Q+A: Real Talk #9 – Margot Didsbury

Margot Didsbury

In Real Talk, a regular feature for The Corner, Marty Jones talks to those in our community that influence what we read, what we see, what we hear and what we attend. Originally from Auckland, Margot Didsbury moved to London in 2006 where she began her Master’s degree at Goldsmiths University. In the time since, Margot has worked for Rough Trade, presented on Resonance FM and NTS radio, and is currently the head buyer for for British online music store Bleep.com

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When did you decide to begin pursuing music as a career?

It was a bit of a slow burner. I went to ELAM and I was studying time based art, but while I was doing that, instead of doing all art papers, I actually ended up doing all music papers. So I started doing electronic music papers and ethnomusicology papers and stuff like that. So while I was doing my degree in fine arts I was already looking at music, and then I got a job at the record store Beautiful Music while I was still at ELAM and that put me on my trajectory of working at record shops.

At what point did you decide to move to England?

Well I suppose it was just a bit of a transition point. I had finished ELAM and I had come over to Europe for a year where I did an artist’s residency program in Bergen, Norway. Then I went back to New Zealand and I just didn’t really know what I was doing so I sort of thought, ‘what am I going to put my energy towards’? I got into two universities – Queens in Belfast and Goldsmiths in London. I think my life could have gone in two different polar directions. If I had moved to Belfast I think I would’ve moved back to New Zealand after a year and it would’ve been just a stop over point. But I also got into Goldsmiths and now I’ve been here seven years, almost to the day.

Do you think the job at Rough Trade helped you to get into the English music scene?

Definitely! But I think the thing that really got me the job at Rough Trade was my job at Beautiful Music in Auckland. I wouldn’t have got the job at Rough Trade otherwise because they get 100s of CVs a week. I was just lucky that Neil MacKay, who was the manager of the Covent Garden store, was from New Zealand. Neil is the bassist of the band Loop. He’d lived in England for 30 years and was the manager at Rough Trade at the time. So I gave him my CV and because I had worked at Beautiful Music, I was a New Zealander, and loved electronic music, I got the job. And that really got me to where I am now.

From studying music to working in music retail, what made you choose one over the other?

I think they sort of went hand in hand. I was studying music and working at Beautiful Music and then I was working at Rough Trade while I was going to Goldsmiths, so I can’t really separate the two. I’m not a musician, I studied classical guitar, but I don’t call myself a musician and I don’t really have an interest in being a musician. My passion lies in helping other people get their music heard, because I’m surrounded by so many great musicians and I want to help them. I suppose it was an easy step for me to go into retail, or work at a label, because that’s where I can actually achieve these things. I’ve enjoyed helping people and then I’ve also enjoyed helping customers discover the music too. So it’s just been an easy fit for me.

You’ve also helped people to discover music in other ways too, tell me about being involved with starting up Fleet FM?

Yeah I helped start up Fleet FM with all the guys, which was a long time ago. It’s not really my story to tell, but it was an amazing community to be part of. I think it was a real stepping stone for a lot of people, for their music, but also, I suppose, for doing radio. I think for me it was a stepping stone because after doing Fleet FM I came over here and then got a show on Resonance FM and now I’ve got a show on NTS radio and a podcast for Bleep. I wouldn’t have been able to do that if it wasn’t for Fleet FM. It sounds like it’s gone through a few different gestations now, but even if they’re not 24 hour broadcasting, I think the community is still there, which I miss.

How did you go about getting your job at Bleep?

Through taking a leap. I was at Rough Trade I think for four years, which was stable. I was working full time but working very hard, working weekends and nights. Then I saw that there was a part time assistant position at Bleep and I knew that I really wanted to work there. So I applied for the job and took the part of doing two to three days work a week, which in retrospect would have been absolutely impossible. I don’t know what I was thinking apart from really wanting the job. So I got the job and then within two to three months I became full time, and now after lots of hard work I’ve got to where I am now.

Do you think that music retail and physical music is in danger of becoming eventually redundant in an increasing digital world?

Well I don’t see it. I see it as a decline in sales of mediocre product and mediocre music. But the uptake in vinyl, collectors editions and specialist music is going up. Rough Trade is booming – they’re opening a store in New York and it’s absolutely thriving over here. Bleep has just gotten bigger in the last year or two. We’re selling more physical music than we ever had and are doing really well. I see all these big commercial shops like HMV are going under because their business model is not right, but for the boutique stuff I don’t think it’s a dinosaur, it’s just changing shape.

What have been some of your favorite things to work on since you’ve been at Bleep?

Well I suppose the biggest thing which really impacted me in a good way, and a bad way, was the Boards of Canada release. It was an amazing experience and something that I am really happy to be part of. It was amazing to see it from start to finish. We got to listen to it in December last year at our Christmas party in Paris and then had to keep it secret for five months. Then to see it slowly be rolled out with all the campaigns, the records left in record shops, the video in Shibuya, the listening party in the desert. And I was overseeing the thousands of records that we shipped from Bleep. It was an amazing thing to be a part of. Then we drunk the bottles of wine that Boards of Canada gave to us in the park when we had done it all. I really feel it was such a seminal moment within independent music. It was at the same time as when Daft Punk came out, which was this mega machine that had all this money behind it and was just so bombastic. Then there was us, the little engine that could, and we really made waves. I really feel proud for being part of that!

Bleep is really active outside of just selling music. Do you think that it’s essential to offer more to the customer these days through things like podcasts, interviews, shows, etc.?

Yeah I think it is, otherwise you’re just going to choose to illegally download or buy off a faceless enterprise. When you feel like you’re part of something and are contributing and learning about something, it’s a positive thing. So yeah I think that it’s key for independent music retail to have all these extra elements. Not just retail elements, like we do headphones and t-shirts etc, but we also do interviews, shows, releases and we try to create more of a well rounded resource. I suppose we do more than just being an online shop. We try to act more like a magazine and show more of those curatorial aspects. But that’s what Beautiful Music was doing all those years ago and it was just unfortunate timing that it shut when it did. I think it could’ve still been around today. But yeah I think Beautiful Music, and it’s owner Gary Steel, had figured out that whole thing about adding extra value.

How much of a part did that first job at Beautiful Music play in inspiring you to do what you do now?

That is first and foremost my biggest influence, for real. It felt like a second family to me. You get to know people that come in every day, and you get to feed their filthy habits, but in a good way. It was such a great meeting place for everybody and it influenced me big time. It made me want to do more and keep working in record shops, and hopefully, one day, do something similar, like this.

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