This week, we’re discussing an important question: Should you start a record label of your own? With thousands of new releases every day and just as many small net-labels, why would you want to join the game? I’m going to show you five benefits of starting a record label today. Additionally, I’m going to warn you about some of the dangers of doing so.
“Why the hell should I start a record label?”
I get it, you don’t need yet another thing on your to-do list as an artist. So let’s make one thing clear: If the thought of running a record label seems appalling to you, just skip this episode. Everybody who’s had this thought in the back of their heads anyway is going to enjoy this for sure. Let’s first talk about your motivations behind starting a label.
It starts with the right motivation
If your only reason to start a record label is “that’s what everybody says you have to do these days”, you probably shouldn’t do it. I believe that all our decisions as artists and music producers should be based on adding value to the scene we’re a part of. Here are some valid motivations to start your own label:
- You feel that a certain stream of music or subgenre is being under-represented and you want to highlight it.
- There are many talented, hard-working artists around you who aren’t being represented properly by a label.
- Your music doesn’t fit into any existing label catalog but you’re convinced that you’re on to something great.
- You want to learn how to run a record label first-hand
If you can find yourself in any of these motivations, congratulations! It might be a good idea for you to start a label. Let’s now come to the five biggest benefits of doing so.
The five benefits of starting a record label
I believe that this step in your artist-career can lift you to a whole new level. It can also crush you if you don’t approach it the right way (more on that later). I will start with the positive aspects first as I believe they outweigh the dangers.
1. Gaining music industry knowledge and experience
As an upcoming artist, you have to build skills and knowledge in regards to the music industry. If you neglect that, you won’t stand a chance when it comes to negotiations, contracts, and all the other tricky aspects of your career.
Reading books on it is nice but is never going to replace first-hand experiences (see Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience). I believe that starting a record label is one of the most valuable things you can do to train your understanding of the music industry. You will have to deal with A&R duties (finding & signing talented artists), legal aspects, promotion, and ongoing project management. Yes, it will be a lot of work but maybe you can find someone to join you on your quest. I’m sure you’re not the only artist in your area who would be passionate about running a record label.
2. Being perceived as a self-starter and go-giver
As mentioned in episode 16 on how to appeal to music industry professionals, being a self-starter can pay off massively. If you start a label (and do it properly), other people in the industry are going to perceive you very differently. You’re clearly differentiating yourself because you “walk the talk” and build your own platform.
The most important thing here is that you don’t start the label only for your own music. While this is an understandable motivation, I believe that it doesn’t give you the full benefits. Being a self-starter means creating something that involves some risk and investment. If you decide to put out the music of other artists, you’re clearly putting time and money on the table to help them succeed. Some releases will get more attention, others not so much. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But overall, your label can be the launchpad for many talented artists (including yourself).
I’ve already talked about the go-giver mindset a lot in previous episodes. Starting your own record label can be one of the best ways to prove that you go all-in on helping others succeed. Don’t underestimate the positive word-of-mouth you’re getting from this.
3. Additional media attention
It’s hard enough to gain the attention of bloggers and magazines. You’re fighting an uphill battle: Thousands of mediocre releases are being pushed into the market. Why would anyone care about your output? Well, if you start an interesting record label with a solid background story and a credible mission, things can shift quickly.
Suddenly, there’s more to talk about. You will notice that blogs, podcasts, and music magazines love to interview artists who have more to offer than their latest release. Running a record label these days is tough. You have to find creative ways to grow your tribe and nurture your true fans. This creates a lot of interesting conversation material.
If one of your artists on the label suddenly blows up, you’re going to be in high demand as well. Small labels can grow into influential and prestigious outlets. Just take a look at Emmanuel’s label ARTS. Over the past five years or so, it has turned from a small boutique techno label into one of the best-selling (and most influential) record labels in the scene. This has had immensely positive effects on Emmanuel’s career as an artist as well.
4. More than just a plan B for your own releases
In the last episode on how to send your demos to labels, I’ve mentioned that you should never submit something unless you have a plan B. That can be a simple upload via aggregator platforms, a free release on SoundCloud, or an actual release on your own label.
Releasing your next EP on your own label doesn’t have to be a plan B. If you’re putting in the work and let your label grow, it might become your plan A because you have everything under control. Suddenly, other labels will have to request demos from you because you’re doing a great job at self-releasing.
Releasing on other labels can be a frustrating experience. Sometimes, the promo (or the lack thereof) feels unsatisfying. Many label owners don’t have their shit together when it comes to managing the release schedule and putting up showcases. So you might end up giving your best tracks into the hands of other people, not knowing if they’re going to do an excellent job or not.
5. Adding value to your sub-genre and/ or the local music scene
I believe that by starting your own label, you can add massive value to the scene. In the end, that’s your job as an artist. Having your own outlet gives you many new opportunities.
You can put up label showcases in your own city as well as all over the globe (as soon as there’s some demand for it). The best part of this is, that if you sign the right type of artists, they are going to help you put this up. Suddenly, you’re creating momentum that is pushing the scene as a whole as well as your artist-career.
On a local level, you are going to gain a lot of extra attention. Some cities even support local record labels with art funding. So you might end up with extra cash to promote your showcases and present your artists to a broader audience. If you do a great job at running your label, you’re going to be invited to panel talks, interviews with local media, and might even get a chance to shape the future culture of your city by working together with government officials.
The dangers of starting a record label
Even though I’m convinced that this is generally a good idea, let me warn you about some possible dangers. Running a label is stressful (at best) and can drain your resources dramatically. You have to keep a consistent release schedule of at least four releases per year to create some sort of relevance. While this is definitely possible, it means that you have to juggle between your own artistic output, running your label, and maybe even a day job or side-hustle.
Another potential danger is that you’re doing it half-hearted. If you don’t stand behind your record label 100%, you won’t gain any of the benefits mentioned before. In that case, you’re going to end up exhausted and frustrated because you’ve signed the wrong artists (or none at all), get little to no media attention, and nobody noticed why your label is even relevant in the first place.
Putting it into action: Starting your own record label
If running a label is an option for you, please go all-in and do it properly. I’m now going to show you three action steps that can help you implement the things you’ve learned in this episode.
1. Evaluate if starting a label is an option for you
- How do you perceive artists who are running their own labels?
- What makes this option attractive to you, what is your true motivation?
- Is it realistic to keep up with a consistent release schedule of at least four releases per year?
2. Start sketching out the label of your dreams
- What sub-genre would the label focus on?
- Which types of artists would you like to offer a platform?
- What could be the “mission” of the label?
- How do you imagine the artwork to look like?
3. Take the first steps of starting your label
- Do some research and commit to a name that’s not yet taken by another label (save the URL and social platforms!).
- Write down up to five artists in your circle that would be perfect candidates for a first release.
- Start a checklist with all organizational and legal aspects in regards to starting a record label.
- Don’t overthink it, just do it! Remember episode 17 on dealing with perfectionism: Better done than perfect.
That’s it for this week’s episode. I’d love to hear if you’ve already thought about starting a record label. What is holding you back?
Let me know in the comments, I read everything.