Rough Trade Records founder Geoff Travis has started a new label River Lea. The label is all about targeting people who prefer quality over quantity and would rather than listen to a physical disc than stream.
“I imagine about 70% of our sales are from people buying vinyl and CDs at the shows,” Geoff tells Noise11.com. “After the gigs when it’s a good show people line-up at the merch desk and they like to take home a record. I think that’s how folk acts survive. We are on the streaming services and there are some playlists.”
River Lea is all about monetising music away from the normal sales model. For example, synch deals are a high priority. “I’m hoping we will get some Hollywood soundtracks. Folk music does have its niche in the world,” Geoff says.
River Lea is a small operation.” It’s just the three of us,” he says. “We are outside the normal system so we don’t have the support structure except for Beggars Banquet. We plug into them for legal, accounting and synch”.
Geoff is working a whole new business model now with River Lea compared to his first label Rough Trade in the 70s. “When we put out our first record, the Stiff Little Fingers album, there was already an audience that was interested so we sold a lot of records very quickly,” he says. “It is much harder with this music because its much more spread out and the audience is smaller. It is much harder now than it was then. Some people stay within their tribes, others are interested in everything. It’s a matter of whether we can expand and get people to try new records by other artists of equal quality. That’s the key”.
Rough Trade also built a music community of followers that would investigate the catalogue because of the label. Digital delivery makes it harder for labels to form communities. “Growing up I was influenced by Island Records and the fact they had Fairport Convention and John Martyn on the roster as well as Roxy Music, Free and Spooky Tooth all on the one label. It meant you opened your mind. It doesn’t seem to be so mixed these days. It’s a battle. The streaming services don’t really tell you what the label is. You have to search for it and that annoys me. The idea that it was on Island or Elektra or Def Jam then you knew it had a certain quality and you checked it out. That has been erased by Spotify and Apple and everything. That’s a kind of not so special undercutting. It makes it harder but it’s a battle we are fighting. I am sceptical about how much weight a label carries in this day and age”.
Geoff is also mindful of the industry dumbing down audio quality. “I don’t listen to music on earbuds,” he says. “People who love music like sound. Teenagers are into half fidelity. Yes, we used to listen to music on our radios. I don’t worry about that too much. People listen to things in different ways and we accept a wide range of sound. There is definitely an erasure of the quality of the signal”.
One of his more recent finds was The Decemberists. “It took us a while to discover what a good songwriter Colin Meloy was in The Decemberists. I saw them at SXSW and they blew me away. You don’t always get it the first time but sometimes you do”.
The first River Lea signing is Lisa O’Neill. “She is rare. If I could find other people up to the standard of Lisa I would be happy. It is not something that would go to a major. But Bob Dylan was signed by a major because of John Hammond and he would have been dropped by a major if it wasn’t for John Hammond. You never know how people are going to develop. Lisa is a major songwriter and I think she’s got a big future”.