It’s no secret that in recent years, starting a record label has become one of the most ill advised career choices one can make. With so many fluctuations in the music industry of late, in particular record sales sharply declining and the mass switch to streaming, countless independent labels have had to shut up shop. Coupled with a general animosity from many musicians towards labels, brought about by the perception that they’re just out to squeeze the artist of every penny, a huge number of bands and artists have gone independent themselves and harnessed social media to make it on their own.
But it’s not all bad for the independent record label; the UK’s Erased Tapes Records is living proof that with the right vision, a label can still be a real force in the industry. Theirs is an almost outrageous success story – beginning in a house in South London which founder/owner, Robert Raths, says was “barely legal” due to the damp - 10 years on, the label’s golden boy, Nils Frahm, has recently played two nights at London’s Roundhouse.
Erased Tapes was originally nothing more than a Myspace page; it’s now arguably the most popular avant garde label there is, thanks in no small part to the classical and electronica genre hopping of Nils Frahm and A Winged Victory For The Sullen. With its ten year anniversary approaching, I meet Mr. Raths at an artisan coffee shop by Victoria Park in Hackney to discuss how he feels about completing his first decade with the label, and just how he’s pulled it off.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the growth of this label is how unplanned everything was – Robert moved from his native Germany to London to study architecture with a passion for music, but no plans to start a label. While he is a musician himself, he tells me he “was always a better listener than a performer.”
“People always try to find out what it is I do,” Raths says, expertly ducking my question about what music he was writing himself back in 2007. “Sometimes the most important thing I do is nothing – just letting the artist do what it is they want, without having to put my footprint on it. I think the main job of a producer is to figure out what is needed in the music, and if nothing is needed, don’t add anything! Because when there’s too much, it takes away from the original idea.”