Future Classic. What they don't do.

running a creative enterprise

The harvest: via noisy music by vice

Future Classic is an independent music company providing artist management, record label and music publishing services for a small roster of clients based in Sydney Australia, that was initially established as a vinyl record label ‘side hustle’ has since evolved into a globally recognised, forward thinking, independent music company.  Future Classic’s mission is to provide a creative, artist-focused environment to grow successful global careers.

Independent record label Future Classic quickly rose to the level of electronic royalty two years ago, and with the likes of Flume, Chet Faker, Flight Facilities, Jagwar Ma, and Ta-Ku on its roster, has become a synonym for contemporary Australian music. Despite all the attention it attracts, much about the label is still a mystery. I got in touch with its founder, Nathan McLay to answer my burning questions about its early years, its unique approach to vertical integration, Flume’s success, and where they’re going from here.  […]

Describing the move to found a record label as, ‘a logical by-product’ of his life at the time; Nathan explains that his job at Inertia music and experiences DJ-ing in the early 2000s, sowed the seeds necessary to take the plunge.

Following numerous requests from various friends to release the music he played at gigs, Nathan set up the Future Classic in 2004 with help from his friend, Chad Gillard. Euro-centric and heavily electronic, Future Classic set itself even further apart from its Australian counterparts by going vinyl only—a decision that Nathan describes as the natural way to contribute to record store culture at the time.

In a national music scene dominated by rock and roll, Future Classic’s unique position meant that, in addition to being bigger in the UK and Germany than they were at home [in Australia], the label remained largely insolvent for much of its lifetime.

Nathan laughs, “From the start, I couldn’t afford to pay Chad properly. I gave him every second DJ gig that I had and taught him how to DJ. To this day, our A&R and relationship with each other has always been routed in those years playing music together.”

By occupying various aspects of the music industry, the two were able to keep the company afloat for several years until it became self sustaining. “It’s interesting because in the early days releasing music was the thing we did for passion and throwing parties and touring international artists in Australia was the thing that we survived on financially,” Nathan tells me. “We did a lot of German and UK acts, and bands too. That was our bread and butter. Releasing 12″s, EPs, and singles was what we did from touring money and our day jobs.”

The label’s month-to-month capital did little to distract Nathan and Chad from releasing what they wanted to, regardless of wide appeal.

In its early days, distributors would tell the two to replicate successful releases with similar sounds, but even their recommendations did little to deter them from releasing the latest techno or jazz recording that they’d happened to fall in love with.

[…] Paradoxically, this devotion to representing a variety of eclectic sounds has now become part of Future Classic’s ever-evolving aesthetic, but it wasn’t until 2012 that the label really came into its own.

At the request of a local record store, Future Classic announced they would be holding an original production competition and opened submissions for unreleased songs; within that 500-artist demo pile was the work of one Harley Streton, better known to the music community as Flume.

At the request of a local record store, Future Classic announced they would hold an original production competition and opened submissions for unreleased songs; within that 500-artist demo pile was the work of one Harley Streton, better known to the music community as Flume.

“It felt important,” Nathan says, “Harley ended up being the first artist that we managed, so we built a team around the release, but nobody knew it would be so huge. People that I regularly sent demos to were responding positively so it felt good.” After winning five ARIAS and the affection of millions, Flume’s success proved to the indie-focused Australian community that electronic artists could make it big too. In the months that followed, Future Classic evolved from boutique label to global influencer.

When I ask Nathan if they’ve had trouble keeping up with their increased popularity, he’s not shy to admit the problems that it creates. “The challenge is just processing all the communications …there are a lot of relationships to juggle. Constantly scanning what’s going on and formulating plans for our acts globally gets to be a challenge.. after a certain point we have to say no and do stuff that’s our own concept.”

Brand development, key shows in LA, New York and the UK, and heavy support from Flume himself are just a few benefits of Future Classic’s position in the music industry. Though far more profitable now than in the early years, Nathan and co. are once again vertically integrating themselves into many aspects of the music industry. In addition to releases and merch., their suite of services include music publishing, touring, and artist management. With so much under their belt, it’s hard to see where they could possibly grow from here. Pressing this question on Nathan, I was surprised to learn that their strategy isn’t in grandiose plans, but in restraint.

“It’s just about adding the right people. I don’t think we have to be putting out more things, it’s what we don’t do that will define us. There’s a lot of expectation from artists to put out more content and get more views, and I think the whole industry needs to learn patience and to realise that bigger isn’t always better. Letting things come when they come is a good trait.”

Post Script:
In 2017 Future Classic opened an LA outpost to support their artists in the Frogtown area. In 2018, with longterm partner/collaborator cloud storage platform Dropbox, they built a recording and mix studio to re-establish the sense of community and creativity they had back in Sydney. The two spaces comprise a room for artists to write, record and collaborate and the mix room for finishing projects. Come 2019, Future Classic and Dropbox started offering a residency program for six unsigned artists (one per month for six months) to spend two weeks in Los Angeles at the Frogtown studio. Residents get creative assistance from the Future Classic team who will set up writing sessions and connect the artists with other producers. Residents also get to meet mentor-like figures across the music business like managers, labels and publishing executives. Open to artists worldwide, FC & Dropbox cover flights and accommodation. 

image attribution: Photo by Matsu sourced from Billboard magazine. Words by Ziad Ramley for Vice

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