Musicians' Resource Directory
The record industry is in the shitter if you go by the stock of the majors. They're selling fewer records than ever and they're blaming "your teenage cousin" and his DSL connection. So now's a great time to lose some money in the record business by starting your own label!
Starting a label is the ultimate act of love for people who are crazy about music but can't play instruments. Most stories start like Don't Stop Believin' Records owner Megan Birdsall's. "I just was really into going to shows and seeing bands and I don't play a musical instrument and I can't hold a tune. My good friends the Pharmacy didn't have a record label, and I thought, 'I could be the record label!'"
What a wonderful idea! Of course, that's what they all think before they get the bill. "I've probably 'invested' five or six grand. Feel free to put quotes around invested," says Birdsall, whose label also issues releases from Dashel Schueler, Your Heart Breaks, and Team Gina. "It's worth it because it's fun and satisfying and it's for my friends. Also, now that I've expanded a little bit, I've gotten to make new friends with people after I've decided to release their records."
Actually, running a label isn't exactly like setting fire to your money. "We sold the entire first pressing of Pharmacy records and had to get them repressed," Birdsall says. "That was our biggest seller. Of course, no one buys vinyl but me, so every time we press some of that it erases our gains." To stay afloat, Don't Stop Believing sells other stuff besides records. "We help out with T-shirts as well," Birdsall explains. "I screen-print them in my apartment. Sometimes it seems like a person will buy a T-shirt before they will buy a CD."
There's always the off chance that you will make money, too. Light in the Attic Records recently had breakout sellers with the Black Angels and Karen Dalton. "When I started working here, I had no idea who would be into some of the stuff we release," says Chris Estey, the label's publicist. "But there are music heads who are totally obsessed. We're releasing a reissue of Betty Davis, Miles Davis's funky-grooving Black Panther of a wife, and we recently had Ice Cube tell us she was a real G. So there is a select audience."
And you can use your label in other ways beyond just pressing discs. "The owners [of Light in the Attic, Matt Sullivan and Josh Wright] seem almost more like activists than label people," says Estey. "They helped William McGhie finally get some royalties from his music." Social action through music? Who would have thunk it?
Both Estey and Birdsall agree that starting a label has to start with an overwhelming adoration of music, whether it's the love of your friends who play in basements or old forgotten stuff you find while crate digging. "We're kind of like advocates for missing music," says Estey. "There's an extreme passion for it."