In 2020, Blacktop Records, a small label out of Ontario is celebrating its 15th anniversary. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has thrown the business for a loop, impacting every facet of it's day-to-day operations. Not only is Blacktop Records a label, but it also acts as a booking agency, artist management and distribution channel. I had a quick chat with owner Ben Andress to see how they're dealing with the ups and downs of COVID-19 and to hopefully get some clarity on the impact for many in the industry. Read on for the 5 questions we covered!
1. How has COVID-19 affected the day-to-day operations of Blacktop Records?
For Blacktop, their day-to-day operations are pretty much completely shut down. Tours for artists have been cancelled for now and as Ben says, "Even stuff that's booked for the summer is looking like a no go." Because so much is up in the air, many dates are being moved to 2021 or cancelled entirely until there is more concrete evidence that live music can move forward. Unfortunately, Ben remarks, "We are spending just as much time cancelling these tours as we took to book them."
2. How has COVID-19 affected you long-term?
The domino effect is obvious here. Ben worries that the financial impact of COVID-19 will continue and more and more venues will shut down. "Venues are shutting down," Ben remarks, "so when it's time to rebook these tours,our regular markets will be missing from our favourite venues." Blacktop is also feeling the pressure financially as most of their physical sales are done at the merch table at concerts.
3.How are you responding to the impact of COVID-19? Do you think these will be changes will be incorporated into your business model post-pandemic?
I'm just going to let Ben take this one: "We have always done special live streams and releases but we have been doing a lot more of them while self-isolating. We have been doing artist live stream takeovers where past and present Blacktop artists and friends of the label are taking over our social media accounts for some intimate home performances. Blacktop has been focusing on the booking agency the past year and have been slowing down on releases. People are still wanting content so we have started releasing a few more exclusive digital releases, some back catalogue releases that were never on streaming services and a handful of vinyl, cassette and CD reissues and a few brand new releases that we are in the process of scheduling. Always trying to keep busy and fill the world with music."
4. What is the best way people can support small scale record labels right now?
Here's the down-low on Ben's best ways to support:
- Bandcamp: Bandcamp is waiving their revenue share on the first Friday of the next couple months which means 100% of profits go to the artist/label. According to Ben, "Bandcamp has always been a nice direct way for fans to connect with their music and support the artist directly with options to pay more than the suggested retail price."
- Web Stores: Buy directly from indie label web stores
- Donate: When the option is available, donate during live streams to the artists. This usually goes directly to them.
- Playlist: Create your own playlist of your fav independent artists on Spotify or Apple music and play it non-stop. Share it with your friends too!
- "Even if you can't purchase music during this time, a simple 'Like' 'Share' 'Invite' 'Retweet' or 'Comment' is a big help in these times (or anytime as an independent artist!)"
5. Anything else you want to add?
"Be kind to the bees
Be kind to the bugs
Be conscious of others
Be careful with drugs
Be kind to yourself
Even though it gets hard
Don't let the distractions
Stack up to the stars"
- Culture Abuse (Epitaph Records)
Peace, love & history.