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They Succeeded – You Could Too!

record-label

Have you ever considered running your own Independent Recording Company?

After all, why should the major record companies take the lion’s share of the music industry? The world of Music recording is changing rapidly and digital distribution has bought new opportunities for independent recording companies. You don’t need a fortune to start your own label and there are increasing examples of independent companies which have been successful especially in the rock/punk genre.

Start small

It is possible to start in a small way, especially if you have a band that you are passionate about. James Passmore, for example, speedily started his independent label National Anthem from his North London flat, with little previous knowledge as to how to run one. He had seen the American all girl group Haim. Knew he loved them and realized they were unsigned in the UK. He saw an opportunity and moved in quickly. He confirmed the release of their Forever EP, and then had to come up with a name for the label, find out how to get vinyl made, and learn how to put tracks on iTunes.

Marshall Teller is another independent recording group that started small. It was started in 2010 by founder Leon Diaper from the sitting room in his mum’s house. The label quickly became a well-known on the alt-rock scene, specializing in American youth culture and 90s nostalgia.

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Share your expertise

It can be a lonely business however and having a like-minded partner or group can help to ease the burden, both financially and mentally. Briton Kevin Douch the head of Big Scary Monsters joined forces with Simon Morley (Blood and Biscuits)and Alex Fitzpatrick (Holy Roar) to form the increasingly successful label Pink Mist in 2010. This label has created a rebel rock alliance that covers varying shades of the “loud music” spectrum. By joining forces the individuals have been able to collate their talents and connections. Pink Mist has gone from strength to strength and has released records by many of the bands at the forefront of the British rock scene of the past decade – including Tall Ships, Gallows and Pulled Apart by Horses.

Pink Mist and other indie companies have proved their worth as well as the undisputed fact that independent recording companies can punch well above their weight  – especially by discovering new music and nurturing new talent.

How on earth do you get started?

So what does it take to start an independent recording company? It helps of course if you have an artist who you admire and believe in, but there is also the financial aspect to consider. It wouldn’t cost a huge amount to press a few hundred copies of your self-produced new release but if you are hoping to sign several artists and make an impression on the charts then it is likely to be rather more expensive.

You will probably need the services of a marketing advisor, especially one who can organize radio plugging and distribution. It is important then to have your objectives clear. Are you aiming to just release a few tunes in the hope that one of them is successful or are you aiming to develop the careers of potential chart topping acts?

There will be other overheads to consider. These will likely include payment for studio time and session musicians. You may have to consider producer’s and engineer’s fees. You may also have to pay to set up a web site, and for the artwork needed for advertising and packaging.

Of course most of your outlay will be covered if you have a successful record, as some of the above stories have illustrated. But as in any business venture, success is by no means guaranteed.There are no substitutes for hard work, enthusiasm and a little luck!

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How to Start Your Own Hard Rock / Punk Music Recording Company

How to Start Your Own Hard Rock

Starting out:

Firstly, you will want to figure out your main game plan.  Do you want to start running a company that releases a few good albums and then gets swallowed by the Hollywood dust storm and forgotten about in the process? Or do you want to go big with it and give some great artists an opportunity to head to the top with your company as their backbone?

The choice is yours, but choose wisely my friend, because this endeavor is not for the faint hearted, nor is it cheap by any means.

Punk Music Recording Company

When starting a recording company, you have to either know the right people, or be able to buy services from the right people, most likely both.  These people, the ones who market rock / punk rock music, distribute it and help out in the production of it, are not going to lend or give their time away by any means. And they especially won’t even consider doing business with someone who approaches them unprepared and witless about what they do for a living.  Generally, anyone that you would be going to for help with this sort of thing would have a well established career in the music industry for a good amount of time, they are professionals, and they really don’t like to mess around with people who come off as amateurs.

Most of these people are not even going to give you a single moment of their time without you having taken the time to go through and make an extremely detailed, solid, and fail-proof business plan.  Your business plan should outline your use of finances, how you plan to utilize various marketing tools, your planned production procedures, and every other aspect that you will need to be successful in the music industry.

