Tristan Ludowyk – HopeStreet Recordings – Q&A
Tristan Ludowyk is a rare breed of musician who tirelessly works across the industry to bring the music he is passionate about to you. As a band manager, trumpet player, and label director (HopeStreet Recordings), his projects have reached audiences here and abroad. Tristan chats to us about his experience and ethos in the music biz. Get your Bombay Royale Launch Tickets here!
Photo c/o Jordan Shields (At the Perth International Arts Festival 2011)
1. What has been your role in the music biz this far?
Well there’s been a few! I’m a musician, having played violin and trumpet since primary school, and I’ve been performing professionally for the past 16 years. I played a lot of Cuban music on the trumpet but role in the music industry didn’t really change until I joined a Latin hip-hop/funk group called LABJACD. Kind of by accident I ended up managing this group and a few years later started The Public Opinion Afro Orchestra. My studio fetish moved out of my bedroom in around 2008 when I bought a 4 track – after a few sessions at Hope Street the we decided to press a 45 and the label was born. Over the past few years I’ve co-produced several releases for TPOAO, The Bombay Royale, The Cactus Channel and The Putbacks and handle most of the label work getting the releases out the door.
2. Who are the Hopestreet team? and how big ?
There’s really 3 of us working on the label. Bob Knob and I started it, and we do all the production work. Then we added Mick Meagher and Tom Martin (both from The Putbacks) around release 2, who played a big part in mentoring The Cactus Channel through the recording process. These days Mick is not actively involved, but Tom is the guts of the mailroom. Tom and Bob are also part of The Bombay Royale (and I used to be). So you can see the label is kind of a family affair. The only artist we’ve had to date that one of us is not involved with is The Cactus Channel.
3. What is the HopeStreet Recordings ethos?
We definitely have one foot in the past, in as much as we like to hear recordings made at least semi-live. I’m happy to over dub things to a point, but I’d never track a rhythm section in pieces – you need at least that much of a unit. So part of it is capturing something real, that the listener can feel like they’re experiencing a performance. The best way to do that is to use a variety of analogue gear and push it into the red. It just so happens that when the right gear is outside it’s normal operating range, it starts to distort, saturate or otherwise colour the sound. In the good old days things were recorded as hot as possible because of the noise floor (if you bounce parts from one tape to another too many times, the hiss gets really loud), and it’s kind of a happy coincidence that what analogue gear does to a sound that is getting louder, is to emphasise that loudness by making it sound rougher and tougher.
But our ethos is not to make things distorted. Any fool can do that. It really comes down to what makes the songs work musically. A lot of the things we’ve recorded have been with the rhythm section to 4 or 8 track tape, and that is a big part of the sound – we’ll do a bit of a mix before it hits tape, so what we track is what we want to hear back. It means you have less options later on, but that’s the price you have to pay to get that tape saturation sound on the way in. I think this is what separates us from a lot of other contemporary studios – the digital age is all about options and flexibility which is great, but it’s very easy to sit down with a computer and 100 plugins and just play god and lose sight of what you were trying to do in the first place. Which ever way you do it, you have to have that sound in your head before you start rather than close mic’ing everything with separation/overdubs and then trying to turn your boring recording in to a gritty, evocative performance.
We’re also not just about trying to sound old school. I said I like the way old gear helps the communicate performance to the listener, but that doesn’t mean I want to make music that sounds like the ’60s. But I’ll use as much of that sound as necessary to make a recording that stands up today but obviously has a lot of vintage elements because that’s the process we used to get there. I’d also like to institute a policy of “a Farfisa on every record” but I’m not sure if Bob will let me get away with that one!
4. Do you think the niche market is growing in Australia?
I think there are lots of niches growing, and lots of artists that may or not play in a niche genre, but can have their own little niche of the world. There’s no such thing as a huge popstar anymore – not in the way that there used to be. What the internet has given us is a plethora of niches that you can carve out for yourself. It’s easy to see that these days there are a lot more artists to be discovered than in the past, and that many of them can sustain themselves independently. It’s not an all or nothing game anymore, where you need a big label and distribution and radio play to make it out of the gate. With good music, hard work and some smarts you can find a bunch of people who dig what you do.
5. You manage several bands, how does this role differ from your role in the label?
Well, they’re different jobs really. As a band manager I’m handling bookings, promoting shows, communicating with (sometimes a lot of) band members. Being part of the band I’m also thinking about our direction, writing and songs too. Managing a label is more about deciding on what releases to make, making the recording, designing the artwork, setting up distribution and marketing and getting people to hear it. In our case it’s also about the recording process, since that’s what we do. We also work very closely with our artists to make sure that they are getting the maximum exposure, so the line gets a bit blurry. I suppose I do as much mentoring with our artists as I need to.
6. You are also a musician, how do you find the time?
My practise regime is what you could call not nearly as regimented as I would like.. I still play in a couple of groups, but mainly the ones that I’m one of the driving forces. Running a label/studio and managing bands has meant that I’ve had to be a lot more selective about how many freelance gigs I do (virtually none) and even what bands I’m involved in. This is a bit of a pity, as a I love playing, but I also love mixing, and composing and producing. You have to pick your battles. I’ve had to let go of LABJACD, which as the band that really got me started in original music and the music industry. But now is an exciting time for HopeStreet, with releases out in the UK and the US. To do anything properly you need to be devoted 110% and it’s frustrating not being able to give it, so these days I’m mainly working on The Public Opinion Afro Orchestra and The Afrobiotics, plus the my studio and the label. That’s plenty!
7. What is on the cards for your roster?
Now that would be telling! Like I said, we’re a bit of a collective and have been releasing music we’re semi-involved in, but at the same time, 2012 is a new era for us – we’ve only had 7″ releases until this year, and now we’re doing albums. We’re not going to be signing a lot of new artists – as a small label we need to focus on the ones we’ve got – but I would like to start working with some other Australian artists perhaps on a more ad-hoc basis.
8. Any advice for the aspiring local artist?
Focus on the music. There are ways to get it our there. You don’t need to spend a lot of money if you don’t have it, but make sure you keep creating and putting things (songs, videos, blogs) out there. Look to things like CD Baby (diymusician.cdbaby.com) or Music Think Tank (www.musicthinktank.com) for advice. I just came across this excellent site too www.musicianwages.com/the-self-released-album. Decide what you want to get out of the whole thing (fame, fortune, fun – you won’t get all three) and don’t let other things get in the way. Unless you’re playing in a cover band, I wouldn’t expect to be making an income until you’re established, concentrate on building your fans. Don’t even try to sell anything until you have a good following. A label can still be helpful, particularly for some genres. You might want to access their distribution networks, marketing resources, they might have funding you don’t. But it’s not essential – you need to look at your own career and how you want it to work.
9. Top three Melbourne artists?
Clairy Browne, The Bullettes (they’re brand new!) and The Meltdown.
10. Fave local venue?
Bar Open – it’s always fun to play there
11. Last record you bought?
Wil Sessions – Mix Takes LP