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Birth of a label, part 8

On the making of ASTIR's first compilation

2018 Mar 22     
2 Bit Thugs

Simon's label has just released its first Miami sampler. Turns out there's quite a lot of work involved...

Based in the southwest UK, Simon Huxtable has 20 years' experience as a DJ, music journalist and label manager behind him. Now, in 2017, he's going it alone and launching his own label - and we're following his progress every step of the way...

I don’t think I've ever been as stressed out about anything as I have been over the last month, finalising and promoting the compilation album - ASTIR Miami 2018. It started innocuously enough. The music trickled in… two tracks, three tracks, four... then I started to think about what I would contribute. It's my label, after all! Then I started having conversations with friends about a mixed version of the album and the benefits of that - not everyone who uses Beatport is a DJ, for example.

Phil Thompson stepped forward as the best choice. In a previous life he had sprung to fame as Bedrock resident du jour and Digweed’s right-hand man. His Moonface moniker began to be bandied about in the same sentences as Sasha, Danny Howells and the like, and his music was gritty, tribal and driving. Then he left the life for a long time, setting up back in his hometown of Southampton as a car sprayer of some artistic merit. But in recent years - I’ve known him since around 2010/11 - he’s branched out again, playing for the love and specialising in vinyl sets as his preferred format.

Time was tight getting the album mixed. “I’m away this weekend,” he told me over email, “Sasha at the Barbican…” With work during the week, weekends were his only spare time and we'd agreed he would do a one-off take, just like a real DJ set, to capture the raw energy of the music and the differing tempos. A ProTools-style mix would miss the point and the mix could become stale and clinical - something I want to avoid with anything I do in the realm of dance music. The humanising factors are what make good music great for me.

Finally, and kinda out of the blue, I get an email from Phil with a Dropbox link. “It’s gonna need mastering mate, but here’s the mix,” he wrote, “I hope you like it.”

It’s ace. Not that I was ever in doubt: I’d reviewed Phil's last mix album for Tulipa Records, and it had been spectacular. I sent the mix to my mastering engineer and a day later back it came all sorted.

If I can just branch off for a moment here... one of the most important relationships you’ll have is with your mastering engineer. Choose wisely, chat constantly and build a bond, because when you find a good one, they'll go that extra mile for you. Recently mine offered to convert all ASTIR masters to 16-bit so I didn’t have to (it's a condition of my distributor), which saved me a lot of time and effort.

Putting it out there
Anyway… so the mix is done, all the tracks are ready, I managed to not mess up the metadata (mostly) and the promo started in earnest. Could I get a blog or magazine to support the release? I’ve had easier times building a snowman on the face of the Sun! Frustration levels have been at maximum as every email ends with “I’ll see what I can do” followed by complete inaction, in spite of my sending a full press pack with music, press release, DJ feedback and artwork.

With the release now out on Beatport Exclusive, I’ve pulled back on promo. The tracks are selling regardless of media support and via the DJ promo campaign, the label is on the radar of some big players in the scene. My focus now is to provide consistency over the next year and really drive things forward. Something which I’ve come to terms with myself and from conversations I’ve had over the last few weeks, is that with so many labels starting out and competing for the same blog space and support, the key to success is to show the media you have forward momentum.

You need a following of hardened fans and the ambition to push things forward. That doesn’t happen overnight, and chasing it has made me sick with worry. The fact is, the music business is unlikely to make me rich. Hell, it’s unlikely I’ll even get a royalty cheque worth cashing - but finding great new music and giving it a platform, is and always has been the only reason for me to keep going. It’s why I write about music as well.

So what to do next? Well, first up is a podcast. I’m working on a WordPress template to get that going, with an iTunes link-up so people can stream it. I did one years ago and it was a lot of fun. My label mates are behind it, so I should have a steady supply of mixes I can promote each month. Off the back of that, I can add in a radio show - Eelke Kleijn had an hour-long show and his podcast would sometimes be an extension of that, which I liked - if, say, he played a gig somewhere and the set was longer than an hour. 

Next is working on my relationships with a select band of music press. I’ve been drawing up a massive list of contacts, both UK and US mag editors, and sporadically emailing them to get a feel for who’s who and which mag fits best with ASTIR’s branding ideals. Then I just need to release great music and allow the hype to build itself.

Eight months in, and I finally feel like I’m starting to get it...

Words: Simon Huxtable

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Tags: ASTIR, Miami, album, compilation, Phil Thompson, Moonface, Bedrock, WordPress, iTunes, Eelke Kleijn, WMC sampler