Left to right: Jon Berry, Kompakt; Eelko van Kooten, Spinnin’ Records; Lionel Marciano, RT Agency; Horst Weidenmuller, K7; Chris Goss, Hospital Records; Peter Quicke, Ninja Tune.
The role of labels has been fundamentally transformed since the turn of the century. Such was the starting point for a panel at Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE), which united a selection of independent labels which are all successful today, despite the disruption of recent years.
Or, as K7’s Horst Wiedenmuller put it: “We’re all successful and we all have different models. A few years ago, we were all doing the same thing. Then the market got disrupted, so we tried different things. Now, it’s great we survived; but there is no holy (single) answer.”
One answer that seems to work for Hospital Records, Kompakt and Ninja Tune, at least, is doing as much as they can themselves. Hospital’s label manager Chris Goss took the example of radio plugging, stating “it’s important that you learn how to do these things yourself,” as opposed to outsourcing them. “One of the hardest things is radio promotion; in the UK, Radio 1 dominates. So one of our directors does all our radio plugging, in-house, chipping away at those relationships. It’s a DIY ethos.”
Kompakt, outlined label manager Jon Berry, has always applied this ethos. “We’ve always done things ourselves, including distribution, or our booking arm, which is our biggest source of revenue,” he said. The German electronic label also started its own management business four years ago, which its artists are encouraged to use; although they’re not obliged to, Berry stressed, “so there’s no conflict of interest.”
Ninja Tune, for its part, has been handling a great deal of its own technological innovation itself, said the label’s managing director, Peter Quicke: from beatdelete, a crowdfunding platform for getting vinyls reissued; to Ninja Jam, a remix app; and to microsubscriptions to its releases: a trend discussed by the panel as a potential new revenue source.
“We were planning to do (a microsubscription service) ourselves, but we ended up using drip.fm, because their service is so good”, said Quicke. “For $12 a month, you’re guaranteed two albums. You have to promote it a lot, but it’s a useful outlet for us. For me, the people who subscribe to us on drip.fm are inspiring: I don’t think we’re nice enough to those people!”
This new trend was not, however, to everyone’s taste on the panel: “Sub Pop pioneered this with their Singles Club,” said Berry. “But it’s a lot of work, and not very profitable. I’d rather put a track on Soundcloud and get 80k listens,” affirmed Kompakt’s label manager.
Berry then insisted this was not using music as a loss leader — or simply giving it away. Rather, “we use certain tracks as tools to sell the rest of our tracks. It’s about exposing artists.”
Yet for Spinnin’ Records, the Dutch electronic label which has become a music industry poster child for YouTube optimisation, streams like this are more than just visibility: they’re also revenue. “We put tunes on our YouTube channel, then our 2 million subscribers see it, and we make revenue off that,” said managing director Eelko van Kooten.
He did however insist that the motivation for this is “not about the money. It’s about the fanbase. Reaching out to them, and getting people to know you have a new track on Spotify. It’s totally different from buying music (or films, or books); that’s almost the past. Kids are growing up not paying for music…”
This, explained van Kooten, is why 12 Spinnin’ employees work full time in social media. “We used to invest in physical product, like booklets, brochures or flyers,” he said; “now, it’s investment in people, in hands.” So that Spinnin’ Records can do everything itself, of course.
All this innovation, however, means that labels now more than ever need to be on top of their data. Or as Quicke put it, “the biggest difference between 20th & 21st century labels is it’s now so much more of an administrative job than before: metadata, SoundExchange, rights etc…”
Goss, for his part, mused that that’s one side of the business he’d like to outsource: “At the end of the day, all I want to do is just listen to good music. That’s what it’s all about…”
Which led Wiedenmuller to conclude “be it vinyl, mp3s or Spotify, the entire format discussion is a marketing job. Our job is getting the music made, and then getting it to the consumer in the format they want.”
So, what if labels could get back to these essentials by doing everything themselves? So far, at least, something seems to be working…
More label insight from ADE — including interviews with K7, Black Butter, Big Beat and more — coming very soon… only on midemblog!