Do It Yourself – Run a label
Maybe you already read the complete special in the first issue of my zine, or you read part 1 on doing a zine on this site. Anyway, here’s the introduction in short again: When I started to work on the first issue of my zine I contacted some people with questions about what would be the best way to do “x” or how i could get “y” done. I figured other people would have the same questions, not only with zines, but with all other D.I.Y. aspects, that pretty much gave me the idea to do this D.I.Y. special. But since issue #1 is sold out and I still see people asking these questions, it’s probably a good idea to put it on here. Just sharing the knowledge. The most important thing though is to do it by heart and enjoy what you’re doing. Make some mistakes, learn from it. This time we’re talking about running a label.
Please take note, these tips are from 2008. Most of them still are completely valid, but with the modern technology etc things have changed a bit. Please add your ‘modern age’ tips in the comments! Spotify, iTunes, Bandcamp? Share it! Just know we do not accept responsibility for your empty bank account if things go wrong. Right.
Make sure you contact the pressing plant and give them an idea of what you want. They can give you an estimate which will give you an idea how much everythings gonna be. This will help you to be prepared for all the costs that are coming up and will reduce the risk of financial surprises.
Hit up your local distributors and see if they wanna help you out. This is definiately the key to get your releases everywhere. It might take a while for people to take your label serious (in a sense of seeing that you work hard etc) but ones you got decent distribution it makes your live a lot easier… trust me!
Make sure you got all your releases online available. It seems that a lot of people buy stuff randomly. Meaning they browse around and stumble about something that gets their attention. A good webstore makes it easy for the customer to purchase your releases.
1 release at a time
Don’t take on too much stuff at once. Putting out multiple releases at once can be a real neckbreaker. A lot of times things go wrong during the making of a record and even though its little things, usually they can cost you quite a lot of time and money. Last thing you need is having these kind of headaches multiplied by 2 or 3 different releases at a time. Don’t rush yourself either. Make sure you double check every move. The more on point you are the less things might pop up along the way.
Do your thing
Put out what you like. One of the most important aspects of doing the label for me is that we are documenting hardcore history. When I look at old hardcore records from the late 70s, 80s or the 90s I look at hardcore history. From lyrics, to “fashion”, to the graphic design of the layouts etc… its all part of our culture and by doing a zine or putting out records you create something that will be on this earth til the end of all times and that’s what I love about doing those things.
First you gotta understand that doing a real label is a real commitment. It’s not just a thing you can do for a couple of days and then leave it to rest. It’s people busting your balls 24/7. It’s something that keeps you awake during the night when your friends are in bed.
Your first release is kind of important. It sets the standard of the label. We were lucky with the Justice B/W 7″ so we had a good start. People were interested, it helps. Ofcourse not everyone is that lucky but don’t release a band where you know deep inside that they’re the worst band ever, don’t release a band that is just ok, don’t release “a good guys bad band” record… do a band you’re stoked on. A band you’d mosh to, a band where you know the lyrics from… it’s a plus if it’s a friends band.
Make sure every release looks sick so you’re really proud of it. The band you’re working with probably worked real hard to track the songs down in the studio, this is your part so make something out of it. We don’t need another half assed label who releases records without decent covers or with mistakes in the layout or whatsoever. Whenever a new release arrives at the PRHQ I carry the thing around for a week, I’ll take one record with me in the car, take it to work… so I can watch it whenever I went. When a record has an error somewhere it can really bum me out.
Your records and label have to be out there so work hard to get your distribution up and running, sell records at shows, make bands tour… spread the word about your label, get the name out.
First and for all: don’t worry about taxes and all that stuff. Just do it! If you want to release a record, have a good band with good music, then just go ahead! Hopefully you’re a smart person who actually KNOWS what is good and KNOW that other people like it as well! (Not kidding here! I’ve seen people releasing records from bands that were absolutely horrible and only their deaf grandma’s liked what they were doing!). Find out where to press and what costs are. A good tip in that matter: Don’t EVER take a loan to pay for it. Seriously, you gotta have the money and you don’t care (that much hehe…) that you’re not making it back. I’ve seen people take loans, putting out shitty music and gotten in trouble because they couldn’t make it back.
Write agreements down with the bands you’re working with. No matter how good friends you are ALWAYS write down what you agreed on. How many copies the band gets, what amount of money the band gets.. etc,etc… (since we are REALLY good friends with some of our bands, we have been lacking in this department as well, but it’s kinda dumb.. Then again.. some bands are REALLY good friends haha!)
