Sunday, September 06, 2020

On Releasing Music: My Advice As Label Owner

I have a "record label," if that's what they are still called. As curator of Stolen Mirror, I consult with artistists on what to release and how best to do this. Many times, nothing gets released at all, but perhaps the process is still useful.

When an album does result, it's because I've creating graphics, written marketing material, created a unified image, and performed the tedious tasks of uploading files and submitting publishing information.

There is no way to make money from distributing music. Instead, I treat my label as an act of friendship with my artists. I release music after a significant investment of time, with no hope of returns, because I want to see their sounds get more exposure.

I also give advice, hard-worn from the many years I've been on the strange peripheries of radio, live music, and production. Let me share this advice here.

1. Don't use streaming service such as Spotify, Tidal, YouTube, etc. These only rip off artists in a way unimaginable even in those far-off days when musicians were beholden to record executives. You need to be internationally famous to receive any effective income from streaming. Here are some numbers. An internet search will produce many rants on this topic.

2. Don't expect anyone to buy a compact disc or other hard copy... unless you can leverage the hipster factor of vinyl, cassettes, etc. This is more about customers buying a slice of your mystique than it is about music. You may as well sell T-shirts.

3. All money made by bands, solo artists, folk duos, DJs, etc. results from live performance. Not because bands get paid a lot, but because you build your audience through social contact. And you can sell "merch". If you don't gig, good luck to you. In the shadow of COVID-19, if you do gig, good luck to you.

4. Do use Soundcloud and other social media to build an audience and develop a buzz. Prepare yourself, as this will be a near-constant activity for many years. You will need to be a cheerleader for your own "product"... which is maybe not how you want to treat the sounds you make.

5. Do use Bandcamp to distribute digital music. Of the services available, this website is the most reasonable. Bandcamp will take a cut of each sale, as will financial services like Paypal. This is unfortunately unavoidable. But it's a lot less than the cut taken by legacy marketers and publishing companies. A large slice of a small sum is still more than a miniscule slice of a larger number.

6. Don't expect anyone to review your release. I typically send out press releases to maybe fifty email addresses, and encourage my artists to do the same. But most reviewers today ignore these emails. Instead, they review stuff they find through social media. (See point 4.)

7. Don't expect to build a buzz without reviews. This may seem paradoxical considering the previous points. But popularity is a crap shoot. Some people will get lucky early in the process and "rise above" the crowd. Exposure breeds more exposure. It's not really about being better than everyone else, but being either better positioned in the first place, or luckier in how things shake out. (There are even research studies demonstrating this.)

In short: forget money, forget popularity.

Don't make music with these false expectations. Make music (or other sounds) because that's how you enjoy life on this spinning rock.

Don't release music with these expectations. Release music to share, to document, and to encourage others to be creative.

These are the reasons I run a record label.

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