Funding from Rosa has enabled Bristol’s first female youth record label to launch its first EP, from artist China Bowls
Tucked into a small office space on Stokes Croft, in the heart of Bristol’s creative community, the city’s first female-only youth record label is preparing to launch its first EP. Established in September 2015 as a social enterprise and community interest company, Saffron Records’ first marketable product – a CD by 24-year-old artist China Bowls, funded entirely by Rosa – marks its first step towards a sustainable business model. And as the first artist to be signed, she’s entering the male-dominated music industry with the backing of an organisation that’s offering more mentorship and support than the norm.
A grant from Rosa’s Voices from the Frontline campaign has covered the EP’s costs from start to finish: recording, production, sound engineering, album artwork, marketing and a music video. “Rosa has helped us to get a product out there,” says Creative Director Laura Lewis-Paul. “Before, we were fully relying on funding.” The release of 100 copies of the three-track CD on 3 October 2016, supported a launch party attended by industry experts, will raise Saffron Records’ profile – allowing the label to build partnerships with management and booking agencies, and industry professionals willing to offer master classes and studio field trips to its musicians. Eventually, as more artists are signed and making music, Saffron Records will run with financial independence – but funding from Rosa was essential to kick-start its work.
Where does the need for a female-only record company stem from? Lewis-Paul stresses that while she’s not eliminating men from the creative process – male mentors and industry experts work with Saffron Records as well as female – it is essential to build a platform where young female artists feel level to their male peers, rather than at a disadvantage. Before she began Saffron Records, Lewis-Paul had launched a mixed youth label called Temple Records. There, she observed that the young male artists she was promoting were receiving disproportionate attention from industry experts, who were almost always men – and the confidence of female artists was affected by an emphasis on appearance in the music industry at large.
“It’s a lot more work for you to get recognised as a woman in this industry. There’s a massive lack of representation,” Lewis-Paul explains. “And although music is a really beautiful, creative process that can bring people together, it’s become a product which is sold through the artists’ bodies. The people who are marketing it are usually older men.” Lewis-Paul believes that more women occupying higher-up roles in the music industry would lead to a more nuanced, less-exploitative approach to marketing young female artists’ music. Her goal is to change the way women are perceived and represented in music, one empowered artist, aged 16-24, at a time – and she runs apprenticeships at Saffron Records, open-mic sessions and music production classes for secondary school-aged girls to address the gender balance in other aspects of the industry, too.
What has China Bowls gained from being signed by a female-only label? “She feels very supported,” smiles Lewis-Paul. “She’s really clued-up and there’s a team to back her, so she feels confident to say how she wants things to be done. She’s developed loads.”
As for China, she’s excited for the EP’s release. “It’s really great to be about to have the finished product in my hand,” she says. “Working with Saffron means that I’m meeting a lot of women who are bossing the music industry – I think that in itself has had an impact on me. Just showcasing how some young women are making waves within the music industry makes it more accessible and can encourage other women to step into the field.”