What elements might you say make up the perfect record label?
If you could have a label which did everything right, both internally and externally, what would it look like? How would it perform? What composite parts would form the basis?
I think to nail down such a tall order, you have to consider at least three key points of view. In order of importance they are…
Firstly, the audience. The listeners. Those fans who both create the necessity, and fuel the perpetual motion of a label.
Secondly, the artists. Those who have signed over their creations for the label to (as many contracts will say) exploit them in the most relevant (or perhaps lucrative) way.
Thirdly, the label themselves. Those individuals or companies who are scouting out the music, selecting, curating and releasing the creations to the world.
Evan after such a brief explanation, you may already be thinking about why the label often takes precedence, despite being the least important element of the three points of view.
I often wonder this myself too. The label is often seen as the facilitator. The people holding all the cards, but we’ve got it all backwards.
Without the audience, there would be no label, and without the artist, there would be no music to release, so how many labels are actually putting their ego, reputation and desires to the side, in favour of servicing their fans primarily?
Hard to say without having an inside track on many labels, and there’s always going to be a chicken-egg situation here, since how can a label find and build a fanbase without putting their requirements first and foremost.
I’d say that many labels will start with the label-first approach (surely, they’d have to?), but the wise labels will make that shift sooner or later. The shift to put their desires on the backburner, and look to the audience to determine how they develop and build their brand.
Granted, not a clear cut solution to the perfect label - but definitely something to consider.
So what about those specific elements of the perfect label?
First let’s look at it from the audience’s perspective.
The audience want music. Generally music that they enjoy in some way. They will also likely want this music to be affordable.
Some audience members will want other more specific things, like to support new talent, or to be challenged by the music. They may want exclusivity, or something more underground than others, but ultimately all of these things contribute to their enjoyment of the music, so let’s put enjoyable (however subjective that may be) music front and centre.
The artists will usually be keen for a few things. Primarily they’re looking to get their music out there, and for the result to be fair remuneration for their efforts. Exposure and money.
Some artists may want to be associated with the label or other label acts, some may not be looking for fame, but just a home for their output, and some may just feel compelled to release their music as a matter of discourse.
Ultimately the likely top spot for the artists is going to be an increased audience and some cash in their pocket (or bank account).
And lastly, what do the label want?
Like all businesses, generally profit is the top requirement, whether through desire or necessity to continue. However many labels will often (and quite rightly) cite more idealogical reasons, such as supporting new and emerging talent, building a community around a specific sound or supporting a locality in some way.
Some labels are born of a desire to spread the music, some to just facilitate the owner’s release schedule.
Labels may also side with the artist in looking for increased exposure or an association with a particular talent.
So what does that give us as our core ingredients of a good record label?
- enjoyable music
- affordable music
- exposure for the music
- far pay for artists
- label profit
And also, likely:
- a strong association or community of artists
- support and exposure for releases
- support for new and emerging talent
These are probably just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what you’re thinking of, whether you’re a listener, an artist or a label owner (or all three).
That said, are you prioritising the right things when it comes to labels? Are you putting your efforts into the right things?
The reason I’m writing all this, is that I just underwent something of a revelation with one of my own labels Cut Records.
For a couple of years now, we have been working to a subscription-model, where anybody can sign up for $2 a month, and get access to all of our releases, and we also put out an exclusive new release every month.
We’ve seen slow growth since our initial boost, and I realised it was possibly down to the fact that I had neglected our users in some way.
The key group of people when it comes to Cut, are our subscribers. Our audience.
Their subscription fee allows me to pay artists a chunk of cash up front for their music, as well as cover the cost of mastering, artwork and some promo.
The fact that they’re subscribers also means I can almost guarantee a certain number of listens and downloads of an artist’s release too.
Aside from the subjectivity of “enjoyable” music, I’d like to hope I was ticking all the label-model boxes so far.
Just one thing was bothering me recently though - why was it so difficult to encourage people to sign up?
First stop - my audience. I put an email out to our members asking them to fill in some questions, and was delighted to have a really strong response from people. I managed to collect some really amazing data, as well as lots of quotes and opinions on how the label was doing. All with the option of anonymity, so that people didn’t feel they had to say good things.
If I could recommend one thing to labels, it would be to encourage people to send you feedback, and ask them specific questions about what you’re doing - labels would be incredibly surprised at how much they might learn from those who are passionate about the label’s output.
Second stop, I managed to find a big group of people who were familiar with my own production, but had not come across the Cut record label (my artist email list) - again, I spoke to them. Specifically to those who had not heard about my label Cut.
This time individually, having in the region of 50 or so email conversations with many about what they thought, first impressions, what they expect, what fears they have about signing up, opinions on the site, my marketing copy and so on.
Again, another set of incredible results, which have allowed me to see a much clearer picture of the record label from both the audience and the potential audience perspective.
The value of what I’ve been able to do is hard to measure at this stage of course, but there is nothing like getting feedback from the very people you’re trying to target. During the discussions, I was even fortunate enough to have some of the people sign up, once they found out about how it all worked.
So my revelation with Cut was not to undervalue the audience. If anything, they should be taken heed of, and if you have a problem, and you’re looking for a way round, then you’d be surprised what a completely different perspective can do.