Label Mates: Steve Lawler / VIVa Music

Alongside releasing his own tracks on some of the biggest record labels in all of club music, British DJ, producer, and label boss Steve Lawler has championed productions from the worlds finest studio talents under his VIVa MUSiC empire.

Now having his flagship VIVa MUSiC imprint sit atop a family which includes four labels in total, Lawler is fully equipped to handle any style of underground dance music that might come through his inbox.

He joins us this week for our Label Mates series, and gives us an insight into what it takes to run VIVa MUSiC, including how he got his first taste for running labels, his straight forward approach to the A&R process, and what plans he has for the near future. Get the full discussion with Steve Lawler below.

You launched VIVa MUSiC more than 15 years ago back in 2006, do you remember what motivated you to want to become a label owner?

VIVa MUSiC wasn’t my first label, I had a traditional vinyl label called Harlem Records before the digital revolution, which I named after Harlem’s rich history in black music, soul, blues, electronic, hiphop, and house. However I had partners in that label and sometimes releasing music was not always agreed upon with the partners and the label put out some music I was not happy with, I didn’t have full control of A&R and it bothered me. Which in turn started the decline of that label, so I closed it down with the mindset I would start again but next time on my own, with my own terms.

Many people do not know this next fact, VIVa MUSiC was the very first digital only label, and I remember doing interviews where so many journalists frowned upon it, I told them then my exact words were you HAVE to embrace the future or get left behind. VIVa MUSiC was a first for many things but this is the most poignant. I am very proud of standing my ground and behind my beliefs.

You’ve since released music from some massive names, including Skream, Solardo, and Cristoph, what is your typical process when it comes to signing new music?

We have released music by Camelphat, Groove Armada, Jamie Jones, MK, Richy Ahmed, the list goes on. My process starts with simply looking for music I like and producers I like which does change with the times, as things do change, musical progression starts with the manufacturers, studio synths, soft synths, drum machines, equipment basically, as thats what usually dominates the studios and therefor becomes the “new” sound.

Secondly I’m looking for talent, people that produce at a top level, it doesn’t matter to me whether it’s a superstar or a newcomer, I’m not concerned with sales as the label has never been about business, it’s an output for my creative vision as an A&R and the creative process for the artists we sign.

One of my more recent processes is to try and ween out the “fake” producers, the new breed of artists that do not write or make their own music and use it solely as a ticket to becoming a DJ. I do not want to support that, although it’s not always easy to know, sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes it isn’t, we would all be surprised if the cat was fully let out the bag I’m sure! Either way I’m trying to keep the labels integrity intact which is not always easy, but it’s worth it in the long run.

And who else can we expect to see on the label in the coming months?

There are many artists already signed as we are usually signed up on all labels at least 6 months ahead of ourselves. We have music coming across the labels from Lord Leopard, Neverdogs, Bassel Darwish, Rowen Clarke, Jose M, Gianfranco Broccoli, Skizzo, Angelo Ceci, and Darksidevinyl, to name a few.

You now have a couple of labels under the VIVa MUSiC name, how do those differ from the main project?

We have 4 in total and they are all separated in terms of vibe and list of target DJ’s if you will, loosely based on genre. VIVa MUSiC is targeted towards acid house, deep house, and old school house vibes. VIVa LiMITED is all about the new sounds of minimal tech and tech house, eVIVE is my most eclectic label ranging from ambient, tribal, afro house, melodic techno, and deep house, and iVAV which is straight to the floor hard techno (proper techno in my opinion) not business techno, expect people such as Deetron etc.

Do you have a favourite label? Besides your own of course!

No I don’t, I don’t follow labels at all really, it’s more about artists and producers that I follow. There are definitely labels out there that have very good A&R, like Hot Creations, Jamie Jones is hands down one of the best A&R’s on the planet, so I know that 95% of the time I’m going to hear something good on his labels.

What’s one of the hardest parts of running a label that most people aren’t aware is a struggle?

Haha, the hardest part is dealing with artist managers! Lol, luckily that’s not my job, but I do hear some stories!

And what advice would you give to any new label owners that are just getting going?

One thing, just do what you want, for gods sake. Don’t just copy others, there is enough of that out there. The world does not need another minimal tech or tech house label! Honestly, a label should be a place where you have freedom and freedom doesn’t come if you’re just copying others.