On Friday 26th October 2012 online record store Bleep.com will be presenting some of their hot tips for the current wave of forward-thinking Techno that has seen UK and German producers swap notes, so to speak, on how to propel the genre into the ears of a new audience. The event also celebrates the launch of The Green Series, a series of 12″ records from the finest Techno talent of the moment.
The Green Series is a symbiosis of music curated by Bleep, photographed by Shaun Bloodworth and designed by Give Up Art. Bleep’s first 12″ release is from two of techno’s most lauded producers Pariah and Blawan otherwise know as Karenn. Ahead of their event with Broken & Uneven we sat down with Raj Chaudhuri, marketing manager of Bleep.com, to discuss all things Bleep.
Interviewed by Tom Durston
Tell us about The Green Series?
The Green Series is a follow up to the North /South / East / West project we did about three years ago. Bleep.com did all the music, Shaun Bloodworth did the photos and Give Up Art did all the artwork. We released it as a compilation CD and it featured Hudson Mohawke, Flying Lotus, Rustie, which was a great thing to do back in 2009. So The Green Series is our attempt at doing that concept again but is focused on Techno as it again seems like a good time to shine a spotlight on that sort of music. We have a series of parties and the first 12” is coming out in November. More details will be revealed on http://thegreenseries.com
Is the artwork on The Hydra: Bleep representative of the Green Series?
Yeah it’s one of Shaun Bloodworth’s photos. The Green Series will be a series of 12”s accompanied with photo prints. They’re going to look great and the music contained within the series is from some of our favourite techno artists around.
The first record of the series is from Karenn and The Analogue Cops. I can’t reveal the other artists right now but if you have a look at the line up for some of our parties you’ll get a pretty good indication of who it’s going to be.
We simply made a hit-list of who we think makes the best techno and contacted them. Shaun and I went over to Berlin to meet a lot of the artists involved, take some photos of them and explain the project to them. Everyone we met was really into it.
It’s a mixed media project, made up of photography, art/design and obviously music and records. We’re really excited about it and the party is literally the tip of the iceberg.
When did you approach Karenn?
It’s been ages in the build up; I think we approached them back in March/April 2012.
We’d been working really closely with the photographer Shaun Bloodworth, who has worked with snapped so many great electronic musicians in recent years. Working with him was a blessing because all the artists love him; I mean he really does do it for the love of music and not money.
He just goes round and takes photos of these people because he genuinely likes. He’s able to capture certain things; in the past he’s documented so many scenes, especially the dubstep scene revolved around the guys at FWD and Rinse. Shaun’s photography has really helped bring this project together, especially bridging music and art and to give a face to the traditionally minimal and faceless world of Techno and the artists involved.
Karenn along with all the other artists have been really helpful and we’re so grateful to be working with them.
Tell me how you personally got involved with Bleep.com?
I’m the marketing manager of Bleep and I got involved about 5 years ago just after the launch of the second version of the store. I used to work at Deal Real Records in Carnaby Street, which shut down a while ago. I also have always run club nights with and outside of work.
Bleep stemmed from the original Warpmart. How do you think people perceive the Bleep brand as being separate to Warp Records?
I think die-hard Warp fans know that we’re part of Warp and that the same people started us. They are our sister company and share offices but we operate totally independent from them. It’s nice that we have that association but it’s also great that we work with a lot of other independent record labels.
How do you go about working with these small independent record labels?
We get sent a lot of music and we read a lot of electronic music magazines, like Inverted Audio and we listen to podcasts, mixes and promos. I suppose it’s a mix of providing our customers what they want as well as a place to discover new music. It sounds cheesy but if we like it then we’ll put it on Bleep, even if it’s a tiny label.
A great example of this is Eglo Records. Back in the day, Alex Nut first released the first Floating Points 7” vinyl and we were one of the few stores in the UK who took it on board. It sold out straight away and we’ve been working together ever since. They’ve always been really good to us because we supported them before all the press and the hype. We also formed this kind of relationship with Unknown to the Unknown, LuckyMe, Pictures Music, Public Information, Astro:Dynamics, etc.
When you start working with new labels do you give them any special promotional treatment?
We have our tried and tested methods for getting the music out to our audience and customers, which though out email database, social networks, podcasts and things like that. If we’re working with a release or label that we like we’ll drive it into those channels.
I don’t really think about that, we work with all of these labels. Every label has their own audience, database, customer base and fan base. Why wouldn’t they want to deal directly with their fans?
I think the music industry is too small for people to think that they should be rivals. It’s all about working together to help promote music.
What I think differentiates us from other stores is that we put editorial into our music. It’s not just press releases copied and pasted into the page. We actually say no to more music than we say yes to. If you see it on Bleep then we genuinely like it, I guess it’s gone through our quality assurance process. We’re not operating a super market operation where we sell everything; we have editorial and curation that supports the music we really like.
What about stores such as Boomkat?
I think Boomkat are amazing, I think they do a really good job. Obviously they are very similar to us in terms of the music they sell and the kind of people they work with. I’d really like to go for a beer with them actually. You can tell that the way they’re store is that they are genuine music lover, which is what we try and do…
Their reviews are extremely biased and a lot of people look at their reviews as genuine critical reviews, but they’re written to encourage the sale of that record. Would you say that Bleeps editorial approach is more leveled?
I don’t do the writing for Bleep but I do oversee it. I tell out writers not to use over hyped adjectives unless they genuinely think the record is worth that praise. We try to give a balanced view but if it is good we try to portray that in the editorial.
