Assuming you've got an artist name, record-label title, label logo/designs and, most importantly, some good music, it's time to take a technical look at how to start a digital record label and get your music out into the ether.
Obviously, the most important part of all the aforementioned is music, so make sure you're happy with what you've got, and get ready for lift off....
Your website is essential for persuading the best digital record stores to stock your music. If you're a new producer and you don't have a respectable artist site, you can forget about getting onto sellers like Beatport (unless your product is a total smash and being played by all and sundry, which I'm assuming it's not if you're reading a beginners guide). Your website is also key to promoting yourself: one quick link provides stores, artists and fans with information.
Luckily, within the electronic music world, starting a website is easy. As much as you may want a flashy flash website, this clearly is non-essential. Take a look at the RAM Records webpage for example. It leads straight to their MySpace page. RAM Records is probably the biggest and most successful drum & bass label in the world. If they don't need a custom website, neither do you. They used to have one, but now obviously see it as obsolete. However, it all comes down to personal taste. If you have something special to offer that the shell of MySpace doesn't facilitate, then by all means start your own website. Remember: RAM Records has the luxury of an impeccable pedigree and hard-earned reputation.
Having a custom website allows you to easily inform visitors. For example, with a simple custom template you can have tabs such as About and Artists at the top of the page, which is the first thing visitors will notice. With MySpace, the information is usually condensed into the HTML body. Assuming that everybody has a MySpace page, if you don't have the credibility of a big label like RAM, starting your own website can make you appear more serious to those considering investing in your talent. Whatever the case, RAM has registered their own web address.
Registering a web address is easy, just go to www.godaddy.com for example and follow the steps:
Notice the .me suffix above, that was born in 2009 replacing .yu for the country of Montenegro, which can be used in novel ways to potentially increase traffic.
Go Daddy is the largest Internet domain registrar, but there are countless more, so choose whichever feels best for you. Once you've registered a domain name, the registrar will offer you bewildering amounts of different services, trying to squeeze more cash out. Bolt-ons you could consider are obviously web space as well as personal email addresses. However, you can link your new domain name to another website like MySpace for free, just like RAM Records, so that you don't have to shell out an annual subscription for web space.
A great site that offers free blog-page building and hosting is www.posterous.com
Posterous websites are incredibly easy to create. If you email Posterous after you have made an account, that email will automatically turn into a post, so you can upload when you're on the move from your mobile phone. Learning how to use this kind of website is a good way to get to grips with online marketing. Here's an example from my Posterous homepage:
On the left you can see two webpages I created: Twin Vulcan and Clothes Graveyard. Clicking on each gives you a full breakdown of stats for individual posts, including numbers of visitors.
If you're looking for more control over your website however, you're going to need to buy some webspace and use a client such as WordPress. WordPress is the most popular blog publishing application in the world, it's free plus incredibly easy to use.
Beyond these alternatives, you're looking at paying a designer to create you a webpage or learning how to create one yourself. The former option is not advisable if you're not making any money yet off your website, as your time would be better spent on making good music than creating a fancy online portal. The latter would surely deprive you of valuable time to make music.
Here comes the fun part: registering your lovely record label so that no one can copy your creative content. This is the first true step towards making your music downloadable online and ultimately making some money. To do this you need to make an account with a digital distributor. There are countless ones to choose from, offering different deals. The aggregators that have a rapport with (and can realistically get your music onto) the top-selling sites are obviously harder to register with, and they tend to take a lower % from you because you are lower risk. In the third and final part of this guide we will show you exactly how to approach them, but for now, just focus on the building blocks of good music, artwork, online content and a solid plan.
For the sake of example, we're going to use www.feiyr.com as a digital distributor.
Feiyr is a German website, and at first I was sceptical of their services despite their enormous roster of labels and ability to distribute to practically every online store. Here is how to register your record label with Feiyr, in easy steps, taken directly from their website:
To activate an account on Feiyr costs €9.90. Some aggregators don't have any activation costs (but are much harder to register with - anyone can register with Feiyr purely because they have an initial charge, and their profits obviously come largely from pulling at the heartstrings of desperate producers who never will get their music onto any credible store). Here's a picture from a rival to Feiyr, that offers a better deal but is much tougher to sign up with, called Some Cutz Up aggregation:
Feiyr sends you physical mail in the post with an activation code for your account. Alternatively, you can email them with a scan of your passport. After this, expect to incur extra minimal charges for sending your releases out to digital stores and suchlike, mostly for under a Euro.
