Start a Record Label If...

Want to start your own record label? Here’s 11 things to consider before doing so.


| December 2015



Records

The woes of the record business are not for the faint-hearted.

Photo by Fotolia/plus69

Love listening and feeling music? Grammy-nominated producer and Tompkins Square label founder Josh Rosenthal presents his first book, The Record Store of the Mind (Tompkins Square, 2015). Part memoir, part “music criticism,” the author ruminates over unsung music heroes, reflects on thirty years of toil and fandom in the music business, and shamelessly lists some of the LPs in his record collection. This excerpt, which comically lists 11 things to consider before starting a record label, is from Chapter 19, “Start a Label If…”

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1. You Like Being Ignored

Tompkins Square is a pretty niche operation, but even the higher profile releases I put out are mostly ignored. When I send out a press release to media outlets, about 20 percent open the email. This is considered an average open rate for entertainment media companies. Of those folks, maybe 2 percent will email back with interest. Luckily, we have received tons of great press over the years, for which I am extremely grateful. But the vast majority of media and consumers don’t care and are ignoring me, and will probably ignore you as well. If you are lucky enough to get people to care, in general they will only do so for a few days, and then your project will become a catalog item. Most journalists will treat an album that’s already out like rotten vegetables. “Stay within yourself,” as they say in baseball. Concentrate on releasing quality and pleasing yourself first, regardless of the response or lack thereof. The only thing more likely to get ignored other than your label is your book.

2. You Enjoy Owing Someone Money at All Times

A manufacturer, a producer, an artist, a studio, an engineer, an art director. Pay up.

3. You Like Dealing with the Same People Over and Over and Over

The music business is a closed system. You are pitching the same people year in and year out. Coming upon a new media person or retailer who’s enthusiastic about your work is incredibly refreshing. Most writers and editors seem like nice, passionate people and I enjoy interacting with them, although I’ve never met most of them in person. But you are pitching the same people over and over. I don’t like hiring publicists because I like driving the narrative, having my own relationships, and I like to save money. I’m not convinced that I’ll get incrementally more press by hiring someone. Plus there are very few press hits that actually move the needle. Work your consumer email list. If your music is any good, certain outlets will embrace it without a middleman. Social media is effective at spreading terrorist propaganda. For music, not so much. There’s too much chatter, nothing sticks. Is it helpful? Yes. But if you’re relying on it, that’s really sad. Note: This does not apply to stars.

4. You Enjoy Engaging in Unhealthy “Competition”

Have you ever heard the Morrissey song, “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful?” Such an elegantly expressed dark truth. I have never felt in competition with any other independent label. I have respect and reverence for quite a few of them, and I know a few of their proprietors. Some of them seem incredibly insecure though, and when you meet them, the interaction often devolves into a very awkward dick contest. Somewhere in the conversation, they’ll start in with my favorite: “So, is Tompkins Square all you do?” You look into their eyes and listen to them, and you can tell they’re not rooting for you. Not at all.