Vol 3, Issue 17: Starting up Your Own Label Pt #4: Designing Your Label’s Look & Branding Its Identity

To appropriate a successful marketing campaign, of Sprite’s, which could have as easily been applied to the record biz as it was to soft drinks, “image is everything”, and if you want your label taken seriously, you need to create an identity for it that speaks to your mission, audience, and potential roster list. Last time, we went over the importance of establishing one’s label infrastructure and maintaining business savvy communications from hereon out. Following along the same lines, this week, we’ll be discussing how to create the “right” image for your business.

You’ll notice that I put right in quotations because it is a qualifying word of a subjective nature meaning that there are a multitude of ways that you can approach your business, and its presentation, but, it will be up to you to uncover what you feel works best for your mandate.

For example, while both labels were born of the 1980s’ D.I.Y. grassroots mentality in order to support independent alternative, rock, and punk bands, Sympathy for the Record Industry, and Epitaph Records present vastly different images to the public and to their potential clientele – a quick look at both of their websites is demonstrative. While Sympathy’s online presence appears amateur, is difficult to navigate, and their official site’s frontpage sarcastically insults the label itself, its founder, as well as any supporters of its artists, Epitaph, maintains a sleek, and flashy appearance comparable to that of any major label. In fact, without knowledge of Epitaph’s founding history (it is the brainchild of Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz), one could easily mistake it for just that. Though Epitaph, undoubtedly, has the upper hand in terms of creating a professional look that would be well-respected in the business side of the music world, Sympathy’s homegrown anti-corporate ethos, evident in its self-presentation, is arguably responsible for attracting and subsequently launching the careers of many notable artists including Hole, The White Stripes, and The New York Dolls.

So which label has it “right”? Well, there really is no single answer. Both Epitaph and Sympathy have been extremely successful, as indies, carving out reputations for discovering hit acts, while maintaining artistic integrity, for all of the bands they sign, at the forefront of their operations.

As stated in my introduction, the choices you make in regards to the marketing of your label are ultimately a personal choice, but regardless of whether you decide to paint yourself as pro or foe, an arsenal of the following tools will assist you on your road to success:

Number One: A Slogan
Why did you form your label? What’s its purpose? What makes your label different from the thousands of others already in existence? - are all questions that you’ll need answers to. The easiest way to synopsize exactly what your company is about is by creating a memorable one-liner in the same fashion as those of the following labels: Sonic Unyon Records claims to “transcend mainstream mediocrity”, while G7 Welcoming Committee Records states proudly that they’ve been, “uncooperative since ‘97”. In order to expand on your label’s history, and mandate, devoting a page on your website detailing a mission statement and/or an about us section is also something worth considering as many bands, when debating to whom they will solicit their material, make their decisions purely on the nature of said things.

Number Two: A Logo
Sometimes as simple as just finding the right combination of font, and colour, your logo doesn’t have to induce psychedelic mind-trips, or have satanic affiliations, but it should be an artistic representation of your company that again, speaks to what you’re about and has memorable qualities. If you’re not skilled in the graphical arts, I highly recommend finding someone who is – even if only a student – to come up with an aesthetically pleasing design for you, as there is nothing worse than a makeshift cut and paste job if you’re trying to market yourself as a professional. Once designed, all promotional materials issued, including press releases, business cards, cds, websites, posters etc. should bear an invariable version of your logo (ie: don’t constantly change its colours) like a badge of honour to demonstrate to your affiliates and fans that your company is consistent in its image, as well as what it offers.

Number Three: Business Cards
Just as I noted last time, in regards to websites, there is nothing that I, as a music journalist, hate more than coming across something in which I’m interested for which there is no appropriate contact information. Similarly, considering that networking is such a crucial component of establishing business relations, and reputation building in the music biz, it is equally aggravating, for industry professionals, to come across bands and/or aspiring label owners who are not adequately stocked with handfuls of business cards at shows, and industry conferences. You need to be prepared for anything in this industry because you never know who you just might meet, and having business cards on you, at all times, is certainly a step in the right direction.

