Founder of the not-for-profit independent label discusses the birth of LNFG, its unique model and future goals
Like absolutely no one who ever dreamed of getting involved with the music industry, Last Night From Glasgow's founder Ian Smith spent two and a half decades before he set up the label insuring golf clubs. 'It's pretty bizarre for somebody who doesn't play or watch golf,' he laughs, pointing out that insurance is still his day job, and that from leaving school and going into a job as an insurance clerk, his company now works with 600 major golfing organisations around the UK.
Yet his label is also a big and ever-growing deal, having released more than twenty albums and many more singles in the three years since it was founded, by artists including Broken Chanter (the new band from Kid Canaveral's David MacGregor), Scottish indie heroes Bis, Carla Easton's TeenCanteen, Annie Booth, Zoe Bestel and many more. Beyond the many great artists he's helped, however, it's the ground-breaking crowdfunding (and largely not for profit) model of Last Night From Glasgow which sets it apart.
'I've always been a big vinyl collector, a big gig attendee, pretty avid about the music scene, but it just so happened that the music industry was the benefactor of a kind of social rage I felt four years ago,' explains Smith. 'I just wanted to do something, and setting up a label was the channel for that. It probably explains why we're so angry, controversial, shouty and ethics-driven … At the start it was more of a political statement than a musical one, to be honest.'
What caused this rage, and what was the statement he was trying to make? It turns out Last Night From Glasgow (or LNFG, as it's known; the name comes from the lyric in Abba's 'Super Trouper') was imagined as a direct response to the result of the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, during which Smith felt the same political charge as many others, getting out on the streets to campaign and falling into the orbit of many campaigners from the arts. The result was a blow, but LNFG was all about channelling that anger and upset into something positive.
'To be blunt, the statement I wanted to make was that we can be nicer to everyone, we can treat them better and look after everyone who's less fortunate,' he says. 'With the time that I'd been spending campaigning on my hands, combined with a sense that what was really enriching about that experience was seeing people come together in the hope of making things fairer and more equitable, I found myself wanting to do something that fought for those principles, that gave the small guy a chance. In a record industry controlled by conglomerates which aren't actually interested in the art, I wanted to put forward a socialist model for a record label.'
It took Smith a couple of years to figure out where to direct his energies, and in the meantime he didn't just figure out what he wanted to get involved with, but how he could do it differently. He recognises that there's an irony in the fact he's worked in the 'pretty conservative' industry of financial services for a long time, but he views this as an advantage. 'I've got a solid foundation in how capitalism should work,' he says, 'and how economic models should be profitable and functional, while paying attention to principles of ethics and fairness. It gave me an idea of how to exploit the capitalism in people while appealing to their socialism, by allowing them to buy into something which offers a great deal.'
It's not just selling insurance which has given Smith an insight into how the borderline between desire and altruism works; in his younger days he was involved in Kickstarter campaigns for new boardgames, while he's a drinker of IPA, and is a signed-up Brewdog shareholder. While he appreciates people have wildly differing opinions of that company, he admires the way their business model essentially involves 'me buying my own loyalty'. Therefore, the LNFG model is a subscription-based one, where supporters of the label pay an annual fee and are mailed all of that year's releases at better than half the retail price, as well as gaining free entry to each of the label's annual showcases (including this year's Christmas party, which takes place at the CCA in Glasgow).
Under this model, LNFG have the money upfront to pay for their artists' studio sessions and promotion in advance, and to print their records. They print in batches of 1000 – Smith takes an informed guess that only Rock Action are a bigger Scottish independent, in terms of production runs – and the only demand the label places upon the artist is that they give up nearly 400 of those copies to mail to the current subscriber base at no fee, although they make at least 75% of the sale price of every other copy.
Of the six friends who were involved at first (among them Easton and her brother Murray, and musician Joe McAlinden), only Smith and his long-time friend Stephen Kelly – a barber by trade – still run the label. They find bands to release through recommendation, through seeing a large amount of live music, and through demos received; although, a victim of their own success, their release schedule is set into 2021 and submissions won't reopen until summer of 2020.
When Last Night From Glasgow launched in February of 2016 the aim was to have sixty subscribers, which would allow them to fulfil orders for the first record and create the next. By September of that year 160 people had signed up, and at the moment – although the renewal process is still ongoing – 385 members are subscribed. They have twenty-four signed artists and worldwide distribution from the same company which handles Bella Union and Heavenly, and in the New Year will release an album by classic Paisley indie-pop group Close Lobsters.
LNFG have also recently set up two sub-labels; Komponist, which specialises in instrumental music, and the newly-announced Hive, where selected artists can use LNFG's aggregation and promotion services under their own steam. On one level it's a ground-breaking model, yet on another it only works thanks to the altruism of all those involved. Fifteen volunteers give up a little time here and there, while Smith, a father from the West End of Glasgow, has 'never worked so many sixty-hour weeks for pretty much no money.
'Our name means that what happened last night in Glasgow was probably worth being involved in,' he continues, 'or, if you spin it nihilistically, that it's literally the last night in Glasgow. After all, we're trying to deal with the collapse of the music industry, and by default, that industry won't want us to be successful. We're restricted by how much charity and support we can garner, and the fact that as we grow, we're going to start pushing people over and pissing them off. You can't be telling everyone else they've got it wrong for too long, I've no naivety about that – but I'd love to think we can go global.'
The Last Night From Glasgow Christmas Special is at the CCA, Glasgow, Sun 15 Dec. The label's Celtic Connections show From Night 'Til Morning is at the Blue Arrow, Glasgow, Fri 24 Jan.