HOW TO MAKE THE BEST OF A DYING INDUSTRY...
"How to make the best of a dying industry despite being a shy and unremarkable fellow: The Jamie Halliday Story."
I run Audio Antihero Records: Specialists in Commercial Suicide (Nosferatu D2/Benjamin Shaw/Jack Hayter) and was kindly invited by Tom Robinson to write a guest blog about running an independent label. It's debatable whether someone who has lost as much money and achieved as little industry recognition as I have is in any position to map out your business strategy but I've made plenty of mistakes and some you can avoid. Hopefully by writing them down I'll learn from them too.
This is a mix of firsthand experience, common sense and tales I've been told by people who know better, presented in a list of Do's and Don'ts. DO release THE record you love and do it the first time (it could always be the last time). The first is the most fun, after that you just think, 'man, I hope I don't bungle this as badly as last time.'
DO plan your next releases.
DON'T release your first two titles on the same day because it'll save you postage. Trust me.
DO feel free to discard the rules of the industry. It's dying, full of people with dated experience and your bedroom operation does not fit in with its requirements.
DON'T receive stock on a Friday and release your record on a Sunday. 6-8 weeks planning time is essential if you want a chance of some high profile press and radio. I always get this bit wrong.
DO look for the smallest pressing available. Most manufacturers insist on a 500-1000 run and you won't know how many this is to sell and store until 10 boxes show up. Try someone like Mobineko for small runs
DON'T cop out and go for “professional looking” CDRs, unless you really have to. Shops rarely take them and CDRs eventually rot and die, do you want to put a sell-by-date on your artist's legacy? This is mostly a pet hate but you've got to do these things for love and pride.
DO utilise digital. It isn't my favourite format either but it will bring you closer to paying your artists, which should be your priority. Plus, digital singles cost next to nothing and will allow you to re-present your releases to radio.
DON'T release a physical single. The 90s may well have been the greatest decade ever but those years are gone. The cost of a disc with 7 minutes audio on is the same as the cost of a disc with 60 minutes audio on, you just can't charge as much.
DO sign people you get on with. You're both going to bungle things and you'll want one another's support. Plus you're going to have to talk to one another a LOT, so while Oasis might be worth your time for a cut of 95 platinum discs, you wouldn't pay for the privilege.
DON'T be too good a friend. If you're interested enough in music to start a label you probably know a lot of musicians (and most of them aren't very good) don't water down your catalogue with favours for friends. It's awkward but essential.
DO keep active. You can't release a record every month but you can generate content and updates. Use twitter/facebook/blogs/newsletters and give away free songs. One thing I did to keep active was “Audio Antihero's Never Say DIY! Radio”, it wasn't a runaway success but it kept a few people coming back, it also rocks.
DO consider dealing direct with indie record shops on a sale-or-return basis, don't bend over backwards for a physical distribution deal in your early days. I've independently got a 95 albums into retail but I've known ‘distributed titles' to see six sales.
DON'T ever think that ‘good music sells itself'. New music is so easily found now that people need to actually want to like it. PROMOTE! HYPE! SPIN! DISGUISE!
DON'T think that the world is watching. If you've made a big claim on twitter only for it to turn sour then don't feel you have to proceed because you've ‘announced it'. Chances are your 296 followers aren't all that bothered. Similarly, if you've done a great record in 2011 but cannot find a suitable artist in 2012 don't feel you have to press something just to keep busy, it'll only hurt you. You aren't a reality TV-star, you don't need to stay in the headlines for your previous work to be appreciated.
DON'T release physical records from artists who don't gig (a rule I constantly break). Reviews don't sell many albums and nor does radio on our level (indie artists are lucky to receive a one off spot play). You need bands to take a couple of boxes of stock and gig. Even if they sell 3 copies every few nights that could easily be more than you manage that month.
DON'T believe retail prices. High street shops are lying to you. £10 is too much for your web-shop. Only people who love music will be aware of an independent release, these people buy a lot of music and can't afford to spend £10 on everything. Least of all something untested like your debut. Audio Antihero's first full-length album was £5.99, people still wanted to download it for free.
DO take advice from other labels to get a realistic idea of what to expect.
DON'T believe everything you're told. Least of all by me.
Good luck and Never Say DIY!
Audio Antihero Records
Specialists in Commercial Suicide