The music industry has had a tough year. From the slow death of SoundCloud to the accusations of number-manipulation on the part of Tidal; from Spotify creating fake artists and placing them in popular playlists in order to lower their own expenditure, to rape allegations from Nelly and of course, R. Kelly’s sex slaves. By the time the year is out whole swathes of the music industry will be delighted to wave it goodbye. One sector of the music industry who have had a successful year is labels, and one label in Dublin has had a particularly good year.
“Every year, every month has been better and better” says Ivan Klucka, co-founder of the Irish Music label and creative station known as Diffusion Lab. Over the past twelve months, Diffusion Lab has seen the rise of two of its brightest stars, Jafaris and Soulé, has seen its roster almost double and has produced music videos that rival those of its major label counterparts. And all of this after only existing for less than 19 months.
The story of the birth of Diffusion Lab (Ireland’s premier Hip-Hop and RnB label) is one of friendship and one of hard work. Ivan Klucka arrived into Ireland twelve years ago and the job he found at the time was in HMV, where he stayed for nine years. It was during this time that he met artists, managers and people with a passion for music. It was while working that he also met Chris Bubenzer, fellow co-founder of Diffusion Lab, who also worked in a music shop, Music Minds. Both Chris and Ivan began as rivals, with Chris playing his DJ set before Ivan took to the stage during a weekly Drum n’ Bass night in The Twisted Pepper. After a while, however, they warmed to each other and before long, Ivan asked Chris to teach him more about how to use Logic and Ableton production programs. Together they’d spend nights producing, drinking and upsetting the neighbours with their loud, Drum n’ Bass style creations. Eventually Ivan decided it was best to rent a space in the city to act as their own creative space. Chris was concerned about the cost of renting, however, and rather than wait for Chris to agree, Ivan went right ahead and did it anyway. “It took me about three months to convince him it was going to work” Ivan recalls, remembering the early days of the studio, “in the meantime I was moving everything in and getting to work, but I was still working full time so I could only go in at 6 o’clock or 8 o’clock and literally stay til 10 or 11 and try to get something done, try to produce something.” While working and talking to artists, Ivan began to realise there was a need in Dublin for the kind of creative space that he himself had created, so he invited artists to the studio and began working with them. Chris joined the team, and both worked part-time shifts in order to maintain finances and living supplies, but it wasn’t long before the list of clients was so long that both Ivan and Chris could use production as a primary job.
It was a slow start and it wasn’t until the very end that the business was officially registered, with all paperwork completed and trademarks lodged. The original idea was for the lab to produce hits, produce songs, but before long they began to step foot into the realm of artist development. Artists such as Soulé, Erica Cody and Jafaris began filing through the door and they were all greeted with studio time, Ivan’s knowledge of the music industry and their unbridled attention. Though Ivan was quick to point out that neither he nor Chris were experienced in artist development at the beginning, they quickly grew into it through their experience gained from their music stores and nights in the Twisted Pepper. When asked exactly what type of service the lab offered new artists, Ivan took a moment to think before answering “Imagine you are an artist and have a song. If you come to us we will try to develop that song. It’s up to you which Direction you want to take it but we will help you develop in any way we can”… “If you want to take it with you somewhere that’s fine. If you want to release it with us and you’re looking for management or even design that’s all in-house now.”
With every business it’s important to get finances in line before anything else. As a business, Diffusion Lab doesn’t take copyright from its artists but shares their royalties. Ivan believes in fair treatment for every artist. He provides reasoning for his business model when he says “they don’t earn anything at the beginning, so for me to take all the money off of them, it wouldn’t make any sense. For me, it feels like encouragement for them, they think ‘Oh, I can actually be an artist and make money this way’ and if they think ‘Ohh this is full time’ it makes sense.” Instead, the business makes its money in other ways, such as production and design. To Ivan, and to Diffusion Lab, a 50/50 split on sales seems like a fair deal. Diffusion Lab believes it has the power to compete with major labels, but admit to the fact that there is some things they just cannot do. However, when discussing the threat that major labels pose over businesses like Diffusion Lab, the words Ivan continually comes back to are “the right time” and “leverage.” The emphasis of the business is to create smart, educated and confident artists in the hopes that with these skills and their musical prowess they can become a success. For Ivan, he wants to put his artists in the position that when major labels do come knocking, that they have a bit of leverage and don’t have to just jump to sign the first offer that comes around. He also points out that, as the business is only one and half years old, that the situation could change entirely in the next few years. “We’re lucky enough to have media and radio support in Ireland but I still feel that we’ve achieved 10%, maybe 15% of what we can.”
The future is bright for Diffusion lab, and it seems that things are only going to get bigger and better for the company. In 2018, they plan on hiring more talent individuals, who specialize in the art of social media and production (at the moment, Mr. Klucka handles all social media networks, and notes that he can’t wait to hand one the reigns to someone who knows “What the fuck they’re doing”). The label currently has five artists on its book, with another three in development set for their debuts around April or March. At the moment things couldn’t be going better for the label, and they’re quickly becoming one of the most fascinating labels in the Irish market. Ivan’s main concern has been, and always will be, his artists: “I want to work with lots of new artists, make sure my artists are happy and they do well and then I’m happy, that’s my style. If my artists are happy, I’m happy.”