Creating A Record Label

This is the story about my record label, which then ended up not including me. I’m going to break this article into two sections; talking about what happened with my record label, and then about the ideas I had for developing it.

What happened to the label?

In 2017, two of my friends approached me with the idea of creating a record label. I was onboard straight away, began creating branding, coming up with ideas for marketing and ideas for revenue. They chose to include me because of my knowledge of business and money management, and even though I wasn’t involved in the music itself, I was excited.

A couple of weeks went by and things were already odd.

I’d designed a rough logo with one of the guys giving his input (it literally took hours to make a vector which we both liked), and hadn’t heard anything from the third person about the design. I finally bumped into them on a train, and showed them the logo design. He was hesitant and then left.

The following week I put together a marketing plan and met up with them to discuss my ideas. Turned out they only wanted my involvement to be maths and to act as an investor. They told me they didn’t want me to be involved anymore, but they wanted to keep me around so I could create clothing and stickers for them. I asked to be “in the room”, even if I wasn’t directly involved, which they never invited me to join.

Interestingly, the next week they put up their Facebook page with my logo design, and credited one of their girlfriends with designing the artwork. To this day, I’ve never been more annoyed about someone stealing my work.

I gave the page a like and ignored the stolen artwork, and they later ask for a price for clothing and stickers. I get them to send over the artwork for their logo (they didn’t have my original vector) which was not useable for clothing because they didn’t make it into a vector properly, but I spent an hour fixing it for them. I gave them a price, and they never replied to me.

A little bit more down the line and they had their first release coming up (a tape for a metal band).

They setup a Big Cartel website to sell the cassette tapes and decided on a price. I pointed out to them that they would only be able to make £5 profit (£2.50 each) if they sell out all of their tapes, and they changed the price slightly to accommodate for this. Following that initial tape, they released another for a different band, but that was almost a year ago and there hasn’t been much activity since.

The clothing and stickers were never released, but they did try to get other companies to undercut my prices.

The unfortunate reality with most of these companies is that they go out with a whimper, and watching a project I was involved in die so anti-climactically was a big disappointment.

What would I have done differently?

Well, for starters, I wouldn’t fire the only person with any knowledge about managing a company. Also, not committing plagiarism would have been good choice.

Aside from that, throughout the process I noticed a lot of missed opportunities to increase profits when doing releases for a band.

The products that you’d typically expect to be the best revenue sources ended up being the least profitable (as a small label). Cassette tapes and clothing are obviously some of the highest priced items, but do not generate not a lot of profit (due to the costs of producing them). Whilst they are important, investing all of your organisation’s money in those two products is a risky decision.

Products such as stickers, phone cases, smaller clothing items, digital products (EPs, digital albums, singles), and other cheaper products are actually far more profitable. The return on investment with stickers (for example) is much bigger than clothing. Additionally, more people will purchase these smaller items just so they can help support the band.

Diversifying the budget through a balance of these products would result in higher profits, in addition to offering fans more choice.

Additionally, I would have used WordPress or Shopify instead of Big Cartel for selling products. Whilst I understand the appeal of the free website ecommerce platform, I personally would have gone for a more scalable option.

Big Cartel’s free option allows you to list 5 products for free (transaction charges on every payment level too, no doubt). However, anymore than 5 and you need to pay $10 a month (probably £10 as opposed to the converted value), more than 25 items and you need to spend $25 dollars a month. Big Cartel also limits the amount of images you can use, etc.

A better solution would have been using Shopify Lite in unity with a WordPress.com website with a free theme. Whilst this is initially more expensive and complicated, this would immediately allow for more products to be listed which (theoretically) should let you sell more.

Another opportunity missed was seeking bands for releases (through a social media advertising campaign) as opposed to only releasing for people we know. Providing small bands with an opportunity to release cassettes and merchandise under a commission basis would have been a great way to keep the online store updated with new content, in addition to improving brand recognition.

Getting new bands to do releases through our label would result in ripple effect with brand recognition. Every band we do a release for would share the website with their fans, allowing for us to have sustainable organic traffic as a direct result of our paid advertising.

Additional services could also be implemented, such as full management for new bands. This would be time consuming, though, and likely more risky.

Those are just some of the ideas I had for the record label. Unfortunately, just like any business, in order for the fun stuff to exist there has to be a lot of background work. Luckily, this is what I enjoy looking into. When I approached my “cofounders” with these options they found it intimidating because they only wanted to work on the fun stuff, and I was talking about having to do actual work, hence why they got rid of me.

They wanted to give out certain products for free, such as stickers, but they also wanted to keep the cassette prices low. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do both sustainably, and it doesn’t make sense for the cassette prices to be over £7. They ignore this, though, and I don’t think they ever made a decent profit from the label… They certainly didn’t make enough to pay for their time spent working on it.

Dare I say it, if we did this groundwork, the label could be still surviving if not thriving. Ultimately, the biggest crime was them kicking out their friend.

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