Record Labels: Advice on The Art of Starting & Sustaining

This is a space for anyone to discuss tips, advice, wisdom, questions, concerns and recipes for starting and maintaining a music label for releases physical, digital or ‘other’. Anything from legal advice to ancient music business proverbs are welcome. Personally I am most interested in the ‘sustaining’ side: how to promote and distribute successfully, independently or not, but all kinds of advice for all ends of the life of a label are helpful.

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Some people may believe there is already an unending and surplus supply of new labels, but I believe there is always room for more since other labels come and go, and there is always space to surprise! A self/community-depricating worldview that it has already been done and there’s no point in adding more has come across my mind and it took time to deprogram and rationalize my way out of that thinking. I encourage anyone to share stories both good and bad, and as I flesh out specific questions I will add to this thread.

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My advice? Don’t do it!

Is that self-deprecating enough? Just kidding.

There is so much great music and so many great ways to get it out there and share, with bandcamp and soundcloud and making your own tapes and burning CDs (just kidding) there could be a debate as to whether labels are even needed, but I always think they serve two purposes at the very least. 1. to put in the work (and hopefully money) of getting music out there, and 2. to serve as tastemaker. As annoying as that phrase is, the association with labels really helps the exposure.

There’s also the question of is there really so much great music, new or old, to put out? When I started my reissue label Acute Records in 2000 it was because I was hearing so much great post-punk/DIY/no wave type stuff from the 70s/80s that was unknown and expensive if you did know it. Within a few years though it was common to hear that everything had been picked through, everything decent had already been reissued. Well 15 years have passed since then and there’s still amazing stuff being unearthed, and killer reissue labels getting it out there.

And more and more great new stuff! And maybe that great new stuff partially owes something to all those years of great old stuff being unearthed.

I gave up my label because I needed to focus energies elsewhere and I felt like there were plenty of good labels doing great reissues, which isn’t to say someone else shouldn’t do it themselves.

Anyway, new or old, it’s important for labels to put in the work. Don’t give up on the PR side of things, as annoying as that can be. In the old days of selling 5000+ CDs a release, we used to hire PR companies. Later on I decided I knew the press people as good or better than the PR companies and I’d reach out to them. Some other labels would put out some releases and you wouldn’t hear about them, but ours would get nice reviews and mentions here and there. As seedy as it seems, it can be a “who you know” game, which isn’t to say be a sleaze about it, just find the likeminded people and share the music and hope for the best.

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This is a free guide to running an indie label that has been contributed to by many great indie labels including Ghostly (Hi Molly!), Sub Pop, Bayonet, Captured Tracks (where I work full time, dividing my time with 2MR) and many other excellent labels. This is maybe focussed a bit on the indie side of things for this forum, however I think all the concepts are still relevant. You can get it for free by submitting your email at https://www.otherrecordlabels.com/ or just download my copy of it here if you don’t wanna do that. https://gallery.mailchimp.com/b22024a84926b8c6089fae917/files/05262cb1-5925-4e26-b447-b94c8dd84a97/Other_Record_Labels_Free_Guide.pdf

There’s also a podcast where the guy interviews indie label people which I’ve found interesting.

If you have any direct questions for me I’d be more than happy to answer!

Hope that’s helpful :slight_smile:

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Hey Dan, thank you for the great words of wisdom from experience! I agree with your two points in the beginning that the benefit or “use” of a label (from an artists perspective) is that the label should be the one putting in time and money in getting the music out there and functioning as maybe not exactly a “taste-maker” but a “world” or “context-builder”. PR and marketing often does seem annoying but it is also the only way people become aware of what’s out there/here! I appreciate hearing from you your experience and what you feel is most important to stay ontop of.

Labels are usually passion projects, so it’s good to lock down a lot of the technicalities and invest in the PR game or else the passion will likely fade.

Thanks!

Awesome, thank you for sharing these resources Adam!

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