Release yourself: How to set up your own digital record label

If the labels don’t come to you, do it yourself! Here’s the game plan in 7 steps.

The DIY ethos drove the punk movement in the 1980’s from underground subculture to international sensation. Fast forward a few decades, throw the internet and social media into the mix and you’ve got the new DIY generation. 

If the labels don’t come to you, go on and do it yourself!  

A few years ago I was part of an underground music scene that had little visibility online. In 2014 I decided to create a home for myself and other underground producers by starting a digital record label. It didn’t take long to set up, and it gained some serious traction for launching our music careers. 

Moral of the story: We all get tired of waiting for record labels to release our music. Luckily, you don’t need to wait to anymore. Here’s the game plan… 

1. Decide on your label concept and name

The name is the most important identifier of your label. Test ideas out on your friends and give yourself some time to think about it until you have something that’s memorable, lasting and represents what you’re all about.

You will be selling the strength of your concept to a distributor (the company that gets your music into the digital outlets – more on that later), so it pays to have a solid idea of your label’s concept from the beginning.

4 questions to ask yourself: 

  • What is this label all about?
  • What style of music will we release? 
  • Who will our audience be? 
  • Why will our label be important?

2. Lock down your first three releases

Are you part of a local music scene? Are you part of an online community where you vibe with other artists in far-flung reaches of the globe? Whether they’re down the street or on your computer screen, get a solid group of underground artists together to release on your label. Distributors will want to hear your first few releases.

Get 3 releases together, 2 – 4 tracks each, comprised of fully mastered WAVs.

Many online mastering services are questionable in quality, so make sure you find someone reputable. Lastly, make sure to come to an agreement with your artists about payment. A simple profit split is usually the easiest way, though some labels will pay outright for a release, then keep all profits.

3. Design your label logo and release artwork

If a picture says a thousand words, then your artwork should tell everybody who you are and what you’re all about. Sloppy artwork can diminish the perceived quality of your music. It’s best to involve somebody with design experience here so you can be sure that you meet a high standard. If you find yourself short on funds for any of these steps, Patreon and Kickstarter are great tools to get your project going whether you’re part of a local or online community.

This is your first impression, so make it strong. Consider all the formats; how will your artwork look on a webpage, social media, a YouTube video, or on a poster?

4. Get set up on social media

Social media is the megaphone to get your music out there, beyond your social groups and your local scene. Set up accounts for your label on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and get to work. And…it is work. It takes time and effort to keep each account active and interesting but it’s worth it when you start building up fans and making connections.

Nurture your connections; don’t hesitate to respond to your fans, engage with them and like their posts. Showing them that you appreciate their support goes a long way!

5. Start a promo list

You’ll want to get your unreleased tracks to DJs and influencers to plug your music before release time. Get in touch with the people who will love your music and start getting it out there. DJs and artists can be surprisingly available on social media, and you can easily find email addresses as well. Beware! Cold emails can be quite intrusive, so tread carefully. Bear in mind these people receive a massive amount of promos, so make your message stand out.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear back immediately; just keep moving.

Once the ball is rolling with your label and you start making some money, you can think about paying a PR company to push it to the next level. 

6. Apply for distribution

Now that you’ve got everything set up, you’re ready for the final step. A distributor will only take on your label if the concept, music, and visuals are all solid. Thankfully, you’ve nailed that already! In my experience, LabelWorx  is an amazing distributor, but InGrooves, FUGA, and The Orchard are also great options. Just make sure you’re happy with the percentage splits and the stores they service. Find the contact email of your preferred distributor and get in touch to ask if they will represent your label.

You have one shot so don’t make any mistakes and show them you mean business!

What to include in the message:

  • The style of music you will be releasing
  • The audience for your label
  • What the goals are for your label and where you see it progressing
  • Why your label is or will be important
  • Links to the WAVs with descriptions of your first 3 releases
  • Artwork and label logo
  • Links to social media pages
  • Links to your personal music pages, or anything else that showcases your experience in music

7. Start releasing your music!

So, you’ve got your distribution set. Now send off your releases, set the release dates, and get ready for them to hit the stores! The first release usually takes a little longer so you may need to be patient here. The frequency varies for each distributor, but once your releases have been in the stores for a few months, you should start receiving quarterly account statements.

Releasing music has been hugely rewarding for me, so good luck and let us know how you get on!  ?

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