If you ever wake up one morning and think to yourself, 'I have way too much money and way too few gray hairs,' I have a suggestion: start a record label. That's what I did in the winter of 2008 when I started my own independent record label.
As far back as I can remember I always wanted to play a band signed with a record label. Then a friend of mine got signed with his band and I thought it had to be the coolest thing in the world. I asked him what it was like - did he get big royalty checks, are they planning a world tour, have you met this artist or that artist that's signed on the label too?
The answers were very disappointing, 'I get a check every three months or so for a few dollars, we are planning our own national tour, and I've really only talked to our A&R guy twice.'
Fast forward a few years and I'm sitting in my rehearsal room, talking with the band about planning our next record and what labels we should solicit, when I had the same bright idea I'm sure every other musician sitting in my spot has: I'll just start my own label!
Music is my one true love; from the moment I played my first show in my grammar school library I knew that music was what I wanted to do. Fourteen years later, three cities, more bands than I can count, and several stylistic changes later I was still sitting in the same rehearsal room doing the same things. Now was the perfect time to do something different and something I could have true passion for.
I had been laid off from my previous corporate job and I reckoned if I could run someone else's business then I could run my own. I had been in sales and management for ten years and had always wanted to own my own business and since no one was hiring me at the time, I hired myself.
Now, over three years later I have had the opportunity to work with some very talented musicians, producers, engineers, and artists, but getting from there to here wasn't as easy as I thought.
A&R: Simultaneously the Most Frustrating and Fun Part of the Job
Chicago has an awesome music scene, but sifting through the muck is a daunting task. I put several ads on Craigslist announcing the label and soliciting for artists; I received over one hundred responses within the first week.
A few tips for bands that are soliciting labels:
MySpace is a great place to showcase your music to your fans, but not to labels - the sound quality is poor at best.
Include a little bit about yourself - there is more to a band than its music. If you have a story, tell it.
Make sure you are ready to solicit labels; just because your girlfriend thinks you're a rock star, it doesn't mean anyone else will.
The Fun Part
Going to shows has to be best part of the job. What other job allows you to hang out in some great clubs and venues, see live music, enjoy adult beverages, and hang out with some incredibly talented musicians?
In my opinion, a band's live show makes or breaks them. I have heard some amazing tracks sent to me only to be let down by a band that mopes around on stage.
Time is Your Worst Enemy
Recording schedules, day jobs, line-up changes, funding challenges, and studio issues make what you anticipate to be a three-month project into an eighteen-month project. Nothing goes according to schedule, so be prepared, and more importantly, keep the artists prepared. Bands can disappear when they feel they aren't at the point they should be, but they aren't always aware of what happens behind the scenes to get that record in their hands.
What Worked in the Past Won't Always Work in the Future
The music industry is undergoing a revolution, and when the dust settles, those that embrace technology and cater to the changing ways in which consumers find, buy, and listen to music will still be standing.
When people ask where they can buy our records, I list off all of the popular online destinations. Then they ask, 'Why so you don't sell CDs?' and I ask in return, 'When was the last time you bought a CD?' The answer is always a resounding, 'I can't remember!'
Think and Act Differently
People don't get their music the same way they used to, and the industry needs to be flexible to adapt. My label decided to be an all-digital label, partnering with a distributor that gets our artists to just about everywhere people go for music, including the consistently growing music streaming sites.
We also operate on a profit-sharing system where we split the revenue with the artist over the traditional royalty structure. I thought back to my friend and his checks for a few dollars, and I wanted to do something different. So instead of the artists making tiny percentages off of high-cost physical media, they take a large cut of a low distribution cost digital sale.
So if you think you have what it takes, go for it! Just remember that they call it the music business for a reason.