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“Making music, with everyone” – The Employable talks Bandhack with entrepreneur Andrew Ferris

According to the late Steve Jobs, “the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
One person who truly proves this to be true is Northern Ireland based entrepreneur, Andrew Ferris , Co-Founder of independent record label Smalltown America. His genuine passion for music, innate entrepreneurial spirit and forward thinking attitude are the fundamental secrets to his success over the last decade. And with new project BNDHCK just being launched, TheEmployable felt it was the perfect time to catch up with the man himself…
Hi Andrew, firstly, congratulations on your 10th year as an entrepreneur! So, what exactly inspired you back in 2001 to set up Smalltown America?

My writing partner (Jamie Burchell) wanted to release our own records without having to be answerable to anyone and to release as much music as we wanted to when we wanted to. Everything sprang from that really in 2001. Entrepreneurship is quite common in the underground music industry really; self-released titles make up around 80% of the records made in any year. My own inspiration comes from great indie and punk labels like Matador, Dischord and Southern. These are businesses decades old that continue to release inspiring music and employ lots of passionate people.

And what were the biggest obstacles you faced when you were first starting up?

There is no rule book for releasing a record and no night class that you can take. I struggled with finance, logistics and shipping, marketing, sales and customer service. Pretty much everything to be honest! But learning on the job is the best way I find and mistakes are valuable (if you don’t repeat them). I had no concept of project management at the outset, what needed to be done first and in what order – I’ve been lucky though in that I’ve always worked with people that are task and detail focussed which has allowed me to develop our businesses creatively.

And obviously, the last 10 years has been a difficult time within the music industry, from labels disappearing altogether to a complete transformation in how music is sold. How have you managed to ensure that STA has survived?

We just keep changing things up, taking our main sales platform in-house independentmusic.com was a neat move in 2010 as we cut out the majority of our distribution costs for physical and digital sales. We are very focussed on timesaving tech and integrate lots of third party applications across our sites; I’m very proud of our digital workflow and the ways in which customers can access our content.

As an entrepreneur, you seem to be continually creating and coming up with increasingly innovative ideas, your latest of course being BNDHCK – can you tell us exactly what BNDHCK is all about?

BNDHCK is a means by which people can digitally collaborate in virtual ‘writing rooms’ to make music happen in an organic way. Songwriting teams in Nashville or LA get together and create new works on a daily basis. But rather than be confined by geography or time of day using BNDHCK one can collaborate with anyone at anytime and keep track of all versions of the idea as it’s formed. The platform makes money from those collaborations by responding to industry songwriting briefs and pitching new material to the broadcast industry.

And how and when did you have your “lightbulb” moment and first come up with the idea for this type of collaborative platform?

The problem we are solving is one that I have experienced personally. The album I’m currently working on has a co-writer in France and another that lives ‘on the road’ as a touring musician. Posting song versions by email, dropbox or Basecamp all have limitations for those guys; BNDHCK is an elegant solution that improves on existing technology and bends it to our needs. The idea came to Cahir (O’Doherty from the band Fighting With Wire) and I at SXSW last year – I was really blown away by the ‘let’s build it and see what happens’ culture in the tech world and felt that music needed an equivalent dynamic. BNDHCK is probably the most punk rock thing I’ve worked on strangely.

I appreciate it is still very early days for BNDHCK, but from the showcase and launch events you have had so far, what sort of feedback have you been getting?

It’s been great (you’d expect me to say that I guess!) but there seems to be genuine excitement around the project from the writers we’ve worked with. The really cool thing that BNDHCK allows you to do is to collaborate with anyone in the community if you permit them to see your music. We don’t really know what will come out of that ‘cloud writing’ but I think that’s possibly the most exciting facet of the service.

It seems evident that one of the critical elements of BNDHCK’s success will revolve around building a vibrant and creative BNDHCK community. Can you tell us how you are planning to build that community and of course how some of TheEmployable members could get involved?

For now, hop onto www.bndhck.com and pop in your email address to become involved in the Beta release. Ultimately one will connect to BNDHCK using Facebook credentials which is where we feel our community will be built from.

As we are all aware, with the current jobs market being the way it is, more and more people are considering starting up on their own. What advice would you give someone who might have a dream idea that they feel could become a viable business?

If you love what you do you’ll be good at it, if you’re good at it you’ll make money. In terms of tech ideas I’m going to steal something from Rich Dale @ Planzai who told me ‘show your idea to ten potential customers first, if they all like it – you’ve maybe got a shot’. I think that’s pretty spot on.

Finally, you certainly seem to be both a successful and serial entrepreneur – from STA, STA Music Publishing,Independentmusic.com and now BNDHCK. What about the future – are there any more exciting ventures or projects in the pipeline?

I’m really happy with our portfolio of services at the moment; but I’m looking towards the live music sector and particularly live music merchandising for opportunities to grow our business. I’m not certain what form that will take just yet. I’m also really interested in what data visualisation can bring to the music industry. Better metrics are becoming available every quarter and I think there is a business in mapping those for advertisers and radio sponsors.

Interested? Intrigued? Inspired? Don’t forget to register your details now at www.BNDHCK.com ……

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