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.

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