Do NOT worry about taxes and/or becoming an official company! Oh.. I already said that, didn’t I? I’ve seen SO many people worrying about this, it takes away ALL the fun and since you’re not making any money when you’re starting anyway, why bother? You can always do that later when things are selling like crazy and you feel you have to hide the amount of money you’re making (which you won’t be doing anyway)
Money: Do NOT worry about this and don’t think you can make a shitload of it either. In this day and age it really is difficult to make enough $$ to get by as a label, let alone take enough out of the label to actually make a living as well. We are REALLY fortunate that we can… It took us a long, LONG time till we reached that point and are still making less than minimum wage.
BUT.. if you got to that point and your first release is there… Let me tell you: a kid in a candy store! Still to this day I get REALLY exciting when we receive a pallet full with brand new records. It’s the best thing in the world. (and if you’re able to sell most of those, it’s even better, because then you might have some money left for a next release!)
Conclusion: PLEASE start a label! It’s a lot of fun and it really makes you feel you’re accomplishing stuff. If you however want to have a career move and make this your day job: don’t worry and don’t do it.
I am probably the last person you should ask for tips and tricks on releasing music. I totally lack any business sense and I am not really good (understatement) at promoting my stuff. But I’ve learned some things along the way from the mistakes that I made. It might save you some money.
First of all, you are not reinventing the wheel. There are more people out there that started a label from scratch. Just like you. Ask all these experienced people for advice and general help. Only a couple will respond but the ones that do are more than willing to help out. I’ve spend a good time on the phone with Wouter from Rebellion Records who had some great advice about the whole business side of releasing records. When I started doing vinyl, Gertje from Shield Recordings guided me to the right people and companies. So ask around!
If you are doing 7″ EP’s, you can save a lot of money on artwork. It’s not likely you’ll be releasing Hot Water Music anytime soon so you don’t have to use a full color sleeve from an expensive printing company. A nice cut and paste or photoshopped black and white sleeve can be amazing too. Your local copyshop can produce excellent sleeves (printed and cut to the right size) for a couple of bucks so it will be easier to break even. A DIY product with a DIY look. Please note that DIY doesn’t have to mean crappy!
Forget about DIY! Let’s Do It Together! It’s much more fun to release something with other parties involved. There are thousands of small labels around the globe. They are all a part of this amazing network. A lot of them are more than happy to co-release good music. You’ll also be able to get your name out there for only a small investment. I did the Yo Man Go! 7″ together with Square of Opposition in the USA. In the near future, I will team up with Crucial Attack for the Room 13 EP and I will also release the Sick Mormons EP together with Demonomania Records and Gummopunx Records. There are endless possibilities. Share the fun!
Stay away from shitty consignement deals and crappy distros. I’ve send out many Antillectual CD’s and never got paid for them because the distros seized to exist and the owners can’t be reached. Fuck that! Trade wisely and communicate as much as possible. Have fun doing it! Just do it!
Dead And Gone
I’ve been at this since 2002: 34 records later and I still get that buzz of getting a new release delivered and then that challenge of trying to sell them. I haven’t got too many regrets but I’ve definitely learned a lot and as recently as last year taken stock of where D&G is going and where I want it to go. I have no desires to make money or make a living out of hardcore. That’s not to say I have a problem with people who do (far from it), I like that D&G is my hobby and I want it to stay that way. A lot of effort goes into this and I think it pays off with a consistently solid label which supports its bands and holds onto a DIY attitude. When I wind this up I am happy in the knowledge that D&G made an impact in European hardcore and released some great records.
I’ve worked with some truly great bands – Champion, On Thin Ice, Walk The Plank etc but what is keeping me motivated is the current ‘roster’. I couldn’t ask for a better collection of bands and friends to be working with. I have made some big decisions over the last 12 months 1) to slow down 2) drop CD’s (dead format) and 3) do less but do more. I’m not making money from this SO my health, sanity and wallet come first. Anything else is fair game –I’ve compiled a random 8 tips on starting a label. Some of these I should pay attention to and are harsh lessons that I’ve only just learnt!
I have never signed a contract and never screwed or been screwed by a band. The only instance I’ve run into difficulty is when a band has split up and not played out on a release. However simply put – that’s hardcore. Some people seem surprised that I don’t have legal documents flying about. I’ve seen examples of label contracts and its really not something that smaller labels should be worrying about. I’ve never worked with a band that I didn’t know personally (or got to know i.e Damage Control).
