He’s A&R for the mighty R&S as well as a DJ, promotor event organiser, music consultant and general all-round music industry player. For the first of this month’s The Business Of Music interviews, we speak with Raj Rags.
Raji Rags’ LinkedIn says ‘freelance music guy’. That’s because it’s hard to pin down what he does exactly. Alongside DJing at his own parties Livin’ Proof, Bubble Chamber and on NTS radio, he’s a freelance all-rounder: a trusted tastemaker, organiser, creative and visionary in music. An adaptable jack of all trades, Raj has heard a lot and seen a lot and sits within a network of major contacts who bring him when they need the magic ‘Raj’ touch. Whether it’s heading A&Ring projects for R&S or overseeing a pop-up shop for Bleep, he has you covered.
Attack Magazine: What is it you do and how did you get here?
Raj Rags: I started working in Deal Real in Carnaby Street when I was 18. It’s probably the best job I’ve ever done and I’ve done some pretty cool jobs. After I finished at art school I became Marketing Manager at Bleep. The whole time on the side, I was running parties and DJing. When the Livin’ Proof party I ran got more successful, I left my day job and was like ‘I’m never going to work for anyone again.’ I really focused on travelling whilst still being able to earn money through the parties, DJing and running Bleep’s record label on a freelance basis.
I loved being able to travel and still work at the same time. Then I was offered the role of Head of Music at Boiler Room and Blaise the founder of Boiler Room basically said – “I’ll pay you to travel the world”. It was an opportunity too good to turn down, so I decided to dip back into full-time employment.
After an amazing 3 and a half years, I again left Boiler Room and a full-time job – basically itching to be my own boss again. I went travelling for a long period again, ha. I do a lot of music consultancy now, I A&R for R&S records. I still do projects with Bleep and Boiler Room. Programming, event organisation, record labels, A&Ring, I do all of it really, consulting with different companies who want advice… it’s quite a broad thing.
In previous The Business Of Music features, both Bradley Zero and Jimmy Asquith talked about starting in record stores. What did working in a record store teach you?
People in record stores generally know their stuff so being surrounded by music fanatics is amazing. Having those conversations with artists, label managers, distributors, and customers all day every day. Music retail, distributors, artists, labels. It’s invaluable. There’s something quite special about being introduced to that infrastructure at an early age; it’s where you cut your teeth. I don’t think I’d be where I was if it wasn’t for that first job.
What did you do as head of Music at Boiler Room?
I signed off every show essentially. The worldwide programmers would report to me and we’d go over what shows were happening. I’d overlook strategy, prioritising shows, and of course, I was booking shows myself: the big projects with partnerships, festivals, branded shows as well as personal smaller passion-projects. I was also the go-between for the music team and the rest of the different departments and the people at the top.
Looking back, I made some really great friendships, like, Errol who now does Touching Bass was originally in the editorial team, Ahad who now does More Time Records was in the marketing team and I brought them both in the music team to program their first Boiler Room shows and they both just thrived. It’s great to see them all doing their own things now with DJing, labels and parties.
How did the R&S NHS Bandcamp Day compilation happen?
My best friend is a junior doctor and was telling me about the whole PPE situation at the beginning of lockdown. It was so depressing, I felt I had to do something. Bandcamp announced they were doing their Bandcamp Day and I said to R&S ‘let me do a compilation for it.’ I had nine days to put it together. I got together 43 tracks, Andy the label manager put together the t-shirt and Beau mastered the tracks very late the night before release so it was all very much ‘all hands on deck’. We raised over £45k with the compilation.
I’m also going to be doing a 12” series for R&S over the next 12 months focused on new artists which I’m really excited about. More details to follow…
Is being fast-paced important in what you do?
I think I have become known as the person who can throw something together quickly.
For example, we had a venue fall through and so had to put together the Bleep pop-up shop in 2 weeks in 2018. Myself and Sid got on bikes and cycled around East London looking at any shop that looked empty. Sid didn’t even have a bike so he was on a crappy Boris bike.
We found a disused nail salon in Dalston that was a total bombsite covered in 3 years of dust, called up the landlady, met her that day. We were painting till four/five am to get the shop ready. But we did it. We hosted residency takeovers in the Bleep X store with Aphex Twin, NTS, RA, The Wire Magazine amongst many others.
Last year, Flying Lotus was in London for a last-minute promo day with a week’s notice and Flylo’s manager was like ‘you need to get Raj.’ We did an in-store and signing in Phonica, a photo booth, we did a party at The Social, we had Kode9, Alex Nut, Fauzia, Touching Bass and a David Lynch projection on a puppet. I am used to working intensely on a project and then go on holiday for like three months, ha. Work hard, play hard – as they say.
What advice could you give to a freelancer getting into a similar field in music as you?
I would say for anyone doing any sort of creative pursuit: just do something. It sounds vague but whether it’s a party, label, merch line, podcast, mix series or social initiative. I’ve seen people more talented than me not get anywhere because they stayed in their room just thinking or talking about how they were going to do something. The more you do stuff the more you create a network of contacts of people you can collaborate with.
Also, and this is important… don’t be a dickhead. You never know in a few years’ time where people might be. I see a lot of people being arseholes to people and then a few years later they’re a really good artist, important manager or work at a label and they’ve immediately cut their ties because of past deeds. Be nice to people. There’s a strong chance you’ll be working with them again.
You mention Livin’ Proof being a base for income, is it important to never solely rely on less stable work coming in or is it possible to do so with the right organisation and contacts?
Well the Livin’ Proof and Bubble Chamber parties are both not running at the moment because the clubs are shut obviously. Being freelance is terrifying at the best of times as you never really know when your next paycheck might be, but especially now during a global pandemic and a recession. If you can work out a steady or regular and consistent stream of income, that will be hugely helpful for you. This could be a regular client or something you build up yourself.
It’s probably the worst time I can ever think of in my lifetime to be a freelancer. The government has messed up the coronavirus pandemic and left self-employed music creatives in the lurch so I probably wouldn’t recommend anyone to go freelance now unless you have at least one hustle that you know will bring in money. Having said that – working for myself is such a blessing and even now amidst the madness of 2020, I am still forever grateful for that freedom.
I’ve really had to pivot a lot of my career because of everything that’s going on with the world right now. As well as the 12” series for R&S, I’m working on a few exciting long term projects that don’t rely on nightclubs and gigs for me to earn money.
What’s the most important skills a freelancer should have if nothing else?
Self-motivation and adaptability.
Self-motivation – because no boss or manager is telling you every day what to do… You have to wake up every day and make things happen yourself.
Adapability – because… well, 2020.
Find out more about Raj Rags’ various projects on his website.
Interview by Oliver Payne, a journalist based in the UK. Find him on Twitter and Facebook.
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