Continuing our series of insights into the burgeoning world of UK, indie, vinyl-issuing soul labels, we tracked down MARK ANDERSON – one of the principals behind boutique label MD RECORDS. They’ve been around since 2017 and the label has issued a slew of classic, lost soul – most never issued on vinyl before. As ever, we began by asking Mark to briefly sum up what MD Records is all about…
First off, MD Records doesn’t have a geographical base or shop. My main partner in the label is Des and he lives on the other side of the country to me. Helping us out are Jordan who lives in Wigan while other associates, Rich, Thomas and William are all down in Kent! The reality is that in this day and age there is really no need for a set location. What’s important is that we all share the same music values – chiefly that the label isn’t really about us, it’s about the people who wrote, recorded and issued the music we release.
So, what about your music background. When did you get the soul bug? What kind of records inspired you?
Musically we are all into different aspects of music and in particular the soul scene but have common ground when it comes to seeking out releases. We try not to pigeonhole ourselves and we certainly do not want to restrict ourselves in what we release, a trawl over our back catalogue should show that. In terms of inspiration, it’s really the old story of being inspired the first time you hear a track, and it grabs you by the neck and shakes you around a bit. The excitement of hearing the first few bars of a classic oldie brings back memories, while the unknown things, especially when listening to master tapes really set the hairs standing up on your arms.
OK… when did you start the label and what about the name? What were the first releases?
The idea to start the label came about on a cold and dark October night, a call with Des and the idea was sown. So we worked up some ideas of what would be needed and what we thought we might need to find out and off we went. In May 2018 we did a trip to the US record digging and finalising conversations on licensing releases for the label. By this time we had sorted out the design and the name – not very original as its “MD” for Mark and Des. But it felt right and lent itself to the minimalistic 60s look we wanted for the label design. Since then we have the other 2 labels based on the original one to keep to brand, but with differences so that folk can quickly identify the label. Yellow is for previously unreleased on vinyl, the gold for more contemporary and the black tops for the re-issue 45s curated by Jordan. We’re also now working with Kevin Fingier of Fingier Records. (pictured above left)
How do you decide what records to try and reissue?
Again we are pretty open about this, we don’t set out to release specific tracks, rather we love having conversations with people and see where it leads. Currently we have several large projects on the go that started as conversations and finding out about the history of labels, studios and artists. This works for us and fits our bill of trying to fill in the blanks on some of the history. All 3 releases on the black top label come about through conversations and just finding out more about the tracks and the people behind them.
… and what about the complex issue of licensing and royalties?
This certainly can be a minefield, MD Records is a member of PRS and holds permissions in terms of representing artists, rights holders and is a rights holder entity itself. We agree royalty rates on either an upfront one off or a sales-based framework and ensure that MCPS licensing is also in place for every release. Plants should not press records where there is no MCPS licensing for manufacture. If anyone doubts this then they just have to ask themselves would Universal have worked with us on the Originals release if we were not prepared to undertake the job properly.
What’s been you most successful release to date?
That’s a tough question, each release is successful in its own right. Some have surprised us all in the speed which they have gone out. I know some people will say that we can’t be doing that well as we don’t sell out on a pre-order (usually) 3 months before the release date. But that’s not our model and we agreed that from the start. We would rather wait until we know the pressing is shipped to us or in our hands before going live, it means that we pay all the upfront costs on records and stick to our plans on how many copies are pressed of each release. However, of I was to pick a couple, Git Shorty’s ‘Walking On Air’ (MD106) went out like a rocket, as did Bottom and Co’s ‘Your’e Messing Up A Good Thing’ (MD113) and Ruby Andrews’ ‘It Takes Me Away’ (MD112). We are building our reach to new customers all the time and also picking up more and more radio play both terrestrial and internet as each new release come out.
Through your web site you also sell other records – old soul. How do you source them and how do you set the prices?
We are continually on the lookout for old stock records and Des is the key to this. He has been buying and selling records for most of his life and has a phenomenal knowledge and network when it comes to digging. In terms of pricing we want to offer good value on everything we do, and as such we try to be realistic in pricing and don’t follow the trend of ramping pries up. We do the same with other new releases we buy to support other labels. We will buy them on pre-order and then when stock is release sell at a fixed price as opposed to trying to ramp the market price up.
How do the two sides of the business compare?
Obviously, they are different as the buying and selling is much easier in terms of what needs to be done against the new release side. But the two parts of the business complement each other. If you drop on to buy a new release, then you also have the option of digging through the second-hand records and the other label releases. It made sense to us as record buyers so thought it would make sense to others.
… and how difficult is it run a record store and label (albeit online) these days?
We spend a lot of time on the phone and video calls but it’s not too difficult. The key is to line up the e-business model with the more traditional human side of digging for records and release material. The people we work with are often older and new technology isn’t always easy to use for the first time. But we have built great relationships with people all over the world in terms of providing services such as digitisation, mastering and mixing along with the artists and labels we work with. So it can make business quicker and easier at times, but it is still a human touch business at its heart.
What’s been your greatest achievement?
We all had a chat about this and to be honest there are loads. Getting the idea up on its feet and Releasing Ronnie Walker’s ‘Can You Love A Poor Boy’ (MD101) was a big milestone for us and started the journey. When we started we thought that doing 3 or 4 a year would be good because it was a hobby job for weekends and evenings. Now we are sitting with 19 releases, with the last 5 coming out since May 2021 and 4 more in pressing. I think the greatest achievement though is finding some great people who we work with both inside and outside of the MD collective and that we try to support in their endeavours of bringing fresh releases to the music loving masses.
And what’s coming up next for MD Records?
There is big news afoot coming up over this year, some we can talk about and some we can’t. Working with Al Lindsey on our last release is great. It shows that the standard and quality of song writing and performing is still high and that Detroit is still at the top of its game. Also, we have a new member of the collective who shares our passion and enthusiasm for all things musical, the talented Kevin Fingier of Fingier Records fame. Kevin has the same passion as us and has already worked with some great artists on both the soul and reggae scenes. Currently we are working on two large projects that are just getting to the stage where we will be able to share them later this year. They are pretty mind blowing though and we are really excited about them. More to follow in the coming months – but let’s just leave with you a question. How would you feel listening to master tapes and unearthing unreleased Detroit soul tracks from the golden years of 1964 to 1973?
Wow, we’re intrigued! But finally, if you had total free choice – no licensing issues etc – what record who you really love to reissue?
I think that with the way we are there are just so many it would be impossible to just pick one. Keep in mind that the reissue part of what we do is smaller, currently, than the unreleased side. With that said our work with Universal has only just begun so watch this space.
Where can we find out more?
Easy …sign up for the newsletters where we send out news first at www.MDrecords.co.uk