Running your own record label, music review website, TV shows and clubnights might seem like a) a total pipe-dream and b) a ridiculous amount for one person to achieve before turning 30. But Toby L does just that (we’ll ignore the fact that he won’t tell us his last name). He talked us through how he transformed a teenage passion for music into a fully-fledged career.
I was always passion-led and wanted a career to do with music, but I didn’t know when or how I could make it work. I started out as a writer, writing reviews and interviews for the NME, Dazed & Confused and a few other websites, and fanzines for some of my favourite bands. When I was about 14, I started compiling the work on a website and recruiting other people to work on it. By the time I was 15, Rockfeedback had been born.
I was very dissatisfied at school. I didn’t really click with my schoolmates, or get the point. So I suppose I wanted to create my own world – the website was an escape, something that kept me excited.
It led quite naturally into promotion and putting on concerts. I got to work with some of my favourite groups, like the Libertines and Bloc Party. When I was 18, I made my first pilot TV show. I was actually on a work experience placement at Xfm and Zane Lowe saw the footage that I’d shot – he got me a meeting at MTV and then they commissioned the first series. It was eventually picked up by Channel 4 as well. [Rockfeedback’s first shows documented live music festivals across the world, from Sao Paulo to Japan, and led to the business working with brands and broadcasters as well as artists on music TV content]
In the same year, I was introduced to my business partner by Kele from Bloc Party. It was at a show I was promoting of the band’s; Tim was selling copies of their debut single, which he’d released on his label, and I was selling the tickets since it was our club night. After a couple of pints we’d planned our first singles, and three weeks later we started Transgressive Records.
I got my first paycheck when I was 19 after five or six years of working for nothing. I’d chosen not to go to university because it was the exact time when Rockfeedback and all the other plans seemed to have enough momentum – it was an exciting fledgling business. And university never seemed to fit in with my lifestyle: everyone is groomed for it without schools thinking about whether it works for individuals. I’d like to go to university at the right point in the future, but the timing isn’t right just yet.
I had friends who doubted my choices at the time who have since struggled with the practical world of work. The circumstances into which many people have graduated over the last five years weren’t predicted.
In the current climate, people who know what to do, who know how to do things, how to find solutions – they’re the most employable. Particularly when it comes to working online: universities and schools are a step behind. It’s hard to be recognised in the current scrum of the economy, which is challenging, but what actually succeeds is grit and ballsiness.
Entrepreneurship may be an innate quality but it’s also got a lot to do with willpower. More people should be encouraged from a young age to find their niche, to find the thing they love – it’s amazing for building confidence. I’ve realised that being an all-rounder is over-rated.
There will always be dodgy weeks, or months, where you think ‘How the hell will we get through this?’ The way through is to be enterprising and solution-driven. We try to foresee and solve problems from a creative viewpoint, and then we can manifest that commercially.
One of the coolest things I’ve done is coming up; I was on the Rihanna 777 plane to make a documentary about it. There’s about 300 hours of footage. It was equal parts traumatic, banal, hilarious, and celebratory, all at once, and one of the best weeks of my life.
The route that you want your business or your career to take can meander which is why it’s so important to keep your core principles intact. You never know how far things can go or how big they can get.