SMIA Members Spotlight: Tom Johnson (Gold Flake Paint)

  1. Tell us a bit about you and what you do…

I’m Tom Johnson and I’m the founder of Gold Flake Paint – a music blog that is now a quarterly physical publication, which we launched at the end of last summer. My background is in writing so I produce a lot of the content for the journal and also manage all the advertising, distribution, and all that other fun(!) stuff. I also work for the Saddle Creek record label as their European person-on-the-ground and help out with A&R, among other things!

2. How long have you been working in music?

I started Gold Flake Paint back in 2010 and that was pretty much my starting point. It was a bit of a leap of faith as I didn’t have any experience at all but I wanted to find a way to work with music. While the blog was a constant I also worked in various ways around it to try and make the freelance life sustainable, from running my own record label, to doing PR for bands, curating festival stages, promoting the occasional live show, etc. I’ve also written features for The Independent, The Guardian, The Skinny, Bandcamp, and a few others.

3. What do you enjoy most about what you do?

I think just being a small part of something so big and wonderful and important. The music industry has many, many problems and issues but the end result is often something truly magical that makes this funny old life a little bit better. Also, now with the magazine, the idea that we occupy a small physical space in someone’s busy life is incredibly humbling and inspiring.

4. What challenges do you face?

We’re completely independent and a very small team so the actual physical work involved in planning, curating, making, receiving, sending the magazines is a huge challenge. The hardest challenge is the financial one. I’m now a salesman as well as a music fan and I find that side of things pretty uncomfortable. I need to sell advert space to help us get the magazine made and then I have to sell that magazine to customers and hope that enough people decide to take a chance on us. I’m very aware of how precarious the whole thing is. It’s a constant terror and niggling away in the back of my mind 24/7. I’ve been working in the industry long enough now to know that there is a vast chasm between people being genuinely excited by what you’re doing and choosing to (monetarily) invest in it. 

5. Who are some of the people you’ve worked with or supported over the years?

I’ve always felt like I’m the one that’s been supported rather than the other way around. I’ve been lucky enough to work with my favourite record labels in the world and to interview some artists whose music I know I’ll still be listening to when I’m a tired and wrinkly old man (next week). I think that my favourite kind of support is hopefully providing an encouraging and supportive space for people, whether that be younger writers who are trying to find their place in the world, or smaller artists who don’t often get the space they deserve.

6. Where do you see you/your organisation in the next five years?

I’m trying to work out if ‘where do you see’ and ‘where do you want to be’ are the same thing. I’d like to still be making this magazine. It’s been a long and hard journey to get to this place which feels as close to being sustainable and interesting and exciting and fulfilling worthy of all the stress and long hours as I ever dreamed it could be, and I’d like to do it for a long time. I’d also like to request a cover feature with The National and be told yes rather than no. 

7. What’s coming up for Gold Flake Paint?

We’ve just launched pre-orders for Issue Three so I’m back in my salesman suit. That will be released in early May so the next few weeks will be spent sorting all of that out, then taking delivery, putting them in envelopes, and sending some/most/all/none (delete as applicable) of them back out to customers. Then we’ll book a small holiday and begin work on the next one. We’ll also be relaunching the website this Summer and bringing a little focus back to that side of things. Other than that there’s not too much going on. Firstly because I made this transition into print to give myself a bit more space for doing things away from GFP. So I’m trying to read as many books as possible, walk up some hills and take some nice photographs. Secondly, making a magazine really does eat up all the other available hours so there’s not much time for anything else too exciting. Maybe next year…

8. What’s the best thing about working in music in Scotland?

The weather? *Ba-dum-tish* I think it’s certainly the most supportive scene, for want of a better word, that I’ve ever known. There seems to be a genuine drive to support the people around you, even those that could well be seen as direct competitors, which is a pretty unique thing. It also includes some really, really lovely people and a whole bunch of the best artists/bands/labels in the whole world.

9. What do you feel Scotland’s music industry needs to excel?

I think it’s doing pretty wonderfully in and of itself. To excel even more than it does already it probably needs to be supported a bit more by people outside of it. There are lots of examples that spring to mind but the fact that The Mercury Prize, for one, seem not to know that Scottish/non-English music exists gets more and more ridiculous with each passing year. That kind of coverage would be a direct and immediate help to artists up here, and I’m sure it would feed into so many other areas of the industry too. Fuck ’em though, they don’t deserve Kathryn Joseph anyway. 

You can support Gold Flake Paint via their Bandcamp store

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