Once you have your help, it’s time to get down to business.  Firstly, this means you need to go get a business permit and tax registration documents before anything else gets done.  Next, you need to make a list, or a spreadsheet, of every resource that you will need to use to make it in the music industry.  This includes where you will get your recording software and gadgets, cd distributors, music marketing savants, radio stations, music news and information resources, online stores and industry trade associations.  This is only a handful of the resources you will need, and should be used as a starting point.  Obviously, if you’re heart set on a recording studio AND a record label, You’re going to need more money than if you were only starting a record label.  This means that even though you may have some funding available to you currently, You are going to need more before you will be in a position to start making a profit off your newly founded business.  Government business grants are a good option for securing funding for a business, or, if that doesn’t pan out, you can try your local bank.  If you have good credit and a business plan then your bank should be able to hook you up with a good sum of cash to make magic happen with, in the form of a business loan.  Notice I say ‘loan’, this means you will be paying a considerable amount of interest on this money (between 5% and 15 %), so if you have been looking at this new business as a part time gig, or an easy way to make quick cash, think again.  This money will need to be paid back at some point, so you need to spend it wisely.

After you have all of the anxiety inducing stuff out of the way, you can start looking for people who want to produce their music in your studio.  This can be done in all kinds of ways, you can go online and see who’s out there, you can do it by going to local clubs that feature talented artists, heck, you can even put up “ take a number” signs if you want to, to advertise your services. Just remember, if you put your money – or anyone else’s money – into this recording company, then you need to make sure the talent you are recording is able to pay your prices.  Don’t cut people deals just because they are starting out, this could put you in a bad position, one that could totally end your newly founded career.

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Starting Your Own Record Company – Legal Issues

Legal-Issues

So you have an eye for talented rock or punk musicians, you have found a band or artist you believe in and you have a business plan. You have raised enough cash to take the initial steps in forming your own company.

Exciting stuff indeed, but the next considerations are somewhat more mundane and they concern getting things correct legally. It cannot be overemphasized that you must ensure that you overlook nothing that can later lead to a stumbling block to your success. In the legal department there are a significant number of points to address. Here are the main ones.

Legal Issues Contract

The Recording Contract Itself

This is the single most important element of the legal process and it articulates the obligations of both parties – you and your artist. It would include issues such as how many singles or albums you will release during the contract’s duration and the level of the royalty rate. It encompasses the marketing budget and in which markets the recordings will be released (domestically or internationally), the frequency of live performances and so on.

The issue of copyright ownership is vital and you should ensure that the contract names the copyright clause in your company’s favour. This will help to develop your company’s portfolio over time and add to its status. As an indie label you might also be advised to include an ‘override royalty’ should a major record label buy out one of your successful artists. The recording contract needs to be signed by both parties and also witnessed. Once in effect, it cannot be broken by either party without penalty.

The Recording Contract Itself

Producer Contracts

These are written agreements with producers or remixers and deal with advances, the budget for the actual recording, fees for session musicians, rental for the use of the recording studio and who pays any producer royalties.

Publishing Deals

There is a huge market for good original songs and these deals are for original songs written by your artists. They can be substantially lucrative should the song become a hit and perhaps later be recorded by other performers. The daily administration of the publishing can be undertaken on your behalf by a larger publisher who specializes in such deals. You will however have to pay them a commission if you go along this road.

Do You Have Everyone’s Consent?

Err on the side of caution here. You will need necessary permission to make full use of photographs, artwork, logos or trademarks that might be included on websites, advertisements or sleeve notes. You must also acknowledge any quotations you use. You will also need signed consent forms for any session musician you have used. These will state that they agree for their performances to be recorded.

What Is In A Name?

An amazing amount actually. You will want a memorable, snappy company name, but you must be certain that it doesn’t already exist and you need to ensure that you have the right to use it. This also applies to your band’s and individual artist’s names. You may need the services of a lawyer to make a unique trademark registration for your label.

Perseverance is the Key

Clearly there is more to starting an independent recording company than first meets the eye, and it is easy to be deterred by some of the legal red tape. It is a risky business so it is imperative that you undertake the venture from a sound business perspective and to take good advice from those in the know. You need determination, confidence in the musical abilities of your artists and a little cash. The opportunities are surely out there and nothing is insurmountable. Others have succeeded, why not you?

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Guide to Your Independent Label

Guide to Your Independent Label

The first thing you must understand is that this is a business. You need more than a catchy name to slap on your label. That will definitely make people stop and take a look but if you can’t replicate what a record label supplies for its artists, they will move on. Being an independent label does not mean you don’t have to spend money on your artist. You’ll have to arrange tour booking, either through in-house or contracted booking agents. When larger labels sign an artist they’re given a developmental deal or a full on recording contract. The first develops an artist’s brand and sound but may not always result in a release. With a recording contract the artist is given an advance to record and promote. Any other financial terms can vary.

