Gigwise: Hello Craig! How are you doing?
Craig Evans: Given the circumstances we all find ourselves in right now, doing well, getting through a lot of Netflix at the moment and trying to not watch the news too much.
GW: We know you as the founder/CEO of Blood Records as well as the massively successful Flying Vinyl. Is this where you got your start in the music industry, or is there a prior story?
CE: To go way way way back, I always loved music growing up but this was confined to what was played on the radio and I’d spent loads of money on CD’s. When I was in my early teens mass-internet adoption was happening and a friend told me he’d downloaded this thing called Napster and you could just get any music for free. It’s mad to think about now because it was all completely illegal but it changed the music landscape and allowed people like me to discover all kinds of music, especially the stuff that at the time the radio just wouldn’t play because of explicit content.
I started making mixtapes for friends and really started to understand what would hit and what wouldn’t. My entry into the actual industry started a while after I left university. Again it was a time where social media was about to be the next big wave. I started working with artists and labels to utilise the technology to push new records. I’d been doing this for a while but had become pretty frustrated with it all. There was so much conversation about ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ instead of creating proper fans and somewhere in this thinking I’d thought about how much more special it is to consume music in physical format. I’d collected vinyl for a while and personally felt that owning a record just made me feel more attached to a band than play-listing a few of their songs or whatever. Flying Vinyl was kind of born in that moment back in 2015.
GW: When did your love affair with vinyl begin?
CE: I think my earliest recollection of anything related to vinyl was when I was at university; obviously there were loads of house-parties and everyone used to play music and we all brought turntables and mixed and stuff. We were all shit but it was a scene. You could buy CD’s but everyone preferred vinyl, despite the fact we were constantly replacing stuff that had beer sprayed all over it. It was around that time that indie bands started putting out these limited runs of 7"s and I just thought it was the best thing you could buy at a gig. It was something, unlike a t-shirt, that you’d cherish forever that was this tangible artefact that snapshotted exactly what was happening in music at that moment.
For someone who grew up with music mainly being digital I really got that this was going to open up a format that was barely still in existence to a whole new generation of people who probably felt like there was something lacking in the disposability of streaming. I like, even now, just running my finger across my collection and each record that I pull out I just remember a different weird story or experience related to each one. It’s a wonderful thing.
GW: What was it that made you start Blood Records?
CE: I kept seeing the same issues cropping up around artist's album campaigns. The entire supply chain for vinyl makes very little sense because it hasn’t really been updated in 50 years. From an artist perspective you go to a broker and order a number of records without knowing how many you’re going to sell. You pay for them up-front and then wait for about 3 months. There’s often production issues and delays and at the end of the day you may end up with a garage full of records you can’t sell or you sell out all of your stock in an hour and have no realistic chance of getting more records to supply the demand.
Blood negates these issues. The whole release is designed by us, financed by us, marketed by us, distributed by us and the platform logs the sales prior to manufacturing, so we know exactly how many records we need to press. Aside from those benefits to the labels and artists we really wanted to build this community of people who were getting massively limited edition records that were just much more creatively interesting than what everyone else was making. Every record we produce I want to feel is the best possible artistic impression of that music.
GW: Have your methods of music discovery changed much in the last year? I imagine that gigs/festivals are a key part of seeking out new acts – in tandem with the network you have established with promoters and labels. How do you approach the A&R aspect of your job when the live scene has been placed on hold?
CE: I think as terrible as it is that we’ve lost live music for the time being that hasn’t dampened releases in general. Fortunately artists are recording more music and releasing more music, because there isn’t a lot else to do right now. So there’s been plenty of stuff to listen to but I completely agree that it’s a totally different means of understanding a band. When you see artists play live there’s really no better way of understanding an artist and that’s being a bit lost at the moment. It’s funny because it feels more like those Napster days now than ever before when you’d just listen to random stuff and then get behind what you like.
GW: Similarly, how has Flying Vinyl maintained its early philosophy of music discovery from its inception until now?
CE: I think the great thing about Flying Vinyl is that nothing really matters other than the music. People pitch us music and want to tell us how the songs have done at radio or whatever, for us, none of that matters because our customers don’t care. All that matters is that what comes out of those speakers is great. That basically drives our ethos to put out music that we love regardless of any other factors.
