Inside the rise and rise of indie label Helium Records
Helium, the full-service music company headed up by Mark Pope and former long time Warner executive Alan Robertson – arrives with the financial backing of Mark Fennessy.
To date, Helium has signed three acts and is actively seeking new artists to partner with.
Imbibe, Helium’s debut signing, moved from Byron Bay to Berlin in May 2018 where they recorded the singles ‘Mirage’, ‘Touchdown’ and ‘Reflections’ with Grammy-nominated producer Will Hicks.
Imbibe scored a slot on NME’s 2019 Top 100 Artists To Watch list (and described ‘Mirage’ as “the year’s best existential jam”) as well as BBC Radio 1 airplay.
Sydney indie psych-rockers Gaspar Sanz, who’s latest EP is currently the 24th most added at US college radio, have also been gaining favourable notices within triple j and positive reaction from indie blogs and playlists across the globe.
Since joining Helium in February 2019, Gaspar Sanz spent year one self-producing their songs and by year’s end, it was clear it was time to step it up a little.
“At the band’s suggestion we approached Oscar Dawson (Holy Holy) to produce two songs in 2020 – ‘Cheryl’ and now ‘On My Mind’ – the latter mixed by the legendary Jacknife Lee,” Robertson said.
Finally is Darlinghurst, a four-piece “fresh country” outfit, comprising of members Jason Resch, Pagan Newman, Cassie Leopold and Matt Darvidis, collectively writing and producing 13 songs.
Darlinghurst has achieved much in twelve months since being signed to Helium in May 2019.
Their debut single, ‘Sorry Won’t Get You Back’ hit #1 on the TMN Country Hot 50 chart, followed up by a #5 chart for ‘So Long So Long’, and single three ‘Picture Frame’ which peaked at #4.
Single number four – ‘Gotta Go Rodeo’ – inspired by Cassie Leopold’s hometown, “a small country town called Moama in NSW” is released September 4.
Markers are not only being laid down in Australia but in the US market as well.
‘So Long So Long’ has now out in America and sits in the US Top 100 country radio chart.
“It’s been a very beautifully surreal twelve months,” Resch recounts. “It’s something we, and our wonderful and supportive Helium Records family, are incredibly grateful and proud of. We plan to continue to keep our nose to the grindstone and see what unfolds.”
Pope cites the quality counsel given by indie pioneer and MGM founder Sebastian Chase, as to a simple proven strategy on how best to navigate the build of an independent label.
“Sebastian, the font of wisdom for most of us in the music industry, said it’s about building your label and your artists on a sustainable basis, taking measured steps in order to build an audience while allowing each song and time to play their parts.
“Along with your plan, patience and perseverance play essential roles to build on early success.”
Helium focuses on two principal aspects: to invest and work each artist on a sustainable basis and secondly to not only work with but enjoy each artist’s foray into uncharted territory. “With Helium, there’s no hierarchy; we partner with our artists on a collegial basis,” Pope said.
Pope’s track record includes managing Jimmy Barnes; co-promoting the Australia Made and INXS’s tours; a senior marketing gig at Sony and a ten-year stint as head of A&R at Warner.
At Warner’s, both he and Michael Parisi built a local artist roster that generated $60 million worth of business by signing and then developing a wide range of artists such as the left-of-centre Regurgitator, The Whitlams, The Superjesus, Taxiride, and Kulcha amongst others.
Pope’s experience, drawn from his days at Warner, is in part the template he and colleague Robertson apply with the current challenge in building Helium’s roster.
Before signing any artist, Pope and Robertson have a four-point common-sense checklist: can the artist cut it live? can they write quality songs? are they ambitious and yet grounded? do they have a strong work ethic? Once that’s ascertained, Pope and Robertson then spend time getting to know each artist on a human level before offering a deal.
Pope’s quietly encouraged by the most recent milestones from all three artists.
“Everybody’s aspiration is to climb to the top of Mt Everest,” he told TMN. “But to get there, you have to first make it to base camp.
“Since Helium Records began to get serious in 2018, our focus has been on getting our artists to base camp before attempting any final ascent.
“These things take time. And while we still have a way to go, one thing we’re certain of; all three Helium artists are heading in the right direction.”