Last year hundreds of independent record labels back catalogues, including 4AD, Warp and Beggars Banquet, were incinerated at the Sony warehouse fire in Enfield, London. – How did that affect Bleep and your sales?
It affected us a lot because Warp’s back catalogue was taken out. We sell a lot of Warp stuff – not just the new releases but also Warp’s 24-year legacy of music. That’s the foundation of what Warp was built upon and it was a huge shock and was incredibly sad, because some of that music will never be reprinted. Warp will continually repress releases that will sell. There is however so much great music that won’t be reproduced and won’t be available to buy on vinyl again.
Why is that? Why won’t Warp publish these records again?
It’s a big financial risk for a label to print up vinyl, if they know they can’t sell it. We get hundreds of emails asking us to reprint records, which we’d love Warp to do but it’s just not that easy. You can’t just go to a pressing plant and order 20 records; you have to get a certain amount done to make it financially viable.
The way people are buying music has changed. CD’s are now in decline, vinyl is doing ok but it’s being consumed in a different way – it’s now high end products, box sets, collectables, limited edition, hand stamped but to get them pressed takes up a lot of resources.
Some records are bound to be financially viable; there’s a huge demand for Boards of Canada to be repressed and reissued.
That’s something Warp Records would have to comment on.
What do you think the Bleep brand stands for?
We used to have this tagline called “high quality music and media”, which we used for two years. We used this because we were the first store to offer DRM-free, high quality music files and I still think that we maintain this ethic, obviously other stores are offering the same file formats, but we genuinely feature music because we like it. As a brand we have a level of integrity built intrinsically into the brand.
We’re branching out doing merchandise, events and the new series. We’re also just about to launch a film section on Bleep, which is going to start off with Warp Films content, offering some of the classic films. Of course we wont be competing with services such as Netflix, Lovefilm and iTunes but we’re going to be promoting independent movies.
Can you download and rent movies?
Not to rent, just to buy. We’re doing a lot of stuff around the Warp Films 10th anniversary. When I joined Bleep we were doing a lot of stuff around Warp20, so there will be a series of events, products and downloads to celebrate.
With the recent launch of the new Bleep website, what criteria did you set out to the web designer to accomplish?
When you work for a store you think of things. If I go onto a site I look at things very differently to a consumer – the way they tie in and surface content, or how they class music into genres or the way their player operates. It’s just something I’ve picked up along the way, I’m not saying that we’re totally there yet with the new site but we are slowly getting there. The new site we launched in March 2012 we’re still tweaking adding new bits of code to make the user experience a lot better. The big players like Amazon and iTunes have done a great job and make buying products so easy. Their checkout systems are excellent and make customers buy more.
Record labels such as Ghostly International use drip.fm to sell music though. Have Bleep looked into using a similar solution?
We haven’t thought about a “drip service” as such, but we are always trying out new things. It’s always been part of our ethos to treat our customers with respect because we trust them. Over the past few years when you buy vinyl from us you get the MP3 from us straight away, so that you can enjoy the music as soon as you complete your payment. This started with Warp’s catalogue and has been rolled out to Numbers, Ninja Tune, Editions Mego, Domino, Public Information and Pictures Music.
Streaming is something the industry is moving towards and although we are not going to do this yet, we would not be against the idea of developing a business model that supports that as long as it is a good service for the customers and is a model that pays the labels and artists correctly.
Have you thought about using applications to open up your catalogue to different audiences?
Again – we’re not against applications but what we’re doing right now is to focus on our site; until we’ve nailed it we’re just going to concentrate on that.
How else are you developing the Bleep brand?
It’s always music focused, but we’re also working with designers to make merchandise and art items. But it’s a question of resources and we’re quite a small independent store. We’re going to get there organically.
Talking about funding I’m going to assume that Warp and the people who invested in Warp have also helped setup Bleep.
When it first started it did, but for a number of years now we’ve been a separate company forging our own way.
Do you see Bleep moving out of Warp headquarters in Spectrum House, London?
It’s possible because physical is working really well for us. Our stock room, which was traditionally Warpmart is getting too small for us, so maybe. Even if that did happen we’d still be very close to Warp, it’s just a case of space.
There’s also the social aspect of having a physical store. Kristina Records in Dalston opened up so that they could interact with their customers, host in store events and have a social front rather than just being an online store.
Three of the full time Bleep staff members including myself used to work in a record store. Warp Records was also originally a record store in Sheffield, so we understand the importance of having that approach. We try and translate this through our newsletters and features like staff charts. We’ve also organised a pop up store but it’s never quite the same as actually having a store. We’re going to be putting records into a fashion store in Sheffield, closely situated to Warps original record store location. Of course at this moment record stores are tough to run and hats off to Phonica, Sounds Of The Universe, Kristina and all the rest of them out there.
What advice would you say to anyone who is thinking of opening up a record store?
It’s a tricky one because I didn’t set up Bleep. All I would say is that when Warpmart and Bleep were set up is a very different climate to how it is today. Whatever it is you choose to do, whether you’re an artist, label or store you’re coming at a very transitional period in music, especially digital music. It’s not necessarily just practice, techniques or tips that will help you, what you need to think about is what are you offering and where does it fit within the industry, music and art. We live in a world where people have information overload with the internet, if you’re going to do anything well you have to have something that is unique and will make you stand out from the rest.