IMNZ Tips: How Do You Start A Record Label?

imnz how do i start a record label7th December 2010 - c/o (Independent Music NZ)
At IMNZ we often get asked how do you start a record label"? The simple answer is easy - just think of a name and release some music on a CD digitally on vinyl or whatever… next thing you know you are a record label. But if you want to pursue the idea with a little more seriousness then there are a few things to consider before you get started.  PART 1
Firstly do you have a lot of time to devote to the project? To run a record label and do a good job will take a considerable amount of effort and work. Even the basic production aspects take a lot of time. There is the recording process and getting that right the mastering the cover artwork design the credits making sure you don't forget anyone in the thanks you’s catalogue numbers ISRC codes what formats you are releasing on and so on. It takes a lot of time and organisational skill just to get to the point of having a finished product. Then you've got to think about promoting it and making sure it is available for people to buy. Secondly are you prepared to invest money in the label? Whether you are releasing your own music or your friends’ band or whatever it will cost. These costs include the recording mastering design manufacturing and advertising costs. Of course it is possible to do things for next to nothing by recording at home designing it yourself and avoiding manufacturing costs by making the music available just on-line…but not everyone has the skills or equipment to do all these things themselves and this method doesn't suit everyone. Some genres and styles of music require the skills of people who specialise in those areas. Thirdly are you comfortable with the idea of telling other people how great the music you release is? In other words once you've got some kind of finished product can you promote it? If you go to all the trouble of recording and producing the music investing time and money into it then you need to make sure people know about it so they can buy it. This question of promotion is particularly pertinent if you are self-releasing on your own record label. It can be hard to walk the fine line between successfully promoting what you do without sounding like you are overdoing it. That said there are many self-released artists that do this very well. The main thing is that if you genuinely believe in what you release or do then it is a lot easier to be convincing about it. If you have answered yes to all of the above then that is a good start. The intention of these questions isn't to put anyone off but rather to make sure you know what you are getting yourself into. But rest assured there are also plenty off good times in store for anyone who wants to take the plunge. The next step is to start thinking about how to set things up properly so stay tuned for the next addition. PART 2 Previously in part one of this series (above) I went on about a few things to ponder before heading off on a record label journey. It was kind of like a parental advisory warning. Essentially the questions are the same ones you need to ask if you are a solo artist or a band self-releasing your own stuff. So from here on in I have to assume I failed to warn you off. You have decided to give it a crack anyways! After thinking up a suitably awesome name for your label (make sure no-one else has it already) you need to sort out how you might structure the business. If it is just you doing everything - like production promotion marketing distribution A&Ring website social media accounting tea making and so on - then you will be busy. Very busy. If you are going solo it does make it easier to work out who is responsible for what and who does what job. If your label is started by a group of people a collective or has some kind of communal vibes going down then it can be good to have some kind of internal agreement. Who is responsible for what? Who owns which share of what things? Who is paying for all of this? A bit like for bands who in an ideal world should all have internal agreements as well. Sometimes it can seem like a pretty uncool thing to do but you might be glad of it later. In fact if you really want to take this even further it can be good to have some kind of mission statement or a guiding philosophical principle. The sort of thing you can repeat later when you have to do lots of interviews that ask you "so what is the philosophy behind your label?" You also need to think about the right formal and legal structure. If your intention is to be in it for the long haul then a limited liability company may be the best set up. This helps to protect you. If it all turns to custard and you need to be able to separate the companies finances from your own then this is the way to go. Assuming you do contracts with artists then it is also good to have a contracting party to contract the contracts to… but more about that later. If you set up some kind of legal entity - like a company - it provides a good basis for everything else you are doing. For example you can set up a label bank account and it makes dealing with taxes and GST a lot more straightforward. In all likelihood as the label grows and massive things start happening for your artists then all this stuff will become more important. If you have the good sense to sort it out at the start then you will be well placed to last distance. As the owner of a well respected NZ indie label once said "the best way to destroy a new label is to have a huge hit"…in other words a lot of labels when they start aren't ready for this as they don't