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Get Yourself Out There: Part 1 – Setting Up A Record Label

Making that jump from the first few tentative SoundCloud free-download EPs to getting signed to a label is one of the toughest stages on the road to becoming an established producer. However, there’s another way. A surprising amount of well-known artists started out by setting up their own labels from day one to push their own sounds. Not only does this get you into music stores on your terms, you may also quickly find yourself with other producers knocking at your door.

Carlo Lio is the renowned techno producer who has released on Dubfire’s SCI+TEC, works with David Squillace and Ilario Alicante and is currently on remix duties for Basement Jaxx. He started out doing things the DIY way via his own imprint, Rawthentic Music. We spoke to Carlo to find out how it’s done.

If you want to the chance to start your own record label, you can do it when you study at Point Blank. Our Music Business – Industry Project module (part of the Music Production & Sound Engineering Master Diploma) allows you to plan a digital music release and learn the ins and outs of the industry. When you enrol on the Master Diploma before August 31st, you’ll bag yourself a free MacBook.

So we have a few tunes we’re making, and we’d like to set up a label. We’ve come up with a good name; we’ve got a SoundCloud and some social channels. What next?

Okay so first up, I recommend you have at least 3/4 releases ready to go before the launch – just to keep the consistency. Without consistency you’ll be forgotten very fast – especially now the market’s saturated and everyone’s a producer and everyone has a label.

When we first started we had a distributor who quickly got us onto Beatport and every other store. The good thing about distributors is that they have relationships with stores – they can often get you an ad banner and that kind of thing. The bad news is they take an average of about 25%. Then, stores do too. Beatport, as an example, takes about 45%. Then you have a distributor taking 25%, that leaves you with 25%, and then you do a 50/50 with your artists, so that’s 12.5% for your label. So before we go any further, just so we’re clear, I can’t stress it enough, you produce music to get gigs!

Here’s the thing about distribution though. It was great to get out there with a distributor, and we accepted that we were new so we weren’t making a lot of money. Then, after looking at our income statements, 98% of our downloads were generated from Beatport. So, going forward we opted to deal with Beatport directly, rather than have a distributor take a cut, as it made more sense for us. By all means, submit your music to iTunes and so on as well, but Beatport, at least for us, makes the most money.

What should we aim for in terms of regularity and number of releases?

One thing I’ve noticed with digital releases is nobody buys 5 tracks. I’ve always stuck to maybe 2 tracks and a remix max; anything more would just be for when you have a bunch of random tracks. But if you put out more than 4, the release gets hurt a little bit. As for releases, I usually shoot for every month and a half, that’s the best way.

Stick to just 2-3 tracks per release

Should we do plenty of label mixes too?

Label mixes, to be honest, I don’t think add or take away. If you have time to do it, sure. I have some help, but I mostly run the label myself and I don’t commit to doing them. I don’t think they’re a deal breaker.

In terms of marketing, on nailing socials, on e-mailing magazines, artists and blogs…is there a format or formula?

A smart thing to do obviously is build your own contact list over time. Additionally, there are also PR companies for releases – they offer paid services and they distribute to their mailing lists. They have different packages, you could do the full one-off pop that goes to A-list, B-list, C-list DJs, magazines et cetera, or you can run a kind of pick-and-choose package, for a string of releases. It depends on what you can afford. Sometimes a release doesn’t even make 300 bucks, and that’s what you pay these guys, so it’s a balancing act. I still have to think wisely about which choice releases I should pay to boost and which I can go it alone with. For a start up, it’s worth considering investing in those first few releases.

So now our label’s up and running, we’ve suddenly got several producers emailing us to release their tracks. Some are bang on, others are a slightly different sound, but they’ve got a big following. How do we pick and choose?

Well, by the time you’ve gone through the motions of a few releases, you’ll generally have a specific sound you’ve gotten into. You should stick to that, because it will mould your label and give you a defined space in the industry. You’re right, more and more demos will come in and it can get a little crazy – but that’s all the more reason to be picky from the start – to maintain direction. Also, over time others producers will recognise your sound if your label’s doing its job right, you’ll eventually get increasingly on-point demos.

How do we get into remixing? Both our tracks remixed onto other labels, and us doing remixes of other label’s tracks?

If you’re looking for someone to remix one your own label’s tracks, it’s as easy as a Facebook message. I do it all the time, even today. If I don’t have a personal contact, I just Facebook them and ask! For you to remix another label’s track – wait until it comes to you. Don’t go asking people if you can remix their stuff, unless it’s a buddy of yours or similar. I get it all the time – people asking if they can remix a Rawthentic track and I have no idea who they are, so I can’t really say yes. It’s not a good look. Wait for them to come to you.

One motivation for us starting this label is to run label parties. When’s the right time to do this?

Timing is everything, for everything. You’ll know when the time is right. It’s about waiting until you and your guys are able to draw a crowd. A lot of guys get ahead of the game and start a label and immediately do a label party, but that’s not a good look. Wait until your label’s got a real buzz, and the right artists at your fingertips.

So, DJs often have a pipedream – to have an Ibiza residency, or to play in Berlin. What should a label shoot for?

That’s a good question! The big label arc I guess is to be able to have the aforementioned label parties internationally, not just in your own city where you’ve got a local following and your mates. The dream is to get big enough that you can throw a label party in any country to thousands of people. To do that you’ve got to build a team around you, that operates like a family. Look at the Drumcode guys for instance: they’ve all moulded together, built each other up gig-on-gig and now the label’s massive and their own careers are huge.

The original plan – to get your music noticed, worked! You’re signed to various labels now – how do you choose what goes where?

You’ve obviously got labels you respect, and releasing on them is a goal for you. But as you get more experienced, increasingly you make music with a blank slate. You create a track, then you work out where it fits: it may be good for one label you’re aiming for, or it may be perfect for your own label, which by now is established for the particular kind of music it pushes. You make the choice after you make the track!

Carlo Lio has forthcoming releases on Bedrock, QUARTZ, This & That, an upcoming remix of Basement Jaxx and a European/US/Mexican and Ibiza tour. Check out his Facebook page.

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Editor’s Note: This is an old article and things have moved on considerably since the original publication date 🙂

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