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William Courtice - Runnin' Tings

Interview

William Courtice may not be a name that you know, but you will be familiar with the fruits of his labour. As a member of production trio Code 3 and label manager for Exit Records, Non-Plus, Autonomic, Disfigured Dubz and Crunch recordings, Will has more than enough to keep moving. However, Will is the modest type and is more than happy to let the music do the talking. Will has taken time out to let us into his world, behind the scenes to expose some of the not so well known industry culture within the music and beyond the dance.

Within the last 10 years, the role of the label per se has morphed and changed significantly. As such, maybe from a consumer perspective, the role of the label has become obscured and blurred, especially amongst the post physical music buying generation. From your own perspective, how has this shift in perception affected both your role and that of the labels that you run?

I think the role of a label these days is still really the same as its always been, they work like a filter or brand that saves people time when they are looking for good new music that they are likely to be into. I find that when I’m looking to discover new music from other genres I’m not so familiar with, I look for labels that are respected within that particular scene because they are obviously respected for a reason. That will send me on a path to discovering associated artists/labels and become a link into the more underground side of things that is not initially so easy to find.
The market now is moving very quickly from the physical to the digital realm and in terms of commercial music the transition is almost complete, but with dance music in general there’s still a consistent demand for physical products such as vinyl and CDs because I think that people who are into specialist music generally have allot more respect for it and don’t treat it so much as a throw away commodity. Its not just a background noise for when they are binge drinking and vomiting in a local pub, it’s a way of life and there’s allot of people that spend allot of money traveling all over the world week in week out to hear the music that they love in a particular atmosphere, so it makes sense that they are prepared to pay a relatively small amount of money to the artists for their music which brings allot of pleasure to their lives. At first I was very anti digital because I thought it would never work and everybody would download it for free. To my surprise, mp3 sales are very healthy and becoming a very important source of income for labels. We have to just accept that times change and provide the music in any format that people want, as it’s the music that’s most important, not the format and everybody has their own preferences.

In terms of my role as a label manager it hasn’t really changed much, I suppose there’s an extra bit of work involved with setting up digital downloads etc but there’s a hell of allot more work involved in releasing a good old physical product and that’s not about to stop anytime soon.

A regular complaint of drum & bass labels especially has been the time music takes to reach release from the first time it enters the public domain via performance and also the Internet. Maybe you can clarify the processes that go into the eventual release of a complete product?

One difficult thing these days is that as soon as a DJ has played a track on the Radio/Podcast or in a club mix that has been recorded it starts to get considered old from that point onwards. Back in the day the same thing would happen when tapes were recorded from raves or pirate radio and shared between friends locally, but the whole process was nowhere near as fast as it is these days with the internet where it can be shared worldwide within 10 minutes of being recorded.

In terms of release schedules, firstly it depends weather it’s an album or a single. An album would need a minimum of 10-12 weeks from mastering to the release date, and a single would be about 8-10 and that’s assuming everything goes smoothly i.e. no problems with mastering, artwork etc. You’ve also got to take into account that mastering can take between a week and a month to book in, depending on how busy they are and if the artist wants to attend the cut or not. Then there can be delays caused by things such as too much high end in a mix down, or vocals that need de-essing and this would mean another date will have to be set for the cut whilst the artist rectifies the problem.

From the mastering house, a lacquer master is sent to the manufacturing plant in France or Germany and digital masters sent to the distributor who prepares them to be uploaded to all the digital stores. The plant will take about 2 weeks to press vinyl test presses that they will then post back to the distributor who will forward them on to me/artists/label owners for approval. The artists will check that everything sounds how they like it etc and I will listen a few times to check that there’s no skips or jumps and also double check that each side has been etched with the correct A/B that correlates with the artwork so there’s no mistakes on the labels. If there are problems with the Test presses then the whole process will start again. It’s rare that it happens but sometimes there are small problems such as distortion or perhaps a mix up with the track names in which case I would get them re-etched. There’s so much information being passed around by different people in different companies that there is so much room for error and I have to be really on point with this and triple check everything.

Once test presses have been approved then I will arrange for the artwork to be done and this is normally very straight forward for a single in a house bag, but if it has dedicated artwork then its normally a little longer. With singles, the artwork is normally done by my friend so I can just sit down with him and get it done in a few hours, but on bigger projects such as the Consequence album on Exit for example, we commissioned an artists called Buna from Japan to create an original piece from scratch and that process is much longer.

Once artwork is approved then I would start to get a promo pack sorted for the promo company to use, this includes mp3 files, artists pictures for magazines etc, pdfs of artwork and a one sheet that contains a description of the release which is also for the Distributor to use to promote/sell the record to stores.

At that point I will also have to apply for the MCPS license which is basically a system that is put in place by the music industry to make sure that artists don’t get ripped off. We have to tell them how many physical products we will be manufacturing and then pay them approximately 8% of our expected revenue for the license to manufacture which they will then pay to the artist via their publisher. I guess its like and advance really. This has to be paid because the MCPS have the power to put a manufacturing ban on a record label if its not paid and they do audits at our Distributor to look for un licensed products.

