Learning how to start an independent record label is tricky because no two people will ever do it in the same way. The stories behind Death Row Records and the story behind American Recordings are nothing alike and you’re going to have to make your own way, as well. We can’t tell you every single step because many of those will be determined by your own creative vision, but we can tell you what every top indie label has in common:
1. They’re the Best
Every independent record label that has ever been really successful has been the best. Maybe not the best of all time, not the best in the world, but the best at something. Death Row was responsible for the best gangsta rap of all time. American Recordings helped artists like Johnny Cash get back to their roots and produce some of the best music of their careers. When it comes to how to start an independent record label, you don’t have to have the best recording equipment or the biggest marketing budget, but you have to choose something to do better than anyone else if you want to attract talent and listeners.
2. They Market an Image
If you are of the opinion that image shouldn’t matter, that’s great, now let that be your image. When you look at a band like The Pixies, you see a bunch of normal looking people creating some of the greatest rock of the last thirty years. The fact that they look so plain is actually part of what makes them so cool, they really don’t care. Artists often come to labels looking for someone to help them market a specific image, while labels look for artists who match their idea of what kind of image will attract an audience, so it’s sort of a case of one hand washing the other.
3. The CEO Isn’t Afraid of Failure
By the time Rick Rubin started Def Jam with Russel Simmons, he had already been in a failed punk band. In fact, most successful people are known for having had as many failures as successes. If you want to learn how to start an independent record label, this is the most important lesson: Don’t be afraid to fail and fail and try again.