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Sam WillisOct 14, 2022 12:00:00 AM12 min read

How to start a record label: 11 tips from two label owners

Want to gain valuable knowledge of the music industry, help develop your local scene and create a conduit to release your own music? Starting a record label can be a great way to ingrain yourself in the industry. We spoke to Naina of Hooversound and Anton of Invicta Audio to get their guidance.

Starting a record label is an excellent way for our Electronic Music Production and Music Production & Sound Engineering students to create their own platform for releasing music and help drive forward the development of their scene. But, where do you start?

Starting a label requires bravery, dedication and an ear for unsigned tunes that people want to listen to. It also takes a lot of planning, legal understanding and patience. If you've always wanted to create a record label, but you're not sure where to start, Naina and Anton have covered off the basics to give you some inspiration.

The importance of branding

Anton Bailey: The first thing I would concentrate on is having a name and a theme in terms of the artwork and the aesthetic. I think getting that in place first and making sure it's something which can go forwards and expand is really important. Define your brand image and sound and create something that you really believe in and you’re interested in. That’s the starting point and will decide whether people are going to take you seriously. Why would someone want to spend time looking at what you've got going on if it doesn't look up to the right standard? That's really, really important.

Anton Bailey 2

Utilise social media well

AB: Social media, in today's age, is the most important thing when it comes to promoting tracks and promoting events. Your social media needs to look clean and have the same consistent branding across all of it. That is something which is really important for us - that our logo always stays the same place. The artwork and everything else around it will change, but the logo and theme always stay the same. That attention to detail is something which can really help to create a strong brand image that people will believe in and focus on… Also, we use Hypeddit which is a really, really useful platform for startup labels. It’s essentially a platform that allows people to download your tunes for free, but in exchange for following your social media platforms. That is the whole reason we've got any of our social media following today. If anyone downloads your track, they have to follow you on either your Instagram, your YouTube or your TikTok. For every free download we have ever done, we said that they had to follow our Instagram or YouTube and then that is where pretty much our whole following came from. Once we did that, it was just about keeping them in by creating engaging content. We had one video of a seal flapping about on the side of a swimming pool with the bass of one of our tracks going at the same time and the video got downloaded and put onto pages with 5 million followers. It racked up so many streams and that then all spilt onto our social media and spilt on to the actual release itself. Looking back, I probably wouldn't have even released it, but because of that meme, it blew up and is now one of our best-selling tracks. I think it's just about really just getting that engaging content and keeping all of the followers in once you get them.

Naina DJing Portrait-1Naina Sethi: I am not a big social media fan, but you have to use it for your music and your career. I just tweeted out a few things that I was like doing this [Hooversound] with Sherelle and all of a sudden, people were like, “Oh, if you ever want to chat about running a label, give me a shout.” People in dance music are friendly, and they will reach out to you and want to just gas about running a label together. Don't be scared to actually reach out to people and put it out to the world that this is what you want to do. Privately message people if you don't have much of a presence online yet. When I was working at Reprezent, a huge focus of that job was helping other people. I always want to be able to help the next generation of people who are trying to do something cool.

Be nice (it helps with A&R)

AB: Follow artists in the genre you’re interested in and look for the next up-and-coming people. Try and work with people you’re interested in and believe in pushing because it will help with motivation a lot. Comment on their stuff online and send them nice messages. Nothing too pushy, but just showing support. A lot of the artists that we worked with right at the beginning, it was literally just through those sorts of methods. I think people thought we were nice, we know where we want to go. Because we fully believe in where we can take Invicta and what we can do for these artists and their tracks, even when we had a small number of followers, they still didn't mind working with us because a lot of labels out there are pretty shocking. The way some labels treat their artists and some of the stories you hear - not being paid and all those sorts of things - you can really make yourself stand out just by paying attention to the little things. That way, people will want to work with you.

Use your network

NS: I would definitely use your network and speak to your network. If you've got anyone who currently runs a label, I'm sure that they would want to talk to you and even just have a Zoom and just get some hints and tips and have a chat. We were having conversations with loads of people. One of our good mates Will - his DJ name is Wager and he co-runs, Scuffed Recordings - was giving us some advice. We were really lucky to have a lot of pals around who were like, "You two are gonna do something amazing. I just want to help. Here's my advice."

Anton Bailey copy

Base decisions on the quality of the track, not following 

AB: We basically go on the basis that, if the track is of good enough quality, we don't care whether you've never really released anything or whether you're one of the biggest artists out there. We’ll still put your music out and everyone will get the same treatment. It's the same across the board. I think that's something which is really important because there are a lot of small producers - people who haven't released many tracks or haven’t been released by many labels - that are making such high-quality music and it's getting really overlooked. Our biggest track so far is from a dBs student and that was his first release. When we spoke to Universal about his track, they were asking, “Who is he? Where's he come from?” When we told them that he’s one of our mates, that we know him from dBs and he's in his first year, they were completely blown away by it. Those sorts of things just show that it doesn't really matter if the artists you're working with have loads of followers or not because the tracks can still do the business if you really put your all into it.

