Finnish independent music heads Fullsteam into the future
Weathering the storm that has been battering the music industry in recent years, Fullsteam continues to defy and diversify.
The name Tavastia is synonymous with quality music. Over the years, the Helsinki venue has hosted some of the biggest local and international acts, many when they were relatively unknown. Located in the heart of the city, its well-trodden stage has launched many aspiring performers into stardom.
A similar story has been playing out six floors above this hallowed turf at the office of Fullsteam. Emerging in 2002, the record company has grown to become one of the most successful independent labels in Finnish history.
“We started out as a kind of do-it-yourself label,” explains Ville Kilpeläinen, Fullsteam Records’ head of international. “We have grown up to represent all sides of the Finnish music business and artists. Mostly we have been releasing bands that we felt had been ignored by the major labels.”
Such ignorance has been bliss for the record-buying public. Some 200 albums have been added to their catalogue over the years, resulting in various plaques of recognition crowding the walls of the Fullsteam office. Their industry peers have also applauded the company’s efforts, deeming Fullsteam the Independent Record Company of the Year on nearly 10 occasions. Not a bad result for one that has only been around for 13 years.
Much of the Fullsteam’s success during this time has come with an eye on other markets.
“From the beginning it’s been about open mindedness and courage to reach out to international audiences,” Kilpeläinen states. “The label really had, and still has, big ambitions to produce bands that are popular worldwide and not just staying in our own corner of the world.”
The post-hardcore/alternative rock of Disco Ensemble was the breakthrough act for Fullsteam onto the international arena. After their sophomore full-length made waves at home, the outfit was signed to Universal in Germany, the fourth-biggest music market in the world.
“That band made a lot of things possible for us,” Kilpeläinen recalls with a smile. “After that it was easier to sign new acts and grow.”
Subsequent successes abroad have seen Central Europe, the UK and the Nordic countries developing into significant international markets for Fullsteam.
Differentiating on record
Rather than stagnate in the digital age, Fullsteam has diversified into various channels of the music business. Thus, while the record industry drowns in cutbacks and downsizing, the number of Fullsteam staff continues to grow and currently stands at 35.
“We don’t have to evolve very much in modern times, as we have already thought in much broader terms,” Kilpeläinen states. “Fullsteam has always done other stuff like bookings, merchandising and other areas of the music business.”
This multifaceted business acumen has also rubbed off on many artists on the Fullsteam roster.
“It’s not always easy to be a good artist and an entrepreneur,” Kilpeläinen observes. “But, some of the best bands are able to use both sides of their brain and are not only great artists but also smart entrepreneurs.”
Management has been the most recent feather in Fullsteam’s musical cap. In contrast to the label’s humble beginnings, this time they started at the top by signing Finland’s most popular male and female artists, Cheek and Chisu.
So, does this represent a mainstream change of focus for the company?
“We are not a one genre, one trick pony,” Kilpeläinen emphasises. “There’s lots under the name of Fullsteam. We are still aiming to launch international careers as well as Finnish ones in Finland.”
Text: James O’Sullivan