How to start a record label

How to start a record label

I hear many people ranting about what a good label owner they would make, and how they are going to turn this industry up-side-down. Though, many have great ideas, only few are actually able to start a record label. I’ve successfully managed two record labels in the past. In a few steps I will show you how to set up your very own DIGITAL electronic dance label.

Now there is a little disclaimer I just have to put in here, since we don’t need anyone with a slight interest in music to start a record label. If just reading this post makes you want to start a record label, you are not the man for the job. This post is meant for people who have been thinking about starting a label for a long, long time but never had the slightest idea how to do it. When you start a label you will have to sign contracts, answer loads and loads of emails and have a general understanding of the industry and marketing as a whole. If this is not your cup of tea, move on. If you are interested anyway, carry on!

Pick your market

In other words, what music is your label going to release?  Pick one to three genres that overlap and extend each other and focus on building your record label around these genres. Tech House and Techno for example go together quite well because they share a lot of the same properties. Within these genres you could choose to carve out a specific niche for your record label. Techno for example comes in many shapes and sizes.

Building your brand

More than a record label, you are building a brand. Build something you want to represent. One of the most critical points for me would be the name of a label. Some names are more appealing than others. Be sure to create an interesting and creative name for your label, since this is the very first thing people will see. This aspect will grab a DJ’s attention. Stay away from dull and uninspired names such as “123 records”, “707 records” and “911 records”. Envision what feelings the name of your label should be associated to. Want to start the dirtiest electro record label out there? Let the name speak for itself! Always be sure that the name you came up with doesn’t exist. There are a gazzilion labels on Beatport, so there is a possibility that your name is already taken. Make sure to check a few large distributors and Google if your label name is still available.

If your name is available then immediately register a Facebook page, a Soundcloud page and a domain name. (and everything else you feel you should stick your name on, Twitter, Mixcloud etc.) Remember, this is the point of return! If you are not comfortable with starting a business then you should back out before registering any names. Get someone to do your logo in various sizes, shapes and forms. This aspect is very important as well. When I first started out I was too much of an idiot to spend some money on getting someone to make me a logo and artwork. Instead I used crappy artwork created by myself. This almost caused me to shut my label down! It was very uninspiring to work with material that I did not like. It is okay to make your own artwork IF you know what the hell you are doing. After two and a half years and well over 30 crappy covers I decided that enough was enough. I got a professional to make me a slick cover and logo which I used for years! It really was a change for me and it inspired me to sign new artists and push out new releases.

Signing artists

When all the exterior has been taken care of, you should be thinking about finding some music to release. Don’t expect to sign big artists from day one. This is possible if you bring a big bag of money to the table. The ‘top notch’ producers get so many requests daily for remixing, creating EP’s and collaborating that they have to be a bit more picky. (in other words, bring a big bag of money) If you want to go all out with your first release and have some spare cash, then expect to drop between five hundred and two thousand euro for a track. Since you are just starting out, I recommend to stick with artists who aren’t established yet, but show a lot of potential. Since you are starting a record label I assume you have some roots in the world of electronic dance music. Perhaps you are a producer or know a lot of producers. Make use of these assets to rack up your first few releases. Approach fellow artists which you know and ask if they are willing to release on your brand new label! There is a big chance that they want to help you out and are willing to provide you with a few tracks for a first release. If you produce music yourself then it’s a fairly easy decision which producer will have the first release. Make use of your talents, but always ask yourself if you are maintaining the level of quality you envisioned for your record label. I always chose to stay in the background a bit and do a remix here and there for my labels. To bind the artists to your label you need some sort of contract. No worries, there is one in the attachments which you can use. It covers all the basic elements of a contract. You can always adapt it a bit to your own needs. I have used this contract for several years and it’s fulfilling its job.

When you got your first artists signed it is best that you try to stick with some sort of pattern for releasing. Try to release twice a month, every two weeks on the same day. To maintain this steady flow of releases you need to make sure you find more quality music. This is the best part about having a label. Scout Mixcloud and Soundcloud to find artists. Engage in conversations on forums and put yourself out there! The music business is all about knowing the right people. It is up to you to find them!


The next part will all about getting your music in the digital stores. There are billions of music portals out there all selling the same music. Yet, the most important portal for selling music for EVERY electronic dance music label is Beatport. They also have the most strict policy for new labels. You need a solid story and some good music to get in there. They work with a label application form which will ask some basic questions such as: “Why do you think you should be on Beatport” and “What marketing and promotion activities will you conduct?”. Don’t beat around the bush, be clear about what image you envisioned for your label. If you have a solid vision for your label which makes fellow artists enthusiastic, then it should do the same for Beatport. There are quite a few other portals out there that are worth looking in to. The ones I recommend are Traxsource and, simply because I get the best results out of them. You can forget about all the other portals. It’s all about Traxsource, and most definitely Beatport. There are two options for distributing music trough these portals.

You can contact them directly and ask if you can distribute your music trough them. The advantage is that you will receive between 50 and 66 percent of the revenue made trough these portals. The disadvantage is that you will have to do the same job four times! You need to fill out metadata and upload the releases. If you don’t have a fast connection and need to upload four releases with six eight-minute .WAV tracks each, it’s going to take a while. To avoid this it’s possible to use a distributor which distributes to all the music portals. The advantage is that you can get your music to virtually any music portal out there. The disadvantage of this distribution method is that you get far less royalties since the distributor takes a fair cut as well. There are many distributors out there, but I find the most complete distributor. When it comes to spreading my music, I use in combination with Beatport. Beatport however generates well over 85 percent of all revenue, but since they are fairly hard to get in to you might want to stick with for starters.

Most distributors ask if you could upload a release at least 7 days or more in advance. Don’t be an ass about it and just do it. This way you will have plenty of time to adjust when things go wrong. There are always aspects of a release that can go wrong, so it is best to calculate that in.

Promoting your record label

As far as promotion goes, it is very important! You have to do this all the time. Use Twitter, Facebook, Soundcloud and everything else you feel is necessary. The one main problem is that people tend to spam their bullshit trough these channels. That has always been a no go for me. I try to strike up a conversation with a few people and ‘convert’ them. It is good to have other people to promote your releases. Make sure you slap a nice list of topnotch DJ’s together who can provide feedback and support. This sort of feedback is what people want to read! A track supported by a big name such as Dubfire is always better than a random ‘DJ Nobody’.

So, all of the above is pretty much the basic stuff for starting a label. You can do all sorts of extra’s to promote your label, and get yourself in the spotlight. However, this small tutorial is from what I encountered and experienced. You might have a totally different experience, and feel different about certain aspects. If you want to add a few lines, then let us know!

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