By Dan Rys, New York
If you're an artist just starting out, and outside labels haven't noticed you yet, one solution might be to start your own. The Be Your Own Label panel at day two of CMJ, moderated by eMusic's Senior Label Relations Manager Sujan Hong-Raphael, dealt with strategies behind founding and operating just that type of business. Other participants included Darren Gallop, founder and CEO of Marcato, Jesse Israel, co-founder of Cantora Records, Eric Sheinkop, co-founder and CEO of Music Dealers LLC, and Fredrik Saroea, frontman for Datarock and owner of label Young Aspiring Professionals.
The best way for a developing band to secure funding, most panelists said, is probably licensing music and shooting for sync placements in ads and video games. "Placing quality music in advertisements can lead to support and funding for tours and gaining fans," said Sheinkop. Saroea agreed, from first-hand experience: "Without video game licensing, Datarock would not be around."
Music supervisors who might synchronize music, blogs that might feature an artist, and fans who connect to the songs all want to know that the band is doing something exciting, staying relevant, panelists said. So playing shows and booking tours quickly becomes instrumental in building a scene around the music, they said -- and staying active on social media is a must. "There's a lot of yelling and self-promotion on Facebook and Twitter," said Israel. "You need to have a conversation, retweet, talk to fans, create shareable tweets, and help spread the message."
In terms of the day-to-day operations that soak up time and resources, the panel emphasized that running a label in a DIY fashion shouldn't mean doing everything yourself; the real trick is to surround yourself with a good team. "You need to utilize services that can do things for you that you don't do well," said Sheinkop -- including distributors, marketing, and management, for starters. And in trying to make money and advance the brand, an artist-run label needs to consider all options, from placing music on iTunes and Spotify to selling brand-embellished merchandise, such as knit caps or hot sauce. "If you have a following, you can sell them anything," said Israel. "Just look at Disneyland."
Panelists emphasized the importance of managing expectations and pushing forward for more opportunities -- in licensing, touring, merchandise, recording - and of being as creative as possible about it. Networking and schmoozing music supervisors and blogs in order to get music heard, they said, should never be passed over or overlooked. "I don't think most bands understand how insane it is to try and make it as a working band these days," said Gallop. "You just have to expect to work your ass off and not be very successful for a while. It's a really difficult job."