How to start a record label

March 10, 2016

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INTRO – Who I am, what I do, what is Ways to Die

 

Hello, I am writing this article to explain how to launch a record label and get the music available online. This article specifically refers to releasing music on digital platforms, but I believe for most part the process is similar beside vinyl pressing and physical distribution.

Soon, I will be able to publish another post with information about releasing on vinyl.

 

To summarise these are the steps I went through (in chronological order)
• Name
• Logo
• Description
• Music signed
• Contracts
• Mastering
• Company formation
• Bank account
• Paypal account
• ISRC code
• URL tracker
• Website
• Email with website domain
• Website optimization
• Facebook page
• Soundcloud
• Twitter account
• Youtube account
• Distribution
• Discogs
• Resident Advisor
• Promotion

I know it feels a bit dry, but for those of you interested in the topic, feel free to check the full article below.

 

When I decided to start my own project Ways to Die Records few months ago, I found myself struggling to find any clear and concise source of information on the web. I would have loved to have a checklist that told me exactly a step by step process to launch a record label. So I did one. For more info about who I am and my label click here.

Feel free to contact me should you have any questions, feedback, comment or if you want to suggest any correction. You can reach me at contact@waystodierecords.com by typing BLOGPOST as subject line. I always welcome feedback and I am open to any discussion.

First of all, why do you want to create your own record label? If you believe you got something good in your hands, whether this is your music or others’, or you don’t seem to find an alternative good existing label, this is probably for you. However, bear in mind that starting a record label is starting a small business, with the difference that this rarely makes money only from the music released.

Let’s cut the long story short and get to the point. How do I f**k create my label?

This is a specific example of a digital record label, while I believe for most part is applicable to vinyl only labels as well. I will update this post soon after I release the first vinyl on Mantra Room Records, project co-founded with Flaminia, who is a music producer as well as a contributor to this blogpost.

*DISCLAIMER: This post has the only purpose of showing independent (future) label managers getting their heads around to create a digital recording label. It is not my intention to provide legal or financial advice to anyone. The content of this post is created from the subjective experience of the author who cannot be held responsible for other readers’ project.

 

WHAT DO YOU NEED

 

I will be as much concise as possible by following an approach which I called Checklisting: I will list all the steps involved and discuss briefly each one providing also external links where applicable. In the end you will find an excel file downloadable which is the actual checklist. Every step title reports a price and a time (inside the brackets) which are taken from my direct experience and from other information I found online.

 

CHECKLISTING

 

Name (£0, 1min-1month)

Well, this is pretty obvious… choose a name for your label. I suggest you do some research before to check whether there is already another label with the same name, or if it is a very common name, which will make it harder to find on both social media and search engine research. You don’t want to have the same name as another thousand or to have to fight to appear on the first page of google when Marcel Dettman, who you just met, decides to check out your independentl project. More on this here.

Logo (£0-100, 1min-10days)

Yes a logo would be ideal to represent who you are and to be easily recognised. I did mine in about 10 minutes on Photoshop, but it was blurred and a friend who knows Illustrator helped with it. It just took me a good 2 hours to reupload all the pictures online. Of course you can pay someone to do the job, but if you are like us, an independent bootstrapped label, you’d rather DIY.

Description (£0, 5min-1week)

Write a short description, not even a bio, but rather a pitch or tagline. Imagine you have 7 seconds (did you know this is the average person’s attention span today?) to make anyone understands what you do. Would you waste that time talking about you at age 12  playing piano and listening to Jeff Mills?

Music signed (£0-? , 1.5-2 months)

This is pretty obvious: If you are running a label like Ways to Die your purpose is to release a certain style of music by different artists, most of which may be not you, but more or less famous artists out there. So choose your style and get on the hunt. Schedule releases for the next 12 months (any distributor or aggregator will ask you to outline this anyway) and ask the artists you chose to send you their tracks for you to pick from. In my case, I wanted to release a first V/A with 6 different artists whose music I liked and then start with EPs of their individual projects. The truth is, this will take time to go back and forth, so do it well before starting the rest. I would suggest 2 months before your first release date. Of course if you want to get an artist already famous on board you may need to pay to get a track signed or a remix. I will update this post once I have gone through this few times.

Contracts (£0-500, 8-12 hours)

Here we are, we finally reached the boring bureaucratic s**t. It is worth to mention a couple of things on this topic that can help you deal with artists. Most important elements of the contract are the parties signatures, date and duration, the object of the contract (in this case the music signed), the terms such as royalties and income split, license, cost split. I believe the first three are self-explanatory, so let’s look at the others:

  • Royalties and income split: Here you define how much % goes to the label and how much goes to the artist. As far as my experience teaches me, royalties are usually split 50%-60% to label and remaining to the artist. For net income generated by sales the split is 60%-75% in favour of the label. But everything in the end is up to you;

  • License: This is to make sure the mastering of the track can be managed by the label and so the image, artist name, track name;

  • Cost split: The label sustains the cost, that is one of the main points of producing someone else’s music. In the contract you should make sure that you mention what exactly you will cover and in which modalities. Most of the labels insert a clause for recoupable costs, which means the net income generated by royalties and sales will be used to cover the initial investment before it is split between the artist and the label. For more info and some realistic scenario examples look into section Will I or the artist make money?

If the legal reasons why you should do contracts aren’t enough for you, do consider the image of professionality you give to the people you interact with. If you were on the other side, would you rather go for an independent label who don’t even give you a written agreement or for one where everything is in place to avoid future issues?

If you need a template, look online or ask me in private.

*DISCLAIMER* read above.

 

 

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Mastering (£15-150 per track, 2 days-1 month)

Of course you need to get the tracks professionally mastered since you are a label producing artists’ music. There is a myriad of service for this online, in studios or even individuals. This can be cheap as well as expensive depending on the quality of the mastering engineer, their name, the equipment they use so on so forth. What I think you should really care about is to choose the right engineer for the right music. Do you research, ask, send enquiries but only go for the one who really does the genre / styles you will release. You don’t want your deep house bomb to be mastered by a country vocal engineer, don’t you? Also what really mattered to me for Ways to Die was the lead time (from the moment you give the tracks to them to the moment you get them back). If you like the way our tracks sound, drop me an email on contact@waystodierecords.com with subject MASTERING and I will connect you to our mastering engineer. When giving the engineer the tracks I strongly suggest

  • follow the specific requirements (this usually being 24,000HZ, 24 bit, -6dB peak - again if you don’t know what these are, you are in the wrong industry);

  • send the artist’s indication on what should be highlighted in the track and perhaps a reference track;

  • if you can and they allow you, be there during the mastering session. This is very fulfilling as an experience and allows you to establish a good relationship with the mastering engineer so in the future you will both trust each other.

Company formation (Optional) (£16-50, 30min)

This is not really mandatory if you want to trade as personal trader, but this can save you from troubles in the future if you screw it all up.*DISCLAIMER* read above.

I set up everything in UK as I live here, but doing the same in any other country would take just some additional research online. I paid £14.4 choosing the default smaller package in one of the thousands of Company formation websites, just Google it. I will update this post next year after I file the first accounts to tell how hard or easy it is.

Bank account (If Company formed) (£0 for first year, 2-3 weeks)

If you decide to set up a Company, this step should be done as well so you can separate your company financials from your personal. Do some research online to find what suits you best. I personally got a business account in less than 2 weeks by selecting the free option when setting up the Company online. Ps. be prepared to be bombarded by advertising from both your bank and other companies to sell you loans, insurance and other services.

Paypal account (£0 subscription plus fee, 1hour).......

 

 

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