Incredible Mr Toad!


Posted by in May's Magazine

Enter stage left (right I mean)… Mathew Young, an international mongrel who accidentally washed up in Edinburgh just nearly seven years ago, he, bravely, abandoned a perfectly respectable career as a design engineer to run Song, by Toad Records full-time.
The label is actually an off-shoot of Song, by Toad, a music blog he has been writing since 2004, which slowly expanded to include regular weekly podcasts, video sessions, a radio show, gig nights and, in 2008, the label. As these commitments grew, having a full-time job gradually became less and less realistic, and in Summer 2009 he took the leap and decided to make Song, by Toad his main gig. Whether or not this decision proves to be wise in the long run remains to be seen.

Enter stage left…Michael Pedersen, ace interrogator.

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Song, By Toad Records – break that down into an overview of the artistic team, some of your artists and the different arms of the label?

The label has always pretty much just been me. Recently we took on Ian Greenhill to help, because the workload just got a bit too much, and he’s added a great deal since he came on board. The silent member of course is Mrs. Toad. We’re a small label and we know all the bands personally, a lot of the music we release is recorded in our front room (including, on occasion, full, thumping, drum kits) so Mrs. Toad’s commitment and permission are actually crucial.

Quite apart from the fact that she tolerated me quitting my job to do this full time and invested money in the label, she puts up with the mess and the general chaos generated by having musicians in and out of the house all the time. I can’t think of many other professional married women who would allow this kind of thing to happen in their house, nor feel happy to feed everyone and provide them with beer and wine, but she does, without her there would be no Song, by Toad Records.

The label is in fact just one arm of the wider Song, by Toad, er, thing. Effectively, the whole thing is just a way for me to express my opinions about music, and to support what I like. So if we like a band then we start out writing about them on the blog or featuring them on the podcast. Then we might invite them to play a gig in Edinburgh, and if we like them even more we’ll offer to record a Toad Session with them.

A lot of the bands we work with started out with a Toad Session actually, like Meursault, Rob St. John, PAWS and Black Tambourines (the latter two yet to be released, but coming soon). At other times, the sessions are a way for us to support bands we love but whose music we don’t release, which seems like a nice thing to do as well, like eagleowl, The Pictish Trail and Milk Maid.

Because we have the equipment we actually allow bands to use our front room to record demos on occasion too, because the sound is really nice in there and it can be a big help to an artist just starting out. And then of course if we really like them we’ll offer to release their music.

Is it curiosity, criteria or compulsion that draws you to an artist? How does a band find their fit at Toad Records?

It’s compulsion, and nothing else. Our A&R policy is pretty simple: if I love something enough to get a over-excited about it we make sure the band aren’t dicks, that we can afford it and also fit it into our release schedule, then we make them an offer. Finding bands we love is actually quite easy though – it happens far more often than you’d think. The tricky thing is keeping your feet on the ground and not getting carried away making dozens of commitments you can’t properly fulfil.

What are the main challenges facing independent record labels?

Figuring out how to make any fucking money whatsoever!

Then heck, to add a little flavour, what are the main joys of running a label at the moment?

Well, the collapse in the music industry has massively undermined all the majors, to the point where they barely seem to have a clue what they’re doing at all. So it’s no longer necessarily the case that buggering off to the biggest label available at the first possible opportunity is actually the best thing for a band, and that allows smaller labels like us to be quite credible options for bands that might otherwise have been rather out of our league.

Consequently, even with very little experience, reputation or budget, we’ve been able to achieve all sorts of things for our bands which we might never have been able to manage a few years back when the major labels and the mainstream press had pretty much all the routes to the audience all locked up. And there is nothing in the world more fun than being the little guy and managing to give the big guys a bit of a bloody nose.

What’s on the cards for Toad Records in 2012?

Fame and fortune and a yacht in the Bahamas with a little of luck. We are releasing new records by The Leg and Jesus H. Foxx. Then we’ve got a split 12” with Waiters, Sex Hands, PAWS and Dolfinz in June. They’re four of my favourite guitar bands around at the moment, and we recorded the whole thing pretty much live in our living room.

Then in July we have the third album by Edinburgh’s Meursault, which will be the biggest, most expensive and hence riskiest project we’ve ever undertaken. Meursault have been with us from the very start, and have always worked their arses off and sold loads of records, so we figure they’ve earned us taking a bit of a chance on them. It takes the whole thing into fairly new territory though, so it will be a bit daunting, albeit exciting as well.

Then, in the autumn, we’ll be looking at Yusuf Azak’s second album, something from The Japanese War Effort, The Black Tambourines’ debut album and quite possibly another split 12”. I haven’t yet totted up all the money we’re going to need to do all of this but, erm, that’s a question for another day.

What or whom is the next big thing?

I stopped caring about that a good few years ago, to be honest. In terms of our label, I think the next Meursault and Rob St. John albums could make big strides for the bands, and personally I would like to be able to get some proper traction for one of the more guitary bands we’re working with, because I am really enjoying that kind of music at the moment, but beyond that, maybe a statue of me in the centre of Edinburgh would be nice.

What does avant-garde mean to you?

Nothing. (Good answer sir! – Ed). It’s not a term I think about at all, nor would use to describe anything we do. I like our music to be a bit difficult, and I always encourage our artists to confront and challenge their audience as much as possible, but I’m still a pop kid at heart, so I’d never use terms like avant-garde to describe anything. And if someone is intentionally trying to be avant-garde I always tend to be a bit suspicious of them, honestly. Sounds a bit pretentious to me – just make music and get the fuck on with stuff, stop worrying about what kind of music you make and how terribly difficult it is, ya fanny.

What are the last film you watched, album you listened to and book you read?

Last film was probably the new Muppets movie. The last album will probably have been something I was reviewing for the blog…but for personal enjoyment? The Sophtware Slump by Grandaddy. And the last book was probably one of Ian Rankin’s, although I forget the name.

I always like to end by asking for your favourite word used within the breaded sandwich of a sentence?

Fuck. Every verbal sandwich I make is liberally seasoned with the word fuck.

Info: songbytoad.com & songbytoadrecords.com

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