My Week: Russell Blackmore of Sonic Editions

Sick of intimidating galleries with over-priced prints and dissatisfied with identical £5.99 posters of Bob Marley, Russell Blackmore decided to launch a photographic venture with a difference: Sonic Editions.

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013
If you like photographic art and don’t have £500-£600 to spend on a limited edition gallery print - and you don’t want to settle for a £20 picture from Ikea - you’re pretty stuck. That’s why, in 2009, I launched a curated online gallery where you can buy prints in four standard sizes, at fixed - and affordable – prices. It’s gallery quality fine art, for as little as £69. Oh, and they come framed, so you don’t have to fork out another £300 once you’ve bought the thing.

Before you go, ‘that’s not new. I know at least ten websites where you can get 5,000 different pictures of Bruce Springsteen printed onto t-shirts, mugs and slippers!’, that’s not what Sonic Editions is about. It’s curated, so it’s unique. You can’t find these images anywhere else.

In the early days, to get hold of these exclusive images, I partnered with some of the biggest names in music: Uncut, Rough Trade, and the NME to access their back catalogues of images. That gave us scale, even when we had no money. We grew without having to spend a fortune on marketing, and they got a risk-free revenue stream. Originally, all the prints were music-related - hence 'Sonic' - but we've been adding other stuff as we've gone along. The lady of the house may not want a picture of Led Zeppelin in her front room, but Marilyn Monroe? Definitely.

Two years on and business is booming. We’re expecting a turnover of £600,000 this year, and we’ve struck a deal with a printing and framing company in the US – over 50% of our orders now come from the States. I love doing business with Americans. They are so much more ‘can-do’ than the Brits. Even if they do have no concept of time zones. Luckily, I have a very understanding wife who doesn’t mind pausing what we’re watching so I can ring someone on the West Coast who doesn’t realise its 10pm.

It’s never a hardship, though. I love travelling to LA and New York doing business, and I love being my own boss. Most of all, I love images. I used to work for Getty, and there’s nothing I enjoy more than spending my days digging through old negatives looking for beautiful shots. Sometimes I seek out specific photographers, other days they come to us. If you’re not a big name, the galleries won’t touch you, so these incredible negatives of music and film icons just sit in a suitcase under the bed, not being monetised. Until I find them, that is.

I recently had the great pleasure of signing up Stephen Wright, the photographer who did the famous Smiths shoot outside the Salford Lads Club. It was quite weird to meet the man whose image was a poster on my wall growing up. Turns out that they all look so miserable in that picture because it was December in Manchester and they were freezing.

I met Wright in Café Diana in Notting Hill. I remember thinking that was pretty ironic: being there, surrounded by royal memorabilia. After all, this was the man who took the cover shots for The Queen Is Dead…

Find out more about Sonic Editions

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