Features August 13, 2019

Ziggy Alberts on establishing Commonfolk Records & how streaming benefits indie artists

Ziggy Alberts on establishing Commonfolk Records & how streaming benefits indie artists
Image: Facebook / Ziggy Alberts

When it came to making his musical vision a reality, Ziggy Alberts was always intent on establishing himself as an independent artist.

At 25 years old, the Byron Bay singer-songwriter has independently released, managed, booked and curated his career with the help of his family. With many major and small labels showing interest in signing him, he went to and from offers last year and nearly put pen to paper multiple times, but something didn’t feel right. 

Alongside sister Anneka (who is also his manager), they decided to create their own record label and stay completely independent. Commonfolk Records allows them to keep complete creative control of his and to keep track of all the business decisions that play hand in hand.

“I don’t necessarily think the wealth of knowledge in a particular lane is as important as the ability to adapt, learn and to grow in different ways is,” he tells TMN of a desire to use fresh faces in the industry to grow his musical vision.

One of the biggest driving points was the ethical side of releasing with how he was going to print his CDs, what merchandise he was going to make and what his environmental impact would have been. 

“That decision didn’t come lightly, but I was looking at artists like Chance The Rapper who are independent and have still managed to have big success globally,” he explains.

“I was then also looking at the Australian market, which has a big history of independent artists circulating and I just felt like the people on my team could do just as good of a job as anyone else I have seen working in the business.”

Following the launch of Commonfolk Records, he now has his two aunties, his sister and his father working with him on the label side of things, while he has a whole touring team working on the live shows. 

Alberts admits family is very important to him and he’s very important to them. That’s why he trusts their instincts over someone new.

“Third parties don’t specifically have the personal direction to be inclined to look after each person as carefully as you will when they’re your younger brother, nephew or son”.

Anyone that is in his team who wasn’t family initially by blood has now become family to him emotionally. “It’s very Italian, isn’t it?” he laughs. 

With his independent status intact, he decided to bring on some third parties to help with the rapidly growing interest of the business. Bringing on booking agents and publicists, he looked to them to help boost his profile from what he had already successfully done on his own and map out the increasing demand for shows. 

“In the very beginning, I used to book all my own shows. I was self-booked, self-managed, drove myself to the shows, set up the Facebook event pages and occasionally would even tick people off the guest list myself. I was all in and too damn broke to do otherwise,” he reflects on the early days. 

Establishing strong connections with booking agencies globally, he currently works with Paradigm in North America, their sister agency Coda Agency in Europe/UK.

Locally, he recently started booking with Lonely Lands Agency, which was founded by Tash Sultana, Jaddan Comerford and Regan Lethbridge, after working with Katie Rynne from Select Music for four years. 

Creating strong business relationships is something Alberts and his team have worked hard on because they’ve built his career without a lot of industry support and interest.

“I wasn’t even being played on a radio station in Australia prior to 2018.

“Before I even had radio play, started working with publicists, started up the label or had any interest from anyone in the industry, we were selling out some of the biggest theatres in the country with 2000-3000 capacity and were simultaneously selling out smaller capped rooms overseas,” he explains of the relationship he built with his fans without the industry machine.

Now his music is played regularly on stations like triple j, and his best-performing track at radio is ‘Love Me Now’, which peaked at #76 on the TMN Hot 100.

One of the biggest roadblocks Alberts and his team have faced was the internalised issue in the Australian music industry surrounding age and how young and “ill-experienced” their team is.

“The music industry is currently changing because it has to, but people still get really caught up with how old you are. I was always young and I’m still young now. So the criticism came with the territory and I’ve gotten comfortable with it now.”

Citing that this is not an issue in Europe, he also understands why some people don’t want to deal with a younger team, but believes their strength is that they’ve built up their experience and willingness to learn and aren’t arrogant about the things they do or don’t know. 

“The only time I think it is dangerous to be young and in this industry is if we thought we knew it all, which we don’t. That’s the whole beauty of why Commonfolk are a strong team with a healthy future. We don’t say we know best, we say that we have to figure out what is best for now and change it along the way.”

This independent journey started with him busking on the streets of Byron Bay but it was a whole different industry back then. He used to sell a lot of CDs and tickets to his shows from busking but now he acknowledges that everything is shifting to streaming and it’s harder to have that impact from busking.

It also sees there being a really quick turnover with “what’s hot” which can be quite dangerous to artists trying to establish themselves. 

However, he cites the positive impact that streaming has made sees it really benefiting independent artists as it allows you to get your music out to all over the world and promote your shows as well. 

“It makes it more possible for you as an artist and for your independent team to have access to information and advertising that back in the day would have only happened if you had a major label.

“It also makes illegal downloading of songs void as you don’t need to illegally download music anymore when you can have it for $15 a month. It makes it accessible for everyone,” he explains.

“I think streaming has been a good thing for independent people and I think for people that think streaming makes albums less important have been proved wrong by the likes of Billie Eilish”.

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