Here's 7 Things You Need to Know About Starting an Electronic Label
So, you've decided to start your own record label. Why not, right? You've been keeping a keen eye on the local scene for a while, that online diploma you received in project management is still fresh in your mind, and your mum has always said you can use the basement as an office, so the stars are basically aligned. This is going to be sick. All you really need is a Facebook page and probably some stamps. Except that two days in you begin to realize that your newfound credentials are less than adequate, stamps are extortionately expensive, and the basement—now littered with forgotten exercise equipment—has become a gym for some very buff-looking rodents.
The fact of the matter is that running a label these days comes with a variety of pitfalls. First off, there's the illusion of profit: most labels are struggling to break even on a good day. Then there's the promotional side of things, where even online publicity can become a full-time gig. Distribution too is an oft-overlooked aspect: which stores and what areas of the world your records end up boils down to your distributor. Not to mention the fact that some digital outlets will only deal with the distributor and never you directly. Next up are the all-important graphics, which can often be the linchpin for any organization—shaping its style, feel, and overall image. Do you have an aesthetic in mind? A specific graphic designer? Will you keep everything local? Should you focus on a wide range of styles or something specific? Are you going to be vinyl-only?
The questions are endless, but so are the rewards for those who are able to find the right balance. From Vancouver's Genero to Toronto's Slow Release, we reached out to five of the most exciting Canadian electronic labels right now to find out just how they do it.
1. Get in for the right reasons.
(Image courtesy of Genero)Cameron Reed [Slow Release, Toronto]: [When founding Slow Release] I wanted to support singular music that I loved. I wanted to do something more than just post a Soundcloud link to my Twitter feed. I had built enough knowledge of the industry and knew I was in a place where I could provide something to younger, developing artists. I also wanted to keep it relaxed for the artist and not put too much pressure on anyone. If I can move an artist's career forward just a notch, I'm happy, and those that work with me know that I just want to be on their team
Still, I face the same challenges that everyone in the industry has faced since the marketing of music: having to treat someone's creative labour as a commodity, convincing those who don't materially benefit from an artist's success that they should care, and finally, competing against thousands of others for fractions of fractions of a penny. But that's capitalism, baby. That's why I love working with artists who I believe make truly singular music, it makes that process a tiny bit easier.
Soledad Muñoz [Genero, Vancouver]: I really hope people are starting labels in order to change the world—we can. I am tired of labels releasing to be part of the machine. The macho-capitalist thing is old, and has done enough bad to most of the population of this world, including Vancouver. Start a project that creates something new, because it takes so much energy, but when that energy translates into resistance and love, not money, then it really means something. I love my Genero family—we started a family, not a label.
Dino Secondino [Visage Musique, Montreal]: It's a cliché, but you have to be really passionate. It's really a labour of love. Starting a label is not the most logical and/or lucrative thing to do. There are ups and downs. At some point you might feel like giving up, but there's always been something to revive the fire, to get you really excited again. So let's say you just released a record and it didn't have the impact you wish it had, but then you discover this new band, you hear this song, and you just want to start it all again and release the music to the world
2. Keep it flexible.Muñoz: Genero started as a feminist audio project: a meeting place for female, women-identifying, and non-binary people within the sound realm. I wanted the project to be open-ended and mutable, so that it could be used as an instrument for whoever needed it. I never thought it would evolve into a label—because in my own work I prioritize the embodied experience of sound, cultural creation and free dissemination of thought—but I realized that distribution was important, and that minorities were not being included by other labels in town so we started releasing albums, therefore becoming a label.
Adam Marshall [New Kanada, Toronto/Berlin]: When I started, I didn't really have any grandiose ideas. I looked at the label as more of an art project or artistic publishing house, and less like a traditional label. I was also very interested in being in control of how my [own] work was released and distributed, and was always very hesitant to let other people dress up my music—through design, promotion, communication, etc. I didn't always have clear visions of exactly how I wanted everything to look, or what the aesthetic would be, but I did know what I didn't want it to be, and starting my own label allowed me to keep in control of the entire narrative.
Image courtesy of Record Store Day