Lost Map – creating a new way of selling music and why we should get on board

Lost Map are breaking ground with a new way of selling music – we’re totally on board.

That’s a bit of a grand title. But it’s an issue that’s been bugging me for a while.

I am in the process of trying to rationalise my CD collection, which currently stands at about 3,000.

In recent years, a large percentage of them will have been bought at gigs and festivals. I don’t regret buying any of them, well, there may be a couple of mistakes, but you know what I mean.

On the other hand there are cds on the shelves bought 20 years ago that are unlikely to see the inside of a CD player anytime soon, at least not in this house.

Clearly, I can’t get rid of them at the moment, but even if I could, finding someone to take them, even for free, is proving tricky. I stopped deluding myself I’d get money for them ages ago.

The tension in my head is that I am keen to buy music at gigs. That way I know where the money is going. But I now have a bedroom floor stacked with CDs that have been used once, ripped to iTunes and stacked in a, not so neat, pile.

Spotify is not the solution. Most bands I’ve seen recently will ask the audience to go check them out on YouTube or BandCamp or Spotify. I can only guess at the numbers who take them up, but I’ll bet it’s only a handful, if that.

Surely, there’s a middle ground.

I wonder whether the Lost Map label on the Isle of Eigg have found the answer.

For £3 a month they will send you a handful of cool looking postcards, each with a download link to an EP, or occasionally an album from one of the bands they promote.

Clearly, they’re not putting on gigs at the moment (they promote all over the UK, not just on Eigg) and their bothy / recording studio is also out of action.

They needed to find another income stream. I’d also guess shipping out physical product would have been a logistical nightmare.

So, this idea is genius. It just seems to me to tick a lot of boxes. If you’ve paid money for it, then you’re going to go and search out the music.

So, here’s an idea for bands at gigs. Don’t sell CDs. Sell postcards, each one with a download code on it. Charge, £5, £10, whatever you think people will pay for your music.

It strikes me as a win. Less stuff to end up in landfill, taking up less space on my bedroom floor. But because I’ve paid money for it, then I am going to download or stream it.

For a minimal outlay you can sell, and I can buy, your music.

I had a word with Johnny Lynch at Lost Map to find out a bit more.

Hi Johnny

1. Tell us a bit about Lost Map Records, how and when it was set up. How long have you been on Eigg? Is there much of a creative community on Eigg apart from you? As I mentioned last night, it’s a long time since I’ve been there.

Hullo! I first visited Eigg in April 2010, and fell in love with the place immediately. I’d spent my twenties running a DIY label from a small fishing village in Fife, on the other side of Scotland, at that point – and hadn’t ventured out towards the wild west all that much. But I became addicted to the place instantly. I decided to organise a live music event on the island, and we put tickets on sale in May 2010. They sold out in 5 minutes. The event happened in September of that year, and I’ve never left Eigg since – that’s been 10 years now. The other label I was involved with crumbled, and so I decided to start my own in 2013, under the name Lost Map.

The community on Eigg is really strong, about 100 people live here, and they all like a good party. There’s a real passion for traditional music up in the Highlands; musically it’s never been my cuppa tea, but I have a massive admiration for the sense of community it creates. All big social gatherings revolve around music, and dancing – up at the local ceilidh hall, they’ll have a few trad bands play, before an electronic DJ plays minimal techno until 9am the next morning.

2. Tell us bit about the recording side of things – the bothan – who was lined up? What has been released to date

Since I started the festival, there’s been a slew of musicians who have played that have expressed a desire to stay on the island to do some writing and recording.

With this in mind, I was keen to start a residency project, creating an archive of music written and recorded on Eigg – and our VISITATIONS series was born out of that. We invite musicians over for a week, provide them with some recording equipment, instruments, and a place to stay.

The recordings are then pressed on to vinyl, and released as part of a subscription series on the Lost Map website. It’s been a really interesting project. Initially I was expecting folks to come up with just two songs, which we would press on a 7” – but it’s been much more fruitful than that, some folks creating an entire album’s worth of material, and so we have released all the music recorded so far on 12”.

