What it takes to start an electronic music record label

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When considering the advent electronic music, it’s easy to argue that electronic music labels were once simpler beasts. Selling hard copy music was much easier, the early internet didn’t fer streaming or charting and any musical revolution would be heavily localised before growing over time. Case in point, Factory Records.

was established in Manchester in January, 1978 and run out one the founding members’ living rooms. After their early years, which mainly centred around the post-punk legends that were Joy Division, the label started to make a name for itself as one the great, if not extremely notorious, early electronic labels.

A key part their marketing strategy was lighting up Manchester’s music scene by throwing outrageous parties. In ‘81, Factory Records opened The Hacienda night club with New Order, Joy Division’s evolution following the death lead singer Ian Curtis. The club was at capacity almost immediately with Factory Record-centric parties, elevating their label roster and status. This was where New Order would premiere ‘Blue Monday’, possibly one the biggest electronic hits all time. Keen to innovate, Factory Records released the single on a floppy-disk shaped record, which turned out to be a massively costly endeavour, with each single only earning the label 5 pence per copy sold. Soon after, The Hacienda was running at a loss, due to low cover charges and even lower bar sales due to an ecstasy influx. It was soon losing tens thousands pounds a month and the label, one the greats, was bankrupt by ‘92.

What it takes to start an electronic music record label

(Photo: The Hacienda where Factory Records held their label parties)

This is just a small piece the Factory Records story, but it goes ways to illustrate some the risks and tips in establishing an electronic music label. A big question to ask when considering the endeavour is – when your music mimics the future, with futuristic sound innovations, should labels keep up with an innovative practise? What can we take from the tale Factory Records and apply to starting an electronic label in 2018?

First all, you really have to consider why you’re doing what you’re doing. Factory saw a gap in the market to fill, and despite the fact that in many ways they did this spectacularly badly, the passion for the label’s sound was there, the audience existed and the time was right. Sometimes you might find that you’ve identified a gap in the market and everything may be lining up, but even if there’s no glaringly obvious business reason to establish your label, being inspired by music, a musical community and your idols can be more than enough a reason to get started.

Nominated for best Australian Indie label 2012 and having all-encompassing publishing and agency wings, Was founded by the late AJAX, one Australia’s all-time legendary DJs. On their roster you’ll find artists like RUFUS, What So Not, Motez, Yolanda Be Cool, Polographia and more. Matt Handley is the Director A&R at Sweat, a key part the label’s innovation and day-to-day management. For him, the catalyst for establishing the label was the wider electronic community’s inspiration from AJAX’ work and music, Sweat being a key part his legacy. “More than anything it was AJAX getting sent so much new unsigned music by people that looked up to and loved him”, Matt Says. “It felt like the right thing to do.”

When looking at many great independent labels, even harking back to the Factory Records days, you’ll find that their rosters run with a sense aesthetic consistency, even if they don’t zero in on a specific sub-genre dance music. Even if you are operating to a more targeted genre theme, the nature an artist’s evolution means that you’ll need to give your label genre room for flexibility. “Definitely for Sweat It Out we probably would say we don’t really have a sound, or at least, we are non-genre specific,” says Matt. “We’ve always said as long as we love it, whether it’s reggae or rave, for basement or the radio, we will be down to sign it.” Consider a ‘vibe word’ or a common value that characterises your artists and use it as a guide for building your roster. “Overall the one thing we look for in the music we sign, and this is from AJAX, is what he called ‘schtick’, that is, what is it that makes the music interesting and different,” Matt explains. When listening or seeing a potential artist for the label he’ll ask, “What is it’s schtick? And if we can answer that in the positive…we sign it.”

What it takes to start an electronic music record label

(Photo: The late and great AJAX)

Of course, when you’ve identified your dream roster, you’ll need to make sure that your key artists are keen to collaborate with you, and perhaps most importantly, you’ll need to ensure they have an audience. In this case, you actually want to take a tip from Factory Records and The Hacienda. Throw a goddamn party, just with slightly more strategy. Sweat It Out has indeed established themselves as a great label, they’re also famous for some Sydney’s best dance parties. The two are mutually beneficial. “It’s definitely a great way spreading the vibe and getting the name out there, and it’s also a lot fun,” Matt says. In promoting your party you can also learn to identify your key audience, find out more about them through ticket sales information and also hit the dance floor to meet them, learning about what they’re looking for and what makes them dance. This could also help with acquiring your artists and building your roster. “It showcases the artists on the label and also entices artists to be on the label because they see fun parties happening in Sweat’s case, all around the world] that they could be a part .”

So community building should for the most part be a key element your label strategy but course, it’s crucial to be digitally savvy and ahead the curve innovation as well, lest ye be stuck with the floppy disk records. This can be a huge hurdle for emerging and established labels. “The music industry and the technologies around it are constantly changing, so that’s probably the most challenging hurdle – the fact that the goal posts will forever be moving.”

You might be releasing digitally, on vinyl or even cassette (you do you), but you’ll still need a firm grip on are utilising. Regularly to see what they’re talking about or if they have new stware or platform announcements, identify your competitors and major labels internationally and then go on a ‘like’ spree, paying special attention to how they’re releasing their music and what tools they engage with to promote it. Talk to your audiences, friends and even consider getting an industry mentor, with whom you can pick their brain and also share the information you’re discovering.

It’s easy to be intimidated a saturation great projects in the label world but don’t be afraid to start small and localise your efforts. And when you’re working away at your couch fice, just don’t forget what inspired you in the first place.

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