Charlie Caplowe, Owner, Xtra Mile Recordings
Clients: Against Me!, Beans on Toast, Crazy Arm, Dave Hause, Emily Baker and The Red City Halo, Fighting Fiction, Fighting With Wire, Frank Turner, Franz Nicolay, Future of the Left, God Fires Man, I Am the Avalanche, Jim Lockey and the Solemn Sun, Larry and His Flask, Million Dead, Reuben, Sonic Boom Six, Sucioperro, The Maybes?, The Riverboat Gamblers, Tim Barry
Background: As a publicist and manager for folk / punk singer Frank Turner, Charlie Caplowe discovered there were limitations to what he could provide his clients. Frustrated, he created his own micro-label in 2003 and inadvertently opened the floodgates for a host of struggling indie artists. Having just celebrated their tenth anniversary, the British boutique is now ready to make a splash in North America.
Necessity Gives Birth: I worked for many years doing publicity for bands in the U.K. I was doing press for a band called Million Dead, whose singer was Frank Turner. No labels were signing that sort of band at the time and certainly weren’t signing Million Dead. There was only a certain amount of live reviews I could secure, so I decided to start a label and get some product out there so we could move the band forward. It was very much part-time for the first five years and increasingly it’s become the mainstay of my time and energy.
Once Built, They’ll Come: We started with Million Dead and then a band called Reuben that were doing well in the U.K. They were without a label and we were doing press for them. So we started doing those two bands and, unbeknownst to me, there was a crossover with those fans. People started getting into the idea of bands on Xtra Mile. Bands started going, well they’ve got a deal through Xtra Mile. We love those bands. Let’s get ahold of Charlie and see if he’s interested in what we’re doing. In terms of the acts we sign, they share a punk spirit. They’re not necessarily punk bands, but they have that spirit of independence and work ethic. And because we’re slightly off the radar, we’re able to develop acts in a way whereby there’s not a huge spotlight on them and then, oh, they haven’t sold X amount of albums so they’ve failed. They’re able to develop at their own speed.
Coming To America: We’ve been building up the label, roster and distribution network over the last few years. We managed to secure good distribution and a good network into mainland Europe. The next priority for us was North America. Last year, I spent a lot of time talking to and meeting with distribution companies and ILG was top of the pile. They had a great distribution setup with the ADA side of things but also they have an in-house marketing team and a marketing budget. So if we decide a specialist press person is needed, we will work with them. We’re starting to get a foothold in the area and an understanding of the territory.
Going Big: The key is getting radio across the country in every market possible. The retail side doesn’t feel a million miles away from what we’re experiencing in the U.K. I’m sure there are bands that have immediate hits, but it feels like there’s a huge amount of groundwork that needs to be done to build up a fan base and get to a point where you can play to a good size [audience] and sell a good amount of records.
New Artists: Frank Turner’s album, Tape Deck Heart, just came out on Xtra Mile / Interscope, so I was in L.A. yesterday meeting with John Janick, who was instrumental in that deal. Through Frank leading the charge for Xtra Mile, we’re looking for new acts. We’re in the process of signing a band called Larry and His Flask. We’ve got them for the rest of the world and we’re about to conclude the deal for North America as well. It’s great if there’s a connection to the label through trusted sources. In terms of how people can get music to us, if they email links, list tour dates and give a brief press plot or history and plans, that would be a good starting point.
Connecting Dots: The label has a certain identity you could say is punk / rock / folk / alternative genres. Some of the acts might seem a step away from that, but in my head I can always see them as an Xtra Mile act because I can join the dots from one place to the next and they fit within how I see the label. In terms of what would be great to see, there’s no better way to break a band than touring and winning people over with word of mouth, so we want hardworking bands who are willing to tour. We don’t want bands that are just doing it as a hobby.
The Deal: [Our contracts are] normally for the U.K. and Europe and for the rest of the world they’re normally a 50 / 50 net receipt deal. Within the ILG setup here, that would be the same unless they were up streamed to Warner. We try to be as fair as possible with artists and see it as a team effort, with everyone pulling in the same direction. We try and do those deals so everyone’s on a level playing field and we’re all working to achieve the same goals.
Xtra Advantage: [Our] artists are able to develop at their own speed. There’s a danger within the major record companies that, if you don’t hit certain sales targets, you get dropped. If that does happen, it’s quite hard to reinvent oneself. We can enable [artists] to develop at their own speed. Also, with the setup we have here in North America and the U.K., we go through PIAS, so we’re able to step things up as well as move quickly. And bands that sign to Xtra Mile have the potential to tour with their label mates. We did a deal with Against Me! that enabled some of our U.K. acts to support them. Frank Turner’s taken one of our newer signings, Beans On Toast, out in North America. Had Beans On Toast not been signed to the label, they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to jump on this tour.
An Independent Perspective: As an independent publicist, you tend to work with bands early, often before they get a record deal, so you’re working closely with them. At major record companies, there’s a tendency to look at the release schedule and work what has to be worked, then you move on to the next thing. Coming from an independent background, you’re working throughout the year to further that band’s career and you’re able to work closely with them. In a way, I’ve taken that forward into running the label.
Reputation Wants: I’d like Xtra Mile to be seen as a label that works well and closely with our bands and will continue to do so. And I’d like to really develop the acts we’ve got and move on the ones that want to do good things. I’d like Xtra Mile to be a label that people say, I want to sign to that label.
Destination Reading: Although we have great distribution, we’re also looking to build the Xtra Mile web store. I’m in the process of building a destination for people to read columns by our artists who wish to write. I’m also encouraging smaller sites, some of their contributors, to write about music. Not necessarily Xtra Mile music, but I want to have something interesting for people who are into music on Xtra Mile.
The Ride: What’s exciting for me is to have gotten where we are but not feeling we’ve reached where we’re going to go. That’s exciting to keep building on that, moving forward and finding great acts. There’s still a load of hard work to be done, but we have a handle on our niche and work within that. We’re hoping to bring fans of this type of music along for the ride and treat them right.
Getting Your Start: Everyone starts somewhere. Play local venues, start selling out and then build from there. That’s got to be as good a start as any. Social networks are a good gauge. It’s not something we feel is the be all and end all of a signing, but that’s a good way to do it. And don’t sit around waiting for stuff to happen and the phone to ring. Go out there and if there is an interest, wherever that may be, grab it and give it your best shot.