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Ask The Industry – Sam Telford

Following on our fortnightly industry-focussed blog piece grabbing the sage thoughts and artist advice from our distinct list of music pros, we go to Believe's Head of Label Management, Sam Telford, to chat all things distribution and his world of music.

Sam, what’s your story?

I started out working in record shops back in the early 2000s straight out of Uni and I did that for quite a while before starting interning on my days off at boutique sales/distro company Republic of Music in around 2009/10 which eventually turned into a full time role across Indie sales and some label management – K7, City Slang, Souterrain Transmissions etc. After almost four years there I started working at Believe as a label manager on the UK distribution team with labels such as World Circuit, Brownswood Recordings, Soundway, Mr Bongo, Analog Africa and Tru Thoughts and now I oversee the whole team of label managers in the UK.

What does your day to day work look like?

I’m kind of working three timelines at once. Releases just out, releases in the final stages of pitching to digital service providers (DSPs) and long lead releases two, three months or more that I’m discussing strategy. Those discussions are between me and the client and then me and internal teams, all in an effort to maximise a tracks potential.

On top of that I will be overseeing my team and making sure we’re all pulling in the same direction and implementing any actions that come about via changes in DSP policies or our own internal practices.

How do you generally discover new music?

Having grown up pre-internet I would voraciously scour the music press for interesting sounding records, which I still do but probably to a lesser extent. All the usual sources which are available online now – Pitchfork, The Vinyl Factory, Resident Advisor, FACT, The Quietus etc. There was a time when individual blogs informed my listening a bunch but that has waned. Friends’ recommendations are still important as are record shop recommends and in the streaming age I do discover the odd thing on my Discover Weekly playlist or a handful of others I check out fairly regularly. I’m also a big fan of buying/listening to a record based purely on how great the cover/title is.

What advice would you give to artists just starting out?

Don’t rush a release. Once you have the music and its recorded to your satisfaction (and that of others that you trust), plan out the release strategy. I think a common misconception is that you can rush out a release almost the same day as you have finished it. While that’s technically true you’re relying on a lot of luck for that to be a success. When big artists drop a record out of the blue there has been a lot of planning and discussion behind the scenes in most cases. So have a plan, discuss it with people with experience and put it into action. Plans don’t have to be set in stone, they change all the time but you should have one! And you can adapt it as you encounter your successes and failures.

When would you look to take on an act? 

I would take on an act at the point I think I can actually assist them. Obviously, I’m looking for commercial potential – and can see in a space in the market for them – but also an act that has a pretty good sense of themselves and a sense that I would broadly agree with, a good work ethic that shows potential but hasn’t fulfilled it yet.

Finally, what track do you have on repeat at the moment?

It’s been the same track on repeat most of the year and it hasn’t got old yet. It’s by an afrobeat group out of London called Kokoroko and it’s the only track available right now – looking forward to more in 2019! It has the ability to calm me down no matter what’s going on and I am grateful for that.

When big artists drop a record out of the blue there has been a lot of planning and discussion behind the scenes in most cases - So have a plan!

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