They say that the era of the traditional record label is gone, and for the most part, “they” are right. You no longer have to go to a major record studio, pay thousands of dollars to record, mix, master and publish your album. You can spend those few thousand dollars on your own equipment, dedicate a space from home, and use your time and investment to create your own albums over and over again.

This has given rise to the “bedroom producer”, where a 13-year old kid from a small town in Alaska could become a world-famous producer and have tracks played at major music festivals around the world. This access to affordable equipment has severely crippled the record industry, but it doesn’t mean that it’s stopped it; big labels like Sony, Warner Brothers, Atlanta Records, and so on have the financial resources to distribute their music and spend millions on advertising.

That kid from Alaska just doesn’t have the resources to do this, except for sharing his music on Facebook.

For you, this means meeting this reality in the middle somewhere. It’s called the indie record label, and you can start your record label just like any other business would. Register with your local or state government (or in some countries, the national government) and start finding artists to record and market.

The concept is simple, but to succeed it’s going to take all of your time and energy. Let’s dig in.

Establish Your Brand

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of independent record labels (or “indies”) throughout the world. As the market would have it, only a select number of them actually make it big, but for many musical entrepreneurs it simply pays their bills – and that’s enough for them.

You have to decide how big you want to be and brand your label appropriately. Here’s a few examples of independent record labels that have seen some success:

XL Recordings

R&S

Ghostly International

Brainfeeder

WEDIDIT

Ninja Tune

Dream Catalogue

YEAR0001

Mind of a Genius

There are thousands just like these labels – most of which you’ve probably never heard of – but they generate a handsome amount of money for those involved. Many artists simply create a label for one independent artist or group so they can legally pay themselves as a business. In fact, for most of them that’s the only purpose the label serves! Even celebrity artists start their own labels, but usually it’s for small projects that they want to work on outside of their main contracts.

Decide On Your Genre

Generally speaking, independent record labels focus on only one or two major genres and brand their company around them. For instance, Indie Vision Music focuses purely on Alt-Rock subgenres like Ska and punk rock, whereas labels such as Top Dawg Entertainment only produces hip-hop and rap music.

The best way to go about branding your label based on the genre you focus on is to see what others in that genre are doing visually.

For example, rap-focused labels sport a lot of graffiti shots, “in the hood” designs, low-brow clothing, and bright, clashing colors like orange against purple. Rock labels, on the other hand, vary widely – if you’re a dark rock label (death metal, screamo, punk rock, etc.) then you will be using a lot of black, white, and red.

There’s no “ultimate rule” for branding your colors based on your label’s genre focus, but you can base your designs on existing branding schemes and create your own unique image!

Gather Your Artists

The reason many musicians start their own labels vary widely, but there are two main reasons: one, it provides a legal entity through which to be paid from and two, it allows an artist or group to sell products and other artists’ music.

This is how independent labels are keeping up with the big companies as a collective; it’s easier for them to find a niche and physically perform for their audiences in a lot more venues. An indie label grows when they start contracting and signing other artists into their label, helping them go on tour and generating sales, and bringing on even more artists.

Although this is the “traditional” way of doing things, it’s not the only thing new indies are doing. These days there are virtual concerts, you can buy merchandise and tickets online, and most commonly you can purchase music digitally. Labels have gone digital with the rise of the internet, and most of them don’t even have brick-and-mortar locations.

That’s good news for you – leasing a commercial space is expensive.

Reach out online and take advantage of the many bands trying to get signed with an indie. Make sure that you are sure of the direction you want to take; if you’re focusing on rock musicians, only work with rock musicians. If rappers are who you vibe with, don’t start signing jazz artists. Work with those that fit your brand and your ultimate vision!

Learn How Music Business Works

If you’re going to run any business, the best approach is to formally educate yourself either by going to school (for instance, the Berklee College of Music has a Music Business degree) or by reading everything you can and finding real-life examples of independent record labels similar to yours.

Start off locally; work with a few artists in your immediate area who have been playing for a long time and want to move to the next level. You’re going to need to be a “people person”, as you’ll be rubbing elbows with musicians, producers, other record label owners, engineers, and fans. It’s a busy life, but in the end it will all be worth your time and effort.

There are many laws that you’re going to want to become familiar with as well; entertainment law is enforced on a federal, state, and local level depending on where you live. California has some of the strictest laws in the United States, unsurprisingly – it’s the center of American entertainment! If you’re serious about starting a record label, make sure to consult with an entertainment attorney before you go out and start recruiting artists.

When you feel that it’s time to launch your brand, make sure that you’ve done your research to avoid problems in the future!


Starting a record label is how musicians make money around the world. However, it’s not a small task and it requires a lot of effort, time, and financial resources to get going. Once you’ve picked up some traction, however, your new level of income could change your life.

Paul Cassarly
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