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Can a One-Man Record Label Be Successful?
by Derek A. Felton - Victory Marketing Group, October 2002

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You Do It All...

I know that many of you are one-man record labels. You do it all: write your music, produce your music, engineer your music, promote your albums, and get your own gigs. Whether this is by choice, or out of necessity, Iím here to tell you that you can have success.

Of course, you have to decide what success means to you. Is success moving 15,000 units of your album? Is it playing in at least 5 shows a month? Is it being able to earn enough money through paid gigs to build or upgrade your studio? I have personally witnessed individuals do these things, and more, on their own.

Set Realistic, Attainable, Goals
I believe that the first step for a solo indie label is setting realistic, attainable short-term goals. For my label, Battlecat Enterprises, this was a problem. We were thinking too big and too far ahead to build any confidence or momentum. While our focus should have been trying to gradually build a loyal following in our backyard, we concerned ourselves with trying to reach everybody. As a result our music suffered and it took three years and a wasted $5000 for us to release our album, which everyone in the group agrees is sub par. This brings me to my next point.

Budget in Reality
As a solo indie make sure that you budget accordingly and have a business plan. Unless youíre a rich guy who doesnít care about money, you canít afford to make any mistakes financially. Remember, you donít have unlimited resources, so you have to make every penny count. Your business plan should include things such as the following:
  • A description of your target market, i.e., who are you trying to reach with your music?
  • What are the most important pieces of equipment you need to successfully record and produce your project?
  • How much money are you going to need to successfully record, produce, mix, master, manufacture, and promote your project?

When your album finally is released and youíre ready to promote it youíre going to need help! You may think youíre Superman or Superwoman and that you can reach the masses on your own, but youíll find out soon enough how difficult that is. This means you are gonna have to recruit some people to help you hand out flyers, put up posters and sell CDís. Where do you find these people?

Recruits for Battle
First look to your family and friends. If they are unwilling to go to battle with you, employ the following technique that Iíve used and other more notables like Kid Rock used to build a street team when he was a solo indie in Detroit. Print up several hundred flyers and/or posters saying that you are looking for new members for your street promotions team. Post them all over your city, at barbershops, colleges, high schools, clubs, skating rinks, bowling alleys, wherever you can. Donít be surprised when people call you and ask if you would be willing to sign them to your label! It happens to me at least twice a week!

NickNack's Story
Back in April, I wrote a story featuring Austin, TX-based Crowd Control Records, who, among other things, had sold several thousand albums since the mid-1990ís. The owner, a guy called NickNack, told me how he came to release his albums independently. NickNack mentioned that he pretty much taught himself how to do everything: produce, mix, engineer, master, promote, and DJ. He was the Crowd Control Records staff. Yeah, things could be pretty tough on him sometimes, doing everything himself. But, the freedom and rewards that came out of doing his own thing made it worth it. Not to mention the earning potential of owning all of the rights to your music. Thatís not why Nick started the company, though. It was actually formed to give more exposure to other talented local artists. He used his company as a vehicle for hungry, like-minded people to express themselves creatively.

During my discussion with NickNack, he expressed to me the desire to partner with others as long as they were as serious, focused, and dedicated as him. It takes heart, desire, and focus to produce and promote an album with a group. Itís going to take even more of those elements to do it on your own. Remember, you donít have the luxury of other people performing assigned tasks or motivating you.

Succumb or Dig In
There are going to be many days where you may doubt that you can continue by yourself. There are lots of days when I doubt I can continue within my group. Itís during these moments where you can either succumb to the doubt and wither away like a dried up leaf or you can dig in your heels and push forward a little more. Itís totally up to you. Sometimes that little push gets you over the hump and youíre rewarded just when you were about to give up. Get focused NOW! I know how challenging it is to go out and try to sell CDís and promote yourself. I know how it feels to be rejected over and over again. I also know what itís like to feel like youíve put your all into something, only to have it disappoint you. But you chose to be an independent artist. Think back to all of the reasons you did it in the beginning. You might find that you have lost sight of your goals.

Keep these three things in mind when you're frustrated, ready to quit, or when no one is buying your music: Push a little bit harder, stay focused, and set and achieve short-term goals. Above all of those things, always have a plan. Nothing will kill any business of any size in any industry sooner than failing to plan.


Derek Felton is the founder of Chicago-based
Victory Marketing Group, a multi-media company which specializes in event promotion, artist management, and guerilla marketing. He is also the author of the e-book, Coming of Age: A Music Success Story; Vol. 1.

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