Image credit: Copper Feast Records

We caught up with Callum Pope to chat about his experience running a DIY label, how he helps artists and much more!

After speaking to a variety of DIY and independent artists we were eager to get to know more about the many labels that support these artists. With every DIY scene that emerges there is normally a DIY label supporting the artists in that scene. So far we’ve spoken to Beth Shalom Records, Eeasy Records, and Spinout Nuggets. In this edition of DIY Till We Die we catch up with Callum Pope of Copper Feast Records, a London-based psych/garage rock indie label that has a global reach. They’ve also featured notable artists such as King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.

Callum talks to us about how his label supports emerging and independent artists, how he achieved a global reach, and much more!

Thanks for taking the time to chat to us Callum, how have you been?

Callum: I’ve been well thank you! Fortunately, I’m currently based in Sydney, Australia at the moment where life has returned to relative normality, so I’m definitely counting myself lucky on that front. Otherwise, we’ve been super busy so far in 2021 as a label and that’s only going to continue for the rest of the coming year, which I can’t wait to see develop. 

So, when did Copper Feast Records come to fruition and why was it started? 

Callum: We started mid-way through 2018 with the release of our first LP, Right Shitty’s Bachelor of Arts which was kind of the culmination of a long-held ambition of mine to start a DIY label in my spare time and was spurred on earlier that year having discovered that Bachelor of Arts, which was one of my favorite records of the past couple of years, still hadn’t received any form of vinyl pressing. I’m a big record collector myself so I guess I figured that if I want to have this album in my collection, why not press it myself and start a label at the same time, realising that dream.

I also made the decision that we would aim to operate in a way that was fair to the artists as well as pledging to give a share of our profit on any release to a charity which we continue to do to this day on every release.

Can you talk us through the day-to-day at Copper Feast? 

Callum: As I run Copper Feast part-time and out of my bedroom so to speak, there’s not so much of a day-to-day operation at the label as it tends to vary depending on what needs to be done at the time. That will cover getting through a heap of emails in the morning and coordinating shipping of vinyl orders with our hub in the UK. Once I’ve got my day job out of the way, my evening may involve setting up our latest presale on Bandcamp, arranging promotional material with press, putting together some visual assets for both vinyl art and social media, and packaging up any orders that are shipping from Australia. There are also loads of other things which need taking care of as and when they come up, like arranging our new releases with bands and the pressing plant. It’s more or less a one-person operation here so there’s not a lot of day-to-day stuff that I’m not involved in, which has led to a real learning curve over the past 3 years.

You’re based in London but have hubs around the world, how did you go about setting up this global network, and what were some of the challenges you faced? 

Callum: So we began in London back in 2018 while I was living there and have since moved out to Sydney for my day job, which is where I operate the label currently. Meanwhile, my brother Charlie has kindly been stepping in and packing all our orders from outside Australia until I come back to the UK at the end of 2021.

Aside from those rather simple circumstances helping us grow abroad, it’s mostly been down to making connections with a lot of great like-minded people around the world who believe in what we’re doing and are keen to help us grow. The really exciting news is we’ve just signed up with a fulfillment partner based in the EU, who will ship all our European orders to make sure these customers can avoid the taxes that are now imposed on records coming into the EU from the UK post-Brexit, so I’m really keen to see how that relationship develops.

We are also on the lookout for similar opportunities in North America and when I leave later in the year, Australia so customers in these locations can save on shipping our records out to them, cause I know from buying LPs myself, worldwide shipping rates can e a huge blocker to a potential new fan taking the plunge and buying one of our records.

One route we’ve had success through in the past is by setting up a two-way relationship with a like-minded label in the same genre space but in a different territory, whereby we both offer fulfillment on each other’s merch. Ultimately, there are loads of different solutions out there if you’re creative enough and are able to go out looking for the right people to help you.

Did you have an idea of what artists you wanted to sign before the label was born?

Callum: Aside from that first Right Shitty album, I went into it with absolutely no plan for how the label would grow or which artists would be signed next. I essentially just looked at it from the perspective of which artists did I want to hear on vinyl, whenever the time came that we had the financial capability to release something new again. Our first perhaps 12-18 months mostly just relied on the success of the previous release to be able to release the next record so we couldn’t make concrete plans too far in advance, which was of course quite a risky strategy to hedge most of our funds on one release at a time. Thankfully we’re starting to make it out of the other side of those fairly risky first couple of years and are now able to run a number of releases concurrently and go into releases with a bit more of an expectation of how records will perform commercially.