In terms of design, maintaining the same colours and fonts that you use for your website, and logo, on your cards will work to solidify your label’s image. Make sure that you include all necessary contact information (ie: postal address including country, phone, fax, email, website), your slogan, and where applicable, the roster list of the bands you represent and/or a list of your top five acts. Including all of this info is essential as at any given gig, an industry rep could meet upwards of a hundred people trying to get his/her attention, you need to ensure that they’ll remember exactly who you are, and what you’re about, come time for the follow up.

As a side note: A newer trend that I’ve witnessed on the band promotional front is the creation of “postcard” style business cards in which the band is presented in full colour photographic form on the front, while label contact information, and selected quotes about the act are depicted on the reverse side. If done properly, these can be quite eye catching, but it’s important to realize that they are much harder to carry around as they don’t easily fit into pockets, and the last thing that you want to do, with your promotional materials, is to inconvenience the very person to whom you are trying to sell up your business.

One last note on business cards: Please, I beg you, actually spend money on getting these things printed professionally. I know that they can be expensive, both to design, and to print, but trust me it’ll be worth while, and there are lots of services out there willing to give you good deals, if you make the effort to look. You will not fool anyone with cards produced from your at home laser printer or worse, those printed on Kodak photo paper. They look like shit, and make you, in turn, look like shit, and I’m sure that’s not the image you’re going for.

Number Four: Press Kit(s)
Press kits are your means of getting “the good word” out about the bands you represent to venues, bookers, media reps, and other industry professionals. While their look will vary from label to label, standard components, all of which should be tucked neatly into a crisp folder, include: the band’s biography, a “stat” sheet (which lists, in point form, notable accomplishments, and/or awards) an 8 by 10 photo (often black and white, with 1 – 1 ½ inch white framing) that depicts the entire band with their logo overlaid, upcoming tour dates, press quotes (about the band in general, their live performances, or their latest release), a copy of their latest disc, and of course, your label’s business card. Just as your website, business card, and slogan work to “brand” your label, your bands’ press kits should follow suit.

Each one of your bands will, of course, have their own distinctive look, but the packaging (ie: the style of photography, the kind of folders used, the general layout of materials etc.) in which they are presented should work to draw an association back to your label, and ensure continued business dealings, even if one of your bands decides to jump ship. A simple means by which to accomplish this is by including your label’s logo as the header, and contact information as the footer on every page included in the kit. Not only will this establish part of the standard format in which you represent your bands, but it also makes your contact information easily accessible should someone accidentally misplace your business card.

In conclusion to my series on starting your own label, I would like to leave you with a final bit of advice derived from my own experiences. People often get caught up in the excitement of their own ideas, and convince themselves that they have superhuman capabilities. They take on more and more and more, but eventually they reach their breaking point, and had they just set out a sensible plan of attack from the beginning, they never would have found themselves in that situation. Take it from someone who once attempted (successfully, if you don’t count my consequent mental breakdown and physical fatigue) to book all of her own shows, do all of her own publicity, negotiate all of her own business deals, while performing several times a week, working part time, and attending school- you cannot do it all of your own, and even if you can, it will eventually catch up to you. Creating a successful business not only takes time, and perseverance, as well as band of reliable associates willing and able to help you with everything that it entails. Do not underestimate how hard it will be (hundreds of indie labels go defunct every year), and do not overestimate your own abilities. Do your homework, start out slow, and do not rush success. After all, everything that is worth fighting for is always a challenge.

About the Author:

Rose Cora Perry is the frontwoman for Canadian hard rock band ANTI-HERO known as “The 21st Century Answer to Nirvana”, as well as the sole owner and operator of HER Records, a management company in which she offers marketing, promotion, publicity, tour booking, and artist development services.

Her band ANTI-HERO has toured extensively across North America playing notable festivals such as Warped Tour, Canadian Music Week, NorthbyNorthEast, Wakefest, and MEANYFest.

