LABEL THIS: Farmer & The Owl, Wollongong
“Focus on your songs first and foremost. But aside from the music, get out and about in your local community, support other bands, meet people that are booking shows in your local area. Use online networks to reach out to artists, media, industry people that you feel fit within a circle that may be interested in the music you are making.”
This is the first part of a new series called ‘Label This’ where we’ll be shining a light on the teams behind some of our favourite Australian musicians.
D.O.B (of the label): May 2014
Run by: Ben Tillman and Jeb Taylor (Owners), Sophie Brown (Label Manager)
Home to: Current home to Hockey Dad, The Pinheads, TEES, Tropical Strength & Totally Unicorn. We’ve also previously released Bec Sandridge and handled reissues for Tumbleweed.
As always, please press play below to enrich your reading experience.
How did the record label come to be?
Ben and myself were both working as venue bookers at different Wollongong venues when we first met. We then put on a few shows together, the first one was Die Die Die, I think. After doing a few venue shows together we came up with the idea of putting on a festival, and the first F&O festival was born in 2013. Around the same time we were on a council committee together about live music and night time economy, and each fortnight for a few months we’d go to these meetings, then after it, talk ourselves about what was needed in Wollongong. One of the things we kept coming back to was more industry opportunities for both bands to develop, but also for local people to work in without having to move away to Sydney or Wollongong. Around the same time we’d both seen a young band called Hockey Dad play, they were raw and loose, and playing to just a handful of people but we both felt there was something in it. When they had an EP ready to go it was basically the catalyst to start the label and it has progressed from there.
What does a day working at Farmer & The Owl look like? Give us a brief run down.
A lot of label stuff is quite admin based, so there is a lot of time spent organising things such as production and release assets. Then also constant liaising with the various stakeholders around each artist – management, agents, publicists, etc. We also have people like distributors, accountants and photographers to communicate with as well. The more interesting parts are mapping out future plans and hearing new music from artists for the first time. At the moment we’re also pulling together the festival as well, that involves a lot more people than just the label side of things though.
How do you know when an artist is ‘the one’? How do you know that you want that artist or band on your roster/what are you listening out for?
The first part of it is liking the songs, if you can hear something in the songs a band is playing that is a really good start. From there, if we both agree we like the music we usually meet up with the band, firstly just to get a vibe on what they are like as people and also the people around them. If we get a good feeling from that, then we talk about what they want to do with their music. If they seem both ambitious but realistic enough then we start talking about adding them to the roster. To us the label bands are like a family so we want people that fit that both personally and professionally.
What’s the best ‘moment’ you’ve had since running the label?
There have been so many as we’ve worked with Hockey Dad from basically the start, so we’ve been there for so many pivitol moments for them. A couple that stand out would be when the album charted in the Top 10, I don’t even really care about charts but I somehow felt a lot of years of work was justified when I got that call. Their first Hottest 100 entry was big, we were all together listening at a pub down the coast and hit a point where we thought it was going to miss out, then it came in. On a live sense, Yours & Owls Festival last year, they played to the biggest crowd of the fest (about 10k people) just up the road from where I’d first seen them play to about 5 people. Standing there side of stage with their parents and close team members, looking out over the crowd was pretty special.
What’s the best thing about running a record label?
I love seeing bands build and develop. But it is also a fairly social job where you go to lots of shows and festivals, and get to form friendships with lots of like-minded music fans.
What’s the most challenging thing about running a record label?
Trying to make people take notice of an artist that you truly believe in! Sometimes it flows naturally, while other times it takes a lot more to make people aware. There are obviously more realistic challenges such as keeping control of finances and time management as well.
Best piece of advice you’ve ever been given career wise?
One of my very early mentors said something like ‘work with music you really like that is being made by good people’. I feel 90% of the time in my whole career, I’ve taken this on board (and 100% of the time with Farmer & The Owl). There are a lot of ups and downs in music so if the belief is not truly there things will spiral down quickly in the tougher times.
Farmer & The Owl (the festival) has released one of the best line ups of 2019 so far. Can you tell us a bit about the curation process behind this year’s lineup – was it scary when you released it?
Basically we wanted to put together a festival based on music we all like and not based on things such as radio play, spotify streams and ticket sales. We asked all of our bands for a list of who they’d like and Ben got to work seeing who was available, who would fit budgets, etc. Obviously there were a lot that wouldn’t work, but there were a decent amount that were surprisingly touring around the time. I guess we were a bit nervous about the line up announce as it was pretty different to the majority of Australian festivals, but it seemed to get received fairly well which was really encouraging.
Where do you hope to see the label and festival in another five years?
With the festival hopefully we can be viable enough to be able to continue to put on interesting line ups that exist outside of the typical festival line ups. Label wise, we have a few new artists we’re looking at and we hope to continue to build the ones we already have as well. I guess in five years we just hope to still be putting out releases that people care about!
Finally, what advice to you have for young musicians who are trying to make it in music?
Focus on your songs first and foremost. But aside from the music, get out and about in your local community, support other bands, meet people that are booking shows in your local area. Use on-line networks to reach out to artists, media, industry people that you feel fit within a circle that may be interested in the music you are making.
Farmer & The Owl Festival takes place Saturday March 2nd 2019, McCabe Park Wollongong. Tickets available here.