How To Start A Record Label – Share Your Music With The World
Long gone are the days when we’re thinking about how to start a record label and worrying about barriers to entry went hand in hand.
In the age of digital music artists and labels don’t need major resources to share their music.
Services such as Spotify, Apple Music, and SoundCloud have removed that glass ceiling; labels big and small can put their music on these platforms, and more.
However, work still needs to be put in to start and run a record label that can succeed.
In this article, we look at a step by step guide on how to start a record label.
Step 1: Choose Your Genre And Style
Unlike bigger labels such as Sony, independent and smaller labels cannot afford to diversify their music genre at the very beginning.
Marketing, branding, production, talent management, musical equipment and so much more can change from genre to genre.
Even OVO, the label that belongs to the musical juggernaut Drake, has developed a musical niche for itself with ambient pop-rap sounds from artists such as Drake, PartyNextDoor, and Dvsn.
This is why in order to know how to start a record label, you’ll need to first nail down your musical genre.
The clear advantage with this is that figuring out an image for your brand will be easier, once that is done.
Step 2: Find Artists And Creatives To Work With
Once you’ve figured out the music genre, you’ll need to find artists and creatives to work with.
Most independent label founders have a talent for a certain genre and have a connection or two to start their music creation. If you don’t, try:
- SoundCloud: New artists appear all the time on the platform. If you have the funds, you can help boost the career of such an artist.
- Local Events: Local musicians are easier to spot at restaurants, college, and school events. Get social and have business cards ready.
- Social Media And Influencer Agencies: Social Media has a knack for discovering hidden talent.
That’s unless they do not already have their own independent account/ are being represented by an influencer agency.
These options work great if you don’t have any direct connections. Hustling and fieldwork are musts, to learn how to start a record label.
Step 3: Define Your Business Identity
A business type/ identity defines the entity of your organization. You’ll need to know which one to opt for if you want to know how to start a record label.
You can make your company:
A Sole Proprietorship: Owned by you and without an identity/ entity of its own. You’re personally liable for all assets/ costs.
You don’t need to do anything to ‘start’ a sole proprietorship. A contract/ freelance filmmaker, for example, is a sole proprietor.
A Partnership: With another/ a group of individuals. This includes determining who owns how much.
You’ll need a few legal documents to form the business and put all those agreements in place.
A Limited Liability Company (LLC): A company with a completely separate entity. Requires the most paperwork and capital to start. Documents Required.
At the very beginning, a sole proprietorship/ partnership might be your best bet. You’re personally liable, but it’s also a small organization.
The paperwork is lesser and the music work can start right away.
Step 4: Develop A Network Of Partners
You can begin hiring and leasing, but an independent label has only so many resources to its name.
A new venture can be risky. Therefore, looking for creative and logistical partners might be a great option for your first music project.
Some of these include:
A Music Producer: If you don’t have one already, someone to produce the sound for your tracks.
A Recording Studio: To actually record your music. Many are available to be leased out.
A Logistical Producer: Coordination, leasing, and making sure the machine never stops running is a vital job and you’ll either need to hire to work with a freelancer.
Promoters: For your artists and labels. Those who can get the word out to major agencies, distributors, social media.
Distributors: Your album may be a masterpiece, but no one will hear it unless it gets distributed. You can always opt for digital options such as Spotify. However, a distributor can help with both that and offline launches.
A network of talented and trusted vendors and creatives will take you from ‘how to start a record label’ to ‘how to make it successful’.
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Step 5: Stay Connected To The Industry
You can’t know how to start a record label without learning how to stay connected to your industry.
Attending events, meeting with magazines, talking to peers, and keeping in touch with developments is a must.
Additionally, you can also join music organizations. Various labels and artists are part of music organizations and this can be a great way to network and get your name out there.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has a list of various music organizations. Take a look and see the ones that apply to you!
Step 6: Get Active On The Internet
You can’t learn how to start a record label, without learning how to create its online presence. Businesses now don’t need an offline store/office to exist. Most, however, do need an online presence.
That cannot be truer for a record label, the products of which are consumed on music streaming services around the world.
Definitely look at these social platforms:
SoundCloud: To put samples, free songs, and a taste of what your brand sounds like. And to connect with like-minded artists and labels.
Instagram: To create the look of your brand, promote releases, and to engage with fans.
Twitter: To show off your brand voice, opinions, and personality. Where does your brand lie in relationship with its brand persona?
These are just three very widely used platforms for different purposes.
- Facebook still remains the most popular social media platform.
- A Google Business Listing is unparalleled when it comes to business searches.
- A website will give you creative flexibility on your brand-look like no other.
The internet is the most widely used touchpoint for customers and listeners. Use it to succeed.
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5 Ways To Increase Your Record Label’s Popularity Online
Thanks to the internet, there’s a musician in every corner of every city. The barriers to entry are low and creating a record label isn’t as hectic as it used to be when the internet wasn’t as mainstream.
This is great for listeners but increases competition for record label entrepreneurs/ solopreneurs. In order to stand out, you’ll need to market and get your record label the visibility it needs to thrive.
Below are 5 steps you can take immediately, to increase your record label’s popularity. This is regardless of whether you’re releasing your first album or are already in the market with a few EPs.
1. Upload Free Mixtapes Online
Quite the antithesis of what a record label is supposed to do. However, many record labels still do it. October’s Very Own, for example, releases a lot of free tracks on SoundCloud.
Think of this as a marketing tactic for both up-and-coming and established artists.
