Friday, January 13, 2012

If Licks Could Kill

If Licks Could Kill - Antenna boss Trevor Reekie spills the beans

From Murray Cammick's weekly column at Xtra, Wednesday May 10, 2000.
In the first week of June, a compilation of artists from the indie Antenna label "If Licks Could Kill" will be released. Antenna was founded in 1996 by Pagan Records as the Pagan label had become pigeon-holed as a "roots" label with artists like the success of artists like the Warratahs, Chicago Smokeshop, Al Hunter and Paul Ubana Jones. Antenna is positioned as a "cutting edge" label for alternative, lo-fi, dub etc. Artists on the label's first compilation include Eye TV, Darcy Clay, Tadpole, Voom, Trip to the Moon, Pluto, Cosa, Dub Asylum and Mr. Reliable.

I had a coffee with Pagan and Antenna founder Trevor Reekie to get his thoughts on the state of record-making nation, as Trevor has shaped Pagan since Mirage Film Studio started the label in 1985. He ran Pagan with partner Sheryl Morris from 1988 (when Mirage went bust) until the mid-90s when Tim Moon took over as Trevor's business partner.

In the 80s Pagan was known for its No.1 pop hits by the Holidaymakers (Sweet Lovers), Tex Pistol (Game Of Love) and The Parker Project (Tears On My Pillow). Other artists to get started on Pagan include Greg Johnson (Isabelle), Shihad (Devolve) and the Strawpeople (Have A Little Faith).

MC: You don't record contemporary pop now, like teen singers, boy bands?

Trevor: There's nothing to say we wouldn't if we liked it, but vacuous pop is best left in the hands of vacuous record companies. This year we will have chart success. Times have changed, it was easier to have a hit back in the 80s, there were only two TV shows and two FM channels and people used to buy singles.

MC: Isn't it easier with NZ On Air video grants etc?

Trevor: Those grants make life easier to set up a single and help finance a video but they don't make it any easier for the single to get to No.1. The main difference now is that marketing spend is a huge part of a successful record. In the 80s perhaps a record could stand on its own merits a bit more.

MC: Do you do the A&R? [record biz term "Artist & Repertoire" which means look for and nurture talent.]

Trevor: Tim Moon and I both do A&R. My role is now easier because Tim has come on board and put business structures in place and we formally sign artists. He's got an A&R role and a finely tuned sense of marketing. The workload is distributed over two people.

MC: In the early days did you not have contracts with your artists?

Trevor: We had verbal agreements or one page letters of intent which didn't really stand-up once a cheque book was flashed in front of people's noses.

MC: You had success with Shona Laing (Glad I'm Not A Kennedy) in New Zealand, Australia (via Virgin) and the USA (TVT Records).

Trevor: It cost a hell of a lot of money.

MC: Didn't you get it back from sales?

Trevor: No. It didn't sell enough. To succeed in Australia is always the same, you have to go and live there. For an artist to break into the UK or the USA it requires more than going to live there. You have to have this huge machine behind you. The machine has to see a return on their investment and they have to be coerced into making that investment.

MC: Do you still have an eye on overseas success?

Trevor: Yes. I can see a band like Tadpole appealing to an international audience. And Pluto. It's really a question of finding the right people in the machine to say, "Yeah, I like this act."

MC: How do you sign new acts?

Trevor: Pluto, for example we became aware of because they were friends of Dave, our studio engineer. I fell in love with the guy's voice and his words. We met with them, we felt we could work with them, they were nice guys. That's always crucial that we can work with them. Then it's a matter of sussing out a deal, not only rights-wise but financially too.

MC: Do you see growth ahead for indie labels?

Trevor: I think I do. The function of an indie label is to pick up on artists that otherwise would be overlooked by a major multi-national label. I think the majors want to encourage the indie's nurturing role. Motivation and potential can be measured at an indie level. Quite often the level of expectation at a major label is too high. An example of that is Eye TV . . . 10 years of association and three albums before a Top 10 hit. I couldn't see a major label hanging in that long?

MC: Would musicians be that patient nowadays?

Trevor: Well, if their motivation is their belief and the artist is still believing in themselves. Yes.

MC: Major labels think "throw money at it" is the answer and so do most musicians.

Trevor: I think that's a fallacy, throwing unlimited quantities of money at something doesn't guarantee success. One of the things we establish as an indie is that resources are limited, so that is written into our agreement.

Coffee time has to end as Trevor describes a very expensive video made for a local act by a major label as "one of the more astute pieces of folly I've seen lately."

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