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How To: Start A Digital Music Label

by Kevin Young
01 Nov 2011 at 23:12hrs | Views
Once, the perks of working at a record label were almost legendary -- the swag, the travel and the highly flexible expense account. Now, with sales tanking and the economy in the toilet, most people working at the labels are just happy to have a job. So you'd have to be crazy to actually start one up now, right? Not according to the three co-owners of Montreal based, all-digital dance/club rock label, Tremendous Records.

If you're in it for the love of the music and the excitement of being on the cusp of an industry desperately in need of reinvention, the digital marketplace is potentially more democratic than the old-school brick-and-mortar model. If you're in it for the money, you may want to rethink. Still, most people don't know what the "new" music industry looks like. Whoever figures it out first could reap huge dividends. Nonetheless, we'd like to inform you on how to start a digital label.

Establish a working model
Want to know how to start a digital label? In today's music industry, you need to keep it lean. "Before, if you didn't have the big dollars and the big execs behind you, you were at a disadvantage," says Tremendous co-owner, Peter Wark. Tremendous' mandate is pretty basic, he explains: "Old-school except all digital." There are no titles, no unnecessary spending and no physical product. All of this means there's no massive outlay of cash to start up. "We have not spent a dollar -- we work the press, get our singles out to the blogs and do exclusive remixes." Rather than be all things to all people, find your niche. In Tremendous' case, while they cast a global net for talent, they focus strictly on being a club rock/dance label, emphasizing a lean physical infrastructure designed purely as a conduit to channel music to listeners.

Partner up
It takes little to get your artists' music out there, but getting people to listen to it is another thing entirely and something you need to understand if you want to start a digital label. There's strength in numbers, if those numbers are made up of proven, like-minded partners. Tremendous' co-owners Jesper Quist Kaalund, Aaron Waisglass and Peter Wark bring diverse talents to the table -- artist management, publicity, promotions, marketing, stage chops as performers and DJs in their own right, and tour management. They also possess a wealth of industry contacts. They've even partnered with Toronto-based Last Gang Records to distribute Tremendous' roster of artists. "It took one phone call," says Wark, "but it could have been a much longer process." Even without physical product, distribution and relationships with portals like iTunes and Beatport is still key. That's where Last Gang comes in. They were a fit for the partners in terms of the acts they represent, like MSTRKRFT and Metric (fronted by Emily Haines), as well as their outlook and approach to the industry.

Make it real
You need good ears for hits and for artists who will resonate with your target market, but unless you deliver, you're doomed. Turn raw potential into a viable brand by attracting talent with transparent deals, identifying a market for them to exploit and maximizing your ability to get music heard, reviewed and distributed. "A lot of talent from Europe has never got the chance to do much in North America," says Quist, who is originally from Copenhagen. He sees Tremendous as a safe home for international acts looking to get their feet wet in the North American market without racking up a mess of debt. "Nor are we looking to take 15% to 20% of their merch, publishing and touring," says Wark. "We're not interested in full records right now; we're interested in hot songs. We want to find bands from every continent on the planet." They're also not interested in locking artists into multi-album, career-spanning deals. "We're trying to make a name for our label and A and R great records," says Waisglass. Rather than spend a lot of money on the label and artists' backs, they're sourcing 50/50 deals for sales on both domestic and international signings. "We're just trying to break them. We're even helping the artist book gigs, because we have the capabilities," he adds. As a member of the DJ duo Team Canada, Waiglass truly understands what it's like from the artist's point of view.

Evolve or die
All digital means is: distribution, marketing and promotion. "That's very much our vision and goal," Wark says. It's a no-lose situation. "But we'll flow the way we should flow," he adds. Remaining fluid and transparent is the only way to grow. Right now, the focus is on not spending money, but Tremendous isn't against expanding into bricks and mortar. One big success would give them the cash to take some risks. "I think vinyl would be our next step. Vinyl never really went away -- CD's are just a piece of plastic that carry digital files. It's like putting lipstick on a pig." None of the partners expects glory or big gains immediately. They're doing this out of a shared passion for music and business, and if you don't start with that, you're lost from the beginning. "It's all about survival and not spending stupid dollars on stupid things. We're very clear about that with the acts."

Digital determination
Things are tough all over, but the stench of death has been sticking to the record industry for a decade. Still, nothing blows the stench off faster than the sweet smell of success. But if you want it, you'd better maintain a fierce work ethic to make your brand attractive to investors, partners and customers. While there's no magic bullet for succeeding in the music business, with their first signing and release by The Wong Boys under their belt, a packed showcase at Toronto's Wrong Bar at this year's Canadian Music Week, and deals with artists from Asia, Europe and North America in the works, Tremendous have made a better than average start.

Source - ASKMEN
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