Over the years, thousands (if not millions) of musicians and music lovers have all had the same thought: I’ll launch my own record label! But the question of how to start a record label (and be successful) is a difficult one. What does it take to create a record company from nothing, and why should anyone bother? Is it actually easier than it sounds or much, much harder?
There are many ways to start your own record label, and if you were to ask those who have made it work, they’d have many different stories to tell. You don’t need millions of dollars or decades of industry experience to launch a company, but there are certain best practices you should adhere to … if you want your record label to survive longer than a year, that is.
So let’s rephrase the statement from “how to start a record label” to the slightly more specific “how to start a record label with few resources that stands a chance of surviving.” Those might sound like obvious additions, but they can make a big difference as you kick off your new entrepreneurial venture.
Create a name
If I’m being completely honest, I probably shouldn’t tell you to start with a name, but it’s an easy and free first step you can take. You’re nothing without a name, and your name really is everything.
Keep in mind that this name might one day become a very valuable brand — there are plenty of examples of record labels developing cult followings and branching out into other fields thanks to their successes.
Write down as many as you can think of, and then start eliminating the ones that won’t work. Perhaps a few are already taken or others already exist in some other form. You probably don’t want to get into a legal battle, so keep thinking! Once you’ve chosen a name, you’ll need to commit to it, as changing it can be difficult and expensive later on.
Editor’s note: Have a good name in mind? Be sure to register a domain name to match sooner rather than later. The last thing you want is to come up with a brilliant idea, only to have it snatched right out of your fingertips.
Define your company
There are a million ways to do this, so I won’t give you a template here, but I will give you some things to think about. In theory, a record label is just a company that releases music to make a profit, but anyone who wants to start one knows they mean so much more … or at least, they can.
Who are you? What kinds of artists do you want to work with? What kind of music will your company put out into the world?
Maybe your new startup will only work on bringing acts from other countries into the United States, or maybe you’re interested in championing a style that’s on the cusp of breaking out. You don’t need to adhere to a narrow definition forever, but it’s good to be known for something no one else is doing.
Build a web presence
Once you have a name and a purpose, you’re well on your way! Now you’ll need to create a web presence, starting with a website. First, purchase a domain name and hosting services.
You’ll also need to claim the specific pages connected to whatever name you chose on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SoundCloud and other social sites. You’ll want everything to have the same address (or handle) so you’re easier to find across the web.
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Settle on a business model
By business model, I’m not suggesting you need to rethink how the music industry functions and come up with a way to make recorded music profitable (though, if you can, please do!), but rather, the terms you’ll adhere to when operating.
Are you going to cover all costs for any band or artist and then not pay them a dime until you’ve earned everything back and made a profit? Or are you planning on splitting costs (such as studio time, legal fees, CD pressing, PR and so on) with your signed act, and then also splitting the money made from sales and streams?
Now you know how to start a record label that will last
Unfortunately, you can’t skip over all the business details and start signing artists. Before you even begin scouting acts you want to work with, you need to nail down your business model, company name and establish a web presence.
Keep in mind, too, that while you might want to pay for everything and promote the art to the fullest extent possible (that is why you’re in this business, after all), you do need to make a profit. I hate to say that, but it’s true, and this article is about how to start a record label that will survive, as opposed to one that will release a few tracks or full-lengths and disappear, like so many before it.