Although aggregator services like TuneCore mean you can get your music onto platforms like iTunes and Spotify without a record label, when it comes to selling your music on a platform like Beatport – and subsequently having your music played by DJs in a club – then working with a record label is essential. “For an artist who wants to get their music on Beatport, a record label is the only way,” says Josh Hedglin, senior account manager at Beatport. “Working with a label also offers the chance to learn about the business, and get some help with marketing.” Native Instruments runs through the checklist of getting your tracks into the hands of DJs, and to set the beginning of your career.
Mastering Your Music
When shopping your track to a record label, it’s worth getting it to sound the best it possibly can. Investing in professional mastering costs upwards of several hundreds of dollars. One first step for many is LANDR, an online mastering service that facilitates around 10,000 tracks per day. “LANDR was developed from eight years of A.I. and machine-learning research at Queen Mary University, which turned it into the mastering app it is today,” states Leticia Trandafir, from the firm’s HQ in Montreal. The system works via an algorithm that emulates the human ear, and is pitched as an affordable solution for the full spectrum of producers.
“Since launching in 2014, LANDR has mastered over five million tracks for our worldwide community of passionate music creators—which now comprises over a million users,” says Trandafir. The system allows you to sample the service offering multiple products and price-points, starting at mp3s, through to WAV mastering, with subscription plans that start at €4 per month, and scaling up to €25 per month for high-volume pro users.
“The goal of mastering is to ensure that your audio will sound the best it can on all platforms,” states Trandafir. “Even if you are recording and mixing in a million-dollar studio, or recording in less than ideal conditions, you still need the final quality check of mastering. This ensures that your sound will be heard the way you intended it to be.” LANDR also recently launched a new release, distribution platform allowing users access to major streaming platforms. The move will allow new producers to master their music, and move to distribution with greater ease.
Taking Care of Distribution
While the wider music industry is well underway shifting towards streaming platforms like Spotify, dance culture remains largely wedded to digital files (with an elite niche focused on the enduring appeal of vinyl). The majority of digital dance tracks sold today are purchased through digital retailer Beatport, while other outlets such as Traxsource, Juno, and Bleep are also available.
“For an artist just starting out, I would suggest searching out the labels you’re interested in, who you buy music from and follow, and release the specific kind of dance music that you’re interested in producing,” says Josh Hedglin, senior account manager at Beatport. “Every label will have a demo address that you can send your music to.”
Hedglin emphasises the importance of record labels. Due to the contractual side of things, it’s actually the only way you’ll be able to get your track on Beatport, as the platform doesn’t sign artists directly. “Releasing through an established label offers advantages, particularly on the marketing side of things. For instance, people know that when a record is released on a label like Kompakt, there is a certain level of excellence that you can expect.”
“If you’ve decided to start your own label, then you’ll need to select a distributor. Some of the largest examples include Symphonic, Record Union, Label Engine, Labelworx, Believe, FUGA, Dance All Day, Music Mail/Dig Dis, The Orchard, Proton, AMPsuite, Kontor and Paradise.” Hedglin says Beatport is partnered with thousands of distributors, and recommends working with one on the same timezone to minimize admin hassles.
“A credible distributor will be able to give you a schedule of when they’ll need assets, which includes mastered WAV files, artwork etc. They’ll give you a whole rundown of what you need to enter into the system so the release gets over to Beatport.”
Dance Music’s Bigger Labels
When looking for a record label to release your first track, it’s worth being tactical about who you approach. A primary consideration is whether your track stylistically matches the record label in question. It’s also worth remembering that dance music’s more popular record labels will probably already receive a lot of demos, in addition to working with an existing roster of artists that comprise most of their releases.
One of the successful established labels that still signs a lot of different unknown producers is Spanish stable Suara Music – one of the biggest sellers in house and techno. Agus Arbol heads up A&R for the label in Barcelona, and he maintains that completely unknown producers still have a shot with Suara.
“There are a lot of labels who might only release music from just a few artists, but we are very open to releasing music from unknown producers,” Arbol says. “The key to releasing on the label is just to send good music, but for an unknown producer there is more to consider than that. As a business we’re thinking not only about releasing ‘good’ music, it’s important for us to be able to ‘sell’ that music. An unknown producer definitely has a shot, but the music has to be awesome. We’re not looking for ‘okay’ music from unknown artists.”
Another primary consideration for a label like Suara is the sheer quantity of demos they’re sent on a daily basis. While we talk, Arbol begins flicking through the demos he’s received in the past 24 hours alone – a number he estimates at around 75. For a label operating on a level like Suara, this is nothing unusual. “We really like to release music from newcomers, but we have a lot of good music to choose from. The problem for an unknown artist is their music probably isn’t good enough yet for a big label like Suara.”
Arbol offers a football analogy to illustrate the point. “It’s difficult to have your first contract with Barcelona. If you are Messi then it is easy to play in that kind of team. A lot of players start in a first division team in France, and maybe when they’re 28 then they have the chance with Barcelona.”
“One tip that I give to new producers is to have some other releases on good smaller labels first, where they can develop their style. there are many record labels that have nearly the same resources as the bigger labels; good mastering, good artwork and distribution, and they have access to good remixers.”
Starting Small With Labels
One such small record label is Positronic Digital, started in 2015 by the US-based James Cayzer, AKA. Jaytech. He started his own project for the sake of servicing his own little corner of the progressive house scene.
“I always say that if you have any demos then send them our way, because I’m always looking for new underground music,” Cayzer says. “I started my label to fill a gap in my little niche of the dance music world. I’d noticed a tendency for labels in my space to only go for music and artists that were already world class and it was becoming more and more walled-off for newcomers.”
Cayzer encourages new producers to approach smaller labels, as opposed to focussing too much on the more prominent brands. “I’d advise cutting your teeth with the smaller labels. A lot of young producers might have only been writing music for a short time and they’re already setting their sights on these very established labels that everyone is trying to jump on board with. The smaller labels are the early adopters of underground music, and they’re the ones who are actually going to take the time to listen.”