Duplication & Distribution

  • Most labels make a profit by duplicating their CDs overseas for a few cents per unit. If you’re planning on a smaller run find a duplication (burning) company that has good deals on lesser units. For a larger run a replication deal is your best option.
  • As an independent label getting your CDs into stores will not be easy. Find your local music stores and get to know the employees and managers. Putting in the work to become friends with them might make them more willing to sell your products. Any venue is a good start, even small ones.
  • Don’t depend solely on stores though. Digital distribution is your best bet. It’s inexpensive and easily shareable. Some of the most well-known sites are CDBaby, TuneCore, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. Both Barnes & Noble and Amazon require more work from you and a larger fee than CDBaby. Whichever site you choose to sell on there’s no manufacturing or shipping overhead. Research companies to find out which has the lowest start-up cost, widest distribution, and highest percentage of profit that will return to you.

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Promotion

  • Social media has become a part of everyday life and can be invaluable. It can be used to offer easily accessible downloads, announce tour dates quickly, and communicate directly with the people who support your artists. To make sure you do it right, make sure the band profile accurately describes the artists and genre of music. International promotors, fanzines, management companies and brands are always on the lookout. You don’t want your hard/rock or punk band(s) looked on negatively because what potential fans saw, was not what they got.
  • Submit copies of the albums everywhere. To as many promotional sites, newspapers, and music publications as you can think of. Remember not to spam in the name of promotion. Once is enough, if you’re going to get a review. Constantly badgering someone will make the entire label look bad and adversely affect every band you’ve signed. When you do send out a copy include a “one-sheet”. This will explain your band’s basic information; the background on the album and any other information that will help the reviewer. Submitting with a personalized note for the reviewing outlet will look better than a copy and paste form letter.

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A&R

The A&R (Artists & Repertoire) side of your label is responsible for talent scouting and artist development. This means that not only do you go to live shows and see who the crowd’s most interested in but your label also plays a large part in helping their growth, whether that’s making it possible for them to release the best album or helping them look and sound like a cohesive unit. Once you sign an artist you have a responsibility to them. You help them and they will help you.

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Starting an Independent Label

Starting an Independent Label

Starting a label from the ground up can get pretty costly. The type of help you’ll need won’t come cheap so be clear about your objectives from the start. Decide what genre your label is going to promote and create an approach that appeals to that demographic. If you’re intention is to sign artists and make an impact on the charts then you’ll need a marketing, PR, and radio plugging specialists as well as a distributor. To make sure everyone is on the same page, have a business plan. It’s more than just a list of goals you want to reach. It’s a concreate sign to show investors the steps you plan to take to make your goal a reality. It also shows that you’re aware of the risks that come with the business. But before showing it to anyone there’s steps you need to take first.

Your Business Plan

Your Business Plan

  • It should show all costs associated with your venture; studio time, producers and engineers’ fee, session musicians, setting up a website, lawyer and accountant fees. If your label gets off the ground and does well enough, you may be able to add a label manager to take care of daily tasks.
  • It’s very important that you work out how you’ll cover personal living expenses on top of business costs for the first year. Once you figure these numbers out you’ll know just how well your artists need to do in order for you to actually turn a profit. From here you can extend your business plan from one year to three, or longer.
  • Your business plan should tell where you plan on your CDs being sold but it also doubles as a resume for everyone involved. It should have information on what positions your employees have held at other labels.

Moving Forward

Moving Forward

  • Formalize your business by setting up the appropriate business entity for your label. Once that’s done you can operate legally and protect yourself as well. You have a few different options but they may be called different things in different languages.
  • Sole proprietorship allows you to take all the profit and liability, but offers you very little protection and isn’t much of an incentive for investors.
  • A Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) is a better option because it allows you to add people to the team as you grow and relatively easy and flexible control over finances, legal, and tax issues. It’s not a good option if you plan on seeking investors or an international business.
  • If you plan on making your business a major business, are going to be seeking investors, and like a more formal structure the best option is a Corporation (You, Inc.). You also get liability protection from losses and can issue stock shares, raise investment capital, and have legal precedents to call on but there are strict rules of organization. Your accountant and attorney will be kept busy with taxes, fees, reports, and filings.

