See that happy little Viking? His name is Vincent and, for a short time, he lived in a trash can. You can find him on watches, iPhone cases, stickers and tees, but more importantly he now lives on the records released on his creator's label, Hobbledehoy.
On a two hour train trip I began sketching Vincent for a comic idea that never came to fruition. It never went beyond that train trip actually. Now he’s the iconic figurehead of a label most people can’t pronounce… or remember what the company does. My marketing lecturers would be so proud!
That’s Tom Majerczac by the way. He’s the founder and owner of the Adelaide, South Australia based Hobbledehoy Records. Originally from Melbourne he moved to what is now colloquially known as Radelaide (can’t think why) and home to the best chicken yiros in Australia, but not before selling his less-than-immaculate 1987 Ford Laser and starting the label in 2006. Why did he do it?
I want to support artists getting their music out how they want. By focusing on individual artists, developing them and not excessively releasing for the sake of a large catalogue I feel I can do that. So many great artists fade away that otherwise may have kept developing if they had that external support. That support comes from extensions of the label idea too. The other artists on the label will support them, as will likeminded artists elsewhere. This is all expressed in friendly cross promotion, touring together, advice, etc. The power of community is an important thing.
At a recent gig I observed to Tom that they were selling a lot of his records. He was quick to correct me; “Not mine, the bands’ records”.
I run Hobbledehoy as a labour of love, flippantly calling it a full-time hobby… but that summarises things well. Increasingly spending more time on it outside of my full time day job, it’s a big part of my life. As time’s gone by, I’m becoming more fixed with the idea of working with my friends. The creation of the eighth Hobbledehoy record, ‘Modern Art & Politics’ by Arrows I think was the defining moment. I often romanticise this record, but it is very representative of a fundamental shift for both the band and Hobbledehoy. It hammered down many ideals/values that still guide me, steering away from the "industry" rubbish.
That focus on the music they love is one of the things we see time and time again from smaller labels. It’s the sort of thing that builds trust and reliability for music lovers. If you see a release from Pelagic, Prophecy or Bird’s Robe you know roughly what style of music it’s likely to be and that it will probably be good. One thing that varies is whether the label concentrates on its roster or looks at each release in relative isolation.
I rarely make additions to the roster; my focus is on the artists not individual records. The first two records were by Adam Lees, performing under the name Oh Messy Life. Interestingly, Adam never intended to release his music. We created a plan that meant he could release his music how he wanted. I want to release music by my friends and heroes. Sometimes this can be surprisingly difficult to work within. Adelaide has some great bands, but it’s also very small. Eventually I’m sure there will be an Adelaide artist of some sort in the Hobbledehoy family.
Tom spends most of his spare time and time he should be sleeping working on the label. When a release is in the early stages he talks with the band about what they want – production, recording, mastering, artwork, manufacturing, promotion, distribution, touring, licencing… See why he gets no sleep?
Arrangements are all 50/50 profit splits between artists, artists owning masters. Hobbledehoy fronting manufacturing, marketing and sometimes additional costs such as mastering, press campaigns, merchandise, etc. One recent arrangement is the first time this has ever varied, with the band contributing to the manufacture cost for additional stock.
After six years he’s had a bit of time to start reflecting on the lifestyle of running a label...
Starting Hobbledehoy when I was 19 brought with it a lot of youthful assumptions. Bands don’t make as much money as you think, and neither do labels. So being completely transparent with your artists sales/expense accounts is highly valued, something many other independent labels won’t do. While it’s still a hobby, I wish I saw an accountant from the start! A lot of money and records have been lost from distributors (local and international) closing down. There have been some petty disputes with an inactive label in the past that has wasted many opportunities for an artist on the roster, which is really sad.
Obviously it’s not the champagne lifestyle. Surely there’s more to this than this not sleeping, not making money and shit loads of work? Of course there’s a fun side. Who could not have fun with Vincent smiling at you all the time?
Releasing a couple of Blueline Medic records, my favourite Australian band; a Charge Group record, one of my favourite active Australian bands only just recently; working with This Will Destroy You on their latest record and touring with them; seeing Arrows build a fan base across the world, then having Parkway Drive ask to feature one of their songs in the latest DVD; touring Bob Nanna (Braid / Hey Mercedes) and releasing his solo record, only then to release records from his former bands too. All these things have been amazing, really they have.
Phew, that’s better. How about some parting pearls?
My advice to anyone interested would be that nothing happens as you expect it would. So be adaptive and above all else, supportive to the artists you serve.