Record labels take commitment, hard work and an insanely silly love and passion for music that trumps everything else. Also kinda like running a blog. So here at Too Many Blogs, we thought we’d pay homage to our favourite record labels in this new interview feature. For the first 2017 edition we spoke to Theo of Sports Day Records about how the label began, the music industry and much more.
Who is Sports Day Records and where are you based?
Sports Day is just myself (Theo Lloyd-Hughes) right now, and I am a London native now living in Austin, Texas. Despite running everything solo I really do rely on the Sports Day community, all over the world, to help keep me going.
You seem to be very international, working with people and bands in UK, US, AUS – how’s that all come about?
Ever since the Internet gave us Myspace, MP3 sharing, bandcamp and Hype Machine it’s been relatively easy to follow more alternative and fringe artists from afar. Social media has only increased this sense of connection with musicians from all over the world. When I started Sports Day some of the most profound listeners I had were thousands of miles away. Similarly some of the artists that I was most excited about weren’t anywhere near where I was. I don’t think geography should hold back any label from helping publish and curate an artist’s music. I try my hardest to stay connected with people wherever they are.
When did you decide to start a record label and why?
Just before the Summer of 2015 I decided to start the label because I couldn’t contrive getting a job in the music industry. Working as an AnR/project managing artists is what I am most interested in, so starting a label, for me, was the best way to actually start doing something creative in music. For several years I’d dreamt/joked about starting my label, so I just decided to take the plunge and do it. Since then though, the Sports Day community, the artists and listeners, has become something special beyond what I could have ever expected.
Why “Sports Day Records” as a name?
Guy – from Lion Bark (who were the first release on Sports Day) – and I have known each other since we were about 4 years old. Around the time I was looking for a label name, I found this old picture of his mum and my mum at our school sports day from the year 2000. It came to me after seeing that photograph.
What was the first project you worked on as a label?
Guy’s band Lion Bark. They are based in Brighton, where I went to university, and I’d known them for years, so it was the best place to start in regards to working closely with an artist and having an opinion during recording, live and promotional scheduling. It was a big learning curve but brilliant to work with close friends. Helping publish their first release and Sports Day’s first release was emotional and rewarding.
How do you manage to keep the quality of the music you release so top notch? And how do you decide who to work with?
(That’s very kind of you to say it’s top notch) I’d love to work with a lot more people than I do, but because it’s just me and I have a very limited budget it can be hard. I don’t work with anyone I don’t feel passionate about or can’t feel a connection to their music. If I wouldn’t want to listen to it or be excited about it, then I wouldn’t work with someone. With some artists I will have seen them live, other times it will be just from a Bandcamp or Soundcloud page where there’s a demo which I become obsessed with. I tend to look for personalities and not genres when it comes to Sports Day artists. I also look for artists who are pretty new and can grow with us.
If you had to pick, what’s your favourite record you’ve released so far?
I genuinely don’t think I can – I’m sorry that’s a bit of a crap answer – because they’ve all been so different. After every release I’ve learned something new and felt really proud to have been a part of that artist’s story.
Why do record labels like Sports Day need to exist, rather than bands just releasing music DIY?
Great question. I don’t think we do “need” to exist; a lot of great artists do just fine self-releasing and being super DIY. However, I think that helping to curate someone’s work, offering an extra ear and creative process is really valuable. I think a lot of music is really special and deserves a more calculated publication. Seeking out DIY releases that are just thrown out there online is something I really love to do; but I also really appreciate the work of small and big labels roll out a release in a creative way. I believe it is beneficial artistic and promotional process.
What’s the hardest thing about running an independent record label?
Silence. Like life, the feeling that you don’t exist or believe you are not relevant or that no one is listening is the most painful. I don’t need like 300,000 plays to feel like I’m doing it right but I really do need a connection or an opinion from at least one person. Anything about how the music made them feel, even if it’s a bad reaction! The hardest thing is just feeling like you’re shouting out into the void. Staying on schedule, making deadlines, feeling like you and the artist are on the same page are some other challenging aspects.
What music do you enjoy that probably wouldn’t fit on Sports Day’s roster?
I like to think anything would fit on the Sports Day roster, but I do think everything that we release is pretty pop/alternative orientated. I’ve really been in to some ambient/instrumental artists recently and I would love to dip my toe in to working with someone like that. That could be a new fit for us.
Where’s the best place you’ve ever visited?
Philadelphia ranks pretty high, the scene there seems really cool. It has a great mix of energetic artists creating but a mellowness presides, unlike New York, that allows people to go at their own pace. The artists, the spaces and variety there is dope. I’d love to spend some time in Glasgow/Manchester, I’ve heard wonderful things but only ever passed through briefly.
Spotify or Apple Music? Vinyl or cassette?
Spotify, just because more people use it, so it is easier to scroll through other people’s playlists. Right now cassette, I love the variety of artists that produce tapes and how easy they are to pick up at gigs. I’m too broke for vinyl at the moment but I do have a connection to that format.
What death of 2016 hit you hardest?
Pretty real question. Probably Jo Cox. I know that’s nothing to do with music, but that made me feel incredibly sick and scared of where England was at as a nation.
What other labels are doing good stuff at the moment?
Dead Oceans/Secretly Canadian continue to do really great work in the more major league. Other American labels you should definitely check out Track and Field records from Portland, Orchid Tapes in NY, Citrus City in Richmond, Father Daughter in San Francisco and Winspear in Bloomington; in the UK I’m a big fan of Art is Hard, Fox Food and Beech Coma. In the tape world Z Tapes are doing some of the coolest stuff anywhere in the world, they’re based in Slovakia.
And what are you most excited about for 2017?
Girlpool will be returning with new music, which will put a huge smile on my face. Some friends from the Austin area – Lomelda, Alex Napping, Molly Burch and Nadia – will also be putting out new stuff in 2017. That’s all very exciting.