In Conversation With Matt Parsons of Ditto Music

In Conversation With Matt Parsons of Ditto Music

Matt Parsons of Ditto Music talks us through the importance of pushing things forward and supporting independent artists.

How did Ditto Music come to be? What’s the philosophy behind the business? What’s your mission?

Me and my brother played in bands for about ten years, this was from about ‘96 to ‘06. During the tail end of that, we got pretty popular in the industry. We were showcasing for record labels in London, that kind of stuff. We’d have 20 or 30 of the biggest labels and publishers turning up for our shows. But for whatever reason no one ever signed us.

So we got to the summer of 2005 and we thought, well, what’s to stop us from creating our own record label? The independent music industry as it stands today did not exist back then. If you wanted to release a record, it would need to be through a record label, and there was absolutely no other way of doing it. So you had to release a CD, but you could get into stores without a distributor, and you could get a distributor without a label.

What was it like in those early years?

We really didn’t know what the hell we were doing. We just knew that we had something to offer people stuck in the same situation as us as artists. Having something honest and of real benefit to offer is the deciding factor in any successful business. How many start-ups have you seen that invent a problem that didn’t exist just to sell you the answer? Here, we had an actual problem that affected a specific group of people, and we created the solution.

You and your brother are pretty outspoken and proud of your working-class roots. How do you think those roots have given you the tools/drive needed to succeed in your Ditto endeavours?

Being raised in that working-class, council estate background, you know that you have to fight for absolutely everything you get. And you know that if you did get something, if you achieved something, then you did it for yourself.

Back in 2006, we sold everything we had to make Ditto work, we moved into what used to be a crack den in a rough part of town. I couldn’t afford fuel, so I’d get around on a £20 bike I found on Ebay. I’d use that to get across the city to my mum’s house to do my laundry because I could afford a machine. We had a £7-a-week food budget. Looking back, it was second nature. We were used to a pretty lean upbringing, financially speaking. So it wasn’t much of a culture shock. We’d been poor before [laughs].

Ditto was a very, very different company before it stepped into music. Can you tell us about the hustle of those early years?

We had three businesses at the same time: there was the music, there was computer repair, and there were bouncy castles. We used to have this flyer that we got printed on the cheap. We’d take it around our local council estates door to door. One side said ‘Dancing Harry’s Bouncy Castles. Part of the Ditto Group’. On the flip side it said Ditto Computing ltd. We’ll fix your computer’. There were three phone numbers but they all went to the same phone. So back at our little den whenever anyone would call, we’d say ‘Hello Ditto’. Depending on what they said next we’d either fix their computer, rent them a bouncy castle, or release their single.

You’re known for siding with the artists and advocating that they stay independent as opposed to signing up with the bigger corporations. What’s the importance of remaining independent?

The main gripe was seeing what the major labels were doing not just to us, but to artists in general. They see the artist as a commodity. How many tracks did we get into the top 40? Because to this day it’s still all about the market share. If the artists don’t perform as well as the label expects they get canned. Even worse, they get shelved. So they’re still signed but they can’t actually do anything on account of their contracts.

Remembering how much of ourselves we put into becoming artists. Not for the money, but for the escape. We wanted to get away from our crappy lives in Birmingham on the estate. We thought Ditto was our ticket out. Artists are shown this golden ticket to a better life, not realising that they have about as much value to a label as a can of beans on a factory line.

We practice what we preach, too. Ditto is still 50/50 owned by myself and my brother. That’s important to us; it means we call the shots. If we succeed, it’s on our own terms. If we fail, that’s on us too.

NFTs have risen to prominence in recent years. What are the implications or opportunities for the music industry?

NFTs raise some really interesting opportunities for the artist, and it ties in with some of the thoughts we’d been having around the future of digital ownership. Take Ed Sheeran’s first single, which we re-released way back in 2009 or something like that. What would happen if you had shares in that single? What would that be worth now? With NFTs and Blockchain technology, just such a thing is possible. The NFT format, combined with a digital currency means you could have bought 0.1% of that Ed Sheeran song, for example. And now that would be worth exponentially more. Because NFTs are tied to a currency and to exchanges, they have a real value that can go up and down. It’s just like having stocks and shares. You can effectively buy stocks and shares in artists’ songs.

And what are the benefits for the artist?

It’s a concept that can really give back to the artist, because it means that they can sell shares in their own songs before it even comes out. Do they then need massive advances from major record labels when they can sell their upcoming album – or even just a single – on an NFT and raise money on it just as you would an ICO or an IPO? People can buy shares in songs and the artist gains the money from that. Their share value goes up, so they keep getting royalties from that plus everything else that comes with it, and the fans also get something back as well as a sense of ownership of something special. Everybody wins.

So NFTs are the next step in Ditto’s championing of the independent artist?

Absolutely. Ditto is all about empowering independents but finding different ways to do it. Ways that aren’t obvious or necessarily the norm. It’s not just a question of what technology can be bolted onto another technology, what extra gold package can we add in. From coffee shops to Blockchain to NFT exchange, they’re all completely linked. They have the same ethos and mission, which is to empower independent artists. In very different ways, sure. But that’s always been the goal, so it will always come back to empowering the artist and empowering independent music.

You can watch more from our In Conversation With series here.

Credit to Will Halbert, Essential Journal.

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