Understand the legalities

AB: Always do everything aboveboard and legally and get your contracts checked over by a lawyer or someone else who knows a bit more about the legal side of things. Don't cut corners. Make sure that you fully check everything you're doing - do your best to use any resources available to you and find someone who knows what they're on about with those sorts of things because it will save you a lot of time in the long run.

Naina at Phonox Digital by Rob Jones-1

NS: One of the first things we did was to jump on a call with a lawyer for a really, really long time. He was talking to us about the name, registering the company and all the things that you might not think about straight away. It was really good to have a lengthy conversation with a lawyer. I made loads of notes on everything we needed to do. While we were doing that, we were also confirming the name and the logo, which was probably one of the easiest things because that's the creative side of it. All of the business side of things was the stuff that we were both very new to, so we made sure we had as many conversations with people as possible about what the step-by-step process is. It is super overwhelming when you first start. It's not just like, "Okay, let's sign this tune and put it out to the world." It's like, "Right, how do you write a contract? I need to write a contract and put it together to actually sign this artist's music. What terms and conditions do I need to put in that contract?" All of the nitty-gritty business stuff takes a long time. But it's also really empowering because you're learning a completely new industry.

Keep an eye out for industry schemes that can help you develop

AB: I got in contact with someone at Hospital Records and we had a few calls here and there, and we started interacting with their pages and eventually they picked up on us a little bit. Then they sent us a message saying, “Oh, we've got this business mentorship scheme coming up this year”. They recommended it to us. It is open to anyone, but you have to have a bit of a base to start with rather than being brand new. Probably aim to be six months or so in and have a few releases under your belt. I would really recommend anyone interested in starting a label to work towards something like that. It’s something that has really helped us to tighten up the nitty-gritty side of things. Before, we were just a social media page. That’s what I was really focusing on with the tunes and just promoting those sorts of things, but the back-end business side of things was just a bit all over the place. None of us had ever run a business before so it’s been really useful.

NS: There are amazing platforms that are always running workshops and zoom sessions and panel talks about how to start a music label, or how to become a DJ, or how to do a radio show. There are all of these things happening. So just hunt them out.Anton portrait

Paid vs Free Releases

ABYou can either push free downloads, or you can do paid releases. For us, we do a mixture of both. Most people, once they get to a certain point, will probably just do paid releases, but we still give away free tracks, because we see it as an investment. I will still push those because we know that our Instagram will grow and then those new followers might see our events and they might buy a ticket to them. That's what we see as the benefit of free downloads. For the first six months, all we did was free downloads and then we went on to our first paid one. There's not a lot of money in it right at the start at all. For us, we were only going to be making about £100 off of a release. So we thought, "Well, we might as well just give it away and focus on building our social profiles so we can attract bigger artists, better releases and grow our following." That was something which was a massive, massive help at the start.

Run events in tandem

AB: I think doing events is something people should try and do alongside their label. It can help to really push your brand out there. Even if you’re just starting with really, really tiny student nights. Those sorts of things really help to promote the name. Some of your customers will just want to go to events, they won't be downloading your music, they'll just be event-goers and ravers. You want to cater to both audiences, especially in Bristol. Doing something at Crofters is the perfect vibe for startup labels. It's just more brand exposure.

Focus on quality control

AB: Quality control is really, really important. At the start, it was just me and one of my friends and if we both liked the track, we’d then take it on board. Now our music has to go through eight people before we actually sign on a track because we realise that some of the team might say, "Oh this track is amazing. Put it out" and then it did terribly. We added our friends and artists we know to our selection process and I think that that made a huge difference to the label's sound.

Naina at Phonox by Rob Jones-1

Stick it out and wait for your moment

NSI wanted to start a label ages ago, but I thought, “I am not in a position right now and I don’t have the contacts.” Also, being black and white and very real about it, when you first start a label, you incur a lot of costs. You have to pay for the design, you have to pay for the lawyer that you want to speak to - none of this comes for free. Sherelle and me definitely weren't in a position before to do that. I think the timing and the narrative of your journey and your job, you have to think about that quite cleverly. I did DJing and then, because of radio, the DJing got a bit stronger and then it all came together. Then you've got a bit of a profile and then I started a label. That's not how everyone should do it. Everyone's journey is different, but there's definitely a reason why it happened that way. I don't think I could have started a label before that point. I think the time that we started the label was the perfect time for us and the position that we were in.”

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Want to start your journey to becoming a record label owner? Check out our Music Production & Sound Engineering degree programme or join us at our next open day event.