NZ label Dirty Records about music, not money

By Georgina Bond

True to the words of its maiden album, Big Things, young Kiwi hip hop label Dirty Records is one of the stand-out success stories of a thriving music scene.

Founded in 2001 by top hip hop producer Pete Waddams (aka P Money) and business partner Callum August, the indie label also carries multi-platinum-selling Scribe, rap group Frontline and PNC on its books.

With total album sales at 280,000 so far, Dirty has been able to capitalise on the move of homegrown hip hop to fashionable mainstream and the growing appetite for it beyond these shores (half of the albums have been sold overseas).

But the pair say it has never been about the money or the plaques on the wall. Their main motivation for going into business has simply been to make good albums with songs they like. Which is what they'll be getting on with this year.

Two albums are scheduled for release - last year there was one - with Scribe's second going into production next month.

August said there was capacity to do more but it all hinged on when the artists were ready. "It all starts with the songs. If they don't have good music, there's not much we can do."

And largely that's how the label was born, as a vehicle for P Money to release his albums.

After splitting off from Kiwi dance label Kog Transmissions, P Money and August worked from the sunroom of August's Mt Eden house, releasing Scribe's album, The Crusader, late in 2003.

With no base capital, they started with little more than an old computer, a filing cabinet, phone, fax and a high-speed internet connection. It also meant working for six months without pay and surviving on a lot of help-me-outs.

Dirty took a big risk on Scribe, "because we believed he had the talent and it could sell", and Crusader's album sales of more than 175,000 - with 100,000 of those across the Tasman - were a huge triumph for the label, which is distributed by Warner Music Australasia.

"We were hungry for it," said August. "We wanted to make it happen."

Neither men have had business training and say they're not following a business model. Instead, they take the best from what they see and mould it to their own style.

Music and creative material such as art and videoclips are largely P Money's responsibility and August, a former audio engineer, takes care of the business side.

August would not be drawn on money, just saying: "We do all right."

But he added: "We've hit all our targets as far as sales go, and had the luxury of investing money in new artists, bringing them through and spending time and money on them."

Headquarters shifted to a Mt Eden villa late last year and they have hired two office staff.

Quietly, their expectations are big for Scribe's second album, and August is confident the country has the talent pool for Dirty's success to continue. "We're happy with our rosters. I think we've go the hottest stuff there is."

In his eyes, what's missing in the local music industry is the infrastructure to support artists.

"We're low on managers, accountants and lawyers and there's a lack of labels who understand it or are willing to work for nothing to get it happening - at an independent level." He is sceptical about accepting outside investment, thinking it would compromise the ability to keep doing things their own way, which has been reaping rewards so far.

Selling out is not something he's likely to entertain either.

"Maybe if someone offered us heaps of money I could walk, but nah. "

Gaining licensing deals overseas is a focus for the future, but the time and money required to get established in markets such as Europe means it's something they'll be approaching carefully.

"It's hard enough being successful and making a living out of it in New Zealand," said August.

So for now the focus is simple: "Keep putting out successful records, keep finding acts we like and who work the way we work, and keep having fun."

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