The Sound Principle: Errol Michael Henry in Conversation
By Yasmin Jones-Henry
The Artist & The Entrepreneur
YJH: 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of Intimate Records. What was your vision when you founded it in 1989?
EMH: Well, the label was started under duress. I didn’t want to start a record label. Because of the “mogul” thing that’s developed – which wasn’t my choosing, people think of me as a business man first, which would be a mistake: I am a musician first. That’s what I came here to do. I didn’t come here to build a corporate structure, I came to make music. But, in an industry where they want what they already have, someone with his own sound is unwelcome.
I couldn’t get anything released by other labels, because they wanted more of what was already going on at the time and for me, what is the point copying other people? That’s actually the antithesis of creativity – so I refused to do that. So you’re young, you’re full of energy and ambition and you have a sound that you want to get out there, in an industry that pretty much likes what it knows already…They say ‘circumstance (necessity) is the mother of all invention’ – that’s been very true of me.
I had no choice but to start my own record label and that forced me to learn about business, to learn about distribution, to learn about marketing, promotion, to learn about all other aspects that were not in my mind when I started making records. These were good experiences to have. Once I understood that my biggest asset was the fact my records had a unique sound, that’s when I knew that I needed to safeguard that sound above all else.
YJH: You’ve always taught me that the best artists know how to collaborate, but when you started out in 1989, was that part of the brief?
EMH: I’ve always collaborated. I’ve worked with some exceptional artists: Dave Collins, Lulu, Bobby Womack, The Jones Girls, Steve Carmichael, Chris Ballin, Hazel Fernandes, Paul Lee, Graham Harvey, ‘Snake’ Davis, Winston Blissett and Thomas Dyani – to name a few. What the label gave me was complete control over who I collaborated with. If you’re an artist signed to another label or you’re an artist that is controlled by somebody else: they choose who you collaborate with. So I think the label wasn’t a ‘plan’ as such, but its arrival was pivotal because first of all, it allowed me to build my production career on my own terms.
The growth of my career as a producer and the growth of the label were one in the same. I’ve survived because of it. I think that the producers who did the work that was fashionable that the labels wanted or the artist wanted, as that sound died away, they died away – because that was the only thing they were known for. I was known for my sound, and it’s not like it’s the same sound – that sound has evolved, but it has evolved on my terms.
YJH: So on that note, what is The Sound Principle – and how did it start?
EMH: The Sound Principle was never meant to be anything more than a vehicle that allowed me to have a constant and a variable. The constant is: at some point I’m involved – be it as a writer, a musician or a producer (I think I have ended up producing all of the TSP records). Intimate Records is a vision of how a label should work and the TSP is the best example of what an artist should do: which is to have a mark, have a standard, have a philosophy – but innovate. So TSP does funk, TSP does RnB, TSP does acid Jazz…soulful house… TSP does whatever it wants to, as long as it’s good!
TSP is a vehicle to express creativity. So the constant is that we’re in the pursuit of creativity, the variable is who you use to create the composition. Sometimes there’s a solo instrument – as in the (instrumental) ‘Welcome to Yesterday’ (1992), other times it’s a solo singer – it might be male or it might be female, it isn’t ever the same thing. Sometimes it’s both and I never know which it’s going to be until the record turns up. What you’re trying to do is maximise the potential of that particular record.
2015 – Present
YJH: After a 10 year hiatus, The Sound Principle returned in 2015. How have things changed?
EMH: It’s interesting because I’ve very much handed over the mechanics of running the label over to people like Phil (Phil Buchanan – A&R Director, i2 Music Group), Lance Williamson (Head of Marketing, i2 Music Group) and Paul Lawrence (Head of Urban Promotions, i2 Music Group). I can do this because the label is such an established thing because they know what they’re doing and they’ve learned to understand the sheer patience that we have to invest in each record. They understand why nothing comes out till it’s finished, and I mean really finished. They also appreciate – why nothing comes out until I’m happy with it. It takes time to learn that standard and not everybody can do it.
I think it’s very important to have a clear picture in your mind about what you’re trying to do so that the label being there – effectively provides the artist in me time to get the records how I want them – knowing that the label won’t change them, which can happen. At least I know with Intimate, once I’ve finished a record, no one has the authority to change it, that’s what the label gives me. It’s that absolute seal of what comes out in my name.
Personally, I don’t understand any artistic person who does not own (control) what happens to their I.P.
Independence+Creativity = Good Mental Health
YJH: So really this is a multi-disciplined principle: whether you are a musician, a designer or a painter – it’s the question: ‘Why would you surrender control over your creation?’