I interview each artist who has taken part, and put it out as a podcast – The Lost Map Podcast – and it’s been cool to get an insight on the creative process from each of them, noticing the similarities and the differences. Our first series was launched in 2018, and included Scando-Scots electronic experimentalism from one of my favourite songwriters & producers, Monoganon; psychedelic escapism from Glasgow’s drone-ravers, Free Love; and atmospheric chamber-folk from Slow Tree, an off-shoot of the pastoral indie titans, British Sea Power.

For our second series of VISITATIONS, my partner built a bothy, just up from our house. It’s called St Franny’s Bothan, and it’s a great space – can accommodate up to 4 people, and so there’s scope for more collaboration within the project. St Franny’s is also available to rent out privately, on AirBnB.

We launched series 2 last month, and the first act to take part were Arthur King, a collective of artists and musicians from Los Angeles, who counted Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle among their number. They created this immersive, improvised ambient record, awash with field recordings of sounds collected on the island, along with a short film. It’s beautiful.

Our next release in the series is by Rachel Aggs, who is a post-punk songwriter with the bands Trash Kit, SHOPPING and Sacred Paws – she came up on her own, and made a brilliant lo-fi pop album. We’ve also got a release lined up from Rozi Plain, who collaborated with her band members Gerard and Jamie to create a properly groovy-yet-meditative collection of songs. Each release has been different, but has captured something of Eigg’s spirit.

3. Tell us a bit about the Post Maps Club – how the idea generated, how long its been going, what plans you have for developing it.

The idea of releasing music on postcard started back in 2012 – I was looking for a way to put out music quickly, without having to worry about manufacturing costs and timings. I really like postcards, they’re fun to collect, or to pass on to other people – and it’s nice to have something tangible, something you can put a bit of artwork on, and have a message on the back (along with a download code for the music).

When Lost Map started in 2013, I kept the postcard idea going, and we released these wee PostMap releases sporadically – and with each passing year we received more and more music which was perfect for the format.

So we decided to set up a monthly subscription series called PostMap Club – primarily it was designed as a way for folks to support what we’re doing as a label, paying either £3 or £5 a month, and receiving postcards of new music each month.

It’s actively helping us keep the label afloat (particularly during these difficult times), and has been an amazing way to introduce new artists to our fan-base, as well as a great outlet for bonus tracks / remixes / acoustic sessions / live recordings, etc. We’re looking to develop the series further, using the money we generate from subscriptions to commission exclusive material, and integrate our podcast with it. For me, it’s really important to maintain a meaningful level of interaction and engagement with our audience, as well as finding a way to support the music our artists make.

4. Anything else you would like to add?

I think the postcards are great, and have been an effective way of reaching people – but I’m also aware that they are quite disposable, as objects, and so it’s been important that we’ve not given away too much music on each release. We price them at £2, and they usually contain 2 tracks of music – so, yeah, about £1 a track. They’re promotional singles, really.

Admittedly, the relatively recent vinyl revival was initially a bit of a pain in the arse – as a touring musician, vinyl is so much more expensive to manufacture and to transport.

However, I do strongly feel that vinyl plays an incredibly important role in today’s music culture – because it has increased the value of a set of recordings. If you’re paying more for something, you tend to treat it with a bit more respect – and fans, nowadays, don’t quite have the same thirst for a bargain CD as they did 10 years ago.

The cheap titles you used to buy on CD at FOPP, you can now listen to online via whatever streaming service you use. Fans now want to use their money to support the artists, labels and shops they love the most, and the most effective way of doing this is by purchasing a copy of the latest album on LP. When it comes to the value of something, it’s not so much the profit margin that is important, but rather the retail value. The vinyl revival put a price tag of £15 – £25 on a new album, the same album that might have cost £5 on CD a decade ago. And that’s great! An album should be worth at least £15 – £25. Folks won’t tend to pay that for a postcard, or even a CD.

Maybe the bubble will burst on vinyl, at some point – I know it’s not exactly the most eco-friendly of formats. But, I think it’s cultural significance was as a response to the disposable nature of discount CDs and internet piracy – there was an awareness that artists needed to have their work valued properly. Obviously, in this age of paltry streaming royalties, things are far from perfect – but having physical formats that put a decent price on an artist’s work, make a difference.

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