I’ve met bands in a variety of different ways – Champion/Justice from playing shows with my old band, Death Is Not Glamorous : as I’d worked with Damage Control, Deal With It : as I’d worked with their old band and knew them all well. Trust is a big thing for me and is absolutely essential. Bands know what they get from me and they know what I expect from them (play shows). On the releases that have sold really well I have had good enough trust levels to be able to sort out royalties and %’s on a face to face basis. I really don’t think this is something you need to worry about until you’re selling a large amount of records. At my level simply don’t work with a band if you don’t like the kids and you don’t trust them. Think everything through before you commit – are they going to tour? Can they play their instruments? Are they a tight unit or are they likely to implode? Make sure the band know what YOU are going to deliver – % of the press, £ etc – discuss it in person and then write it down. This is your money and your legacy – think everything through.
When D&G started we sold 90% of records within the UK and at the time CD’s were what people bought. Vinyl was expensive and hard to shift at that point. As D&G grew and the name got out we started to sell a lot more records on the mainland, we have now got to the stage where sales are very similar on and off this Island. 6 Years on and D&G will not be releasing any more CD’s (unless On Thin Ice decides to do a discography). This is common amongst a lot of hardcore labels including some of the big ones. File sharing is here and its not going anywhere. I don’t have a major problem with it but it has made the CD redundant as a format. My last few CD’s have hardly sold in comparison to the vinyl.
The way forward is clearly to embrace the idea of offering a digital download when people order a record. I’m currently working on getting such a system integrated into the D&G store. I’m not concerned with selling Mp3’s – I’m happy to give them away if people order the record on vinyl. Hopefully this will be up and running before the end of the year. Vinyl is the lifeblood of hardcore, it’s a format I love and one which sells easily. In don’t have enough time to push CD’s to hardcore kids when 90% of them grab the files off soulseek. Its all about adapting to trends and surviving. Hopefully hardcore kids will realise that most labels struggle for money and will continue to support them by buying vinyl and merch.
Something that annoys me is when people whinge about the costs of a 7″ for example. They’re expensive to make (more than a full length CD) and have stayed around a similar sale price for last 10 years! Manufacturing costs rise, shipping costs rise and hardcore kids need to remember that no one make a profit off a 7″. The least we can attempt to do is break even.
Good distribution is the Holy Grail and takes a hell of a lot of work to achieve. It takes effort, persistence and a few risks. When you start up – you can’t expect everyone to be on your nuts from day one. Trading is essential to building up your contacts and it’s also the bed rock of hardcore/DIY and the label community. A lot of labels stop trading once they reach a certain level but for me it’s something that’s still really important. I have certainly become more selective about trades and I understand that for bigger labels running a distro can be a pain in the ass. Now I sell 70% of records online and I tend to just do a stall at bigger shows or I give a box of records to one of my touring bands. My days of getting to every show and driving across the country are long gone.
It is vital to enable you to get your records all around the world and it’s a pretty unique concept. If you looked at it from a business point of view outside of the scene it’s pretty daft and full of risks. I have only got burnt on a few occasions and I still like to do small trades. It really depends on what you’re looking to do but I’m concerned with my records being in punk stores and independent distros. I’ve never had the desire to get CD’s into the major chains as its not really been relevant. I’ve had plenty of offers for exclusive distribution but its not a path ive gone down. Especially now im selling predominantly vinyl its no longer an issue. Distribution – work hard, build up your contacts, don’t be a dick and essentially if you release good records then kids will buy them from you for their stores. There’s no cooler feeling than seeing your releases for sale across the world.
Too much too soon
Putting records out and getting a name for your label is exciting. The temptation is always there to release a flurry of records and keep that intensity up. I feel into this trap a few years ago when I think I was trying to make a point. I released A LOT of records over a two year period and the sales were not keeping up pace with the production costs. As a result I have had to use a credit card. I always maintained self sufficiency but one too many awesome band came knocking! It can only take one record to flop and you’re into the borrowing cycle.
I made a conscious decision to slow things down and work with fewer bands. I’m putting in the same effort, and its paying off, as D&G has never sold more records than it is now. The bands are getting more attention and I have more time to concentrate on supporting them in different ways. There’s a definite lesson in not taking too many projects on board and maintaining your focus. Its unlikely that anyone will make any £$€ from a hardcore label but by being smart and taking it a little slower you can at least attempt to not lose too much. This isn’t to say im on the verge of financial ruin – if all stock was sold I’d be debt free and my office a whole lot clearer. Don’t be an idiot – don’t attempt to release everything that comes your way (back the winners). Work out your costs and your break even point. If you get close to that each release then you wont go far wrong.
As your label grows its really important to have a network of people who you can rely on for support. There’s simply not enough time in the day to be totally DIY and (like me) you might not have all the necessary skills. As D&G got bigger and bigger I lucked out as my sister is an Accountant. When I started having to pay tax and file returns she was happy to help me out. This is essential as this is vitally important at legal level and it frees me up to carry on as normal. I never sought for the label to become legal/official it just happened as things got bigger and the turnover increased.
