Why isn’t my label making any money? Some advice from the semi-pros

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I’ve been running Big Fish Recordings for the past three years or so, and while I certainly can’t claim to having one of the bigger labels out there, I will claim to knowing a thing or two about running a profitable label.

My first piece of advice is to keep costs down to a minimum when starting your label. Artwork should be functional and attractive, but does not need to be a Van Goch each time. Spend some money to get a cool template created that you can easily change the titles of for each release.

Although I would agree that good quality mastering can make a huge difference, remember who your target audience is. Your tracks are being bought by teenagers listening to 192kbps mp3 clips of your tracks through laptop speakers. By all means if you’ve paid Wolfgang Gartner to do a track for your label, get it mastered by a pro, but balance the amount you are going to pay for mastering of other tracks with the amount you expect them to make. In my opinion, you should aim to pay no more than 10% of a tracks expected income on mastering.

Having a big name artist on your label can really help you get noticed, but before you start offering big remix fees it’s important to have a grasp on exactly how much money your label makes each quarter. I’ve seen labels go under before from spending a ton of cash on remix fees only to be disappointed by how much the remixes actually make. Instead of paying fees, why not offer higher percentages of royalties instead, or offer remix swaps with your artists. If you can’t afford a remix fee, why not do some research instead, there are tons of new artists putting out incredibly good music, find someone that’s hitting the mark but hasn’t made it big yet.

Keep the quality of music high. Each time you are about to sign a release, think to yourself, would I dance to this track if it was played in a club, or if you DJ yourself, would you spin this track? Is this track bringing something new and unique to the scene? Is it full of interesting elements that would be great for remixers to use or is it just a re-arranged sample pack? Beatport’s new release section is full of poor to average tracks that users skim over, if you want to make money with your label you need to build up your label’s reputation and get users to associate your label with good quality music. Aim to put out a release at least a month, but don’t force it, putting out a bad quality release is only going to hurt your reputation in the long-run.

Promotion is one of the most frustrating aspects of managing a label for me. We have tried various channels and found varying degrees of success, but have found that at the end of the day the quality of the music usually speaks for itself. With social media it’s important to draw a balance between informing as many people as possible about your release and annoying people through promoting it too often, and as such at Big Fish we prefer to keep things reasonably subtle. Make sure your artists have all the correct links and are getting as many of their friends and followers as possible to buy the track – remember that on Beatport sales of individual tracks are preferable to album sales as album sales do no count towards the charts, and please under no circumstances think about buying multiple copies of your own tracks – Beatport know you are doing it and will penalise you.

Illegal downloads are the biggest threat to the music industry right now, so try to delete as many of them as you can during the first week of each release. Label Engine’s illegal file deletion tool can help you get rid of the bulk of them but it’s still important to sift through the blogs and delete as many as you can yourself.

Key to running a successful label is keeping your artists happy and making sure that you are the first label they come to with their new releases. We encourage you to maintain transparency with your accounts, to pay your artists on time, to do your best to deal with their requests and to promote their releases, and to maintain regular contact with them.
And lastly, maintain a good relationship with your fans – be sure to reply to every email you get, use the Label Engine demo tool to reply to demos quickly and politely.

Hopefully some of this advice will point you in the right direction, again I certainly don’t claim to know everything there is to know about running a great label, but I think you’ll agree the majority of it comes down to concentrating on what matters – the music.

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