Laurence Bell has struck a positive note on the prospects for his label, Domino, and the independent sector as a whole as 2021 kicks into gear.
Speaking to Music Week as Arctic Monkeys hit No.3 with their Live At The Royal Albert Hall (31,234 sales, OCC) album in December, Domino’s founder has reflected on how his label navigated 2020 and discussed what lies ahead in 2021.
With all the proceeds of the Arctic Monkeys’ first official live record going to War Child – which subscribers can read about here – Bell said he was delighted to be able to contribute to the charity and called the release “a big event”.
“The value is how much money we can raise for War Child,” he said. “To some extent, live albums have been a little out of fashion, maybe in the YouTube age. In the ’60s, ’70s and maybe the ’80s too, live albums always seemed to be a part of the story and a lot of acts had really big moments with them, but somehow they fell out of fashion. But when a truly significant act comes up with one, it’s gonna be a big event, maybe we can bring them back for War Child, as an annual thing. They’re great documents.”
Bell said the group are “beavering away” on new music, as fans await the follow-up to the chart-topping Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino (220,590 sales). Sustained sales across the Arctic Monkeys catalogue have boosted Domino’s figures and Bell put their sustained popularity down to sheer quality.
“They’re just so good aren’t they?” he said. “One of the great bands of our time. They’ve reinvented themselves time and time again and they’re relevant to the streaming generation as much as any generation.”
Also in 2020, Domino scored a Mercury nomination for Georgia and released albums by Sorry, Anna Calvi, LA Priest and more. Here, Bell reflects on how the coronavirus pandemic has affected the label and talks 2021…
What was 2020 like for Domino?
It was hard wasn’t it, I can’t say it was great fun! It’s difficult, but we did the best we could in the circumstances and put out lots of great music. Especially for a label like us, not having a live market, you realise how much you miss that element of the campaign once the record comes out. You can launch a record reasonably effectively and then the live element comes after that. If that’s taken away it’s harsh for the acts and the campaign, maintaining momentum and energy for the next 12 months is harder, no one will deny that. You pull out all the best ideas and tricks you can, but it doesn’t make up for touring, coming to town, coming back a few months later to play a bigger venue, playing festivals and then coming back again one more time, that’s the natural journey of an album campaign and we’re really missing that side.”
Did you hit pause on any campaigns?
“Maybe one thing got put back, but on the whole we carried on. We were pretty well committed to our schedule and we carried on as best we could. Looking at this year, there’s a few question marks. Some people really want to know when live is coming back before committing to release dates, in America particularly, that’s an even more live-orientated market, I’d say. We’re all hoping there’ll be some degree of normalization before too long. We’re very fortunate on the records side to be reasonably stable, but it’s still not great for anyone right now. The music is great, that’s the main thing, we’re making lots of records, there’s lots going on. We’re planning lots of great stuff for this year, making as many plans as we can. The things we’ve got up our sleeves, we’ve got to keep them up our sleeves until we reveal them. But I’m definitely excited about a bunch of stuff.”
Music remains one of the great companions in life
Laurence Bell, Domino
What about signing new acts?
“It’s hard, isn’t it, without gigs... I’m all ears, but ideally you like to see someone play live.”
How is the indie sector doing as a whole?
“I think the sector’s done reasonably well, but because of [the type] of the music we put out, the live element has hurt it. We’re not releasing so much pop music and music that isn’t affected by the lack of live so, yes, it is affected. I’ve noticed with things like the Love Record Stores, Record Store Day and others, that people who can afford to buy physical product have been proactive in buying more. They want to support their local record shop, they want to support the bands, they want to support the culture and the community and there’s a lot of that for people who can pay. The physical sales have been really good this year, better than last year in some cases. That’s been really gratifying. Maybe people have a little bit more money in their pocket because they’re not going out and spending money on other things so they can buy a few more records. In some ways we haven’t done too badly. Music remains one of the great companions in life, so maybe there’s time for more listening, deeper listening and more quality listening. And independent labels have so much amazing music, I like to think we had a pretty good year, all things considered.”
Read our Q&A with Arctic Monkeys manager Ian McAndrew here for the latest on their plans for new music.