Voted “Best Rock Act of the Year” by numerous industry publications, their critically acclaimed debut album, "Unpretty" is available worldwide for purchase. Rose Cora Perry is a dedicated promoter of D.I.Y. ethics, and an avid supporter of independent musicians.


Vol 3, Issue 16: Starting up Your Own Label Pt #3: Getting Your Infrastructure in Order

Upon making the initial decision to create your own indie label, there will be a ton of subsequent choices you’ll need to make right from the get-go. For instance, do you want your label to represent your act solely, or in the future (once established), do you plan on reaching out to other indie artists and creating a label family of your own? Do you want to cover all of your own services such as booking, and publicity or do you want to make alliances with pre-established firms to whom you will outsource these jobs and establish a commission agreement per booking? Will your label be territory specific, and make arrangements with other indies to cover international waters, or will you claim authority over all jurisdictions? These are just a few examples of the kind of questions that you will need answers to.

As with everything, there will be advantages and disadvantages to each arrangement you consider, but what’s important is knowing your own capabilities, and setting realistic standards. So, with that in mind, even if your eventual aspiration is to create an artist-run family of your own, similar to that of Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records, you need to take it one step at a time (don’t bite off more than you can chew). Aboveall, to ensure that you maintain a strong positive reputation, and don’t burn a lot of bridges along the way, before you decide to take on the responsibility of anyone else’s career, you absolutely, 100%, need to ensure that your own shit is in order.

Selecting a Name
So, at this point, I’m sure you’re wondering, where do I begin? Well, after you’ve established your network, got your funding in order, and have drawn up a working business plan, your first order of action is to start reputation building. You need to first name your label, and then, more importantly, work on establishing your presence. For me, the name of my label was obvious - it came directly from my band’s name, and it represented the fact that if I should ever expand my enterprise to assist other artists with various management and label services, I wanted it to be clear that my goal was to work solely with women in music; hence, HER Records. For some of you, it may not be that cut and dry. But, just like with naming your band, you need to put a lot of thought into what kind of message you want to elicit, and you also need to make certain, ESPECIALLY in this case because you’re establishing an actual registered business, that you are NOT infringing on copyrighted territory. In three words, do your research!

Business Basics
Once you’ve reached consensus on your label’s name, I highly recommend applying for a GST vendor’s permit through Revenue Canada, registering your business through your lawyer and/or accountant, and opening up a business bank account at your local financial institution. Running a band sloppily is one thing, but once you’ve got a working record label, you need to make sure your files, expenses, and profits are in tip top shape for three main reasons:

1) you will have monetary obligations to others, and need to keep record of all transactions in the event of a dispute

2) it is quite possible that your business could get audited and

3) if a major label decides to pick up you or one of your other artists, they will require a record of past sales, and successes for marketing purposes.

Suffice it to say you will start feeling a bit like a baglady every time you insist on getting receipts for each purchase, but you’ll need them to be able to deduce when your business has started to profit (ie: when you will actually be able to pay back loans and/or pay yourself as an employee), and it’ll also come in handy, for tax purposes, to keep track of all of your expenses because if your bills far exceed your income, you will be taxed at a lower rate.

It is also recommended to apply for a low interest credit card as many services you may require in the future (such as reserving hotel rooms in different provinces/states for cross-country tours) can ONLY be done through valid credit card accounts.

Additionally, it will be essential to make sure that you are in good standing with the necessary Canadian artist associations, as well as royalty and sales tracking services that you will require regular use of throughout your endeavours including SOCAN, CMRRA, SAC, AFM, and Soundscan (membership, in most cases, cost money).

Finally, before you are ready to release any albums, it’s a good idea to already have working versions of your online stores in order so that all you’ll have to do is put up the product at your desired time of release, and you won’t face any potential delays with distribution. Literally, everyday the amount of places online where you can sell your music for a nominal fee are expanding, and I recommend making your label and its artists’ releases visible on as many as possible, but if your budget is limited (which I’m sure it is) the online and in store indie friendly distribution services that you’ll definitely want to take advantage of include: Indiepool, CdBaby, Tunecore, Mxyer Ringtones, & Songcast. Creating accounts with Youlicense and Pumpaudio may also be something to consider if you are interested in potentially licensing your tunes for tv, internet, and movie projects in the future.

