Tru thoughts, a 100% independent record label, is 23 years in the making. Co-founder Paul Jonas speaks to the Brighton & Hove Living Wage Campaign about work-life balance,
managing expectations, and what makes the label unique.
By Charlotte Kidd
On the fifth floor of New England House Paul Jonas and the Tru Thoughts team work to ensure the label remains successful and fully independent through the music industry’s ever-changing
Tru Thoughts, founded by Rob Luis and Paul Jonas 23 years ago is an example of a label that prioritises staff through a fair Living Wage. Charlotte Kidd, Brighton & Hove Living Wage Campaign
Coordinator speaks to Paul Jonas in their storeroom, and as we climb through piles of CDs andrecords we sit and talk everything Tru Thoughts, how Paul manages a work-life balance, and how to still enjoy an 18th birthday party when an artist brings their entourage of 20.
LWC: How did yours and Robert’s relationship develop?
Paul Jonas: I was outside a club and I was flyering, and I saw this one guy, went up to him and asked: are you Rob Luis? And he laughed, and said: no this is Rob. He pointed me at Rob, and Rob was really shy. He asked if I wanted to flyer for him, and it all started from there really. It was the realisation that I needed someone who had the music knowledge, and he needed someone who was confident and more vocal. So, it started as flyering, then we ran clubs together. But he was shy. He’s not now. But it was difficult to read him for a while.
And now you’re best pals?
What are the best parts of your industry?
Meeting like-minded people who are trying to do the same thing as you across the world and sharing ideas and collaborations. And you know obviously the internets open that up massively.
And the worst? Music managers who shout at us. No artist ever benefitted from shouting at us. You don’t really need any training to say ‘I’m a music manager’, and that’s problematic. I think it’s an old-fashioned music response, that record labels are the enemy. But our contracts are 50/50 and they’re really transparent. That’s one of the benefits of being fully independent – we can decide who we want to work with. We have walked away from some well-known names, where we’ve felt that it wasn’t a great fit. And if they go on to be really successful, that doesn’t bother us.
Tell me about the future of Tru Thoughts – what do you still have to learn?
All we know is that we’re interested in trying and learning. This is such a complicated business and is everchanging. Music platforms, social media, those elements change all the time, so we’re learning every day. It’s when you start thinking you know it all, that’s when you’re in trouble.
Thinking back on those 23 years, is there anything you would’ve done differently?
In the early days, when there were a lot of compilation albums, a company would send you a 19-page contract and we had no idea what those contracts meant. At one point we went to a lawyer,
and every penny that was made went to the lawyer, rather than the artist. Rob got offered a deal for one of his tracks, and he signed the deal, and it was a terrible deal. So now we try to support as many new artists and labels as we possibly can, to make sure they don’t have to go through those processes. We didn’t have anyone who sat us down and taught us how to learn those contracts, and we made some mistakes along the way. But if we hadn’t learned from those really grassroots level ourselves, then we wouldn’t understand the intricacies of it. It’s good we had to learn from our mistakes.
Let’s talk about a work-life balance, what’s important for you outside of business?
In my twenties I was working seven days a week. In my thirties I managed to go down to five. My emails always used to be on, but you get a bit older and now I close it down. At that time, we had to do that to develop our business. Now, we’re mindful of that with our staff. For instance, we shut the office for three weeks at Christmas. So, they get that on top of their yearly holiday allowance. We now say to our young staff, who are on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, to keep it to email, so you can step away. It feels like we’re moving more towards work-life balance being important. Our day job is most people’s hobby. I can go to a bar on Friday night, and the DJ wants to have a conversation about music. But I don’t want to talk about my day job at that time. But if they’ve been working in an office all day, that’s the time they want to talk about music. That’s something that makes it quite difficult with this job. You have to consciously stand back at times and say ‘I can’t talk about this right now – give me a shout on Monday and we’ll discuss.’
It must be difficult to say no to those sorts of requests?
It’s the same with musicians who might make the best tune they’ve ever made at 3’o’clock in the morning. It’s tough, because when they send it to you in that moment, they want you to hear it. And
it looks like a lack of enthusiasm on your part. But they understand that if you have 25 acts on the label doing the same thing, you’d need to be up every hour.
What’s your most memorable moment at Tru Thoughts?
There’s so many. But I think the most memorable was our 18th birthday party. It was at Roundhouse in London, which is such a beautiful venue. We had 18 acts, bringing the older and newer acts
together. It was huge but it was such hard work. I wish I could pretend I go to these things and I’m there warming my hands on the fire of it all. But actually, I’m running around wondering desperately why a couple of rappers haven’t arrived and dealing with another person who has bought an entourage of 20 with them. There are beautiful moments within that though, and it’s the point where I can step back and just watch the music.
This interview has been edited and condensed.