Once the paperwork is finished the next thing to do is to find the talent. Go to the local rock shows and listen with a critical ear. Pay careful attention to the audience’s reaction. If they’re drawn in from the start and cheering loudly for every song that may very well be a band you need to pay attention to. Approach the band after their performance and find out what you can. Who they are, how long they’ve been together, is their music available online, what are their plans, etc. And most importantly make sure they aren’t already signed to another label. Don’t stop there; get in contact with writers who work on the local paper’s music section. Find music blogs that are relevant to the music you want to promote. Meet the engineers that work at the local studios. Keep a good attitude when meeting with people. Word of mouth is just as important as any marketing your label does.

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Maintaining Your Independent Label

Maintaining Your Independent Label

You’ve finished the paperwork, started signing a few bands, and even got some positive press and word of mouth. Now how do you continue that? A lot of work has gone into making your start up successful and maybe you’re wondering when it will start to pay off? There’s still a lot of work to do and as long as you’re a manager of a record label that’s how it’ll always be. But you’ll watch bands you discovered and helped develop become more and more successful. And you’ll see this process over and over. So some days will have you working from dinner time to the wee hours of the mornings, but if you started your label because of your passion for music and that’s what makes it worthwhile.

Establishing a Brand

  • Cultivate the aesthetic of your record label. Create a logo that will be eye catching and memorable but isn’t in the way, especially on your website. It should be able to fit on physical and digital merchandise without losing quality. It should reflect the type of music you wish to promote. Someone who’s never heard of your label should be able to see your logo and make a pretty accurate guess on what the bands are going to sound like.
  • The internet has changed how people expect to get their music. Having music online where people are likely to see it (on YouTube for example) can turn into fans that turn up at shows. Whereas having only songs that aren’t up to par with other highly viewed videos can turn off potential fans. Pay-What-You-Want models, like Bandcamp, are becoming increasingly popular so some creative ways to give fans discounts will be in your favor.
  • If you’re focused on one genre right now that may have a niche demographic, punk for example, consider if some point down the line signing hard/rock bands may expand your audience in a direction you want to go. It will raise profits but decide for yourself if going for a sound that semi-acceptable to mainstream audiences is somewhere you’re comfortable taking your label. Coming out of left field with an amazing artist/band that’s completely unique from who you’ve signed before could work in everyone’s favor.

Extra Tips

  • Have an organized back catalog. New albums sales are good but they’re only the icing on the cake compared to fans being able to easily find, and buy, all of an artist’s work in one easy go.
  • Have a good attitude when you do business with people. That will lead to positive references and will make bands want to approach you, instead of you doing all the footwork. This will lead you to finding bands you’d never think would be in the “middle of nowhere”. If you’re lucky they may already have a large following who will now know of your label.
  • Your website must be streamlined and easy to navigate. Easy to read texts with plain backgrounds work best. Its need to be plain colors but make it look professional. Like your logo, anyone browsing the site should have an idea on what type of bands you sign but over the top graphics aren’t needed. Band photos should look professional and clean. Blurry pictures could make someone doubt the overall quality of a band. Don’t forget contact details, a blog, gig details, and any other relevant details. Update as often as necessary.
  • Don’t neglect mobile sales. Cell phone user are beginning to expect independent labels to also offer ring tones, wallpapers, video, and other types of downloads next to larger record labels. Make what you have to offer easily accessed on mobile or you risk being left behind.

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Running an Independent Rock Label in the U.S. Versus the U.K

Rock Label in the U.S. Versus the U.K

Do you have a passion for music? Do you want to do all you can for bands who are putting their art into your hands? You will need to love the music you’re promoting so you can put all of your effort into making it succeed. It will be tedious with hours that change every day. There can seem like an overwhelming amount of paperwork (what type of license is best for your label?) but ultimately it will protect you and your artists. You will need to aggressively promote your artists or any amount of hard work won’t matter. Yet, you have to find the right balance between promotion and spam. This is just a fraction of your job as a label manager. And if you love the music, believe in your artists, you will love it.

