takeaways from the conversation.

Listen to the full episode:

1. Look beyond what's cool

When signing new artists, Simon is looking for something more than “cool” music or superficially good production. He’s seeking out music that resonates with him on a deeper, more personal level.

He explains, “I don't know what will be successful, so there's very little point in me trying to find something that might be. I've got no idea. So I'm much better off finding things that excite me either physiologically, spiritually or mentally. And then when you find an artist that does that to you, it doesn't matter whether it's got any potential in the wider world.”

2. Be decent

The music industry can sometimes seem cut-throat to new artists. Between the constant comparison to others, the regular rejections, and the stories of uncompromising artistic visionaries, it can feel like a stand-offish or aloof persona is a requirement. This might work on stage for some, but for Simon, interpersonal skills and personal connection can make or break a signing.

“If I saw a fantastic band, and I met them and didn't like them, I wouldn't sign them. I have to like them [as people],” he says.

3. Understand what individuals want (or find someone who does)

With the act of self-releasing music being easier than ever, artists can find themselves wondering what exactly record labels do. One less talked about role is having relationships with, and understanding how best to pitch music to radio DJs and tastemakers.

Simon outlines the problem: “[Radio DJ] Marc Riley likes a WeTransfer file, some like Box. Other people like Dropbox. Some people like SoundCloud links. Some people want a CD. How’s a young artist supposed to know that? So, are labels important? Well, even just for this kind of information, yes, they are, because we can take that out of the equation.”

4. The power of community and catalogue

“Sometimes a big hit is not immediately obvious,” says Simon. He believes in trusting your own musical instincts and not being swayed too much by streaming or social numbers.

In 2015, Beach House recorded an album called Depression Cherry, it did well, scoring tens of millions of streams. Then in 2021, out of the blue, a track off that record called ‘Space Song’ blew up on streaming services, getting up to a 100 million stream in just a couple of weeks.

“We saw this post on TikTok where somebody posted a video of their heartbreak with this song as the soundtrack. And what happened was everyone that then broke up with anyone after that, ever, on TikTok would use exactly the same piece of music and it just became this viral sensation.”

5. Vinyl is booming, but not evenly

We recently talked to economist Will Page about vinyl sales and how they’re growing. But as a founder of Bella Union – which has a vinyl shop in Brighton – Simon has a different take on the state of vinyl. 

“I keep hearing that [vinyl is having a resurgence], but I'm not really seeing it in my area of the business. Yes it is, if you're Taylor Swift, or Adele. Those [albums] are selling for stupid amounts of money, and they're taking up all the space in the pressing plants. Consequently, everyone that's trying to make 300 copies of their little punk record is struggling to get it done. And the cost of manufacturing vinyl has risen enormously in the past couple of years.

For more insights into signing artists, the value of indie labels, and what to expect from his upcoming memoir, watch the full episode.

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