EMH: Right, so my thing is this: people call it ‘Intellectual Property”, I call it the fruit of what stirs my heart. Now who gives their heart away? Who just gives that away to someone to do whatever they want with it? I don’t understand why you would do that. I’ve had to take fiscal pain, to protect the heart and the soul of what I do, but a man’s soul is worth more than money.
To put it into perspective: had I not maintained ownership of Intimate Records, I’d be looking down the barrel at 30 years of my life that belongs to somebody else. That’s a picture that I can’t countenance. So I think independence + creativity + ownership are all parts of the same equation, I don’t know how you separate them.
YJH: So would you say that in terms of where you are now with things like Music Justice is that to raise awareness for other artists in protecting their intellectual property?
EMH: Absolutely. Some of the songs that I’m putting out now and will be releasing in the next few months (and part of the reason why I’m putting them out) is that these are the songs that I have recovered – that had been held captive – illegally by other people. Part of the reason why I’m releasing them in this season is down to the simple fact that I couldn’t release them at any time because somebody else would have been paid money for something that they didn’t own. I would have been funding my own fraud.
I think people do go through seasons. When I started out, trying to develop this sound, and trying to develop artists with a certain vision and a certain ‘audio perspective’ was a big focus for me. But when you’ve achieved what you set out to achieve and you’ve done the deals, you’ve travelled, you’ve been to Japan, Germany , France, the US countless times – it gets old and you need some other focus, and I’m happy with what I’ve done…because it’s still mine.
YJH: Would you say there is a correlation between I.P theft and mental health?
I consider sometimes when I’m out and about and I hear my music being played on the radio – I like to hear it. It’s actually quite a nice feeling to hear something that I’ve created 25-30 years ago still being played…BUT – if that music had been stolen from me, hearing it would be a dagger to the heart. And you can understand why people who have been through that stuff suffer from mental health issues. The theft of what other people call ‘intellectual property’ – but is in fact someone else’s creativity, creates a wound that money can’t heal.
Music Justice was necessary really, so that I could use my experiences of recovering rights, of making companies stop stealing and making companies return what they should never have had in the first place – getting stuff back is a very powerful emotion and funnily enough it stirs a whole new kind of creativity. Some of the songs I’ll be putting out in the next few months – as soon as I got them back my thing was – ‘now that they’re back, how do I upgrade them?’ So that creative process would be killed if they never got them back.
Music Justice became even more necessary, not because I discovered wrong doing – that’s been around for hundreds of years; but when I discovered just how indifferent and heartless people are about the losses other people suffer. They don’t care. There’s almost this sense that musicians deserve to get robbed. It enraged me when I discovered that some of governing bodies you would talk to don’t dispute wrong doing is taking place – they don’t care. The police don’t care. I’ve found that the Fraud squad don’t care. It took me two hours to report instances of fraud because they didn’t see why they should take the cases up. So Music Justice isn’t a protest machine, it’s the only line of defense creative people have against the apathy and downright indifference and aggression and hostility people have towards the very creative people who create what it is that they consume.
Artists’ Rights: Music Justice
YJH: So what needs to change?
EMH: Some of this I think is education: I think the public, probably don’t really understand that that tune that you’re hearing cost somebody something. And it’s possible that the person that created it, made nothing from it. It’s easy to laugh and poke fun at musicians that have fallen off the wagon because of drug abuse and drink, but if you understood the pressures that they face, then to discover that having gone through all that they’ve gone through and made the sacrifices that they’ve made: everything they earned was taken from them and what they’ve created was taken from them… how would you feel?
How would you feel if when you went to the police, they didn’t care?
If you went to the lawyers – not only do a lot of them not care – a lot of them are complicit in upholding this infrastructure for fraud… Music Justice had to be created because somebody had to fight back. Somebody had to do it and of course having my own label (meaning I’m not dependent on the machine that does all this) is why I’ve got Music Justice. If I needed the machine to feed me, you couldn’t do it. You can’t bite the hand that feeds you. So interestingly enough (not that it was planned) having a hand to feed myself – leaves me free to fight with my other hand – and that is the other reason why creative people should control their own I.P and start their own businesses.
If someone crosses the line: you can fight them. If someone steals your property: you can fight them.
Ultimately – artistry – creativity is a performance of freedom. While I enjoy the freedom being an artist and an entrepreneur gives me, I appreciate the reality that freedom isn’t free. It’s time for artists to learn how to protect their rights and safeguard their creative capital.
For more information about Music Justice visit: www.music-justice.com
To register for the Win@Life: The Art of Enterprise masterclasses for creatives written by Errol Michael Henry
New Single ‘I Know What I Want’ will be released August 2019.
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