With every release that comes a listener’s way, there are so many people to thank. The person that makes the music? Most definitely. But so often, by focusing on the talent of our favourite artists, we forget to appreciate those who play an equally important role behind our favourite new music; the team behind the scenes.
Enter Heist or Hit, the notorious record label of the North West. Established in 2011, the team have been behind some of the brightest rising stars on the scene, currently representing PizzaGirl, Hannah’s Little Sister, and most recently Eades. Their roster, past and previous, make the label seem almost intimidating. But, as we chat on our Zoom call, Martin and Patrick of the label are warm; describing their days, and the impact of COVID that currently hangs over us. “Oh my god it’s a roller coaster isn’t it. Everyday just tests you more and more” tells Martin.
“Don’t get me wrong, there are people much worse off! But it has been a challenge. Pat and I were having a chat before we joined this call about how hard this lockdown has been.” Patrick chimes in, “But the thing that affords you as an indie label is the ability to adapt when things like this happen. I mean we’re still putting out things all the time, whereas other labels have their release plans completely scuppered. We managed to find the cracks and grow through them. It’s set us up quite nicely!”
The record's roots began in Manchester, where we are all currently residing. “It’s such a great city, we’ve been here almost 20 years.” Martin tells. However, while there from the beginning, the duo first joined Heist or Hit not as members of the team, but as their own band. “Way before the label we actually met at university, so we’ve known each other since 2005. We both moved in the early noughties and stuck around ever since.” Martin explains. “We really hit it off in terms of music taste and social background, that a little while later we started a band together called ‘The Answering Machine’.”
Patrick continues, “We were looking for representation for so long, that in the end our friend Mick said, ‘this is silly, I’ll make a label to represent you guys,’ and Heist or Hit was born! So, as it was growing, we relied on the bands involved to help set up things and give input. There really was an extended family in place.”
The idea of a ‘family’ quickly turns into a running joke about the record’s ‘wholesomeness’, that persists through the whole interview. It’s a one-liner that gets a laugh from all of us, and yet, seems to harbour an underlying truth. Through the way they discuss their work and the artists they represent, an adoration emerges that signals that the artists they represent are more than just clients.
“The fact that we were both part of a band first meant that we know how to be very artist friendly, it’s kind of our ethos now,” says Martin. “They come first, rather than feeling like we’re a major label that imprints our views on the people we represent. We feel like we can speak an artist’s language.” It’s clear that the label has grown alongside artists that approached it, but Martin and Patrick blame a very specific band on helping the label evolve to its current form; the beloved and sadly departed Her’s, which consisted of duo Stephen Fitzpatrick and Audun Laading. “I mean we couldn’t carry on this conversation without mentioning Her’s.” Martin admits.
“It was phenomenal to work with a band with such incredible people, and such amazing talent. We took everything they said on board when they were a bit more naïve and inexperienced. But as they grew in confidence it was so beautiful to watch.” The genuineness and sincerity that comes when talking about the group isn’t surprising, and yet, the candidness still carries an impact.
Patrick delves further into how the band impacted the label as a whole. “They were really big brothers to the rest of the roster. It was through them we met Brand Stank and Hannah’s Little Sister, and they were mates with Liam (Pizzagirl) too. The musical DNA really creeps down to the roots we built now. Pizzagirl ended up touring with the group, so I think they were the first signs of we as a label were bringing this community together.”
From their responses, it’s apparent that the tight knit nature of the team permeates through the identity of the record label, including how they operate. “We muck in each day. It’s probably quite an unhealthy way to work, but we like it!” Martin laughs. “There’s never a typical day. We all loosely have roles, but we can cross over when we need to. But very broadly speaking, I’m label manager so I talk to artists and distributions. And then Pats looks after licensing, pitching to people and syncing our music.”
“What’s cool about being small-scale is that we’re all aware of our skills and strengths and utilise them to our advantage. But also, we dip into everyone’s jobs! From packaging to communicating with fans, to social media, there’s a real range.” Adds Patrick.
Their methods are surprisingly free-spirited, however, the looseness doesn’t stop there. As well as the day-to-day, the team also pride themselves on not sticking to a certain formula when it comes to signing new artists. “I don’t think there’s ever a formula really. Something either grabs you or it doesn’t.” Martin states. “While Eades have released an EP and have built a bit of a profile already, we’ve also recently signed JWestern, who had zero profile at all. He just sent us some demos, and that was what we had to work with. But that kind of stuff doesn’t scare us off, in fact it excites us.” Patrick agrees, “With JWestern, the whole office was pulled in, regardless of not knowing anything about him. It was purely the music alone. It’s rare that happens,
But a lot of people will send in full products, and that’s a bit challenging. Some may view that as a pro, but for us it’s a bit of a con. We like musicians that have an openness to work with us, quite an informal approach, I guess. We don’t want arrogance in music, it’s a big off-putter.”
The fight to not be stereotyped means the record label is constantly looking for new ways to grow, even when new challenges arise. As we see ourselves in the midst of a Brexit-Covid meltdown, the duo reflect on what issues could face them along the way. “Global reach is challenging in a post-Brexit life. We’ve gotten quite used to running campaigns in the North West and other places, but it’s starting to get harder because of the restrictions, in terms of importing and exporting. So, we’re actively looking to strengthen that, form a lot of sister labels and that.” Patrick admits. However, they seem much more focused on the positive side to the challenges, instantly spouting about how music lovers can help. “Choosing your source of purchase is a big thing for us. I don’t know if people know the ins and outs of big streaming services, but it’s not like a band gets a massive income when you listen through them,” he continues; “But there are other ways you can listen and support, so it’s just doing the research of what those outlets are. There’s a whole ecosystem surrounding artists. The money you used to buy a t-shirt may be paying for their petrol up to Glasgow for the next gig!” he laughs.
It’s refreshing to hear such positivity when talking about the industry, and one the label seemed determined to withhold when the topic turns to the future. “Music will continue to be very rich I think,” states Patrick. “The lack of funding that emerges from big streaming services will have to change. But as history has proven, every empire falls! The major companies won’t rely on their laurels if they're clever, they’ll listen to the people that are providing money for them,” he says, with a knowing grin. Martin continues the optimism. “We also just think the world is going to go mad for gigs. It’ll be lovely when that happens.”
Truer words were never spoken. At the centre of grass roots music, it’s teams like Heist or Hit that fuel the releases and gigs we’re all currently dreaming about, and in doing so, create an emotional impact on the music-loving public that is hard to top. It’s a subtle, yet mighty achievement from an incredible team, and one we should all hold close to our hearts when introduced to the electric buzz of venues once more.