The head honcho of the famous house label 2020Vision and his latest signee discuss how they found each other and why they were a great match.
I receive hundreds of digital promos every day, and I don’t listen to most of them. I’m pretty sure this outcome of information overload afflicts every music writer, DJ, and label owner, and I imagine that it’s pretty paralyzing to bedroom producers who have a lot of talent but few connections in the industry. It seems virtually impossible for unknown artists to get someone to listen to their music, which makes it very hard for newcomers to find someone to support their tunes, even if they’re sick.
Nevertheless, it happens; some labels do listen to demos, and they do sign new artists, and Ben Hackman is living proof. A few years ago, the young UK beatmaker was bundling tracks and sending them off to 40 or 50 DJs, producers, and labels he hoped might listen to, enjoy, play, and/or release them, which was an ultimately heartbreaking endeavour because most people didn’t respond to his demo submissions. Over the years, he has managed to snag the attention of tastemaking outposts like Greco Roman, Futureboogie, and Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood label, which have elevated him from little-known aspiring tunesmith to a rising star in the world of bright, garage-influenced house tracks. His latest effort, Carry On, was released a few weeks ago by one of the UK’s most established house labels, 2020Vision, which has over the past 20 years or so head-hunted popular artists like Maya Jane Coles and Motor City Drum Ensemble. Considering how hard and rare it is to find a good match between an up-and-coming producer and a supportive record label, we nabbed some time with Hackman and 2020Vision honcho Ralph Lawson to gain some insight on what labels look for in potential signees and how artists can cut through the noise.
Hackman explains how he gets in touch with labels, why he was drawn to 2020Vision, and how the Carry On record came together.
“I knew 2020Vision was one of the UK’s most reputable house labels and had been around for a long time, and that they’d released music from a wide range of producers, a lot of whom I count amongst my personal favorites: Bobby Peru, Crazy P, Inland Knights, Maya Jane Coles, Motor City Drum Ensemble, and Nicholas. But I guess the fact that the label is associated with a house sound is only important if the style of music I release is considered house. I wouldn’t mind if the label released other electronic styles, as long as its catalog is cohesive and makes sense.
The way that I approach labels has changed a lot. When I was first starting to release music, I’d get a few tracks together and email them to a bunch of producers and labels I thought might play or release them. Over time, I got fed up with doing that, because 90 percent of people never responded. Now, I’m in the fortunate position where labels contact me ask for music. This is the case for most of my recent releases, including the 2020Vision release, Carry On.
Aside from that, if I want to try get on a certain label, I’ll look for a contact, either from someone I know or from searching the Internet, and I’ll send them tracks. I only reach out to one, two, or three label contacts at a time, as opposed to 50 or so labels and producers when I was first starting. My primary considerations when I think of who to send it to are whether I like the music released by the label, and whether I can envisage my work sitting well alongside their back catalog.
Of course, having a personal relation with the crew running the label is always a massive bonus, as they get to know what you’re about as person and where you stand as an artist. It’s also always nice to work with your friends and make business a bit more fun.
It’s lucky that Ralph and I connected, because we agree that Carry On was the most difficult record either of us ever released. Usually, labels will pick up something I’ve already made in the studio, suggest a few changes to the sounds or structure, and then put it out. However, this one started with this a cappella the boys from 2020 sent over and asked me if I could turn it into a record. We decided that I’d try write an A-side track using that vocal (which became the first draft of ‘The Blue’), and then I’d write another track for the B-side (which became ‘Carry On.’).
Once the tracks were all done, and the remix from Rampa was finished, we were ready to get moving with the release. The tracks were mastered, and then all of the sudden, at the last minute, the vocalist decided to revoke permission to use her parts, despite the fact she’d already received her payment. This left us with a few problems: we had wasted money on mastering, we needed to cut the vocal parts out of the remix, and on and on.
So, it all got flipped completely upside down. I did a more A-side version of ‘Carry On’ to go with the dub version—incidentally, the dub version was the original version of that track. I removed the vocals from ‘The Blue’ and made that the B-side track, and Rampa removed the vocals from his remix. Then it all got remastered and we were finally able to put the record out. We got there in the end.”
Ralph Lawson explains the thought process that informs 2020Vision’s A&R choices, and how and why he decided to support Hackman.
“At 2020Vision, we look for five characteristics in potential signees.
1. Does the artist bring us new ideas?
2. Can they perform live, either as a DJ or live act?
3. Are they ambitious?
4. Do they understand the game?
5. Are we going to enjoy working with them?
Although we’re well known for deep electronic music, it’s mistake for people to think we’ll make a decision based solely on style, as we like many different types of music and our acts have spanned the divide between house, techno, electronica (Random Factor), downbeat (Deadbeats, Dubble D), disco (Crazy P, Lindstrøm, Prins Thomas) and even Northern Soul (The New Master Sounds). Producers often send us music they think we’ll like or suits our sound, which is a mistake. You need to be yourself and send us your true feelings. We will recognize talent wherever we see it—and that’s exactly what happened with Hackman.
We heard his early tracks, like ‘Close,’ and then we followed him keenly as he developed his sound into more familiar territories with tunes like ‘Forgotten Notes.’ And he studied music in Leeds, where 2020Vision is based, so we had another connection there.
It was very obvious that Ben was a ‘real’ musician with proper chops, so it was no surprise to find out that he has played piano since he was five years old. We’re always looking for artists who have different ideas and skills to bring to the table, and Ben has both in abundance. But what really cemented it for me was hearing ‘Change My Life’ on Futureboogie, which I thought was an incredible record.
That being said, the journey to releasing a Hackman record has been long and tough. Originally, one of the tunes on his 2020Vision EP, ‘The Blue,’ was a vocal track, and we had gone all the way down the line to mastering the record, including remixes from Rampa, when the vocalist pulled out. It got to the point when it looked like the whole thing was going to collapse, but I was sure, in my mind, that Hackman was right for 2020Vision, so we kept leaping the hurdles and found solutions. Ben must have thought it was worth it, too, because he went back to the drawing board and produced more tracks to finish the EP.
I think that you only jump over obstacles if getting to the other side is worth the effort. Now that we have this history behind us, I think we will go on to forge a great artist/label relationship.”