Working the Rep
At this point forward, any communications from your band to bookers, distributors, photographers etc. should be coming from your record label NOT a member of your band. From my own experience, I’ve found that it’s best to choose a gender neutral name that is fairly unassuming such as Sam, or Vic because, as much as I hate to admit it, the vast majority of bookers, and promoters with whom you’ll be interacting are men, and they’ll naturally assume you’re a guy too; thus leading them to treat you in a more respectful manner. You should give your so called label rep a last name as well (obviously not the same as any of your band members), and you should issue “him” a title such as Head of Promotions or Lead A&R representative depending on the purpose of your communications.

To cut down on costs (long distance bills are a killer), and simply to increase efficiency, I personally recommend doing as much as possible over email/the internet - whether that’s researching potential clubs for tours, setting up appointments, booking gigs, issuing press releases, or paying for services. If you decide to pursue this route, you’ll need to set up a label email address which can easily be accomplished through one of the several different free hosting services, that are at your disposal, including hotmail, yahoo, or gmail. Make sure when you are filling out the details for your email service that you do NOT put your personal name or birthday etc. under the information section because that is something that people can check, and you want to keep everything consistent with the name of your label rep.

Along the same lines, you’ll want to change your answering machine so that it informs callers that they are reaching your label’s headquarters, as some promoters and media outlets still prefer conducting business over the phone. If you want an example of what a professional answering service should sound like, call any reputable business after hours. Generally, it will be laid out as follows:

“You’ve reached ____ Records, home of (list your artist names). None of our agents are currently available to take your call, but if you’d like to leave a message after the tone specifying your reason for calling, the appropriate department would be happy to get back to you at their earliest convenience. If you’d prefer to reach us by email, you can do so at (email address). If you require more information on ____ Records and/or one of our artists, please feel free to visit our official website located at (url).” Thanks.”

For those of you who are perceptive I’m sure you noticed the above message made mention of having an official website for your label. When you first get started, and have yet to establish an extensive roster and/or list of services, a simple Myspace or Facebook business page (if done tastefully) will suffice. Once things start heading down a more professional route, you may want to consider buying your label’s domain name and actually launching a full scale website.

As for what should be included on your website, make sure you’ve got an overview of the label’s inception, the services it provides, its affiliates, its artists (with links to their official sites), and any sponsors it may have accrued. As well, it is absolutely necessary to include visible contact information detailing your full postal address, email, phone, and fax number (where possible) as, from my experiences as a journalist I can tell you that, there is nothing more frustrating then coming across a website on a subject in which you’re really interested which fails to list the appropriate channels to initiate contact.

One final note on communications: If you can get a fax machine and/or scanner, it will be truly advantageous because some items, such as contracts need to be issued and completed within short time periods and/or are of a confidential or delicate nature for which you cannot depend on postal services. Plus which, it’ll greatly reduce the amount of money you spend on mailing, which will likely already be a large expense of yours on account of the fact that, despite services such as Sonicbids, a great deal of venues refuse to consider bands for booking and media outlets refuse to consider acts for coverage, unless they receive hard copies of your press kit.

About the Author:

Rose Cora Perry is the frontwoman for Canadian hard rock band ANTI-HERO known as “The 21st Century Answer to Nirvana”, as well as the sole owner and operator of HER Records, a management company in which she offers marketing, promotion, publicity, tour booking, and artist development services.

Her band ANTI-HERO has toured extensively across North America playing notable festivals such as Warped Tour, Canadian Music Week, NorthbyNorthEast, Wakefest, and MEANYFest.

Voted “Best Rock Act of the Year” by numerous industry publications, their critically acclaimed debut album, "Unpretty" is available worldwide for purchase. Rose Cora Perry is a dedicated promoter of D.I.Y. ethics, and an avid supporter of independent musicians.