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The Scene meets The Streets, aka Mike Skinner, and hears how the Mercury Music Prize-nominated pop star ended up running his record label, The Beats, out of a tiny shed in south London.
The Scene: The Streets are a huge success. How come you've ended up running your record label, The Beats, out of such a low-key office in Chiswick?
Mike Skinner: I decided that I wanted to run the business on as tight a budget as I could because even though The Streets is going well I wanted to be able to turn a profit on pretty much anything. This operation can turn a profit on an album of about 30,000 sales. We make music videos for three grand that look like you spent 25 grand on them... it's a lot of fun and this is where the magic happens. We do all the recording here but every time a train goes by we have to stop. We record in the toilet. When I was doing my last album every now and then you'd be doing a vocal and then the engineer would have to switch everything off. Nowadays really all a studio is is a computer and a way to record vocals. The acoustics in the toilet here are really good. It's good as well because you can have parties on the roof and you can throw things off.
TS: Has the internet changed the way you work?
MS: It's not just a marketing tool, it's a new way of doing things. I think it's speeding up the way the industry works. The length of campaigns and people's attention span is much shorter. You're selling albums much quicker because word of mouth -- or rather word of myspace -- is so quick now, kids are hearing about things quicker. It just makes things easier but it also makes things a lot more competitive. Because there's so much choice now, it's much easier to start off and have a low level operation but actually there's much less selling in the middle range. So you're either down here or up there. So the internet offers a way of efficiently being able to survive down here until you can get up there. The strange thing about the internet is that there's very little you can do. Whereas with the traditional media there's a hell of a lot of business behind it.
TS: You're obviously someone who's very enthusiastic about new technology.
MS: I'm a gadget freak. I like to communicate in the most efficient way possible. I don't like having a Blackberry and a phone so I like e-mailing through my phone. But I haven't found my Mrs. Right of phones. I'm constantly searching. I'm sleeping around a bit. London is a great place to be promiscuous with your technology.
TS: What about Vauxhall? What attracted you to that area of London?
MS: I've watched Vauxhall come on really. When I first moved here it was literally a roundabout and a bridge. I don't spend that much time here anymore but I've been here for three-and-a-half years so I've seen it develop. Now we have a Starbucks whereas before we just had the Big Issue head office. Now we have the Big Issue next to a Starbucks. A symbol of our time in Vauxhall. It's got its own little vibe and it's really central so you can walk into town. But it's kind of like a ghost town as well which I quite like. I just like being on my own and Vauxhall is quite good for that. It's just a nice down to earth working area of central London. I keep moving all the time. It's just cutting out the noise really. I used to cycle a lot around London. For me it's just about getting away from people. I think London is quite peaceful in a way because there's so many people living in close proximity that you never get bothered. You can walk around without anyone speaking to you. I do need peace and peace for me is wandering around a busy city on my own.
TS: Do you draw inspiration from London?
MS: I don't really get specific inspiration from London. It's just a great place to run a business because there's no ceiling to what you can achieve. Particularly if you're in a creative industry, there's a lot of people if you're putting a team together, there's a lot of roles that you can only really fill in London. It would have to be London or New York, but it has to be London because of the type of music we're making. I guess because I've always been in big cities I just like wandering around. I get quite bored in the country. I quite like being in touristy places in central London because I think it inspires you to keep your eyes open. Most people in central London aren't living in a routine. They're just wondering what it's all about. This is my London. It's cold, overpriced and grey. But you can achieve anything you want in this town. The sky's the limit. And that's why I love it.
TS: Your work often gets compared to poetry. Where does that come from?
MS: I don't try to be poetic. I try to just get my point across as quickly as I can and try to hold people's attention. They're songs not poems but I suppose you do develop a love for words if you do it a lot. I suppose I tend to play with the words a little bit. I think the misconception is that if you write music where there's a lot going on that it's all really exciting but there isn't really that much going on in my life. Most of the time I'm just sitting around thinking about what words to use. I'm just a writer, I'm not much else really.