From there it’s a bit of a waiting game really while the products are being manufactured and the promo company is chasing up interviews/reviews/radio play etc to promote it. This normally takes bout 4-6 weeks. The distributor prefers this period to be longer so that they can sell it to shops and gain a bit of interest but we normally try to get it out as quick as possible as we are normally being pressured by fans etc who are moaning about how long its taking.
About 2 weeks before the intended release date I will receive finished copies that I have to check over and make sure that there are no mistakes on the artwork etc. Even with all the tripple-checking in the pre-manufacturing there’s normally something that slips though the net but it’s rare that it would be bad enough to have to do a complete repress as that is very costly.

Once the release hits the shops there’s one last push on the promotion and my job is done until I have to do the accounts. There’s also things like licensing the tracks to other companies for use in mix cds etc in which case Id have to sort out contracts and negotiate fees which is good exposure for the artists and label and another important source of income for both.

There are many more things involved in the whole schedule that I could write pages and pages about so I’ve had to sumarise it a bit as I could bang on forever. I hope I’ve given you a rough idea about the many potential things that can go wrong and cause delays but believe me that’s not even half of them.

You must collectively receive a lot of unsigned music. How do you work out what music goes on what label? What are the pressures, constraints and also freedoms of running multiple labels?

I try to distance myself from that side of things. I do get sent the odd track that I think has potential and will recommend it to the relevant label owners but I think that the reason that they are in the positions that they are in is because they have a talent for recognizing good artists and good music so I leave that to them. I know that they all get sent allot of music and they listen to as much as they can. The problem with most of it is that it tends to be imitations of what they make which is totally understandable, but it just doesn’t have its own individual character or style which is really what they look for. They want to hear music that they couldn’t or wouldn’t make themselves, which makes it intriguing to them and taxes their brains a bit.

Each of the labels has their own individual channels of artists from whom they sign music and there’s never really any question of which label the music is going to go to because its normally requested or arranged to be made for a specific label early on. The good thing about all the labels that I run is that none of them are afraid to release whatever they want. For example, when Nonplus put out Skreams remix of Instra:mental - ‘No Future’ it shocked allot of people because it didn’t seem to fit the mould. Instra:mental didn’t care, they liked it and they thought it justified being released so they released it and that’s the whole point them having their own label, to release music that they like without compromise or external influences.

Also with Skream’s output recently and what he has got forthcoming makes me proud to be a part of it. Obviously someone in his position with huge commercial success could easily get backing from a Major, set up a label as a subsidiary of that Major, sign up every banger around and make loads of money but its not the point. Skream is a massive music lover with a huge knowledge of a huge variety of music and his label is his output for new music that he likes, not what he thinks will make money and I have allot of respect for that. All the labels I manage have that philosophy and I think that’s why they are successful.

With the considerations of running a business against artistic freedoms, how do you balance music as a commodity and artistic statement or expression?

There is no balance. All artists are completely free to make whatever they want and they are well aware of that. The relative labels will back them 100% as long as they like the music, not the commercial potential. As soon as money becomes your motivation behind music, then you are writing music you think other people will like rather than music that comes naturally, and that’s not what any of the labels are about.

What is up up next for the various labels you run?

I just had a meeting with Ben Verse and am getting his Crunch Recordings label up and running again which I’m glad about. He was actually the first person I worked for when he was my flat mate and I managed a couple of the last releases like the ‘City Of Light’ LP from which I learned the basics of label management. He recommended me to dBridge, who also recommended me to Skream and Instra:mental but Crunch Recordings was my starting point in terms of management so I’m very grateful for that.

Heres the projects that I’m currently working on

AUTONOMIC

I cant really talk about what’s next for Autonomic but all I can say is keep your eye on the website www.club-autonomic.com

EXIT RECORDS

EXIT CD/LP008 - Dan HabarNam – From The Known LP

EXIT CD/LP009 - Loxy & Resound – Burning Shadows LP

EXIT 028 - dBridge - So Lonely & Remixes by Morgan Zarate and Consequence + Accapella

EXIT 032 - Joe Seven – All Prologue/Untitled Monotron

EXIT 033 - Synkro – Progression/Progression (Indigo Remix)

NONPLUS RECORDS

NONPLUS 014 - Skream – Exothermic Reaction/Future Funkizm

NONPLUS 015 - Jon Convex – Radar/Vacuum States

NONPLUS 016 - Kassem Mosse EP – (Still untitled)

NONPLUS 017 - Lowtec – (Currently in production)

NONPLUS LTD003 – Acid Jackson – (Untitled)

DISFIGURED DUBZ

DIS 015 – dBridge – City Of Lonely Runaways/Dischord

DIS016 – Echo Park LP sampler

DIS LP/CD 001 – Echo Park – (Untitled)

CRUNCH RECORDINGS

CRUNCH 011 – Ben Verse – Manipulate/No Solution