There’s a lot in the news this week about the ‘cultural catastrophe’ wrought by lockdown. Find out what it’s like to own a small record label right now
Vinita Joshi has been running her Rocket Girl Records label for over two decades. From lugging boxes of vinyl around to relentlessly building her artists’ global profiles, her role is totally hands-on. So when coronavirus brought the world to a shuddering halt, it impacted her in multiple ways.
How has COVID affected your business?
“When my artists make a record, there is the time they are in the studio, then mastering and manufacturing, followed by promos, PR and radio plugging; all those costs are upfront. It takes a long time for money to come back in from touring, sales and streaming. Without any live gigs, this has all basically gone on hold. It’s not just income from tickets, as fans purchase a lot of music and merchandise at the gigs, and we can see spikes in local streaming when they visit different countries too. At least there’s a level playing field between indies like me and the major labels – no matter how much budget you have to invest, you can’t change the situation.”
What’s your current offering?
“It’s interesting how creative people have been getting with the lockdown. My artists White Ring live together, so they’ve been working on a whole new album, and Pieter Nooten has new music ready too, so there will be a return to releases. Selling records online has actually been really good, as people have more time on their hands, which has made up for the loss of record fairs. There’s going to be a very different way of doing things though. Indie music venues are going to really struggle if there’s any social distancing and some are going to close. The Lexington, where I’ve put on a lot of nights, are currently crowdfunding to survive, and many of these types of venues were badly threatened even before Covid.”
What have been your greatest concerns?
“Survival has been my main worry. I’m lucky in that I work from home anyway, so I don’t have many bills mounting up, but if we lose lots of venues that will still hit me. Live music is a huge part of people’s lives, a genuine necessity to many people. It’s the same thing with football crowds, the need to go and have these big shared experiences. I worry that a generation are now on iPads all day and wonder if they’re going to know how to interact in the real world.”
What’s made you feel optimistic?
“I’m glad to see mother nature getting a chance. It’s been phenomenal to witness a virus take over the world so quickly and force so many people to simultaneously look inwards and think about the consequences of human behaviour. In the same short time we’ve seen cleaner air, more cycling instead of cars and I’ve never seen so many birds – the wildlife makes my heart burst with joy. I know some parents are going crazy juggling work and home-schooling, but the upside has seen a lot more family time and meals eaten together. We’ve had a chance to rethink everything, from discovering home cooking to being far more neighbourly. It’s allowed me to give something back as I’m a qualified yoga teacher too, and I’ve been offering free and donation classes on Zoom. Taking it slow, yin style, has proved really popular.
Who would you like to collaborate with?
“I’d love for the Council to help by offering loads of pop-up shops in empty high street units. I’d love to open a small record shop offering all my vinyl, some vintage clothes and some studio space for free yoga and meditation sessions. They need to offer this kind of space for free, so that we can provide free classes for the kinds of people who may have become anxious during lockdown about even going outside. Councils are good at getting money out of people, but it feels common sense that now they will need to give back in ways like this.”
If you’re not familiar with Vinita’s longstanding label, now’s the ideal time to delve in to the catalogue. Check out masses of music, download some great albums and dream of a time when we can return to a sweaty basement to hear it all live
The COVID-19 health crisis has burned our economic and cultural landscape much like a forest fire. But across a charred, razed environment, strong green shoots inevitably emerge.
CAMDENIST is a new collaborative local media platform, currently in beta mode and launching soon. Born from the smoldering ashes of this unprecedented era, it will provide fertile support for the regeneration of our communities, businesses and cultural spaces in the times ahead.
Worth following, too.