While Brighton Music Conference offers plenty of late-night dancing and shiny technology to be amazed by, its core aim is to enable engagement with the dance music industry. You’ll find a packed programme of seminars and masterclasses, including a series of events from Toolroom Academy Live. Aside from being one of the world’s best house music record labels, Toolroom are inspiring the next generation of superstar artists. They’ve created the perfect learning environment with tutoring from true global artists, while their Academy Live sessions have travelled to places such as Dubai, Toronto, Tokyo and Amsterdam to give advice and reach out to new talent. Their strand at BMC sees Mark Knight and Prok & Fitch holding an A&R feedback panel, Josh Butler conducting a production masterclass, D.Ramirez offering advice on ‘How To Finish Your Track’ and Ben Remember talking about ‘Building A Groove From Scratch’. BN1 caught up with label boss, Stuart Knight, to find out what it’s all about.
Founding an independent label seems to involve an excessive amount of dedication. What inspired you to do so?
I suppose it all started with a love and passion for the music; then when Mark, my older brother, became more successful as a DJ and producer it became an outlet for his music.
As much of your output is being consumed via digital platforms, how do you combat piracy? Is there any element of loyalty to the label which can dissuade people from sharing your music?
I would hope there is an element of loyalty from our fans – I’d like to think they know the effort and love we put into our work here, which like you said would hopefully dissuade them from file sharing. We also use a company called Audiolock who do an amazing job taking down illegal links from the web.
What are presently the biggest challenges facing a dance music label?
For me it’s keeping up with the constant change in the digital landscape, which seem to constantly effect our margins – and adapting so that we can operate on more than one front, bringing in revenue from less traditional ways than selling music.
While people are increasingly able to self-publish, do labels still stand as a vital guiding force in the industry?
Massively. The digital landscape means anyone can release their own music themselves, as the barrier to entry is now non-existent.However, where labels come in is in quality control, and also throwing light on artists who might otherwise not be found through their marketing expertise.
The internet has almost negated the need for vinyl pressing and distribution deals, is it easier to start a label now than it was 20 years ago?
Entry to market is easier than ever as you don’t have the costs that are associated with physical product –but on the flipside you don’t have the community feel and support there was back in the day as much less is done face to face nowadays, sadly.
Is there a struggle between integrity and commercial viability within the dance music scene?
It’s hard to stay true to your roots and balance that with commercial success but I think it’s a achievable if you remain focused on a roster of artists and a specific sound.You may go in and out of fashion, but if you have a loyal audience through staying true to yourself, you can keep going.
Have large-scale festivals eroded the clubbing scene?
I think there is space for both the large-scale and boutique festivals, alongside underground clubbing. The main thing is that there is a diversity with the acts. It does get rather boring see the same big festivals with the same names year in, year out.
How important are events like Brighton Music Conference on the industry and consumers?
For Toolroom Academy its great to have a conference in England that brings everyone together in one place. Given that the UK played a determining role in dance music’s history, I’ve always felt we deserved a yearly conference of standing. I really believe BMC is becoming this.We have also found it a great place to find talent and show people what’s involved in getting your music heard and becoming part of a label.
What do you hope people will take away from your sessions at the conference?
We offer the opportunity to get close to people who are active currently within the industry and share in their experience and knowledge. It’s about breaking down the wall between producer and label – we have already signed music from previous attendees so it offers a real chance in getting your music out there.
Is social media really an effective way of building an audience, or is it simply good for connecting with established fans?
It’s both. We find by making great content we are always building a new audience – reaching people all over the world through social media – while also maintaining our connection and dialogue with our current fanbase.
Toolroom has been around for almost 15 years, and has seen incredible change in the industry. What change can you predict in the next 15 years?
Streaming will continue to dominate, and it’ll be interesting to see how this type of music consumption transfers into the world of DJing.
Can you sum up your business philosophy?
Here at Toolroom we have always prided ourselves on being approachable and nice… seems pretty basic but goes a long way in this industry, and in business generally.
Toolroom Academy Live will be at Brighton Music Conference, when it heads to venues across the city on Thurs 27 – Fri 28 April