Looking back at the artists we’ve managed to sign over the past three years, I’m really pleased with how the roster has unfolded as well as the breadth of styles and sounds our artists represent over our usual umbrella genres of psychedelic rock, stoner rock, and punk rock.

How do you choose the artists you work with?

Callum: It all comes back to my tastes generally and what bands or music I’m enjoying at the time. One thing I really look for before deciding whether to work with an artist is that they’re somewhat unique and bring something new to the table in the space they work in.

I’m also looking for artists that are willing to get stuck in on their end and be an active part of the decision making and release process to make it a truly collaborative experience between the two parties, rather than perhaps a ‘typical’ artist/label relationship where the label is calling the shots on various aspects of the release and the artist has no choice but to follow.
It goes without saying too that I want to work with people I connect with on a personal level, so I try to meet the bands where I can to sink a few beers and get to know them a bit beforehand, which has really helped set the tone for the project to come and kick start our working relationships with a better understanding of what each party is looking to get out of the project, besides the obvious. 

Check label signees School Disco‘s RouteNote Session here:

How does Copper Feast help and work with artists?

Callum: One of the key things we try to do is offer a deal to our artists which are balanced on both sides and gives them fair compensation for their work while still allowing us scope to grow and release more music. We offer a fair share of profits on physical releases with our artists which entitles them to half of the profit on a release with no expectation for them to stump up money upfront for a pressing, nor to buyout any unsold stock. Physical records are essentially our only revenue stream, as in these early years of the label, we redirect 100% of digital sales from both Bandcamp and streaming service royalties to the artist without taking a cut on our end. Regarding master ownership, all our releases are licensed from the artist, with them retaining 100% of the ownership of their records. 

“We redirect 100% of digital sales from both Bandcamp and streaming service royalties to the artist without taking a cut on our end.”

Callum Pope – Copper Feast Records

Away from the financial side of things, we’re trying to foster something of a community spirit within the label to try to allow the bands to support one another, both domestically and abroad, and for fans to find more of a link between all the artists on our roster, in an attempt to bring new fans onto bands they otherwise might not have listened to. One of our main goals for 2021 is to run a couple of label showcases here in Australia, as a means of showing these bands off and giving them a chance to play together and really launch the community aspect of the label. With any luck, we’ll be able to live-stream them too to our wider audience around the world, which would be incredible.

We’re also working on split releases between bands on the label, as well as collaborative records where some bands hit the studio together so it’s going to be really exciting to see what comes of that.

“My aim here is to help all of these artists grow and reach their aspirations as a band”

Callum Pope – Copper Feast Records

At the end of the day, my aim here is to help all of these artists grow and reach their aspirations as a band, whether that involves the label growing alongside the band, or Copper Feast being a springboard for one of our artists to be signed onto a bigger label with more resources, both would be counted as massive successes for me.

Was the idea always to take Copper Feast down the DIY route? 

Callum: Yeah, I’ve only ever wanted the label to be a DIY project as much as possible to be able to meet all the plans and aspirations I have. I’ve always had that DIY mindset anyway, long before I started the label and as I mentioned earlier, it was very much an ethos that I took into our first release in terms of taking the leap to press the album for the first time. Running the label in any other way wouldn’t sit right with me and would probably feel like something’s missing.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of operating as a DIY label? 

Callum: It can definitely be difficult just finding the time to do everything that needs to be done around here when you’re also juggling a day job and your personal life. I get by just about but there are inevitably things that we either can’t do or things that get pushed much further down the road than I would like until I actually have time to get them done. Of course, there’s also the financial side of things in that at least for these first few years, it only takes one unsuccessful release to put an end to our plans for the year until we can afford to release something again. We’re still very much reliant on every single order that comes in, so I can never be appreciative enough of all the fans that have supported us over the past 3 years.

On the flip side though, being able to meet and work with all these incredible bands and make the big decisions involved to get their records out can have a massive payoff when the LPs arrive for the first time and all the hard work has a tangible result which we’re all incredibly proud of. It’s also really fulfilling when we can get the records to the bands as in a lot of cases, vinyl is only something they could have dreamed about releasing when they first started.