GW: How is the indie scene right now – for both an independent business and for the independent artists that you work closely with? Particularly with many artists delaying album releases and touring schedules?
CE: Yeah it’s kind of organised chaos really. Firstly I have to say that we’ve been very fortunate in that the sector of the industry we work in has not been shut down as something like the touring industry has. Our challenges over the last year have not been led by a lack of demand but a complete upending of manufacturing and logistic processes. It’s been a lot of adapting to a mindset of spending every week problem-solving a new set of challenges related to lockdowns, fulfilment and then Brexit was thrown on top of that. Fortunately very few releases we had planned got pulled. Our attitude was that this was going to go on for a while and it makes no sense to completely pull a release so we just did a lot of reorganising what would go out when.
GW: What do you think to the mass of DIY and independent companies that have launched over the past year off the back of redundancies and lockdown? Any words of wisdom for new start-ups in the music industry?
CE: I really feel for everyone who’s been affected by all of this, it’s been devastating for huge parts of the music industry. But trying to find a silver lining I’d say that now is the best time to start something. If there’s a project or something that you’ve always said you’re going to do - just do it, throw it out there and see what happens. There’s moments in history where the pot gets shaken up and huge powerful institutions crumble and in amongst that are these agile small start-ups and independent entrepreneurs who then build the next thing.
It’s easy to look at all the negatives at the moment, my god there are a lot of them, but I would say it’s also a really great opportunity to figure out what problems are going to be created over the next couple of years as we come out of the pandemic and start building the solution. It’s a lot of work but you’d be amazed how much you can change your situation in 12 months. Artists are pissed off with the old model and that’s being polarised by the pandemic and the lack of touring income, so all these DIY companies need to be collaborating to offer an alternative that’s better that gives artists more power and control over their copyright.
And that’s the best thing for me about what we do. I get to go and collaborate with people who inspire me; designers, artists, musicians, brands, whoever, and what tends to happen when you put different people in the room together who are doing interesting things is amazing things get created. Lastly on this, I think people increasingly want to buy products from other people and invest in other people - not faceless multinational corporations, you have that on your side you just have to inspire people to believe in what you’re doing and show that you’re passionate and people will back you.
GW: What has the response been to the exclusivity surrounding Blood Records limited releases? Are there often frustrations when these products sell out, if so, how do you respond?
CE: It’s been properly mad. The response has been amazing. Launching the campaigns is always a massive adrenaline rush as there’s a surge of demand within seconds of the campaigns going live. There’s certainly been some frustration when products sellout. To be honest, the exclusivity creates demand, scarcity creates value and I want my customers to have these treasured things they know that no one else has. So although there can be frustrations about limiting the run-sizes I think it encourages people to get in quickly and gives people something that they’ll really treasure.
GW: I think it’s safe to say that the remarkable resurgence of vinyl isn’t a fad – but how can physical pressings continue to evolve? Have you had any standout projects that have been far beyond the ‘traditional’ expectation of vinyl pressing?
CE: So, in terms of the actually supply chain behind vinyl, we really need to address the lack of capacity globally and now we’ve left the EU we really need better pressing capacity in the UK. In terms of evolving the format we’ve been looking at things we can do to make each release more and more exciting. We’re bringing together a group of amazing creatives from a number of disciplines with some projects we’ll be announcing soon. As an example we recently released a variant of Willie J Healey’s Twin Heavy with a 3D printed model and just sold out 3,000 copies of a Royal Blood zoetrope animated picture disc in four hours. I don’t ever want to create vinyl for the sake of creating vinyl.
GW: What would your dream project be for either Flying Vinyl or Blood Records? Where would you like both brands to achieve and what new projects would you like to launch in the next 5-10 years?
CE: So in the short-term Flying Vinyl is going to be spinning a publishing company off which we think is going to be a really positive way to push some of the smaller artists that we work with. With Blood, the 6 months we’ve got some really big releases lined up, honestly this year is a series of dream projects. In the next five to ten years…. I think I’d like to get to a point where we’re financing the recording of material that goes out exclusively on vinyl. I’d like to bring better pressing capacity to the UK and make a record plant that allows customers to experience it and feel bonded to it, much like what’s happened with craft beer breweries over the last ten years. And I’d like to put another festival on.