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Why there's no profit in Debt
Louis Barabbas
Louis Barabbas is one of the driving forces behind Debt Records

Manchester's musical history has a fine tradition of attempting to reinvent the music industry.

Most famous were Factory, who attempted make the record label work as well for the acts as it did for the owners.

Debt Records are trying something similar - founding a label that makes no money for itself and ploughs everything back into its artists.

And if that weren't enough, the co-operative label also aims to help out actors, photographers and film-makers.

The not-for-profit approach starts at the very top of the label with directors Louis Barabbas, Dan Watkins and Biff Roxby, who have turned away from money and towards creativity as the basis for their company, as Louis explains.

"The company itself is an official entity with all the boring things like barcode databases, but the directors have signed an agreement that states no one has access to any profits made by the label.

"All money goes back into the Debt kitty for use on Debt projects.

Basically it's like the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood but with less prostitutes
Louis Barabbas

"Money for records made by bands goes to those bands, money for the collaborative projects goes to the kitty.

"The fact that there is no money to be made by 'the company' means that we sign artists based on talent and individuality, rather than potential revenue."

'Not just about music'

For Louis, it's that emphasis on talent that is most important for Debt and he's hoping that it will lead some great events in the future between the people associated with the label.

"Debt does not simply put out records. One of the stipulations in the artist contract is that they are open to collaborative projects with other artists.

"This year we are putting on 'Debt At The Dancehouse' and filming it as both a live show and as a documentary; the finished film will resemble a Manchester equivalent to Scorsese's 'The Last Waltz'.

Molly Macleod
Molly Macleod were Debt Records' first signing

"Next year will see Debt artists cover each others' material for a series of cross-over compilations, so that fans of one band will find out about other artists.

"But Debt is not just about music. We promote the talents of film-makers, artists, photographers, poets, DJs, actors and writers.

"The point is that different artistic disciplines are symbiotic, not exclusive, hence all the collaborative projects.

"Musicians write the score for film-makers' films, photographers take care of photo shoots in exchange for portfolio advertising, and there's even a graphic novel in the pipeline between me and a cartoonist.

"The point is that everything can be taken care of in-house and we all benefit from the exposure that any one of us receives."

'Like the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood'

There's something utopian in the ideal of it all, something that would probably have appealed to the late great Anthony Wilson as indeed would Louis' nutshell description of the label.

"Basically it's like the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood but with less prostitutes."

As mission statements go, it's possibly the most ambitious one you'll hear in a long time - and one that Debt Records might just be able to live up to.

John Fairhurst
John Fairhurst is spreading the Debt name in Australia

In fact, Louis has already made plans for global domination and if it happens, he says nothing will change in the ethos of the label, especially not its location.

"The driving force of Debt Records is to promote the Manchester independent scene globally, but we don't limit itself to that one goal.

"We already have alliances with labels and festivals in Spain, USA and Mexico, and one of our signings, John Fairhurst, is living in Australia, so we hope to forge a link there too.

"It is important to state though that no matter how big this gets, Manchester will always be the hub.

"Nor will the money ethos won't change; if Debt gets big, the wallets won't - it's up to us to make our living through our own material, but be helped by and enjoy the combined promotion of the individuals that make up the collective."

And who knows? With the whole of the business trying new ways to generate income and cope with a changing market, they might just have struck on the future of a brilliant new way of working in the music industry.

Debt at the Dancehouse took place on Saturday 7 November.

In pictures: Debt at the Dancehouse
10 Nov 09 |  BBC Introducing


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