have a solid infrastructure in place. An artist can blow up and it is often a surprise and can create chaos if you aren't prepared for it. Really getting your legal structures and having good agreements/contracts in place is all about being adequately prepared for both the best and worst case scenarios. If you have a good infrastructure in place then when these situations hit you you will be ready for them. It seems obvious to say it but at the heart of every record label there is music. And music is made by people… or in many cases computers theoretically controlled by people. So for the next post I am going to look at that heady mix of people and music. How do you deal with them? PART 3 Previously in part two of this series I wrote about some practical things to do to set up a record label - like forming a company and having agreements. This segment is about music and the people that make it. Central to every record label are the people that make the music. The songwriters musicians and music makers. Also involved in the overall artistic process are sound engineers producers visual artists designers photographers video makers and others. On another side of the coin - often overlapping with the above - are the people that work in the industry: booking agents managers other record labels publishers promoters venues and so on. Usually it is the role of the manager to bridge the gap between the more creative goals of the artists and the money/star making endeavors of the music industry. However good record labels also understand the importance of walking this line between the two worlds. In the music industry this is usually called A&R (Artists and repertoire). Often when people refer to A&R they tend to think it means talent scouting: going to gigs hanging out in the dark corners of music venues and passing judgement on performers haircuts or dance moves. Or maybe even listening to the music as well. However although this does happen it is really only a small part of the process. Good A&Ring and part of being a good record label is the ability to give positive critical and musical feedback. In others words although you (the label) are a fan of the artist or the band you are also prepared to make suggestions on how things might be done to make things even better. The very fact you are putting time and effort into the act (and chances are at the start you aren't making any money) says you like the artist but it doesn't mean you think everything they do is always super awesome every time. In my experience musicians often really appreciate good critical feedback. The majority of the time they are either surrounded by sycophants who are always telling them they are amazing or people slamming them with no explanation ("your band sucks"). So if someone who they trust actually listens to the music and makes comments that help them do what they do even better it is very helpful. But it is still often a fine line critiquing someone's creative vision. The types of suggestions that might be made relate to better songwriting performance lyrics videos production and so on. In addition to this kind of musical advice there is industry related advice. What song does the label think is the best first single from the album? What will make good album cover artwork? What are good studio's to record in? What are the best producers? who should make the video? Art designers? and so on. These are all essentially creative decisions but have bearing on the success of the release as well. Usually these decisions are made in conjunction with the artist and the manager. Sometimes who has final say on these kinds of decisions is specified in a recording contract and sometimes not. Either way it involves talking to and working with a range of different people. This aspect of running a record label can be both the most challenging and the most rewarding. It is challenging because there is always an element of delicate compromise as creative ideas are involved. People often have very strong and specific creative visions. Sometimes these creative visions are at odds with commercial ideas and this has to be worked out. For example when making a music video the artist the director and the record label might all have slightly different ideas about how the video should look. About what it is meant to achieve. So to get something everyone is happy with can sometimes take some negotiating. But when the end result is something that everyone loves and really believes in it can be very rewarding. It means as a label you can get right in behind it and the artist can too. It is also the most important aspect of being a label. While good marketing and promotion make a difference really the deciding factor on success or not is the music itself (alongside the other creative aspects such as artwork videos and so on). It is true that a lot of great music gets ignored and a lot of rubbish is very successful but labels and artists can't control that. The one thing they can control is their own music and they have to work together to make that as good as possible. If this happens even if the album turns out not to be successful it means you will have given it your best chance. Ultimately it is the musicians that make the music but labels can play an important support role. Good labels can act as a sounding board and advisor particularly where creative and commercial objectives overlap. While the internet revolution may have made distribution marketing and promotion easier it cannot replace these benefits for an artist working with a good label. Article c/o
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