Having begun her career at the tender age of 14, Nina Nesbitt knows the music industry inside out, so it should be no surprise she’s decided to take the reins herself by launching her own record label 

WHEN she was 14, Nina Nesbitt wrote and recorded songs, created a YouTube channel, and put them online herself. 

Perhaps it’s no surprise that in the year she turns 30, she’s launching her own record label.

“I’m responsible for hiring the whole team: the TV plugger, the radio plugger, someone to handle press, a social media person, an A&R person,” said the Balerno-raised performer.

“When you’re running your own label, you hire the team, you’re the boss. You are the marketing department, the digital department – you pick people to help get your music out there. 

“I go into meetings with Apple and Spotify myself. I go in as the artist but also the label. I come up with strategies and plans. It’s a lot of work but it’s all good. It’s really exciting.”

There’s been a strong streak of determination in Nesbitt ever since she was a child, long before the days when she racked up one billion streams online, and performed with Coldplay at Hampden.

In fact, Nesbitt has been through the entire music industry mill – signed to a major label, dropped by a major label, picked up by an indie label and now master of her own destiny, having launched her own label Apple Tree Records with her manager Vicky Dowdall.

Check out the Herald exclusive debut of Nina's new video below:

The determination to take charge of her own future came after a series of ups and downs in the notoriously fickle industry.

The Livingston-born singer-songwriter signed to Island Records with Universal in 2012, releasing one album and then recording another, which the label shelved and has never released. 

She scraped the Top 20 of the UK charts with her single Stay Out in 2013, and landed top spot in the Scottish album charts with her debut LP Peroxide in 2014. The following year, however, she was dropped by the label, aged just 20.

She’s written with Lewis Capaldi and toured with the likes of Ed Sheeran and rapper Example. “I left Universal and felt I just couldn’t do it anymore,” she said. 

“I felt so mortified that I had been dropped, that nobody was taking me seriously, and that my career as a singer was over. But everything happens for a reason. The second album probably wasn’t my best. I was creating it for the wrong reasons. 

“After my first album there was so much pressure to recoup my deal and get to the next level. So I wrote for other people for a year-and-a-half and eventually the experience became something that I moved past.”

Eventually, she penned another record, a self-reflective collection entitled The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change, released in 2019 via indie ticket Cooking Vinyl, where she stayed for several years, regaining her confidence and honing her craft, before striking out on her own this spring, minting her label with two single releases. 

A new album, Mountain Music, will follow in September.

Her rise, while not stellar, has been strong and steady. Support slots with musical megaliths like Justin Bieber, Coldplay and now Stevie Nicks on her current tour are glittering nuggets in a career resume, but in the era of Taylor Swift, re-recording her music to gain full control over her songs, and acts like Raye calling for music industry change to allow songwriters to have master royalty points over their own recordings, there’s a copper-bottomed ambition about Nesbitt’s business plan.

She said: “I have been doing this as a career since I was 17, when I signed my first deal. I’ve been on a major label, an indie label, and I’ve been unsigned. Being on a major, you’re part of a huge business, a huge corporation that you sign to. The interest is mainly in making money, being as big as you can be. 

“I felt a lot of pressure to sound a certain way and look a certain way and the mindset is short term. They sign so many that you’re on a conveyor belt and there’s always a next one coming along. It felt less about building a career.

“I wanted a brand new challenge, because when you’ve been doing something for so long it’s good to keep it exciting. 

“We’re living in a time when the majority of the work falls to the artist in terms of promotion. 

“It’s mainly just social media, and then everything else that comes with that, people out there

watching TikToks and streaming songs. 
“So I figured, if I’m putting in 110%, I might as well go the full way and start my own label. 

“I learned so much from both labels, but Cooking Vinyl were much more about the art, the music, and my values really align with my experience of working with them.

“On a major label, it’s all about having a commercially successful album. 

“I’m thinking less about getting on radio playlists now and more about building on the fanbase that I already have, really pulling together a tight community of people who care.”

Nesbitt’s intention with Apple Tree Records is to bring through other artists, and to give them a fair deal, awarding master points to songwriters – effectively owning the rights to the songs, meaning a better deal on royalties.

She said: “I’d love to sign other artists, especially Scottish artists, because when I was growing up, I felt I had to move to London to make contacts and be in the industry. 

“So it would feel like things had come full circle if I was able to sign some Scottish artists and give them a platform.”

Manager Vicky Dowdall said: “We are hoping Apple Tree Records will be a home for other artists who aspire to be like Nina. 

“I’m from Newcastle and it’s sometimes difficult if you’re not in London – it can be hard to get a way in. If we can help with that and highlight talent from backgrounds where people don’t usually get a chance, I’m passionate about that.”

Dowdall, who also manages Ella Henderson and Olivia Sebastianelli, worked to secure a six-figure sum from music distribution company Fuga to build the launch of Apple Tree. 

For her, the model of artists and manager collaborating with the launch of a label is a growing trend, citing artists such as Gabrielle Aplin and The 1975 striking similar deals with their managers.

She said: “It’s becoming a lot more common now for long-term management to go into partnership with other artists. Record companies used to do so much more than they do now, and so much work is being put onto the management, so it is a partnership. And we both work incredibly hard. 

“It was actually an honour to be asked and quite forward-thinking of Nina.

“The traditional model is not a sustainable business model for managers. Managers don’t own anything – they’re on 20% commission and if they get fired that’s it. It’s a vulnerable place. 

“Managers feel they need to own some rights because they could get sacked and not see anything for the 10 years they just worked. 

“There’s no such thing as a safe bet, but I believe in Nina’s talent, drive and work ethic. 

“She has everything you’d want as an artist and when I believe in someone like I believe in her, then I fight tooth and nail for them.”

“The ambition is to get Nina to the next level, and build the company up.”

Dowdall added, laughing: “Then maybe one day we’ll sell up and all go off and live in Barbados.” n