5 things you only know if… you work for an indie record label
1. The record label community is really supportive
There are no rivalries like you would find in most business sectors; most people are in it for the same reason: to support music they believe in. The contracts we use for our artists were given as editable drafts by Tom at Repose Records (another Sheffield label) and on our first release we were put forward to a vinyl subscription service by Joe at Beth Shalom Records in London; they bought 150 copies outright which allowed us to actually make a profit. We are also on a forum called Other Record labels and any question big or small is met with responses by label owners around the world. It’s lovely, really.
2.The biggest job you have as a label owner is to be a fan
First and foremost, if you aren’t into the music you put out, you won’t want to shout about it and support it wholeheartedly. You can have all the technical knowledge in the world but if you don’t love the bands you work with, the customers and fans won’t buy into it either. When we started, we didn’t really have any experience, so the only way we managed to convince the first couple of artists to work with us was by being genuinely passionate about their band. The rest kind of falls into place as you don’t mind putting in the hours to learn more.
3. Musicians aren’t scary!
We felt a little imposter syndrome at first when we started approaching bands. We don’t come from particularly musical backgrounds so always saw bands as this mysterious entity who are “too cool” to chat to. We are yet to come across a musician or band who haven’t been absolute sweethearts. The same goes for the whole scene, in fact, and when people know you are in it for the right reasons, you are accepted entirely. We have been lucky enough to make some good friends directly off the back of this label in a relatively short amount of time, and now we are, like, *way* too cool to chat to.
4. It won’t make you rich
While I would consider Elephant Arch to be a success in terms of what we have achieved/who we have worked with so far, etc., we are yet to take a penny out of it for ourselves and any income we do make, usually goes straight into the next project. We believe in paying collaborators as well as possible and always take the lowest cut from events/releases. People buy into it for their talent, not ours. That’s not to say there aren’t any perks – a few beers on the business account here, guestlist to a gig or festival there. It’s worth every minute. Who knows, one day we might get a local band to number one and buy a lovely big house up in Ranmoor. I won’t hold my breath though!
First and foremost, if you aren’t into the music you put out, you won’t want to shout about it and support it wholeheartedly. You can have all the technical knowledge in the world but if you don’t love the bands you work with, the customers and fans won’t buy into it either.
5. It’s important to schedule in quiet periods
Running a label is a lot of fun, but it can also be quite a thankless job. For every 50 emails you send to publications (with the exception of the lovely Joe at Exposed, of course!) you probably only ever hear back from two or three. Creating marketing strategies on a small budget can take a long time, and on a small budget you can’t afford to outsource. On this note, I’m really lucky to have Alastair, a full-time designer/illustrator, as my partner in crime. Taking a step back after a successful gig or release and just enjoying the moment is so important and helps avoid burnout. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t fit running a label around another job and if you put too much onto your plate, you can burn out fast, and burning out on something you love is never an easy mental space to get over.
Ben Ward is the label owner at Sheffield-based record label Elephant Arch Records. Find out more about what they do at elephantarchrecords.com.
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