Has the internet made it possible/easier for Copper Feast to exist? 

Callum: I’ve actually considered this thought a fair bit over the years and without a doubt having the world at our fingertips in the way that it is has made it possible for Copper Feast to exist. Without that resource in terms of reach to bands, customers, scenes, record shops, and other key people in the industry, I’ve no idea where I’d have even begun with starting a label, never mind making it beyond the first release.

When I think about all the labels that came before and made their way without tools like Bandcamp and social media which are so integral to the way we connect with our fans, I definitely feel inspired to try to emulate their ability to reach as many fans as the tools available allowed them to at the time.

Why is it that more artists are seeking to be signed to an independent label?

Callum: This is an interesting one. It’s definitely true that independent artists can go it alone and self-release their record and that’s something I’d definitely encourage bands to try, but I think a lot of them soon realize that there’s so much work involved in doing a release justice when putting it out. They recognize that the value a label provides in managing everything and arranging press, paying for and distributing physical copies as well as all the other stuff is well worth it.

Of course, there’s also the element of being able to link up with other like-minded artists under the same label with that added notoriety and visibility which may come with being signed onto a certain label, compared with self-releasing, which may seem like more of a lonely road to travel on at times.
Working with an indie rather than a larger label, at least in our case, offers the artist far more of a say in how they want the release to go and what they want a vinyl package to look like.

What have been some success stories for Copper Feast?

Callum: I think our 2020 as a whole was so much more successful than I could have imagined, having just moved out to Australia at the tail-end of 2019 and not knowing anybody in the local scene out here. Over the course of the year, we became well and truly integrated into it and have been releasing records from a variety of incredible bands here such as Narla, Kimono Drag Queens, and Zeahorse and helping them grow their name both domestically and around the world.

Looking at a specific release, Kimono Drag Queens’ debut Songs of Worship outsold my wildest expectations having burned through our first pressing of the LP within a couple of weeks after presales went live and the subsequent pressing now almost sold out as well. 

Why do you feel there are so many DIY scenes popping up?

Callum: To me, the number of DIY scenes popping up all over the place definitely has a lot to do with how accessible things like the internet and social media have made them.

Nowadays, labels and fans can find new bands in their city online via Bandcamp or other sites, fans can connect with other like-minded individuals over social media and shop from their favourite label or record store online and artists can put on shows from their living room (as we’ve learned over the past year). All these things amount to reducing the blockers people have to get involved in their local scene and mean the barriers to entry really don’t seem that high at all if you’re passionate about what you want to do within a scene.

What do you feel makes a good DIY scene?

Callum: I think the people are the most important aspect of a DIY scene, for sure. You can have all the infrastructure in the world at your feet but for a DIY scene to really operate cohesively and successfully, it needs enthusiastic people at every level who believe in the same thing. Whether it’s labels like us, artists, venues, bookers, promoters, record shops, punters and everyone else in between, they all need to buy into the same ethos and vision to make it the best it can be.

Lastly, what advice do you have for someone looking to get involved with their local scene or wanting to start a DIY label? 

Callum: When it comes to starting your own DIY label, it’s so critical to make sure you only release the music that you’re passionate about. It sounds so simple but there is a level of having to keep your ego and expectations in check and keeping yourself grounded while putting a record out, rather than driving it too hard from a commercial point of view. At a DIY level, fans don’t respond to any of that kind of stuff so it’s really important to be able to back a record simply because you love it and/or the band that made it.

The other thing would be not being afraid to ask questions or for help. It can be a minefield out there and I started with no idea of what I was doing. It’s the advice and guidance of others in the scene that really got us to the point where the label is today. Small labels don’t look at one another as competition, but as peers and partners, so anyone that starts a label should definitely try to tap into this resource – I’ll always be there to answer any questions for new labels making their way.

Other than that, whether it’s starting a label or getting involved anywhere else in a DIY scene, I’d say go for it! Every scene needs individuals that care enough to nurture the scene for everyone else, and the more people that are involved at every level, the more DIY scenes flourish and become a product of the care and enthusiasm of those that make them tick. If someones interested in getting involved in their local scene enough to take the leap and add something to the mix then it seems to me that they’re already well on their way to being a really important member of the scene because it’s the passion and enthusiasm of the individuals that drive the DIY scenes all over the world!