Why you (probably) shouldn’t start a record label…

The following MBW blog comes from Matt Brinkworth (pictured), who is Head of Digital at Omnian Music Group (Captured Tracks, Sinderlyn, 2MR etc.). Omnian’s labels are home to the likes of Mac DeMarco, Wild Nothing, Cults, HOMESHAKE, DIIV, Mourn, Lina Tullgren, Molly Burch and more.

Matt, as you’ll read below, is actually a big fan of independent record labels. The below is his own personal viewpoint – one not necessarily shared by any organization or persons associated with him.

If you want to let him know what you think, he’s on Twitter at @brnkwrth.

“Start your own label. Get out there and just do it.”

Fairly common advice for anyone asking how best to get their foot in the door of the music industry. After all, when somewhere between 60-70% of recorded music market share is owned by three corporations, the more independent record companies the better, right?

I’m not so sure.

Throughout my career, I’ve held the founders of great indie labels in the highest regard. The Bradley Zeros, Robert Raths, Matt Blacks, Chris Goss/Tony Colemans and Mike Snipers (shout out my boss) of the world are among my favourite people to read about, watch documentaries on and of course, actually meet and/or work with.

“Rather inevitably, in 2016, aged 25, I launched my own independent label.”

Their stories of belief, timing, perseverance and grinding something out of nothing have inspired and driven me for over a decade. Their contributions have built a music industry I feel at home in – one that feels completely separate to that of “the majors”.

And so rather inevitably, in 2016, aged 25, I launched my own independent label, mostly because at the time nobody else would sign my music. Over the brief two years of being active we released 30 projects from nine artists.

But, should you be the next in line to found your new indie label? Probably not.

You see, independent music is at a place right now where you should only be considering starting a new label if there’s a real necessity and purpose – if a scene, sound or artist(s) cannot grow without your label’s guidance or platform.

Many tools which deliver and market content on a global scale exist well within the reach of an artist on their own.

“Be honest with yourself: is this little more than a vanity project that allows you to align yourself with music you like?”

Many artists have distribution deals of varying shapes and sizes, or direct-to-consumer platforms, readily available and are more than versed in self-promotion.

With that in mind, consider this: is your label going to just be creating another unnecessary administrative step between the talent and their fan base?

Be honest with yourself. Are you a visionary who is truly going to bring this overlooked music to the world (hopefully you are)? Or is this little more than a vanity project that allows you to align yourself with music you like?

“But what makes for a better foundation for a music business than genuine passion and wanting to be involved?”

For sure, and I think we can assume this is the primary influence behind the conception of most labels. But do not confuse supporting art with the need to own real estate in it.

“Do not confuse supporting art with the need to own real estate in it.”

An apparent, unfortunate, side effect of the lowering of barriers to entry for the music business – an otherwise very good thing – is the knee-jerk reaction to invest your money into your own slice of the scene, rather than using the same investment to reinforce what’s already there (as simple as buying more records, going to more shows etc).

If this is starting to sound a bit close to home, believe me, I get it.

This is coming from a place of understanding rather than judgement – though I can see why it might sound otherwise.

To give a recent example, among the broad spectrum of music I love, I’m very excited about the state of British rap.

When recently asked by a friend “if you love it so much, why don’t you launch your own label or sub-label in the genre?”, the answer couldn’t be more obvious.

The UK rap scene does not need me for its music to be heard and it does not need me to assist in its cultural impact.

The patrons of the genre have already carved their own lane when nobody else would listen and I, as a late-to-the-game label founder, would have nothing to bring to the table that can’t be or hasn’t been achieved without me.

This is the bottom line: if you are not bringing real value to the art, you are just exploiting it.

It was this trail of thought that led me to assess my own founded label – which, at this point, had very clearly served out any small cultural purpose it was ever going to. So I decided to shut it down.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still very much an important place for record labels in the music industry. Creative experience, business expertise, financial investment, project management and marketing/promotional efforts are all still valuable; for many artists they’re necessary contributions to making a creative vision a commercial reality.

That’s not likely to ever change, even if the definition of a ‘label’ evolves alongside the industry.

“the bottom line: if you are not bringing real value to the art, you are just exploiting it.”

However, as a fledgling label that’s unlikely to deliver any of the aforementioned to any particularly high standard, there has to be more reason for your existence.

Just in case my point is being completely lost, believe me when I say that I want to see more Bradley Zeros, creating a truly organic and endearing brand that brings a small local scene to a worldwide audience, and I want to see the next Robert Raths bring an often-considered inaccessible genre to the ears of a demographic outside its traditional core.

I want to see culture pushed forward, risks taken, new sounds championed and history made by independent labels.

I guess my real point, then, is not why you shouldn’t start a record label.

It’s to say that, if you are going to start one, it needs to genuinely mean something.Music Business Worldwide

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