Run your own music business

 8 February 2011

Belfast-based rock and gospel musician Brian Houston is his own music business. He talks about doing everything, from recording and mastering to distribution.

Making your own music

"I don't have any musical training. They asked me to leave the choir because my voice didn't fit in.

"A couple of friends, we made a little demo tape and we gave it to a radio station. A friend played it in the middle of the night and people phoned in and said: 'We like that, can we hear it again?'. They put it on the A-list, and the next thing I had a career in the music business. That was it.

"We took records down to Virgin and they phoned the next day and said: 'We need more records'. So we came down with 50 records.

"They phoned the next day and said 'We need more records'. So the next thing, we'd sold about 3,000 albums.

"That's what showed me that I could do it. It didn't need a record label, all it needed was a decent song on the radio and the ability to get them into shops. It has changed a bit these days, it wouldn't be quite that easy."

Working without a record label

"I did try to sell my music to labels, and that publishing deal that I did, I was more than happy to do that at the time.

"When I found out what it meant later - when I found out that I'd lost my songs forever - then I wasn't so happy. But when someone's waving a cheque you don't read the fine print. And I learned by experience that that's not always the best way.

"Back then when I was starting, I used to go up to a local studio and it was £15 for an hour, and we did the whole record in two days. And I thought: 'I wonder how hard it is to do this?'.

A friend lent me some money and I went and I bought a little thing called a "studio killer" and I bought this little thing called a Roland 1680 and I bought a couple of mic pre-amps and a mic. I plugged it all in when I got home and made a record in my bedroom. I was able to sell the record to a label for £12,000. And I was thinking, this is a good job!

"There was another pile of tracks left over, I sent them to a friend in Nashville and he had a thing called Pro Tools, which is like the big pro system. He sent all the tracks back to me and I didn't have Pro Tools, so I had to go and buy Pro Tools to decode what he had given me. And that's when I got into the real pro end."

Being an independent musican

“When someone's waving a cheque you don't read the fine print. I learned by experience that's not always the best way.”

"Because we've built up the gear, we've effectively become every part of a label. I write the songs, I record the songs, I produce the songs, I hire the artist.

"I hire the photographer, I star in the pictures, I pick the pictures.

"I make the record, I record the record, I mix the record. I send the record off to be mastered, get that back, I approve the master and then send it back to be manufactured.

"I get the manufactured copies, my wife and I, we parcel them up, she posts them out and I get into writing the press releases to sell them. From beginning to end and everything in between, I'm involved in every aspect of what I do.

"And then you get guys who come along and they say now you need to be an internet genius as well and spend all your time on myspace. And it's like: 'dude, there's only 24 hours in a day!' It does work for us, but it's a busy, busy thing."

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