Now, let's take you through the exact steps to submit your label(s) to Feiyr.
There appears to be no limit to how many labels you can add on your account:
Please note that for some specialised download portals (e.g. Beatport) a label logo and label description/biography is a prerequisite for a listing in their stores.
Next, you need to do this:
Very much the same rules apply for adding artists to your account ... there appears to be no limit:
Notice how you actually need a homepage to register with a digital distributor like Feiyr.
Now you can go about adding your music. This is another way to keep maximum quality versions of your music safe, outside of your hard drive. This part of the process is very delicate, it's deceptively easy to make a mistake:
Notice how the label(s) and artist(s) you've already inputted are now selectable via window headers.
What is an ISRC code? According to Nick Unsworth, head of digital at one of the biggest dance music download stores in the UK www.juno.co.uk, "ISRCs and UPCs are identifiers for tracks and releases in case the tracks have the same name. Distributors use them for accounting sales to their labels and they’re also used by the official charts company. Some download stores insist on them. You can use them on Juno but they’re not compulsory."
So, if you don't buy an ISRC you can't enter the UK Top 40, or any chart for that matter, which would otherwise be an event seriously worth drawing attention to on your website.
The final step before you can officially register your label is to create a bundle which is basically the format of the release:
An original article number is located on CD and vinyl releases. If you don't have either, don't worry about this. C-Line stands for copyright line, so here you should write the year your bundle is being created followed by either your artist or record label/company name, for example, 2010 Twin Vulcan. P-Line stands for publishing line. If your song does not have a publisher, all you have to write in this box is 2010 Copyright Control.
The release date box is critical. You have to give yourself enough time to promote your release, get remixes from the blogging community or credible artists, book a performance on launch night, and so on. Make sure you plan properly when you want to release the single.
I made many mistakes in the final two parts of my application. In fact the official registering of my first release was denied four times because of these mistakes: Wrong Bundle Type, Wrong Track Genre, Wrong Bundle Genre and Special Characters Aren't Allowed. The digital stores are very strict on all information entered. Luckily, Feiyr seems to spot the inaccuracies before sending the music out to stores.
When everything is finished, it should look something like this:
Please note, that some digital distributors charge you for the deletion of a release. Feiyr, for example, charges you €29.99 for deletion, which is a ludicrous amount when you think about it. You should take extreme care before clicking that publish button. And ... notice how the bundle will expire in 2099. Nothing lasts forever!
Depending on the distributor, you have various options on which stores to submit your material to for consideration. Good ones will obviously have iTunes, Amazon and Play. Digital distributors have no bearing on how fast your data is processed by the sales platforms. Top sites like Beatport are the holy grail of digital sellers, and to apply to them is a different ball game entirely. It is possible...
...but can be costly and the source of much frustration. Please wait until part three of this guide for information on how to get your label on Beatport.
Now, when your release is finally accepted, you will receive a message stating the date your bundle was checked and forwarded on to sales platforms. Annoyingly, many distributors will not tell you which stores have accepted your material. This raises the question: how the hell do I promote my material if I don't know who is going to release it? Obviously, you want to shout about the sales platforms it's coming on. Your music has a lot more clout if it's coming on Beatport, as opposed to an unknown seller.
The only way to find out, is to keep Googling your project. I gave myself a two-month window before my release, and after around three weeks, I saw this:
So, it obviously pays to give yourself enough time to gauge how long it takes for your music be listed, and who lists it.
Next month, in the third and final part of how to start a digital record label, we interview the head of digital at one of the UK's biggest record stores Juno Records, to find out first-hand what digital stores are looking for in rookie record labels. We also explain exactly how to get your music onto Beatport, where we list every digital aggregator that provides to them. Also, we analyse how to really set your releases apart from others, by getting artists to remix for you and creating music videos.
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