Nick Hollywood is the founder of independent record label (and music publisher) Freshly Squeezed, and has been described as “the Godfather of Electro Swing”, playing a major role in the growth of a genre that grew to prominence in early 2013.
Fast forward to the present day, Nick and his label Freshly Squeezed have continued to go from strength to strength. They’ve released multiple physical and digital releases internationally, as well as appearing and programming at several of the UK’s biggest festivals including Glastonbury, Boomtown, Love Supreme and Latitude amongst others.
In this article, we speak with Nick regarding what inspired him to create Electro Swing, changing consumer habits surrounding music streaming and the challenges that come with running a label in the digital era.
Let’s begin, for starters I’m wondering how you gained the title of “The Godfather of Electro Swing?”
Hello. Well I was given that dubious distinction by an article in the Telegraph. It was written in the early days of the movement when it became apparent a bit of a zeitgeist moment was underway.
There were probably less contenders for the title at the time! I wouldn’t pay too much heed to it as no-one is really the godfather of anything. It’s all part of a continuum and we all have a small role. I was, as they say, in the right place at the right time…
They actually also described me as a “suave impresario” in the same article which I liked much more!
As one of the early pioneers of the Electro Swing genre, where did you get your initial inspiration? The genre has clearly been a success – so how did you know for sure it was something you wanted to focus on?
Focusing on it was entirely a gut instinct. When I created the first compilation CD “White Mink : Black Cotton (Electro Swing vs Speakeasy Jazz)” I really had no idea it would be successful.
I was more surprised than anyone when it became a silver disc! At the time it seemed more like a crazy sidetrack from the other stuff we were doing. No one was interested in that sound and in fact it was a job to find even just 12 tracks that fitted the theme.
Very often I’ve found in the music business that what you hope will be a huge success fails to ignite and what you embark on for the sheer hell of it, can suddenly take off. If you’re looking for lessons in this story the only one I can really say is to follow your heart…
So Nick, please tell me – managing your own label is no easy feat, so what inspired you to go from being an artist to setting up Freshly Squeezed?
Lack of success! I’ve been running labels since the 90’s! Freshly Squeezed actually evolved out of my previous label and a club night called Club Montepulciano. We began in 1994 and at the time the thinking was always to get yourself signed to a record label. We had a band and created a club to give us a context in which to perform rather than play irrelevant pub gigs on badly put together bills!
The club nights became hugely successful – another of those zeitgeist moments – becoming part of the lounge/early cabaret scene that exploded at that time. (In fact a lot of the alternative comedy acts came through our club nights: people like Matt Lucas, Armstrong and Miller, Mackenzie Crook from The Office, I even auditioned The League of Gentlemen for a gig in my tiny one bed flat!) but still we couldn’t get record company interest so we formed our own label and began to release our own compilations.
Eventually these became so successful the record industry did notice, but instead of signing us, they just nicked our idea and repackaged it and, to be honest, had far more success with it than we ever could.
We felt pretty jaded and cynical by that time. My business partner at the time wanted out and so I started my own label, Freshly Squeezed, to continue to release my own music (under the name Lemon – you see the connection). This was back in 2005.
After several years of running the label, what has been your greatest moment so far?
It would be hard to name one, but some of the live events stand out because you really get a sense of how far something has come when you see that many people in one place at one time going crazy over something you put together!
I can narrow that down to 2 gigs in particular – the first was a word of mouth sell out at London’s Koko with Parov Stelar which was the first time he’d played the UK. We put that gig on when no one believed that you could sell out a venue like that.
At the time it seemed an incredible financial risk but I remember putting the tickets on sale and watching the ticket count literally going up in 50’s as I refreshed the screen. We knew we’d be ok then and in the end never even printed a single poster or made a flyer.
The second was a similar experience in the even bigger Shepherd’s Bush Empire (the old BBC theatre) with Caravan Palace a few months later as part of a UK tour we did with them…
Conversely, what is one of the biggest mistakes you’ve made running the label? What did you learn from it?
Overconfidence. As I’ve already said, it’s often been the case that the things I hope will be big money spinners tend to flop while the quirky little things we do just because we have a passion for it are the ones that work out.
The lessons are probably: Trust your instinct. Be honest. Don’t do what you think, do what you feel. Never get complacent. Never stop learning. Never assume you know what you are doing!
Your monthly podcast, the Freshly Squeezed Radio Show, has been running for quite some time now. What role does this regularly published content have for your business as a label?
It doesn’t make any money so I guess on paper it makes little sense as part of the business as a whole. Even when we had the show running weekly and syndicated round the world and we had a US agent licensing it in America, we still couldn’t make it pay properly.
Having said that, what I really like about it is that it gives us the chance to set our music in a wider context and to show if off against everything else that’s going on. It helps to keep things fresh and real and has developed a very loyal following.
Although the show is available as a podcast on iTunes, we also have a strong presence on Mixcloud (where it was short-listed for an award) and it is still syndicated as a monthly show to many old-school FM stations from Berlin to Melbourne.
How has Freshly Squeezed reacted to the changing consumer habits that have driven the growth of online streaming and digital music downloads?
It’s very time-consuming to stay ahead of technological trends these days. We spend a lot of time monitoring networks just on the off chance that they become important.
It would be very easy to get left behind if you weren’t watching developments carefully. We were lucky to catch the growth of Spotify pretty early on and have also benefited from a strong YouTube presence by being slightly ahead of that curve too.
What role does social media play in the promotion of your music? As well as for the Freshly Squeezed label as a whole?
Social media is one of our main focuses now. I remember well the days of doing 12” vinyl DJ mailouts which were expensive and incredibly random when you look back. Ditto the money spent on chasing press coverage or reviews via a PR agency.
Now everything can be so tightly focussed to a target demographic the pendulum has perhaps swung the other way. One can get too nerdy about click rates and views. Results are only half the battle. Just doing interesting quality stuff – and allowing for the random – is important.
I have recently begun to resent the amount of time we spent finding and developing our own audience on Facebook (well over 100 thousand followers) to now have access to that audience taken away from us unless we pay for it.
We have effectively invested time and energy on behalf of Facebook to find and identify a user group who enjoy our kind of music. Facebook regard that information as theirs now to exploit or sell to the highest bidder. For this reason we’re now moving back to traditional mailing lists, even flyers and posters to reach our audience.
It feels as if there has been a short golden period of promotion on Social Media that might be coming to an end. Certainly we are looking at all alternatives.
And finally, thanks for your time. Is there anything else you’d like to say, or anything you’d like to promote to our audience?
The only thing I would like to say is that if anyone feels inclined to check out any of our stuff and you like it, please let us or others know.
User feedback is incredibly important and it’s often easier to be an armchair critic than an active supporter, BUT it is the people who like, share, subscribe or retweet, that are essential in helping spread the word.
And there you have it – insights on self-promotion, digital marketing and the limitations of social media as an advertising platform by Freshly Squeezed’s very own Nick Hollywood.