London-based drum n bass label Hospital Records was launched by Tony Colman and Chris Goss in 1996, with the company’s initial releases coming from their own projects, Peter Nice Trio, Dwarf Electro and London Elektricity. Following the success of the latter’s debut album, ‘Pull The Plug’, in 1999 the label began to expand and sign other artists, including Landslide, Danny Byrd and High Contrast.
In 2002, Goss retired from the studio in order to concentrate full time on running the ever growing label, with Colman continuing London Elektricity as a solo project. As well as signing some of the best electronic producers on offer, the label also launched the first of its various popular compilation series, ‘Out Patients’ and ‘Plastic Surgery’, with a club night, Hospitality, following in 2005 and the company’s award winning podcast in 2007.
In the run up to this year’s AIM Independent Music Awards – where Hospital is nominated in the Independent Label Of The Year category, and where Goss, Colman and fellow label co-head Tom Kelsey are jointly nominated for Independent Entrepreneur Of The Year – CMU’s Chris Cooke spoke to Chris Goss about the label’s origins and its continued success over fifteen years later.
CC: How did Hospital Records originally come into being?
CG: Tony and I were casualties of the acid jazz scene, and decided to have one last throw of the dice. We were both inspired by the emerging drum n bass scene, as well as London’s underground house music, and the cut-and-paste of artists like DJ Shadow and Le Funk Mob. In early 96 we started up three labels; one of them only lasted two releases, whilst our disco house music imprint survived for three years. But by 1999 we were clear that Hospital Records was our one and only ambition.
CC: Was the intention always to release music by other artists, rather than just your own?
CG: No. We were simply focussed on having an outlet for our own productions, given it seemed highly unlikely anyone else would release them.
CC: Does the label have a specific music policy – how do you choose which artists to work with?
CG: We are essentially a drum n bass label. Though that can mean an extremely diverse musical melting pot; from the bleepy, ambient soundscapes of Bop and Unquote, through the song n bass of London Elektricity and Nu:Tone, to the dancefloor energy of Camo+Krooked and Netsky. We are extremely selective about long term signings, and our three man A&R machine has the benefit of a twelve-strong staff team, who all contribute to the daily dialogue on new music. Most unsolicited (demo) music arrives as mp3s over instant messenger, but that is amplified by a broad range of research activity out in the field from myself, Tony and Tom.
CC: There’s lots of talk of labels working with artists on a bigger range of projects than in the past (ie getting involved in activity beyond records) – is that something Hospital is doing, or might do in the future?
CG: I think that’s fairly standard these days, though again, things needs to be very carefully cherry-picked. As I also manage the majority of our roster, we receive a number of requests for production and co-writing work, from all sorts of different artists and managers. I tend to turn these down, as it’s rare for the project to be truly beneficial for the Hospital artist – and that is my only concern. We have produced a lot of bespoke work on computer games, and other sync projects, as well as High Contrast working with Rick Smith and Underworld on Athletes Parade at the 2012 Olympic Ceremony. That was pretty unique.
CC: The Hospital Records podcast has been running for five years now, what led you to start putting it out and how important now is it to the label’s overall promotion?
CG: Initially, Tony was simply jealous that DJ Zinc had a podcast! So with the direction and energy of our boy Matt Riley, the Hospital Podcast was launched. It quickly evolved into a core element of our regular online promotions strategy. I think the most satisfying aspect is how it has reached an entirely diverse and international audience; such as ambulance drivers in Manhattan, school kids in Cornwall, and serving members of the Royal Navy out in the North Atlantic.
CC: 2012 has been a big year for electronic music, has its boom had an effect on Hospital?
CG: These things tend to go in waves. There’s always a knock-on effect, which tends to be three times as many remix requests from major labels, and double the amount of bookings for our touring artists. Part of our job is navigating through this noise, and ensuring we still do the right thing for our brand and our roster.
CC: As the boss of an independent label, how do you feel about the big major music companies, Sony and Universal, getting even bigger via the EMI sale. Does that kind of thing have any impact on you?
CG: Yes, naturally it has an impact. It’s an issue of market share, and the Universal purchase of EMI is entirely unhealthy for the indie community. I’m a member of the AIM Board, and we have been unequivocal on the subject, through the rock solid attitude of our chair Alison Wenham.
CC: What are your thoughts on digital – do you embrace every new digital platform going, or do any digital business models bother you?
CG: While it’s important to stay at the forefront of things, we tend to be cautious on some of the new platforms; a bit like when Apple launches a new device, and you sit tight while the first year bugs get ironed out. While there is a solid model for a la carte digital services these days, some of the streaming services remain a little more vague in terms of the way of they are monetized. So it’s good to now be 100% sure you know how the royalty streams are going to work, and what to expect from a platform, before chucking your entire catalogue up there.
CC: What’s the hardest thing about running an independent label in 2012?
CG: Finding quality time to spend with your kids.
CC: And what’s the best thing?
CG: Discovering new music, new artists, and the shared adventure of building a career together.
CC: What are your proudest achievements to date?
CG: Staying in business for sixteen years, getting Danny Byrd in the Top 40 singles chart, High Contrast writing music for the Olympics Opening Ceremony, our first sell-out club night at Brixton Academy, building a talented and dedicated staff team, watching Netsky Live perform to 60,000 people (after Björk) at Pukkelpop this summer. That’s a few.
CC: Are there any other labels or label chiefs – past or present – that you particularly admire?
CG: Absolutely. Ninja Tune has always been an independent label benchmark for me, and Pete Quicke is not just a good friend, but a great company MD. Also, through the AIM Board I’ve been fortunate to meet a fascinating bunch of folk from all walks of record label life. Simon Raymonde at Bella Union, and Ben Watt of Buzzin Fly/Everything But The Girl are two musical heroes, and driven, passionate record label owners.
Read more interviews with indie label bosses conducted in the run-up to the 2012 AIM Independent Music Awards here.