For up-coming artists, getting free mixtapes out is a way for them to build an audience. For established artists, free mixtapes can serve as a way for them to build anticipation for a new album.
Here are some portals you can look at:
Datpiff: Datpiff is great for uploading hip-hop, rap, and R&B mixtapes. The website has a large community that listens to those genres of music. You’ll find a lot of tracks from new and established artists there.
SoundCloud: Probably the most well-known mixtape and indie music platform, a SoundCloud account should be a must when you start your record label. While most of what people hear on SoundCloud are Electronica-inspired tracks, the website hosts music of all genres.
YouTube: YouTube is one of the world’s most visited websites. You can simply upload your music as a video there and add its album cover as the only visual.
2. Start An Online Radio Station
Start and promote it heavily on social media. Stream your music online and give your prospective listeners an in into the kind of music your label will be releasing.
You can either choose to simply ‘stream’ your music or also talk to your audience. The approaches will differ slightly.
In case you want to just stream music, choose:
Spotify Radio: Head on over to your album and hit the ellipses and then ‘Go To Radio’. Spotify will automatically create a radio based on the album you’ve chosen.
YouTube Live: Make a ‘video’ radio out of your album. Screencast the album cover or yourself playing the contents of the radio.
In case you want to host a radio show, do these things:
Get on a radio platform: Airtime and Radio.co are two great options for those looking to broadcast their music online. They allow you to host, talk, mix, and do everything a traditional radio host can do.
Get equipment: A good mic, a pair of solid headphones, a mixing device and a computer with good internet are what you need in order to create the real radio experience.
The best thing about owning a record label is that you probably have access to all of these things.
Get a charismatic host: If you’re not comfortable as a radio host, or need someone by your side, invest in a Disc Jockey (DJ)/Radio Jockey (RJ).
Someone who’s charismatic and good at talking to your audience, who’ll jam to the music but stick around also for the host.
Get promoting: No one is going to know your radio show exists unless you promote it! Put up your radio show, its hours, and what music is on, via social media and adverts.
3. Put Content On Social Media
As a record label, you’re not only selling the music, but also a vision to your audience.
What do your artists represent?
What kind of a personality are they presenting?
Your social media and their social media should reflect this.
Here are two popular examples:
- Drake’s social media depicts excess, wealth, being young, and the life of the party.
- Kendrick Lamar’s social media depicts who he is as an artist, introspective and indifferent to social media. This is why he only has two posts on his Instagram.
Quite the contrast, but if you are going the social media route, here are some things you should create:
Music samples: Demo tracks/ teasers of a track from an up-and-coming album. This can either be accompanied by a small video or just the album artwork.
Behind the scenes: BTS of how you make music, who you’re making it with, the kind of music you’re making and your label and collaborators just having a good time. This kind of content makes your label seem more relatable.
Artwork: Album art, concept art, art that represents a particular song. If it is good to look at, people will look at it. Plus, it is never a bad idea to use artwork as a post to announce album release dates, etc…
Music videos: More likely than not, you’ll want to create music videos to boost the performance of your albums’ singles. Put these up on your various social media.
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4. Do Free Online Mini-Concerts
There are close to 5 billion internet users, worldwide. So, you shouldn’t worry about whether your concert will get enough viewers. You just need good music and a platform.
Some ways you can do this are:
Acoustic performances: Just you/ artist and a guitar. Acoustic performances are beloved by listeners around the world. Creating acoustic versions of your songs is a good way to really show your talent- without the pitch adjustments and fancy musical gadgetry.
Themed mini-concerts: Call them Tiny Desk Concerts, Garage Concerts, or whatever you’d like, they work. Adding a fun theme to your concert is a great way to create fresh content. It promotes your music and adds a layer of personality to the artists’ performances.
New Music performances: You don’t have to do this regularly, but sometimes using new music to promote your record label or a new album can work. For example, to build heat for his new album, Certified Lover Boy, Drake released a three-album mixtape- Scary Hours 2. You can translate that to online performances, too. Surprise your fans with a new song and put it up on YouTube- even as a live, they’ll only appreciate it.
5. Include Search Engine Optimization On Your Online Efforts
This includes your record label website, your advertisement copies, the titles of your YouTube videos, your editorial/ promotional content, and everything else online.
SEO will make it more likely for your online touchpoints to appear atop search results.
These are essentially carefully chosen words, phrases, and sentences that are chosen based on how people use search engines and what they type while looking something up.
There are various online services that you can use to include relevant keywords. These are:
Soovle: Free of cost, very barebones, but can help create great hashtags and search phrases if you have a good idea of how people search on the internet.
Upwork/ Fiverr: There are a lot of SEO experts on these freelancing websites. You can look for the kind of SEO work you want (hashtags, articles, etc…) and you’ll get hundreds, if not thousands of options.
Agencies: Agencies like SEO.com, Thrive Internet Marketing, WebFX, and others can help you not only with SEOs but also with a holistic content strategy plan. Out of three, hiring an agency is the most expensive option.
An archaic notion would make starting a record label seem like an insurmountable task. However, in the 2020s, it is anything but.
Many upcoming artists have gone independent and started their record label and you can too!
However, its accessibility is also its biggest deception. Learning how to start a record label includes educating yourself on how to keep it up and running in the digital age.
That requires a different skillset and hires than 10 years ago. However, the risks are worth the reward and the knowledge of realizing that people around the world are listening to your music is unparalleled!