Keep Thinking Music on the challenges, rewards, and goals for their rising label.
This week I had the pleasure of catching up Steve McGrath and Kris Brown from Keep Thinking, a forward thinking record label run from both Lincolnshire & the Isle Of Man. Their ethos is to showcase artists who continue to break the mold whilst providing a platform for fresh new talent; as a result, Keep Thinking continue to deliver top quality music.
Having released productions from artists such as X-Press 2, Danny Oliveira, Deepfunk, Jamie Stevens, Gareth Whitehead and Stas Drive to name a few, Keep Thinking is a label that is definitely on the rise and one to keep an eye on.
Hi lads, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with me and give our Frisky readers an insight into running a label. Let’s start with when did Keep Thinking start up?
Kris: We started the label in August 2014, having previous worked independently as producers and label owners.
How did the idea of starting up a record label come about?
Steve: After working together on a few releases on both Intercity & Lynx recordings, which were our respective labels, we quickly realised that both our sound styles and ambition was going in the same direction, and we wanted to be able to push out a particular, solid sound.
How did you both meet up before you formed the label you both run today?
Kris: Well that’s slightly different to the normal run of things. We originally got talking after working on Polytechnic Recordings, and I did a couple of remixes for Steve when he owned Lynx. So we didn’t meet up for a while at first. In fact, Keep Thinking was born before we met!
Steve: Yeah, when we did finally meet Kris had been over to the Isle Of Man for the TT motorbike races. It just so happens I live over on the Isle Of Man too (it’s not a very big place) so he came over, we chucked some tracks on and got pissed. That’s probably when the label really started to build, in all honesty!
What made you come up with the name ‘Keep Thinking’?
Kris: We’d spent days fannying around trying to decide on something cool, or hip, or whatever it is people try and do with label names these days. Honestly it took ages trying to come up with something decent. We had 5 lads running the label when we opened up proceedings, but none of us could think of anything!
Steve: Yeah, it wasn’t until Kris was away for a few days and said “lads I’m stumped, keep thinking and we’ll see what happens.” Ian Crighton, one of the lads at the time just replied “Keep Thinking, that’s the one”. The rest as they say, is history.
What do you love most about running a label?
Kris: It’s the ability to have an impact on our target market. Steve: It sounds a bit business-like, but in reality that’s where we get our kicks. To put it another way; when we know we’ve got something class in our inbox and it gets into the hands DJs we’ve grown up with, and then they spin it in places like Fabric… well it’s a buzz and a half.
What are some of the challenges with running a label?
Kris: Time, we never have enough time! As with many independent label owners we run the label for the love of the music and the scene we’re a part of, but it’s never going to pay the bills. We both work full time and have young families to take care of, so it can be a juggle!
With so many great labels out there these days, how do you differentiate yourselves as a label from the others?
Steve: We take risks at the right level, but we’ve always got our ethos in the back of our minds, which is to supply the best DJs in the world with the best music.
Part of your ethos is to continuously ‘break the mould’… tell us a little bit more about what that ethos means to you both?
Kris: With so much music being available at the moment, and with the flooded market of digital productions, it’s far too easy to just accept certain genres and certain sounds for what they are. We’ve always listened out for tracks that sound different, trying something new, whilst maintaining a sound groove and polished production.
Steve: Take Plastik Corpse for example. Nobody had really heard the work that Paul had produced, and it sounded individual. We grabbed hold of his tracks and threaded the ‘Jack EP’ together. He was never going to sell a load of records for his name alone, but we believed in his music and it had some serious airplay in the lead up to the EP release.
Do you have a particular sound you look for or does it come down to, “if its sounds good then it’s probably good”?
Steve: If the grooves there and it sounds right, you’re spot on Nila… Kris: Yeah, we usually thrash out a few listens and have a few disagreements over the sound, style and how the tracks would work on the dancefloor.
If the track feels right, you know.
Back in the day, vinyl was expensive to print and distribute to the market. What are some of the pros and cons with the digital world of the music industry these days?
Steve: The quality always had to be there for vinyl, people weren’t willing to waste their money setting up shite releases… Nowadays there’s no real vetting procedure in place for digital stores like Beatport or Juno, etc.
Kris: That’s right, there are moments of brilliance but there’s a lot of crud to sift through to get there. Every DJ and music lover can relate to that, I’m sure. On the plus side, it has allowed for some truly class bedroom producers to step into the limelight. That wasn’t possible a few years back. Roughly, how many demos do you receive on a weekly basis?
Steve: We get a varying amount, but over most of 2017 we’ve received around 30 a week.
It must take some time to listen to everything you are sent. What do you look for in demos that are sent to you?
Kris: Well this is something that we can end up banging our heads against the wall with. Put simply, the best demos are the ones that are personal to us, as they show the artist has some respect for what we do. Secondly, a simple Soundcloud private link, of the track in the best quality possible. If it’s not mastered, then it’s nice if the artist has taken the time to provide us with the headroom details. Steve: And finally, a reason why they want to release with Keep Thinking! Not with us, and 50 other labels.
What makes a demo stand out above all the rest?
Kris: Personal touch, some research in to what we do. After all, we invest our time and money into releasing artists work. Why shouldn’t they understand what we’re about?
How often do you release new material?
Steve: We usually push between 6-8 releases a year, depending on the quality. We try and step away from sticking to a rigid schedule as this can result in shoddy last minute EPs that lack substance.
The musical boundaries between different genres seem to merge more and more frequently these days. Do you see this as a good or a bad thing in terms of being a label known for a particular sound?
Steve: We think it’s a good thing. If the sound is unique, it doesn’t really matter! Take Drumcode for example. All of the techno chin-stroking types would be able to identify a track to Drumcode pretty much straight away. It’s got a certain sound, it’s not just ‘techno’, and they’re still taking the world by storm.
What artists would you most like to see signed to Keep Thinking in the future?
Steve: Barry Jamieson. I’ve been a long time supporter of his music since the days of Evolution.
Kris: Sebastian Marciewicz for me. He’s supported our work in the past and there’s a touch of class in his productions.
Do you have any plans to produce a label mix compilation in the future?
We’ve got a couple of ideas that are coming to fruition, including a compilation series for this years’ ADE. Of course our usual Keep Thinking Annual also be out toward the back end of the year.
It seems many labels these days are running their own label night at clubs for obvious marketing benefits. Do you have any future plans to do something similar?
Kris: We’ve ran a few nights in the past, with varying success. We’re planning on continuing to expand our own events in the near future.
And lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer to anyone thinking of starting up a record label?
Kris: Be prepared to get knocked back by artists you want on board. This can be a real pain, especially if they don’t even bother to respond after they’ve supported the label for some time.
Steve: Understand that it takes considerable time to build a fan base! So with that in mind, remember that you’re only as good as your last release.
Kris: Also be prepared for it to consume you at times. But we don’t really care about that. We still love what we do.