US Labels

  • If your label will be located in the US, you will have five options when it comes to licensing; Sole Proprietorship (similar to UK sole trader), General Partnership, a Limited Liability Company (LLC), a Joint Venture (a general partnership of limited duration), or as a ‘C’ or ‘S’ Corporation. Which you choose will be depended on your role in label, the extent of your personal liability, the size of your label, tax issues, and your acts’ profitability.
  • When it comes to legal issues you should always consult a music industry lawyer. You will come across these, often on a daily basis; when you sign a recording contract, which determines how many albums you will release. The amount of royalties you’ll pay. Will you be paying for marketing or will that be money be included in the band’s advance? Will you commit to releasing the album internationally or will it be a localized release? What about song rights, will the label only rights to a single or the whole album? Labels can negotiate licensing rights for a certain length of time and for specific territories around the world.
  • If you use a producer, you’ll need written contracts for this too. Here you’ll discuss advances, recording budget, session musician, and producer royalties. Generally, producers are paid from the artist’s royalty share. If samples are used permission needs to be gained from both the artists and record label. The fees from using these samples should be factored into the band’s release budget.

Running an Independent Rock Label in the U.S. Versus the U.K

UK Labels

  • Independent labels can either join AIM (Association of Independent) or the BPI (British Phonographic Industry). Both organizations represent their members in the UK and internationally, while providing training, public research, and lobby government on issues such as duration of copyright and online licensing.
  • Distributing can be difficult wherever you are without a proven track record or without a strategy in place for your label. Distribution centers will want to know how many artists you’ve signed, whether they’re touring or not, if there’s any supportive marketing for the release and whether the band has favorable press reviews. When you do come to an agreement with a distributor, they’ll want to sign you on for up to four years. Make sure there’s an easy way for you to get out of an agreement that isn’t working out. Most likely they’ll want exclusive rights, so if you want to continue to sell music through your website that needs to be stated in the agreement.
  • There are hidden costs to distribution so keep them in mind. Transportation, stock movement charges (comes when records are distributed on a sale or return basis) are billed to the record label when unsold stock is returned and it’ll be at your expense to have them scrapped. Some distributors will handle exports also so make sure there’s a reversion clause in the license agreement. If the licensee becomes bankrupt, you’ll get all of your rights back.

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The Technicalities of Running Your Own Recording Studio

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Do’s and Don’ts in the Music World

When you are trying to start up and run a successful recording company and studio, you need to make sure that all of your bases are covered. First, you need to make sure that you have all of your legal contracts signed a notarized before any recording takes place. Included in these contracts should be: Licensing deals, Producer contracts, sample clearance, publishing deals, Band agreements, consents, trademark deals and copyright agreements. You also need to familiarize yourself with copyright laws and stipulations to avoid recording and producing content that is going to end up bringing a lawsuit to your doorstep. This lawsuit could finish off everything you have been working towards in one foul swoop, so for the amount of research involved, it is well putting in the time to do so, to avoid losing everything you have put so much work and money into.

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When it comes to recording music, you need to make sure you know your recording software and devices inside and out. This will prevent you from wasting time in the studio, and paying extra money to use the space. It will also help keep those rotten situations – where you have recorded an amazing track and someone accidentally deletes it from the softwares memory – from happening.

Before you start recording too much, it’s crucial to make sure that you will actually be able to sell the music made in your studio.  It would really suck to have spent a whole lot of money, and put your name on the line, for little to no turnaround in terms of success.  Getting in contact with distributors in your area and taking them your business plan, along with a demo tape or cd, is a really good way to start.  Most places that distribute music as their claim to fame, won’t even give you the time of day without you having all of the different angles covered. They want to see that you can be successful in every aspect of the music industry before they will put their good name to distributing the music you plan to record and sell, nor will they consider giving you any help.

Your business relies on your ability to come off as being professional, even if you’re just starting out with this business; you need to look like you know what you’re doing.  It is of course preferred that you actually do know what you’re doing, but a lot of what this kind of work entails is learned as you go along, so a professional appearance and business plan will get you where you need to be for the time being.

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A lot of punk rock / hard rock bands have a reputation for being into a typical “rock lifestyle”. Whether this is the case or not, it is really important for the success of your business that they too look and act like professionals while you are trying to find distributors and production companies to help you get your stuff on the market.  I’m not saying make them all wear suits and ties to a meeting with these companies, and then they’ll know you’re putting on a face for them. All I’m saying is that you need to make sure the band is focused and about their wits so they can answer any questions that the company you are meeting with may have for them. If they ask a question that the band answers with “We just want to rock out with our C^&%s out” they are not even going to give you guys a second glance. Maybe you could go over some key business points with your band to make sure they answer questions appropriately. Or have one band member who is the dedicated speaker for the whole group.  Whatever your plan, make sure that it is good enough to get the people you need to help you out with your business.  After you have your supports, it’s time to get in the studio, turn your recording gear on, and get rocking!