Martin Goldschmidt On Cooking Vinyl’s History, Future [INTERVIEW]
After surviving an impressive thirty years in a decidedly volatile music industry, Cooking Vinyl owner Martin Goldschmidt sat down with the people at PledgeMusic to discuss both the history, and projected future of his label moving forward.
Guest Post on PledgeMusic News
Martin Goldschmidt is proud to have just survived. He’s right. Thirty years is more than one lifetime in an uncertain music industry, but Goldschmidt’s label, Cooking Vinyl, eclipsed mere survival some time ago. As they celebrate their pearl anniversary, Cooking Vinyl continues to pioneer ahead even as they honor their legacy.
A new 30th Anniversary Cooking Vinyl box set is available on coming on both CD and vinyl with 75 tracks on each format along with a 64-page booklet. In addition, they’ve turned the traditional campaign on its head with a trailblazing industry fund scheme, a way of further supporting artists and musical entrepreneurs with grants. We recently had the chance to ask Martin about his life’s work, the biggest surprises along the way, and the hopes for the next few years at Cooking Vinyl.
Was there ever a vision for being at this for as long as you have, or was it always living in the moment and not really able to think ahead that far?
We started off living in the moment. There were plans, but no big plan at all, and instant success filled our heads. The next phase was survival. The planning really started when my current partner Mike Chadwick joined, and we started setting up synergistic companies and got into label management and distribution.
So what was the very first breakthrough?
When we put out the Michelle Shocked Texas Campfire Tapes in 1987. It was incredible what happened. It surpassed our wildest expectations.
You said you weren’t able to think about the future and were just thinking of the present moment. So, what were you thinking about then? Were there values in place that you were like, “Okay, if I’m going to work to put out music, this is what I’m looking for and this is what I am passionate about”?
It was about working with great artists and turning people on to great music.
Sure, but is there anything measurable there, or was it always about what you were excited about?
Measurable in what sense? A great manager once told me that reality is a royalty statement?
You know, I just wonder if, in some way, when you look at the artists that you’ve worked with or the releases you’ve put out, do you see commonalities?
Yeah, when we started out, we were always working with bands that had an edge, you know? Bands who wanted to change the world or had a humanist outlook on the world. That has been a consistent theme through many of our releases.
Is that your own taste?
Very much so, but my original partner Pete Lawrence also shared this vision very much as well. This ethos is very much part of Cooking Vinyl today and moving forward, as far as I’m concerned.
How much reflection have you done about being at this for 30 years?
A 30th anniversary celebration is a significant moment in whatever you are doing and there has been plenty of ‘reflection’, not least in putting together the Cooking Vinyl 30th Anniversary box set, the run of special concerts that we are doing to mark the occasion and all the other things. It’s hard work but it’s fun and very, very busy.
When you begin to look back like that, how much of a nostalgic trip was that? Had you forgotten a few things?
I have a terrible memory and it has dredged up a lot of memories — mine and many other fellow travellers on the Cooking Vinyl journey. For the most part, it’s been an enjoyable trip back in time.
Is there one thing that you’ve been most proud of in your 30 years of Cooking Vinyl?
Too many to single out a stand-alone moment from 30 years….
Or maybe a couple things? I’m happy to give you a moment to think about it.
If you’re going to press me to give you some specifics, there are lots of things, you know? We have helped lots of artists get further down the road. We have survived. That was pretty big. We had some big records. I think the whole thing we did with The Prodigy and Invaders Must Die was amazing.
That we managed to work with artists like Billy Bragg and Jackie Leven for more than twenty years, and in Jackie’s case, more than 20 albums, and the same with Frank Black, who’s pretty good. There have been lots of achievements over the years. We have a highly talented worldwide team, most of whom can and have drunk me under the table.
What is one thing that you thought would happen that didn’t turn out the way that you expected?
There are many records that we put out that didn’t turn out the way we expected, unfortunately. It’s the nature of being a label. We put out lots of records that we loved, but the world didn’t agree with the passion that I’ve had for them and they didn’t get justice. That said our strike record is better than most labels and that’s why we are still here after 30 years.
Have you ever thought about a way to shine a spotlight on some of those? Using the credibility you have now to say, “Hey, go back and check out these albums or these artists”?
The 30th Anniversary box set is one way perhaps of ‘spotlighting’ as you put it. A great song remains a great song and hopefully is recognized as such in due course. Music discovery today thankfully works both ways; for new songs and older songs.
Martin, I’d love to give you a chance to talk about the industry fund and where exactly the idea came from. Can you give us a synopsis?
Well, there were several stands to the idea. One of the strands is that we are going to do a PledgeMusic campaign, but everyone does the same thing on a Pledge campaign. We like to mix things up, and rather than people send us money, we are going to send them money. That was one of the things that started to mess with the whole idea of the Pledge campaign.
More significantly we had to think about, having 30 years in the business, we wanted to give something back. So we decided the fund would be really good for that. That was the other side of why we are doing what we are doing. We had a great thirty years and we wanted to give something back.
When you say give something back, who is receiving?
Okay, the three criteria [are]: it can go to artists who need help, entrepreneurs who need help, or to help people who are using music to make the world a better place.
When will you make the final decision?
In December, once we have all the submissions.
So people have time to get those submissions in?
Yes and the form is on the PledgeMusic website.
You’ve come this far, and you have a lot to celebrate. But are there things that you would love to see Cooking Vinyl accomplish or move toward that you haven’t already?
Well, we have made big steps toward becoming a global company, so we can really offer a worldwide solution. I’d like to find creative ways to fund great projects that currently we can’t fund, whether it’s a new artist or a great record that the world should hear. That’s a big challenge that we are looking into.
In terms of other things in the future, I think we need to keep finding ways to come up with new business models. The business has caught up to a lot of the things we are doing. Years ago, we changed from wanting to be an intellectual copyright to actually occupying the space between the consumer and the artist and trying to really serve both parties well — to make things flow in that space. I think that the first time we did an artist well was 1983, and we have been getting better and better at being in the middle of an artist and the public, which is what a record company should do. The industry is coming along and getting better at that too.
I think that over the next five years, you could see the people who actually pay for music going from a small minority in very rich countries to the whole world. The idea of the shift in recorded music from a first world niche product to the mass market is very exciting. Record labels truly doing their job and connecting artists with big audiences! I think the big changes you will see are outside Cooking Vinyl. Labels, artists and the public will all enjoy them.