Record Label Round-Table

Words by: Cila Warncke
Posted: 9/11/11 17:14

Round-Table with Glenn Gibbons of Soma; Moodmusic boss Sasse; Ryan O’Gorman of Vitalik Records and Jewel Kid newly Alleanza RecordsWe take record labels for granted. They’re part of the music scene and always have been, kind of like overpriced drinks, big egos and dancefloor bores who tell you how much better the DJ was some other night in some other club.

Things have changed, though, since the days when collectors rushed to the shop every week to lovingly collect the latest cut from their favourite imprint. Now you can create a “label” just by uploading some tracks to Beatport. Does that make running a record label in 2011 heroic, vain or simply anachronistic?

I-Voice grilled four experts to find out what nearly 40 years of collective experience has taught them about the business of electronic music.

Our panel consists of Glenn Gibbons, director and head of A&R at Soma; Moodmusic boss Sasse Lindblad; Ryan O’Gorman of Vitalik Records; and Jewel Kid, who recently set up Alleanza Music...


Ryan O'Gorman - Vitalik

         VIT009 Merkaba EP | Hugo Barritt, Pezzner & Ethyl by Vitalik Recordings
How would you characterise your label’s sound?
Ryan O'Gorman - Vitalik: Eclectic. I don't play one specific genre and I am not interested in selling to people that do.

Sasse - Moodmusic: Quality, timeless music.

Jewel Kid - Alleanza: Mature techno.

What were the biggest challenges you faced when starting the label?
Ryan: The hardest thing is [gaining] credibility. The catch 22 is that established artists are reluctant to release on a start-up label.

Glenn Gibbons - Soma: Survival! Initially one release had to finance the next.

Sasse: It’s hard to break through the pointless music. I feel bad for new labels.

Jewel Kid: Responsibility. We have to supply the whole package, not just the music.

How has the expansion of the digital music industry affected you?
Ryan: We got in after the ship sank, if you like. The possibilities of digital are immense but it needs to be better regulated.

Glenn: We set up our own shop and were one of the first labels to sign up to Beatport.

Soma Records

                              Soma 20 Phase 14 (Soma 322d) by soma
How important is it that labels 'multitask', e.g. produce videos, throw parties, sign exclusive artists, etc?
Ryan: Imperative. The model for successful labels is: Big artist (or artists) underpinning the label + a successfully touring brand + talented younger producers turning out music.

Sasse: You need to work your ass off. Exclusive artists are the only way a label can make a big impact.

Jewel Kid: You can’t release a couple of tracks and wait for the sales to roll in, you have to do it all.

What is your A&R process?
Ryan: I track artists down rather than waiting for a demo to fall into my inbox.

Glenn: In the early days of Soma we’d set aside a day and get all six label partners in a room, wading through the music. There were lots of arguments. It was a very smoky room.

Sasse: I look for a person who can represent himself and his music.

Has the record label/artist relationship changed? If so, how?
Ryan: Most artists release music to get gigs, which is where the money is. The modern label is a promoter rather than a salesman.

Glenn: Artists these days are much more focussed on how they want to sound and what direction they want to go.


                                 Sasse end of summer of love dj-mix by sasse
 Artists think they need to push their music through every possible channel, which is absolutely wrong and will result in a very short career. An artist should put his effort to building up a sound, representing it and selling it well.

Jewel Kid: There is an active bond between the artist and the label. They can easily exchange ideas and media.

How has the business aspect of running the label changed?
Ryan: Everything needs to be stripped down. Most labels don't even have an office these days.

Glenn: We keep costs down. We used to have seven full-time staff at Soma and now it’s just three.

Sasse: Moodmusic is a very slim organisation. I run things on my own, mostly.

If you were starting a record label today how would you go about it?
Ryan: You need to build your label like a family because every release you put out is an investment. If there is no end game it’s a waste of money.

Glenn Gibbons: It should be a vehicle for an artist to release their own material. I wouldn’t expect to make any money until you have built up a strong catalogue.

Sasse: I probably wouldn’t do a label if I had to start now...

Alleanza Music

                             Jewel Kid - Brasil - Alleanza by Jewel Kid
What's the one thing a start-up record label must NOT do if it wants to survive?
Ryan: Don't quit your day job.

Glenn Gibbons: Don’t spend lots of money on vinyl releases and marketing. Build it up slowly.

Sasse: Don’t be a slave to trends.

Jewel Kid: Don’t listen to people who tell you it’s impossible.

Were the “good old days” really better?
Ryan: From a label owner point of view, yeah, everyone was getting paid! But it’s a good time for music fans. Now labels do it for the love and the product is very pure.

Glenn Gibbons: No, just a bit fuzzy.

Sasse: No! That´s the biggest bollocks I´ve heard in ages!

Jewel Kid: I get veterans in my studio who are in awe what I can do with technology. We’re in an endless world of possibilities

10 classic record labels as chosen by our experts:

  1. Warp
  2. Crosstown Rebels
  3. Factory
  4. Applepips
  5. M_nus
  6. Ed Banger
  7. Mobilee
  8. Ghostly International
  9. Underground Resistance
  10. Cajual
Alleanza Music
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Soma Records
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Vitalik Recordings
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