Pressed for Success
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Setting Up Your Own Record Label
MUSIC is turning into an industry…
where one can make their own fortune and create opportunities - at one point in time reserved only for big stars and those pulling in the big money. Take the act of making music: it is possible to record an entire album and replicate dozens of musicians from the comfort of your room – if you have a laptop/technology that can do that, then you are set and can do whatever you need. Many musicians prefer having that autonomy and freedom to create music how they want and at a lower cost. There is a gamble when it comes to producing and releasing music on your own. I wonder whether you can ever get the music as far and wide without a P.R. label or record deal. There is something about the studio that can add some (good) gloss and extra oomph to a song/album! As much as anything, the D.I.Y. musician has to deal with a lot more and no other voices/hands to offer additional advice/objective feedback – do the good points outweigh the bad?! I feel there are so many positives taking that independent attitude and teaching yourself new skills. A record label, mind, is a different beast to simply producing and releasing your own music. There are financial risks with setting a label up and, if it does not fly and grow, it can mean a bitter loss.
Many artists, mainstream and underground, are setting up their own brand so they can release music how they want and have much of a say. Modern artists are subjected to ruthless and rigid timescales and are part of a machine that means releases, interviews and social media motions are finely planned, honed and directed. Music can, for some, turn into déjà vu and a rather soulless cycle. I understand why agencies and labels affect this policy: they are maximising the music’s impact and working hard to push it as hard and far as possible. Whilst that sense of management and input can make some feel safe and supported; others feel they lack the chance to take time off or do campaigns slightly differently. Having your own label, inevitably, means, when you get a bit bigger you can have other artists on your books and support their music. Bit by bit, you can build the label and push it out into the world. I will source from articles that tackle the business of label ownership and the pros and cons. I am in the position where I’m witnessing new artists with not much money to their name found their label and go out there with a smile and hope. Is there a certain naivety thinking, if you have spirit and a ‘good’ idea, that will be enough to make a label succeed?
I have seen great labels fall and others take years to find a footing. To those who wish to set their label up; be aware of the pragmatic realities and limitations in the short-term. Success will not come overnight and profit might take a very long time. There are some great sites out there that tell you how to set a label up and all the points one needs to consider. This site/article provides a comprehensive and sensible guide for anyone thinking about going into business. Some interesting points come to mind – one is concerning finding a name and cementing a business model:
“…Many indie labels skip this step, at least initially, but it is a good idea to have your record label set-up as a legal business entity from the start. You will need to be an actual, legal business if you want a business bank account or credit card, and it certainly makes tax time a lot more manageable. Likewise, if you are applying for business loans or other kinds of funding, you will need to be a legal business.
The names and specifics of various business frameworks differ from country to country, state to state and city to city (for example, sole proprietorship, LLC, Corporation, etc). You will need to spend a few hours with your computer or at the library to learn about the law in your area and to print up the forms you need to set up your company”.
Many overlook the fact a label will be a full-time thing. It is not an endeavour you can do part-time and think everything will take care of itself. Before even getting to the first point; you need to consider the costs and time demands associated with running a label – is it going to be a possible realisation and daily job? Finding the sort of sound/identity of your label is vital. Do research and look at the sort of labels interested in the same music as you. Whilst there are ample opportunities for those looking to start a label; if you are doing the same as someone else, your appeal and profitability will be relatively limited. Going to gigs and looking online for the sort of music that speaks to you is vital. A label is something that you will have to dedicate your full time and energy to – making sure you are properly passionate about the sounds/artists you’re looking for is vital. The article mentioned raises some interesting questions one needs to ponder:
· Do you want musicians to deliver a master, or will you go in on recording costs?
· Will you be paying advances, and if so, how much? (If you have a very small budget, your best bet is to try and convince your potential signings to keep any advance small so there is money left to promote their release.)
· How will any earnings from releases be divided up? Will your artists get a percentage, or will you split things 50/50? Will the label recoup manufacturing costs and promotional costs before paying?
· Will the artists get to approve promotional expenditures over a certain amount? If so, how much?
· How many promos/free copies will the artist get? Over that limit, how much will they pay for additional copies?
· What is the length of the deal?
· Is the deal for just one album or several?
· Will the musicians be entitled to audit your books? How often, and what kind of notice do they need to give?
You can learn more about indie label contracts here.
A label lifecycle will involve debt and some restricted dreams. You can reach where you need to go but be ready for setbacks and bad days. Transparency with your artists and distribution channels is vital; ensure you have that rhino skin and you can tackle any disappointments and failed releases. The debut release from your label is likely to involve trial-and-error and meagre explosion. It might fail and be a bit muted – this is all a natural process. Look at the article I have sourced as it explains the benefits of digital distribution channels and promotion: you may not have enough money to hire P.R. firms so there will be a lot of in-house promotional and marketing strategising:
· Digital distribution is much easier to find than physical distribution. Aggregating services like Tunecore will put your music on sites like iTunes and Amazon. You can set up these services from the word go, so you don't have to wait around with good releases on your hand that you can't move at all.