I’m an ideas man and unfortunately I don’t have the design skills to put into place all of my great ideas. Thankfully I have various people who help me out and constantly go beyond the call of duty. Pim (your reading his zine, no intro needed) did the new D&G website for about 5% of what it would have cost commercially. For that I’m forever indebted. I have also had support from graphic designers (PETE!!!) in designing ad’s, posters, artwork.
Don’t be cheap if people help you out then reward them with money or records (or both). You get a lot of stuff done at punk prices so keep people sweet even if they’re friends or family.
Keep on top of your orders and don’t take ages to post stuff out! Its difficult especially when things start going nuts. I pride myself on an efficient mailorder and again I call in the troops to help pack pre-orders etc (that can actually be good fun). Not to say that everything’s perfect as sometimes things go wrong with orders or records get lost in the post. Most kids appreciate that this isn’t a full time job and mistakes happen. When stuff does go wrong, respond quickly and keep people sweet by throwing in freebies.
Roll with the punches
Things go wrong – bands split up, people take pops at your on message boards. Running a label you cant take everything personally it’s the same as bands and bad reviews. Have confidence in what your doing and the ethos behind you’re label.
I’ve had some pretty bad times but come through them by ignoring stuff and pushing ahead.
Know what you are spending
It is impossible to start a label without having some kind of ‘start capital’. Without money, you can’t run a label. It is important to keep control over your finances. The best way to do this is to open an bank account for your label, to transfer the ‘start capital’ into this account and keep this account exclusively for the label. In this way, your personal finances and the finances of the label are kept separated and you don’t run the risk of paying label costs from your personal money, without keeping track of how much money you are spending. It would be best if you only start working on a new release only if you have earned enough money with selling the previous releases. Not that I did it like that, but that’s also why I totally lost count of how much of my own money I have put into the label. That’s something I would do different now, if I would start again.
If you do vinyl, always do test pressings
Since Commitment 9, I’ve always been doing test pressings. Not to sell them for loads of money on E-bay, but to be sure that I will not be stuck with 500 or 1000 records that are not good. It will costs some extra money (it depends on the pressing plant you are using, some pressing plants charge more for test pressings than others), but it’s better to pay some extra money than to have a record that has cost you loads of money, and that you can’t sell, as there is a problem with it. I was very lucky, because the first time I did test pressings, there was a serious mistake with the record, and it prevented me from having 1000 Reaching Forward 7”’s that had on some points a very much distorted sound.
Try to avoid working on consignment as much as possible
Dealing with distros on consignment sounds like a great system. The distro does not run any financial risk and does not need a lot of money to start with a huge catalogus, and the label gets it’s records all over, gets cash instead of other records that you have to sell (when you trade). Unfortunately, my experience, and that of many other labels, is that this system is mainly benefical to the distros, and not to the labels. Although most people who run distros have good intentions, in the end only very few pay you the money when they have sold some records, on their own initiative. Most of the time, it is the label who has to remind the distro to make a payment once in a while. This means a lot of work, and if you do not give it priority, you will lose a lot of money. I’ve worked with many distros on consignment in the past, and I have lost loads of loads of money, that I never will see again. So that’s why I have decided to only do consignment with people I really know well, or distros who haven proven in the past to be responsible and reliable.
Be sure that you do not put out records of bands that have broken up or do some soon
It is really important that bands are able to promote the records you have put out. If a band can’t promote the record (by playing local shows or touring) because it has broken up, it will become very difficult to sell the records of this band. When I see of which records I still have many copies left, it are mainly records of bands who have broken up a few months after the record came out.
So before you start to work with a band, make sure the band is doing okay, are playing around a lot, with all band members motivated, and not that one band member that is your contact. Working with bands that you know personally, will make it easier to know exactly what is going on with the band, and will reduce the risk of suddenly being confronted with the band quitting.
Be honest to bands
It is important that you are honest and realistic with the band. It’s great to promise them to press 1000 7”’s, with 5 different colours of vinyl, do 5 different t-shirt designs, do sweatshirts, promote the 7” in all the major fanzines and radiostations and set up a European tour, only to have a band choose for your label, but when in the end it turns out you can’t keep all those promises, the band feels stabbed in the back by your false promises and you are stuck with an unsatisfied band that will tell other bands about their bad experiences with you. It’s better to promise nothing and do many things, than to promise many things and in the end, do nothing.
Act like a scenestar, pick the right make up, dress the right way, put up a show, photograph at shows.
Also read: Do a zine.