March 9, 2021

What You Need To Know About Starting Your Own Record Label in The Digital Age

start a record label

The record business is not as lucrative as it used to be (from a record label standpoint). But there is still huge demand for music from the general public.

The digital age has made it easier for any aspiring artist and/or entrepreneur(s) to start a label with minimal costs. Before the digital revolution, it was difficult for the average artist to put out music on their own successfully.

Well for starters, besides dealing with the so-called Gatekeepers, you had to be well-funded to record an album, pay for marketing and promotions, pressing CD’s, tapes; vinyl’s and perform other countless tasks.

Of course, some artists such as Master P (USA), and locally Bujo Mujo of House Therapy fame were able to sell massive physical units to a point where they were running fully-fledged 100% Independent businesses.

But that was the 90’s and such artists were few and far apart. Then technology came along and changed the game.

The general consensus is that technology has killed the industry and there might be some truth in that. But when I look at the other side of the coin, I believe that technology has simplified things and created opportunities which did not exist before.

Imagine recording a song today and distributing it worldwide the very next day?

That was unheard of two decades ago

If you want to release your own music and control your destiny, then let’s go through some important points which are applicable in the modern-day music industry.

A Record Label is a Business

Many a young artist tend to forget that a record label is like any other business. Say you recorded a demo and then you finally decide to submit it to an “established” record company with the hope of getting signed.

If you get signed, what happens after that?

Someone has to fund the album – the photoshoots – promotions, etc. And all those things cost money!

When you approach a label, it is similar to going to a bank or any financial institution to apply for a loan. At first, it doesn’t seem that way but later it will all start making sense.

It’s just too risky to invest in a new or unknown artist (For them)

So don’t take it personally when you get turned down, or don’t receive any feedback. If the tables got turned, chances are you would do the same.

The takeaway here is that you should approach this whole thing with the same mindset. But this time, you will be investing in yourself (and maybe others as you make progress).

So how do you start?

Without a product, you don’t really have much. Start recording your music ASAP. You don’t necessarily have to record a huge project like an album.

Start with a single or maybe an EP (Extended Play). For those of you who are not familiar with the term, an Extended Play is a “mini-album” comprising of a minimum of two to seven tracks not longer than 45 minutes.

Gone are the days, when you had to hire an expensive studio to record a project. Digital recording has made it possible for almost anyone to start a basic home recording studio inexpensively.

When your product is completed, it is imperative to spend time and some money (Yes money, you don’t have to break the bank) on the mixing and mastering phase. This is a crucial step, so don’t take any shortcuts. Whoever is going to be handling this process on your behalf either has to qualified, experienced or both.

Get Your Paperwork In Order

In South Africa, if you want to operate a formal company then you have to register with the CIPC. You can do this yourself or you can hire a consultant to do it on your behalf.

When that is done, you will receive documentation which includes your details (Company Name, Physical and Postal Address and the registration number).

Before you get excited about your releasing your music or handing out any promotional copies, make sure that you register your intellectual property with the relevant bodies, such as SAMRO.

There are other collection societies in South Africa but SAMRO is by far the biggest and most recognized.

You Shouldn’t Do It Alone

If you are an artist trying to start a label on your own; handling administrative tasks, running errands, recording and bookings can be overwhelming. You will probably be the generalist at the beginning, which is understandable. But long-term, that’s not sustainable.

You can recruit friends and family members that you trust and they can handle some of these tasks while you focus on doing what you do best.

Teaming up with a manager/partner from the start is not a bad idea either as this will allow you to focus 100% on the creative aspect while somebody handles the administrative/business side of things.

Find A Reliable Digital Distributor

It goes without saying that you should distribute your music if you want to succeed.

While I do encourage free downloads via SoundCloud, Sendspace amongst others for promotion purposes while building a fanbase. It just makes logical sense in the beginning.

But at some point, as you’re building a following, you are going to have to figure out how to get your music into stores.

By stores, I am referring to iTunes, Tidal and so forth. Your fan base can’t rely on free downloads forever

A distributor’s job is to make sure that your content is available on most music stores.

How do you find a music distributor?

Unless you already have contact details of potential distributors, your best bet would be to start with a Google search.

But bear in mind that every distributor has a different a vetting system and some might not reply to your email(s), or turn down your request for whatever reason(s). We don’t live in a perfect world after all.

However, I have decided to save you the time and effort in finding one.

Below is a list of some (there’s plenty mind you) of the reputable digital distributors you can partner with.

Digital Music Distributors

Label-Worx

They are based in the UK and have been around since 2007 and still going strong. There are no subscription fees but they retain about 18% of the profits from your sales.

If your genre is strictly Dance music (House, Afro, Tech, etc), then I would definitely recommend that you sign up with Label-Worx.

Tunecore

Tunecore is a bit different because you pay them a small fee for each release (single, EP, Album, etc). However, they don’t take a cut from your sales.

DittoMusic

Ditto Music is an established digital aggregator and all you need to do is pay them an annual subscription fee for unlimited distribution. But you keep 100% of your royalties!

CD Baby

The CD Baby business model is similar to Tunecore. But they take 9% of your sales and some of their services include CD Replication.

Music Africa

Music Africa is based in South Africa, Randburg to be exact. They have a similar model to the service providers I have mentioned above.

Before you start distributing your music formally, I would recommend that you register (free of charge) for a ISRC Code with RISA and/or the relevant music body in your country.

The acronym is short for International Standard Recording Code. This is an identification code issued for your sound and video master recordings.

I won’t get into the full details regarding ISRC Codes because the subject goes beyond the scope of this article.

Build An Online Presence

Everyone (Well almost everyone) is flocking to the internet for information, products and services. So it only makes sense that your label is visible online. Create an account on one or two business directories such as Hotfrog. When you list on a directory, it will make you look like a real label and business.

Branding is everything. When you mention Hip Hop Def Jam comes to mind, and local House label you think of Soul Candi or House Afrika. Sure, you won’t build your brand overnight but you should start somewhere.

Don’t be complacent and rely on social media networks (you can start there) but try and take it beyond that.

You can start a basic three-page website that includes your home, about us section and contact form; nothing fancy. Creating a label or a website for the musicians is the foundation for building a solid web presence.

Final Thoughts

Times have changed and most labels do not operate like they used to when the industry was still organic.

The beauty of starting a record label today is that anyone can do it. But those who successfully manage to do so because they treat it as a business and not a hobby.

So it only makes sense that you devote your time, energy and resources accordingly if you are serious about giving this a shot!

I hope that you enjoyed reading this short article as much as I enjoyed writing it for you.

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