Manage for Success: Artist-Owned Labels, Newsletter #91, November 2008

"Manage for Success" is a free monthly newsletter for record label executives who want to operate their companies efficiently and successfully. It's published by Keith Holzman of Solutions Unlimited, a management consultant, troubleshooter, and trusted advisor, and is based on his many years as a senior executive in the music industry.

Copyright 2008 by Keith Holzman, Solutions Unlimited. All rights reserved.


In the current state of the recording industry more and more artists are forming their own labels -- either through desire or necessity. In fact, a significant part of my client base has become labels formed by artists for the purpose of recording, promoting, and marketing their own music.

Of course, it's become much easier than it used to be, and the cost of entry requires less capital outlay to achieve a reasonable measure of success than ever before.

First, quality recordings can be made in one's own home studio without spending a large amount. Basic tracks can be laid down at home, or if needed, at a local studio. With fewer artists recording for major labels, many studios have time and space for artists to record, frequently at reasonable fees. Where one's own studio may not be large enough for putting down great drum tracks, these can be done at one's local studio of choice. Overdubs can usually be done at the home studio, and sweetening at home using high quality synthesizers or samples or, if necessary, in well-equipped studios.

Excellent mixing can be done in the home studio with marvelously effective digital audio workstation programs such as Pro Tools, Apple's Logic Studio, Digital Performer, Sonar or Cubase -- assuming one knows what he's doing. Otherwise, professional help is readily available.

The one exception to the DIY (do it yourself) philosophy is mastering. It's highly desirable, and I strongly recommend, that artists make use of an experienced mastering professional at a well-equipped facility. Fresh ears can make a good recording sound even better, and it's worth the additional expenditure to get it right.

Thus near-audiophile quality recording can be made without the necessity of spending six figures, as is common among artists signed to major labels who are supplying the initial capital of recording. But, of course, that's before most costs and expenses get charged to the artist's royalty account!

Next -- and this is quite important -- it's no longer necessary, or even advisable, to have a new recording released and/or distributed by a major label. The majors, of necessity, have to focus on their "push" talent -- those with whom they have large and long-term investments. Therefore, they're not likely to spend sufficient effort on an indie label's behalf.

There are a number of excellent independent distributors, including those owned by the majors (such as ADA, Ryko, and RED,) but getting them to take on a one-off project is not easy. An exception is for artists who have been around for awhile who've already established a public profile and some measure of success.

As a result, many artists have been forced to take a DIY approach, frequently with considerable success.



Should you be thinking of starting your own label I suggest you get the Second Edition of my book "The Complete Guide To Starting A Record Company" which can be ordered as a downloadable eBook in PDF form, or as a printed, spiral-bound volume. Read the complete Table of Contents and download the Introduction at <>.

Perhaps you need advice on how to profitably run your company, or are suffering from so much work that you no longer have perspective on your label? Then let me help you as I've helped so many other firms "manage for success." Email me at <> so we can discuss how I can improve your business.



With the decline in sales of compact discs (off about 19 percent for the first ten months of 2007 alone,) many artists and labels are forced to think about whether to manufacture and sell physical CDs. In fact I spoke to one label client this past week who has built up a considerable catalog of titles over a period of years. This label, whose music is of a niche genre, is now thinking about ceasing manufacture of CDs (or perhaps make just a small quantity for press, radio, and a few hard-core CD buyers) and has seriously considered making its music available to the public almost exclusively as digital downloads.

An additional assistance is that labels no longer have to go to the trouble of readying tracks for the varied specifications of the myriad of available download sites. They can arrange with one of the aggregators such as TuneCore, IODA, CD Baby, InGrooves, etc. to handle track preparation and dissemination to all or most of the important legal purveyors of digital music. One caveat here -- thoroughly research the capabilities of such aggregators, comparing their competence, fee structure, and requests for exclusivity. I'm a great believer in artists not signing over their rights because I think they should maintain control of their creations.

Most important for any artist-entrepreneur is the need to devise and establish a proper and comprehensive marketing plan, including a realistic budget of costs. This should include, at minimum, use of an established publicity organization (either individually-owned and operated or a small office) properly able to supply music and information to relevant publications and radio magazine formats. Next, assuming the music is radio-friendly, it's important to hire a radio promotion team with a known track record of success in the particular genre of music involved. And if the artist feels unable to coordinate this herself she should consider taking on a freelance marketing supervisor to oversee efforts of publicity and promotion.

Advertising is out of the question, unless an artist has already established a sizeable fan base, in which case carefully selective advertising might be placed where it could be most effective.

Finally, let's not neglect the necessity for any artist, wishing to make a success of a career, to be performing in front of the public as often as possible. And it's frequent public performance and exposure that builds fan bases and lays the groundwork for success as a seller of recorded music. More important -- it's the best way to establish a livelihood as a recording and performing artist.

Until next month,

Keith Holzman -- Solutions Unlimited

Helping Record Labels Manage for Success.



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Copyright 2008 by Keith Holzman, Solutions Unlimited. All rights reserved.