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Birth of a label, part 9

PR hassles and sync opportunities

2018 May 22     
2 Bit Thugs

This month, Simon's been contemplating other possible revenue streams for ASTIR

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...

It’s been a little while since I wrote last. I’ve moved house and had to work out alternative internet options for a while there, so chose to concentrate my coffee shop wi-fi experiences on getting clients' work finished and sent. My apologies!

Okay, so I'll recap to get you all up to speed. March was a blur on the label front. I’d just released ASTIR's first compilation and frankly, I was floundering on the promo front. I had some help from a PR friend who was essentially looking to add me to his client roster, but the costs outweighed what I saw as the benefits to his interests. He did, however, kindly hook up a premiere on an American blog for free, which was greatly appreciated... and it achieved a whopping 90 plays before the next track took its fickle audience elsewhere!

I sound bitter - I’m not really. I could moan on about the little guys not getting a fair shake on the promo side of things, but I’ve had some time now to digest events and rationalise things. So, in order to not be completely overwhelmed by owning a label in the modern era of ever-diminishing returns and ever-increasing stream-only plays of your tracks, you have to give blogs value added content. If they had it their way, everyone would pay to promote, simple. And having been a magazine owner, that incremental income would have been very useful in paying for our website and its maintenance, the Soundcloud account, the email account and so on.

Mostly because the goalposts have shifted in the last few years, most PRs don’t want to pay blogs and cut into their wages - which aren't that much in many cases, given the amount of work they need to put in to achieve decent results. Most label owners can’t afford it either but different reasons, so there’s this awkward balance that’s been struck where popular artists and labels, who will provide traction, will overwhelmingly be picked over you, the new guy. It is what it is, it won’t change anytime soon and so you need to find work-arounds. So with some research and the help of a few knowledgeable friends, I worked out my own 10-week promo plan.

Each week has activities (which I don’t always manage to do) that ramp up nearer release and factor in the constant re-reminding you’ll need to do, as blogs get hammered on email and the folks running it are almost always doing so as a hobby after work. Patience is key. After the Miami album dropped, I used the hype it created to launch a new concept project - Friends. Essentially, it's two artists who know each other's music intimately working together to remix each other's original track. I wanted my label mates to be able to collaborate with each other and build a little producer network.

I got the idea from Border Community, for anyone who remembers them: the idea that a group of like-minded artists can all work together to the good of their art was really very inspiring. Using the hype and the new system we got into the top 15 on the Beatport progressive house chart (not the main chart, that’s singles, you have to navigate to the bottom of the page and click a link). Anyway, good traction and spirits were high. Then I dropped the ball.

An ASTIR release was due out the same day I was viewing the place I’m now living in - Figure You Out by Benwaa. I hadn’t scheduled any social media posts, and the artist wasn’t happy. He had every right to be mad: he’d given me his music, made a promo video and suggested the artwork. He was 100% committed to the release and I had my mind elsewhere. I had to apologise to him and it was tense for a few days, but we seem to be back on an even keel again now, which is good, because he does all my mastering!

Now, for that release I had managed to arrange a premiere of sorts. The blog had run out of space and suggested a 48-hour repost which I had to pay for - the exposure and their brand alone was worth the cost - but unfortunately they never responded and the repost didn’t happen. I’ve run into similar obstacles on this promo run for ASTIR009, a huge release featuring one of the UK’s best producers, Audioglider and a remix from Tripswitch. But can I get coverage?! Like banging my head against a wall…

Interestingly, something that has become very clear to me is how big a difference there is in hobby labels and business labels like say, Toolroom or Armada. To that end, I’ve started to invest more time and energy into the publishing arm of my label.

I sync, therefore I am
While at Brighton Music Conference in April, I spoke with a guy who works in sync licensing - basically how TV, film and adverts source their music - and became very aware of just how much potential there is in this market.

In a nutshell, it works like this: an artist signs music to your label with a publishing deal contract, you send those tracks to the sync people who store them on a massive database, and when a client comes calling with specific remarks that sound like your track, it gets suggested with a few others and the client makes a choice. Of course, as with anything, you can hedge your bets by which genre you send. Instrumental hip-hop, pop songs and ambient music are universally accepted; upbeat dance music is fairly niche still, but can pop up in unexpected places.

The beauty of having a publishing portfolio is you don’t need to release everything, either. You can sign stuff explicitly for various licensing options and no one needs to know. I’m quids in for sure! Next month, I’ll writing from my new holiday home in Aruba!

Words: Simon Huxtable

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Tags: press, PR, promo, blogs, promotion, sync, licensing, publishing, how to set up a record label, running a record label, ASTIR Recordings, Simon Huxtable