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Why Little Boots left a major label and started her own

by James Kim and Cameron Kell | The Frame

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Victoria Hesketh, AKA Little Boots, musician and record label head. Little Boots

When British musician Little Boots — real name Victoria Hesketh — released her 2009 debut album on Atlantic Records, she was tabbed as an artist to watch by both the BBC and Rolling Stone. But Hesketh learned that being on a big label wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

As the record industry struggled with the digital revolution, Hesketh, like a growing number of musicians, decided to launch her own label, called On Repeat Records. Her latest album is called "Working Girl."

When Hesketh joined us on The Frame, she talked about the benefits and challenges of having a record label, writing songs about being her own boss, and how she almost became the "English Lady Gaga."

Interview Highlights:

You've said that you're not just the boss of a record label, you're also a boss character, and that if you pretend to be the boss character, people start to believe that you are the boss. Are you still pretending? Or have you become the boss?

I really don't know, but that's what's quite fun! [laughs] I really believe in this fake it 'til you make it mentality, that once you start doing things, even if you don't really know what you're doing, as long as you manage to look and act like you do, people start taking you seriously.

And then you're like, Hang on, I actually am doing this. When I was writing the record and trying to run the label, I didn't really know where I stopped and this fantasy boss lady began, but that kind of doesn't matter.

Your first album, "Hands," came out in 2009 and it was released by Atlantic Records. So, for your second release (2013's "Nocturnes"), why did you decide to create your own record label after being on such a big one?

It was kind of complicated, but when I split ways with Atlantic I looked at the other options and didn't want to jump back in bed with another one of those big labels that takes away your creative control and decides how your money's going to be spent. I wanted to be in control, and I guess I felt like some parts of my identity, or how I was being represented as an artist, were not things I was comfortable with.

I think the music industry's going to change so much, and a lot of artists are self-releasing or starting labels, which is a better option. You can keep control of all your music, your image, your income and choose how you want to invest it. Now, if I make money, I can say, "Cool, let's spend this on an amazing video or a cool remix." It's not someone else's decision.

But as an artist, can you be truer to your authentic, musical self on your own label? If you're your own boss, you're not fulfilling the idea of what you are as an artist to somebody else.

Exactly. On my first record, especially in the UK, I was marketed as "The English Lady Gaga," which is something that I never really understood or felt like I was. Now, I'm in control of little things like that, but it's a lot of pressure. If something goes wrong now, it's my fault. [laughs]

When you move from a major record label to your own label, how much of your sound did you end up controlling? How much of your sound was shaped by where you were home to, as opposed to what you were doing yourself?

It is actually really different, because now I don't have an A&R guy. Writing songs for an A&R guy can be a great relationship, but it's basically like handing your homework in to be marked. So every time you write a song you have to go and say, Here you go guys, what do you think? And they're the people that ultimately say, Yes, pursue this track, or No, this is rubbish.

Those guys don't necessarily know — you hear so many stories about great pop songs being turned down five times before they become huge hits, so I've really learned to trust myself a lot more and, when I've got a song that sounds good, to go for it. Before, I would be very much relying on someone else's opinion.

So when other musicians come up to you and ask about your label, what's your sales pitch? What are the obstacles and what are the advantages to starting your own label?

It's hard because, for new artists, I think there's still the validation of having a major label. People are attracted to that and the financial backing it can give you, but if you really look at it, they can't just make money off CD sales any more, so they're going to take all of your income streams.

I think you have to really think about it, but it's not for everybody — it's a lot of work to do it yourself and you've really got to have a good idea of what you want and be very driven, but I think I definitely would suggest new artists have a long think about it. And so many people are doing it themselves.

Did all of these experiences start to shape the aesthetic of the album itself? Does it start to affect the kinds of stories you want to tell, be they romantic or narrative, in the lyrics of the new album?

For this record, I really tried to look somewhere else for inspiration. That's how it started. I was so bored of writing about love and I was just over that, I felt like I had exhausted it lyrically. So I started looking at other things, like, What else is going on in my life? Oh, there's this huge thing that's kind of been like a massive breakup, and I've had to pull myself back together again.

It's almost been this weird heartbreak story, but in a kind of business sense. I just started drawing on this as inspiration, because these are themes that everyone can relate to — success, pressure, ambition, drive, and this crazy, digital, hyperactive world we're living in.

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