Broken Melody Records
Andrew Lemon discovers how the Belfast-based label is giving work experience to budding impresarios and releasing its second compilation
Northern Ireland's diverse new music scene is fast spawning a healthy spread of record labels. From big hitters like Smalltown America, through to emerging labels such as Champion Sound Music, DhARMA and DSNT, it's fair to say that there are a multitude of ears listening out for the next big thing in Northern Irish music.
If a label's identity is largely based upon the type of acts that they pursue – think Factory Records and the Manchester indie scene, for example, or Motown and soul, Death Row and hip hop – then you might find it difficult to pigeonhole Broken Melody Records.
As the Belfast-based label is beginning to show, there is more than one way to build a brand. Made up of a core team of industry professionals – Paul Hamill of In Flight Records, Jimmy Devlin of No Dancing, Tanya Stowger and Thomas Camblin – the Broken Melody ethos emphasises subtance over style. It's a philosophy that's easy to admire.
'We work with bands who get being in a band, guys who are willing to push it themselves as far as they can,' explains Camblin. 'The idea of Broken Melody is that we can come in behind that and support them and give them a strategy. We'd love to work with more bands like that, bands that just get on with it, but who maybe need that little extra support.
'From that we go for songs. That's how our compilations come about. I think that's how an independent label can work really well – the bands can get on with writing and touring and we can take on the business aspects like promotion and facilitating each release.'
The DIY ethic is something that is valued highly by the team at Broken Melody. Hard work on the part of the bands is matched by the team's enthusiasm and belief in their signings. And their commitment to finding and promoting the best emerging talent from across Northern Ireland is reflected in their latest compilation, Broken Melody #002, which features tracks by the likes of Joshua Burnside and Ciaran Lavery.
'All the artists that we've got on the compilation we're extremely proud to have worked with,'says Camblin. 'We believe in every single song and it shows in the strength of the first compilation. We put it out and it got on the Radio 1 playlist, 6 Music and those kinds of shows.'
Broken Melody is a project of Armstrong Learning NI, whereby people who are unemployed are offered six months' work experience in the music industry. Successful applicants undertake a six-month training and mentoring course first, and then spend four days a week working with Broken Melody.
'There's always been a core team of management who have experience of working in the music business, so the core of the label has always been ran by us bunch of guys,' adds Camblin. 'The idea with the people on placement here is that they dictate how they learn through it.
'We haven't been putting much out over the past year, mainly because we've been trying to build up a brand awareness, but I think between now, and over the next couple of years, we will. For us, though, it's always been serious. The only difference between us and any other small independent record label is the fact that we've got a workforce of people who are learning on the job.'
The Broken Melody project is certainly picking up speed, and innovation is central to Camblin and co's future plans. Last November's 'Recording to Release' gig, for example, featured Joshua Burnside and Pretty Child Backfire recording songs and designing art work on the spot, with the audience invited to take part in all aspects of the process.
'We put that together as something that would stand out during Belfast Music Week 2013,' says Camblin. 'We wanted to do something that wasn't just a standard gig. It's something we'll probably do again soon. For me, Broken Melody Records should be a vehicle for interesting content and interesting experiences for people, whether it's putting out a CD, or a vinyl, or doing a launch gig like that.'
The experience for the consumer is as important for Camblin as the thrill of seeing the end product. 'People left that night with an exclusive and unique product. They got to design their own CD cover, they got to witness it and they can listen back to it for years to come. It's the idea of creating that experience which is lost in music sometimes today.'
With their new compilation released on February 27, and a clear sense that things are moving quickly in Broken Melody towers, what does Camblin hope that the future holds for the label?
'This year is probably going to be a year of development for us, and hopefully we can help develop and take our artists to that next level, which is the main reason we do this. We've a few singles lined up, and we've an EP by White Male Actors, which we can definitely confirm we're working on.
'We're looking at the long-term. If we were relatively established and a trusted brand, then people would think, "We'd love to put records out on Broken Melody". That would be pretty sweet.'
Broken Melody #002 is out now.