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When the Creatives Become the Suits:
Artists are Forming their own Record Labels

Almost everything you need to know about starting your own record label was outlined at a L*A*M*P workshop, from the legal requirements to the administrative details, but there is still a lot to be learned.

Reported by The G-Man

"Pay royalties to artists? What an amazing concept!"

And with that preamble from Keith Holzman, author of "The Complete Guide to Starting a Record Company," Leslie Waller's day-long workshop on Starting and Operating an Independent Record Label kicked into gear.

Sharing the opening presentation with Holzman was entertainment attorney Paul Menes, who almost immediately pointed out that the topic was huge and that even a full day's worth of panels would only serve as a primer for all participants. But what a primer! I filled six pages with notes, some of which I'll pass along below.

In addition to Holzman and Menes, the experts at the fact-packed event were: Bobby Borg, author of "The Musician's Handbook"; Ira Kalb, author of "Zero Budget Marketing"; Bernard Baur of Music Connection Magazine and the newly-launched Baur-Godwin Artist Development; Pesci, in licensing and creative services at Cleopatra Records; Ryan Kuper, head of Redemption Recording Company; Jeffrey Weber, Grammy-winning producer, record label consultant, and member of Studio Expresso; and Vernon Neilly, CEO of Boosweet Records.

At various points during the day, the panelists made some chilling observations about the record industry, including the following:

  • Holzman: Of the 26,000 indie CD releases last year, the average sales totaled just 1,300 units.
  • Baur: "An indie artist selling 30,000 copies of an album will make more money than a major label artist selling one million copies."
  • Menes: "The music business is now completely corporate."
  • Weber: "Radio airplay without payola of some kind is extremely hard to come by."
  • The primary emphasis was on what you must accomplish to become your own independent record label, including writing a business plan, identifying your distribution and marketing methods, and addressing many legal issues, including name/logo search, domain name search, trademark search, and the filing of all necessary paperwork in each of these areas.

    More than once, attendees were directed to online sources of information, including NARIP (National Association of Record Industry Professionals, Billboard Magazine, and the Library of Congress (see URLs below).More Notes, Highlights, & Quotes:

  • Holzman: "You'll work 16-hour days starting a record label, but you can succeed with the right attitude. My brother (Jac Holzman) founded Elektra records with $600 and an extraordinary ability not to take 'no' for an answer."
  • Menes: "P2P (peer-to-peer filesharing) proves the viability and desirability of music. It's the pay structure that's at issue."
  • There are things you'll need to know, including obtaining a unique bar code from the Universal Code Council, CD Red Book Standards for proper manufacturing, and the RSRC codes that will be embedded in each track of your CD releases.
  • Menes: It will pay you in the long run to obtain legal counsel to help with such contractual points as extension options, payment structures, recoupment, grand rights, song ownership, re-recording restriction, branding, dispute resolution. (this panel was daunting, but absolutely necessary).
  • Baur: "You won't get a distribution deal without showing a marketing plan."
  • Weber: "Making a record is easy; selling it is a war."
  • Neilly: "A distributor may offer to help you with co- op ads and promotion, but only if you're already doing your own promotion and advertising, or obtaining radio play."
  • Borg: You've got to be pro-active. At the very least, you will need to contact other indies, both labels and artists, and try to exchange links with them. This inexpensive marketing is inexpensive but can be critical.
  • Pesci: Marketing to radio doesn't guarantee sales, but it generates attention that can reach your audience in the long run.
  • Kuper: You have to do a unique marketing plan for each CD release. "Your marketing plan can be 1-2 pages of bullet points, but you have to do it."
  • The day was exhausting, illuminating, and fascinating. And the networking alone was worth the time spent at the event. All I can say is: Ya shoulda been there.

    The G-Man is on iTunes and at G-Man Music

    Other contacts for this article include:

    Los Angeles Music Productions:
    Complete Guide to Starting a Record Company
    Keith Holzman
    Ira Kalb
    The Musician's Handbook
    Bernard Baur/ Dito Godwin
    Boosweet Records
    Jeffrey Weber
    Paul Menes
    Ryan Kuper/Redemption Records
    Pesci/Cleopatra Records
    National Association of Record Industry Professionals
    Billboard Magazine
    Library of Congress
    Copyright Forms
    Bar Codes
    RSRC Codes