Manage for Success: Staffing (Newsletter #19, November 2002)

A question frequently arises from my start-up label clients about what kind of staff they'll be needing to hire. In other words, how many people will they need, and to fill what positions?

Of course the answer to this varies greatly from label to label based on many factors, but most especially the style of the label, and its access to funds. There are certain staff positions that apply to the operation of most larger labels, particularly those with ambitious plans and sufficient money to finance them.

Large Staff:
Let's start with suggestions for well-heeled labels with grand ideas and a number of releases in the first year. This is because I want to list what might be ideal where there's both sufficient need and money to employ what's a fairly large initial staff.

I'll first briefly discuss those employees who, in a Profit and Loss Statement (P&L,) will fall under the heading of "General and Administrative."

The Top Dog:
Whether the title is President, CEO, Managing Director, or El Supremo, this person will be responsible for major decisions, the label's over-all direction including A&R, and the general well-being of the label.

CFO, Accountant, or Bookkeeper:
Is directly involved in all financial matters. He or she (from here on I'll use the pronoun "he" for simplification, but please understand that nothing sexist is implied) will oversee the financial welfare of the label, will do financial projections, and either keep the books or supervise that function. (See Newsletter #2,

Business Affairs:
Handles all of the legal aspects of a label and negotiates all of the deals. In larger labels this function is usually filled by a staff attorney, but in small companies the head of the label will often handle the bulk of this function, leaving the tougher aspects of negotiations to an outside attorney experienced in music business deals and contracts.
(Newsletter #7, and Newsletter #8,

Takes care of all the nuts and bolts involved in getting the recording produced as a physical entity (with the exception of any creative role.) This means seeing the project through from birth to release, gathering all materials for use in the booklet and inlay card (song titles, writers, publishers, album credits, etc.), coordinating graphics design, seeing that mastering is accomplished, ordering print and manufacturing runs, and controlling all inventories. (Newsletter #4,

Art Director (Creative Director):
Is responsible for the visual "look" of a label and all that entails. He works with the label's recording artists to achieve the desired image most appropriate to the music. The A.D. may also be responsible for the design of a label's logo and letterhead, as well as for all marketing materials and advertisements.

Deals with Artists and Repertoire and is tasked to bring talent to the label, and in some cases may also be produce. (Newsletter #17,

A&R Administration:
Some labels have a person whose primary job it is to keep track of all recording budgets and actual expenses. (Newsletter #6,

Product Manager:
This job is similar to and may replace that of the A&R Administrator. Large labels have a department of people whose job it is to guide the artists through recording sessions, explain the artist and her music to the rest of the label, particularly the marketing staff, and guide the artist's career from the label's standpoint. It's kind of like being the artist's ombudsman.

Office Manager:
Takes care of routine office functions and supervision of infrastructure, sometimes including personnel matters. Large labels will have a Human Resources or Personnel Department.

Mail Room:
Sorts incoming mail and packs and send out all promotion disks, etc.

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Starting a record label is a tremendously exacting and ambitious undertaking, fraught with numerous potential pitfalls. If you're considering starting your own label, or are already in the process, take advantage of my years of expertise to guide you in how to deal with the many problems that typically arise. I've had many decades of experience planning, budgeting, and solving record industry management problems. Don't hesitate to call me to discuss your particular situation and to see how I might come up with a unique solution for your label.

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This next grouping falls under the P&L heading of "Sales and Marketing." That I address it second should not detract from its importance in the effectiveness of a label.

Marketing Head:
Determines how the label will go about letting the public and the industry know about the great new music it's releasing. He will be responsible for distribution, sales, publicity, promotion, etc. and will be principal designer of marketing plans and their execution. It's a critical position and requires someone who not only loves the label's music, but is intimately familiar with all aspects of what it takes to market music in these times of complex retail distribution, on-line music, and piracy. He needs to be not only industrious, but highly creative, and must know how to accomplish a great deal with limited budgets. (See Newsletter #9,

Sales Manager:
Is responsible for all aspects of sales, working with distribution and retail accounts to get the label's message across about each new release.

Publicity (sometimes called Public Relations):
Gets news and information about the label and its artists to national and local press, as well as to such national radio magazines as All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Fresh Air. He'll also attempt to place artists on local radio stations for on-air interviews and/or performances. (Newsletter #18,

Radio Promotion:
Radio airplay is an essential need for most labels. The head of promotion will oversee the efforts of all those involved in getting local and national radio stations to play your music. He may make most of the calls himself, but many labels farm out these functions to independent promoters who specialize in the musical genre whose music your artist most closely approximates.

Once an artist or her music has attained a reasonable amount of "buzz," taking out ads in carefully selected media may be advantageous. Note that I suggest you only consider this after other efforts have started to create sales momentum. And don't even think of spending money on advertising for an unknown or unproven artist.

Depending on the initial size of staff, one or more assistants will probably be necessary employees. The smaller the key staff, the more assistants may be needed. For example, if a label is started with just one, two or three key people, it's likely that you'll need at least one helper -- if only part time -- to deal with the myriad of daily tasks and details.

Now let's deal with reality….
For self-funded start-ups with limited cash, and this means most beginning labels with a maximum of zeal and energy but limited financial means, I suggest only the barest minimum of staff. What this means is that the founder -- or founders if two or more -- may, for all intents and purposes, be the entire staff, perhaps with one or two part- or full-time assistants.

This implies that they'll put in long fun-filled days handling all of the functions and all of the responsibilities that many staffers would do in a larger label. They'll be extremely hands-on, and what they don't know at the outset will be learned quickly.

The head honcho thus performs the job of A&R, finance, business affairs, marketing, etc., handling all the tasks necessary to run a label. This might even include stuffing envelopes and handling routine mail room functions.

Virtual Staff:
And this is where "virtual staff" comes into play. By this staff I mean utilizing the services of freelance professionals to handle certain responsibilities on an "as needed" basis. A label can be particularly effective in outsourcing such functions as graphics design, publicity, promotion, etc. for specific projects or for a specified period of time. This way a label knows in front just what a given project will entail in terms of time and financial commitment.

Running such a small-staffed label is an enormous responsibility, but many now-thriving major and independent labels were started by someone with large ideas and a small wallet, who learned the business by doing it all.

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Copyright 2002 by Keith Holzman, Solutions Unlimited. All rights reserved.