rich hannan big indie

Big Indie Records Executive VP Richard Hannan on the Tileyard community: ‘It just made sense to be in the place where independent music companies are’

Richard Hannan, Executive VP at Big Indie Records, speaks to Audio Media International about the company’s origins in Austin, Texas and the challenges of running an international label during a pandemic…

What’s the back story behind Big Indie Records?
Big Indie was started in Austin, Texas five years ago by Jacqueline Scripps. And since then, we now have a recording studio in Austin, we have set up music publishing, as well as the record label, we do an element of management, and we’ve also launched a music magazine called Licks in that time.

I’ve been connected to SXSW for over 15 years so I know a lot of people in Austin, and Jacqueline approached me about introducing an international arm for Big Indie. Jacqueline’s family are renowned for media but she’s the first one to venture into the music business. She was a radio DJ in Italy for a few years, and also worked at Motown. Her ethos is ‘artist friendly’, and that underpins everything. Now, I oversee the whole business from here in the UK.

What attracted you to Tileyard?
At Big Indie, we are fiercely independent. That is absolutely crucial for us, and all our partners that we work with. I have a history with [Tileyard Director] Nick Keynes because prior to running the label, I was in management and Nick’s act, Ultra, were on our roster. So I spoke to Nick and he mentioned the Tileyard ecosystem and the fact that it’s one of the biggest independent music and creative communities within Europe, potentially the world. It just made sense to be in the place where independent music companies are, and we now collaborate with a lot of them. It’s not cheap to be in central London, so if you’re in this environment, you’ve got to use it and make the most of it. And that’s what I do.

How do you work together with Tileyard Education?
I’ve done various things panels for Tileyard Education and we also look there for staff. For example, out Campaign Manager Aaron Watts first came to us from Tileyard Education as an intern. That was three years ago and he’s now full-time. We certainly try to use the whole Tileyard ecosystem to the full extent and we often have students come in to work with us.

What makes Big Indie unique?
We are multi genre. We are not specific. We’re not niche in that respect. We have just signed a soul-funk instrumental band out of Austin, we have The Bots from LA, who are a garage band that we signed from here during lockdown, and then we have Vic Santoro, who’s a rapper from the UK Grime Scene. For us, it’s not about genre – it’s more about: ‘What have you got? What are you trying to achieve? And how can we help you?’.

viv santoro

What’s been the biggest challenge for Big Indie over the last year and a half?
The rush to get bands online was really difficult, but we did it. We also did a great behind-the-scenes programme with BBC presenter Shell Zenner, but it’s really hard to monetise stuff like that. Taking on and promoting artists has been really challenging. We’ve also found that a lot of artists were reticent about making big moves at the moment. Recording has also been challenging because of the limits on getting bands into studios. I took the bots from LA and flew them into Austin with Grammy-nominated producer Black Pumas band member Adrian Quesada. Connecting all that up from here was extremely difficult, but I achieved it, and we even made a mini doc and did a photo shoot at the same time.

Do you think that live-streamed gigs are here to stay?
I think one has got to understand what the value is first. If there is purpose and value in doing it, then absolutely. The world has changed and it’s going to get even more digital, but it’s hard to monetise online gigs and draw audiences in unless you’re talking about a big established band. 

And another big issue is that while we’ve got more online tools than ever before, we’ve also got more online congestion.

What was the last gig you saw, pre-lockdown? (And what’s your first post-lockdown gig?)
I think it was probably our own Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard gig down in Pop Brixton.

We’re just starting to get back to doing live shows now. We’ve got a media event on 28 July for rapper Vic Santoro – we’re doing an exclusive with Swiss who was in So Solid Crew at Samsung KX which is a really cool high-tech venue in King’s Cross. We’re doing the premiere of the brand new video, as well as a performance with invited guests. So, we’re gonna hit the ground running.

For live gigs, we’ll be channeling these through the magazine and they’ll be branded ‘Licks Presents’. We’re already looking at doing Nottingham, Manchester and Bristol, plus gigs in London at venues like The Windmill and The Social. We also have The Bots playing in Salt Lake City, and we’re looking to do festivals and maybe curate a stage with the ‘Licks Presents’ brand.

What albums/artists are you listening to at the moment?
I love Dave –  I think he’s an amazing rapper. He’s a truly truly incredible British artist. But I will listen to anything that I think is worthy of listening to the production, quality, and mixing, like Ariana Grande.

I also like listening to old bands from yesteryear, like Grand Funk Railroad, The Doobie Brothers, Little Feet or, Earth Wind and Fire. I like listening to where, for example the horn sections are going or how the breakdowns are going, and that all translates into what you’re trying to do now.

What’s next on the agenda for Big Indie?
We’ve just totally restructured the company. It’s almost like a reset and we’re going to be very aggressive in the marketplace. We are really looking harder at our International business. We already go direct into China and South Korea, which labels of our size don’t usually do. This is crucial to us. And we will also be signing more acts.

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