So you want to start an independent vinyl record label…by Biz Kawasaki

11 January 2021

Disclaimer – I don’t claim to be an expert on this subject and anything detailed below is based on my opinion and should not be considered advice. 

That being said, SEVENsails Records is achieving every goal I set when I started the project, which is to:

  • Release quality music on vinyl
  • Enjoy working on creative projects with like-minded artists.
  • Provide opportunities for artists to realise their goals.
  • ‘Break-even’ on every release to enable everyone involved to receive something in return for the work they put in – and ensure we can keep on doing it.

I am committed to the not-for-profit model of releasing music based solely on the enjoyment of the process.

Years of over-analysing why I am involved in a fickle, business oriented, image-based industry have led me to understanding that it is the music and the records that keep me coming back.

These are 7 lessons I have learned in the last 20 years of creating music and releasing product.

  1. Do it for the right reasons 

Why do you want to start an independent vinyl-based record label? 

Is it to get fame, fortune, make millions of dollars and retire on a private island? 

News Flash!

This is not the project you are looking for  *dramatic Jedi hand gesture*

The harsh reality is that the chances of this happening are very unlikely, now I am not saying that it won’t happen, just that based purely on numbers this is a very large task.

Setting realistic expectations from the get go is essential to achieving a desired level of success. To earn an average salary of  $1000AUD per week on vinyl sales means that the label will need to sell a minimum of 100 units per week, every week. Is this a realistic goal?

*Side note – this is only possible if you are doing all the work yourself and your mates are pitching in with in-house talent, mixing, mastering, artwork, promotion and sales. If you are required to pay market rates for these services, the number of units required to make an average salary will be significantly higher.

In short, if you don’t enjoy the work, love the product and have a great team of dedicated friends that share your passion and are along for the journey – don’t even consider starting an independent record label.

On the flip-side (pardon the pun) – working closely with passionate, creative people to achieve vinyl-related goals can provide ultimate joy and fulfilment.  

Creating a piece of history that will exist in collections for generations has, and always will be, the ultimate goal of SEVENsails Records.

2.   Release quality product

Now that you have decided that you want to release vinyl, the first things to consider are

  • What am I going to release?
  • Is it at an ‘industry standard’ level of quality?
  • Do people want to spend money to support this artistic project?

Let’s be honest, everyone thinks that their music is the next best thing and it is very likely that there are a group of close friends that will reinforce this belief. Support from your mates is one thing, but the fact is – it costs money to release records.

As a rough guide, to release 150 x 7” records a very modest budget is $3000.

Costs involved can include pressing, merchandise, promo/advertising, artwork, film clip, mastering, recording, website costs, postage and digital distribution.

It does not take a mathematician to calculate that 150 records x $20 = $3000.

So if you sell all of the records – you can (just) break even on this model. 

That island is looking pretty far out of reach. So supporting your supporters to create a true connection with the brand is essential to not throwing cash into the abyss.

This will not be possible if the quality of the package is not at an industry standard. Obviously, the ‘quality’ of any artistic pursuit is subjective and being open to feedback from trusted people will be a key factor into identifying if the product is where it needs to be.

Be open to that feedback and compare your product to that of other labels you respect. Don’t let your dreams and ego cloud your judgement, resulting in releasing a sub-standard product. 

Once it is released, it is there forever.

3.   Only work with people that have mutual respect and a shared goal.

I am blessed to have a great team of close mates that are along for the ride on this journey and, to be honest, without them it would not be possible for SEVENsails Records to exist.

As a result, it is my job to ensure that everyone gets hooked up along the way. The process needs to be enjoyable, easy and have realistic shared expectations to ensure that every project is a success. Money is not the only currency in this industry and, at the risk of sounding corny, it can’t buy loyalty and happiness.

The key to achieving these outcomes is to work with legends that share the dream. Checking in, setting realistic expectations and believing in the skill sets of your team will help to ensure this continues.

Micro-managing will stifle the creativity of your team – believe in them and support them, like they are supporting you.

So massive shout outs to all the artists that I work with Decades, Mindfield, Bender, BG Crew, CH Projects, TWC Studio, Hoodie Music, Pimo Rekkids, DogBox, APM, Print Parlour and anyone that has ever shown support for SEVENsails along the way. 

  • Make it fun

This sort of project (to me) is about the enjoyment/excitement that comes from playing the record for the first time, releasing it into the world and the positive feedback that comes from those that connect with the music. 

To expand on the last section, it has to be fun for all involved. If people you are working with ‘don’t get it’ or are not truly enjoying the process, it is quite likely that this is your fault for either not setting realistic expectations or you haven’t invested enough time to make them feel a part of the team. 

If you aren’t laughing along the way, you are doing it wrong. 

  • Work harder and smarter… all the time.

What is the best way to get things done? Start doing them.

We have already identified that it is unlikely that you will make a lot of money, so it is essential that you have a team of people that can help you make records, have fun along the way and that the product is at an industry standard.

If you have decided that you want to start a label, you need to keep doing things to make it happen. The minute you stop doing, things will stop happening.

Thinking, planning and strategising are all integral to avoiding mistakes along the way, but if this is at the detriment to achieving outcomes, you are over-thinking it.

As artists, we painstakingly agonise over the sound of a kick/snare, the patterns/content of the lyrics and the sonic qualities of the track. There comes a time when you have to commit to the outcome and keep moving forward. The same is true for releasing records.

Streamlining the processes will make it easier for everyone involved and, in turn, enhance the outcomes and enjoyment along the way. 

Work hard, but if it seems like it is hard work, there has to be a smarter way of doing it. Continuously communicate with your team on what you can do to help them to increase the fun and productivity of the process.

6. ‘Support’ is a multi-faceted and complex concept

What is support? 

Is it buying your product? Sharing a post? Wearing your merchandise? 

Or is it listening to the music, providing honest feedback and engaging in discussion about the release/label?

The truth is – any engagement with the label should be identified as support. With all the ‘things’ happening in the world today, if anyone dedicates any amount of time to your artistic endeavours, you are blessed.

Receiving support will generally relate to the amount of support you provide. So, dedicate (some) time to everyone that is making an effort to make a difference and contributing to the strange world that we live in. 

This doesn’t mean you have to buy everything, listen to everything, like everything or agree with everything, but if it resonates with you – engage with it in some way or form.

The 45 Kings have shown SEVENsails Records a lot of love along the way, this article is my way of showing support in return.

  • Re-invest every time

When you make your initial investment back on a release, do it again and do it better than you did last time. If you don’t have a continuous improvement mentality for your label, you will be doomed to releasing mediocre releases and your brand will suffer. Try new things, set and achieve new challenges and you will increase the level of enjoyment of your team and your label will always be a success.

If nothing else – hopefully this article has provided some insight into SEVENsails Records as an entity, my personal mentality relating to releasing records and an understanding of what you are contributing to if you engage with our label. 

If you have made it this far into the article, you are already contributing, for this I thank you.

Much love to everyone in the 45 Community.

All hail the Almighty MeatFist! 

(I told you if you aren’t laughing, you are doing it wrong)

Biz Kawasaki

SEVENsails Records

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