In a former life, I attended a one day seminar at the British Library on the subject of the archival of sound recordings. It ran the gamut from wax cylinders to re-releasing seminal records from recent decades to the automatic digital archival of a national broadcaster.
One of the guests was a representative of Beggars Group, who talked excitedly about the value of their own archive, and their blossoming attempts to sort it all out, preserve it, and, ultimately, better monetise it.
So it was nice to recently stumble across the Beggars online store and have a look at some of the releases they’ve made available. It’s mostly back catalogue stuff, but there are a few hidden gems and some releases I didn’t realise would still be available on vinyl. (Hello Biffy b-sides collections and 1-disc version of mcluskyism. Will I ever find you, Effloresce?)
There doesn’t seem to be the option to buy downloads, but perhaps they’re focussing on physical releases that collectors will want, while making the digital stuff available via streaming services. I’m not sure how many people still really collect CDs – although a nicely packaged collection of previously unavailable stuff accompanied with well-done liner notes and artwork remains a worthwhile object in my view.
Overall though, it’s the approach that I like. The Beggars Arkive Instagram account has regular juicy updates, like shots of master tapes of important sessions, as well as highlights from the store.
It all strikes the right balance between the commercial potential and the cultural importance of the label’s output over the years via various indie labels. As Beggars’ Lesley Bleakley said at the British Library seminar: “It’s music… It’s culture… It’s not ‘ours’… We do need to look after our copyright though!”
A similar project is Flying Out, the online store of New Zealand indie labels including Flying Nun and Arch Hill. They sell a mix of digital and physical music, as well as books, t-shirts and other merchandise. They also have a focus on re-issuing classic albums on various formats. There are probably a number of other similar projects from indie labels around the world. I’d hope so, anyway.
Anyway. It’s all heartening stuff. And it reminded me of that day spent at the British Library, scribbling pages of notes like I was at university again. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for similar opportunities because they’re great fun and very stimulating. I want another one.