· Some physical distributors will work with anyone, but your ideal situation is to land a distribution deal with a company that is selective about the labels they work with. These companies will actively get involved in selling your releases to the stores and will often help you advertise your releases. These sorts of companies usually want to know that you've got a busy release schedule planned - they don't like working with a label with one release.
· Distributors sometimes often M&D deals - they pay for manufacturing up front and recoup it from sales. This helps with your cashflow in the short term, but these deals are becoming more of a rarity.
I will bring in one last snippet from the article I am using an industry bible – there are other points to consider. When you think about promotion and getting your artists to the magazines/websites; make sure you give people enough time to write about the release/artist – giving them a date when they can publish a press release/review etc. will help you when it comes to hitting promotion targets and tying it around release dates. Get in contact with sites and magazines who sell your kind of music/acts. Once you build up these relationships and people know what your stall is all about; not only will people come to you – artists and journalists – but there is that trust and sense of faith. Remember the earlier points regarding expectations: things will take time to heat up and it might not be an instant success. If you have come this far – and are not put off – then how much might it take to start the label?
“…On a more serious note, starting your own record label is to a large extent dependent on your preference and budget. You could budget and spend millions of dollars, or you could choose to spend moderately; far below a million dollars.
- For the purchasing of microphones and head phones, you can go for Neumann u87; it will cost you about $2000 or more.
- For mixers, you can go with Euphonix or any other brand of your choice. But Euphonix seems great (especially with is sweet sounding preamp and on board compressors). It will cost you about $30,000 or more.
- On the alternative, you can choose to go for purely digital and skip the mixers altogether. This means you will need a good audio inter face with multiple inputs. 12 stereo pairs minimum. The emu 1820m is a good one.
- The cables (nothing else but mogami cables), are the best audio cable in the market for now; you can explore other options.
- You would need to create budget for pre amp. Avalon are perhaps your best bet and you can get it for about $2500 or less.
- You should also prepare a good budget for monitor; monitor is one of the most important gadgets you would need in starting your own record label / record studio. You can go for a Yamaha monitor; it is simply one of the best you can get in the market.
- When it comes to acquiring a computer, you just have to budget for a high end computer designed for such purpose. Your computer should of very large memory, high end graphic card, and 2.6 GHz quad core processor and you can search for a good software to work with.
That might sound a bit scary but there are loans and banks will be able to help. Look online regards business loans and there are crowd-funding sites like PledgeMusic and Patreon that might be a good source when you are setting up. It is important, when you start your label, to have fun and see all the upsides. It can be a lot of work but, as Toby Langley of Transgressive Records said in a feature with The Guardian:
“But the hours can be long and Toby says he has to be careful to avoid burn-out. "I'm often up at 7am and still emailing beyond midnight. But I ensure that when personal time arrives with family and friends, work is blocked out entirely — even if that time is only a day or a few hours. It's crucial to have perspective and space in order to make valued judgements.
He says: "Running your own record label is a lifestyle job and you have to be prepared to make personal sacrifices in order to commit the required time to it. However, the upside of doing something you love is that it's always empowering and exciting".
It all relies on research and putting in the hours. If you set your sights on a realistic horizon then you should be fine. There are financial risks and it might take time to build that reputation – do not be put off by time and money hurdles. Every successful label started from scratch and they had to go through some pretty rough times. Going to local gigs and keeping your ears open is a good way to see what sort of acts are making the music you want to promote. If you are savvy regards the financial considerations – can you afford to take time off work or do this as a full-time job? – there will be fewer nasty shocks. That exciting first release might not be the Hollywood première you were expecting: the fact you have a release out there and are mixing it with all the other labels is a big step. There are, as my favourite article states, some key rules to digest:
· Don't chase trends. Focus on releasing and promoting quality music, nurturing your fanbase and being good to your artists. Things tend to fall into place when you focus on the basics.
· Be creative. Cheap and cheerful solutions to things like artwork often turn into a selling point rather than a negative. It's not about razzle-dazzle and slick stuff - it's about good music.
· Treat your label like one of your artists. Promote your label name and build an identity.
· This is supposed to be fun, remember? Enjoy it!
There is a world of information out there: using it as tools for success and guides will help you get the most out of your label and prepare for bad days/successes. More and more people are setting up their own labels so they can support unsigned acts and release their own sounds – avoiding all the timetables and constraints you might get with a bigger label. Think of the excitement of that first release and getting names into your fold; the first time one of your artists/you press a vinyl and see that in a record shop! THOSE are the moments that you need to keep in mind and never lose sight of! Do not be deterred by the hard work you will need to put in: it is all worth it and something, as I said, we all need to go through. Who knows, eh? If you keep at it and remain focused; before too long, you might have a label that is housing some of the biggest new artists in the music world. You should always follow dreams and, if you are determined to run your own label, then go for it and make it happen! It is important to remain realistic and level-headed but you can dream and aim high – the more work and passion you put in, the more you will get out. Start your mind working and get the creative portion active. Today it might be a mere idea; by tomorrow, you could well take the first steps towards…
STARTING your own record label!