It’s a crisp and sunny morning when I meet Hannah Warburton in the creative hub of London- an area at the epicentre of the artistic world and one that is awash with artist supply shops, creative agencies, theatres and music labels.
Wide-eyed with a mass of cropped, curly blond hair and an infectious grin, Hannah, along with three of her closest cohorts, is embarking on a mission to change the music industry as we know it. They want to offer a “genuine alternative to corporate music”. How do they intend to do this? Through establishing an independent record label – the oddly titled Foof. A name that, once you’ve heard it, it’s highly unlikely you’ll forget it.
Based in East London’s Mile End, Foof is a different kind of independent record label that aims to make music more accessible by providing free downloads. The issue of free music downloads has long been a bone of contention and source of debate in the industry. Former Stooges front man, the legendary Iggy Pop, is one of many stars who has waded into the argument stating in his BBC 6 Music John Peel lecture that “when it comes to art, money isn’t important”.
There’s also been a dramatic rise in the number of illegal downloads and illegal download sites. According to research commissioned by OFCOM in 2013 one in six Internet users in the UK has illegally downloaded music, with 9% pirating music between March and May. This is in spite of the presence of over 67 legal streaming and downloading sites.
In the summer of 2013, and becoming increasingly frustrated with the record industry, Warburton along with her husband, who goes only by the moniker of Hoofy, and their close friends Alex Foley and Alice Taylor, decided to take matters into their own hands- releasing music from independent artists who wanted to share their music with the world. “It’s another platform basically,” Hannah continues in her soft Salford lilt, “for anyone who is releasing music, creating music, performing music to be involved in a little community that’s all about DIY living and DIY business”.
Using the increasingly popular Creative Commons (CC) license, labels such as Foof enable listeners to download an artist’s album completely free of charge. But does this have any benefit to the artist? Or is it detrimental to them in the long run?
Hannah, the self-titled First Lady Of Foof, thinks not. “I think…if an artist wants to share something with you [for free] then you should [be able to download it for free] and [be able to] appreciate that and you should engage in that action on the artist’s terms. If the artist says “buy this from me” and you want it, buy it. If the artist says “share this with me, I want to give it to you”, take it.” Whilst they are a part of the label, all artists remain unsigned and “free to do as they ruddy well please”.
“The band I’m in,” she says giving a cheeky little plug, “A Blossom Fell, had a few near misses with record labels and we nearly had deals”. Consisting of three, lead female vocalists alongside a male guitarist and a male drummer, each with their own unique and distinctive style, there was always something that labels wanted them to change. Whether that be dressing uniformly or dropping two lead vocalists. “We thought, we don’t want to do that. We’re not going to change in order to make money and be famous.” So they created their own “pretend record label”. They then thought, “hang on, we’ve got loads of friends that do great music and aren’t getting any recognition, so let’s shout about them too”.
This desire to be free from the ties of larger corporations is clear in the rise of the number of labels similar to Foof. A quick search on the Creative Commons page online brings up a list of no less than 23 labels currently in operation worldwide. But how does the CC license work? More importantly, what do these labels actually do for the artist? Will they end up missing out on the monetary value that working in the creative field necessitates? Hannah continues: “We chose a license that would best protect our artists and [that allows] our artists to make their own choices with regards to how much of their music is used and shared, and how [this is] done.” The particular license used by Foof allows listeners to remix as well as share the music. Each time this is done, the artist must be properly accredited and notified.
Foof is also part of a Placement Agency, based out in the U.S. What the Foof is a placement agency? “Basically,” says Hannah, “most of the money that [musicians] make is made by either touring, [selling] merchandise or being used in something. So, if your song’s in a film you get paid a shit ton of money. If your song’s on an advert- you get paid a shit ton of money. There are these agencies called Placement Agencies who have a database of songs, and they submit these songs to people who are doing projects and then they charge for the use of it….so we’re giving our artists an opportunity to be appreciated financially for the art they’re creating.”
With the majority of major record labels, there always tends to be the underlying current of making money this “shit ton of money” for themselves and often at the expense of the artistic integrity of the musician. But with Foof being a non-profit Creative Commons licensed label, what’s really in it for them? “This sounds so ridiculous,” Hannah muses with a wry grin, “but we just want to help people. I want to be in the music industry because I love music. I spend all of my time singing a song, thinking about a song, writing a song, performing a song. Every time I walk down the street there’s a soundtrack in my head and I can’t constantly be on stage, I can’t constantly be writing a song but I can constantly be helping others to do that. It’s about [creating] a genuine alternative to the industry that seems to be sapping us…and we want to keep helping people feel confident about their work even if some giant corporation isn’t backing it, other people will and other people are. So, yeah, we’re doing it for the love.”
Last summer saw the label host the Wonky Tent at the Secret Garden Party festival with a plethora of talented musicians taking over the stage. They currently have 17 artists whose music is available to download on the Foof platform. Their latest recruit is Phoebe Robinson, a young singer/songwriter who recently came to the public’s attention with her self-released 2014 EP, For Now, garnering attention from BBC 6 Music taste-maker Lauren Laverne, and Radio 1’s Huw Stephens.
So how do Foof plan on staying afloat in the corporate, shark infested sea of music? According to our First Lady Of Foof, the thing that sets them apart- and what will help create the longevity needed for the label- is that they’re truthful. Regardless of the genre of music “it doesn’t really matter, as long as you’re being truthful with it, then we love it”. Hannah goes on to say that the label wants “art that is created without a financial agenda”. One that doesn’t rely on a fat cat label chief sitting in an office surrounded by pie charts and graphs and a specified target audience.
So, what’s in store for the future of Foof? “Well,” continues our boss lady, “we have lots of releases scheduled for this year” and they’re hopeful of a return to the fields of Secret Garden Party. They’ve also got events planned for the summer to showcase their artist’s’ music, as well as a newly opened office in Manchester. “If you want to see someone use their skill and you want to share in a genuine moment with an artist, come down to an event, pay your ticket price, [which] goes straight to the band that you’re about to see, and you’ve shared that [experience with them].
“We want more screaming, more shouting. We want to make it into a movement.”
Written by Jennifer Wallis
Photography by Jennifer Wallis