We’re pleased that independent labels are getting plenty of stage time at this year’s Midem conference. The latest example was a session this morning of young European labels sharing their experiences.
Andreas Ryser of Mouthwatering Records; Nikola Jovanovic of Lampshade Media; Nis Bysted of Escho and Michel Peek of Bravoure Music were on hand for opinions, moderated by indie trade-body IMPALA’s communication and membership manager Didier Gosset.
The focus of the panel was on labels that has been formed in the past 15 years and how they were approaching things differently.
When asked why he would set up a label in a time of doom and gloom, Bysted argued the reasons were simple.
“It was to make something new and something that was free of the old ideas,” he said. “The dogma was that this was a hobby and something that I wanted to do. Of course, it developed into something else. The incentive was not to make money or have a capitalistic view on this. But things are different now.”
For Jovanovic it was an opportunity to expose the old ways of doing business where he was from as hopelessly anachronistic.
“The labels in the Balkans were still stuck in the 1980s and 1990s,” he said of the climate in which his label was set up. “As bands made their own recordings, we thought there was no way we should sign them to the old-style of deals. We mainly started as a digital label – and then we expanded into publishing.”
Ryser noted that thinking differently was not always easy as you often have to wait until everyone else catches up with you. “It was about doing it a bit differently and I wanted to work closely with the artists,” he said of the philosophy behind his label, before going to explain how his new business thinking was not always in sync with the market. “We had a button on the site where people could pay us via PayPal,” he laughed, “But at that time no one had PayPal so it didn’t work!”
Peek felt that being an indie today is equal parts blessing and curse.
“Developments in the last 15 years, we are seeing it easier to become a label,” he said. “It’s literally making an account on YouTube and you are a label. But it is more difficult to break an artist or break a career.”
While he felt it was much harder to sustain acts, indies can be fleet of foot where it really counts, adapting and evolving all the time. “Being an indie is very helpful in making these kinds of decisions as an organisation,” he suggested. “As an indie, you sit at a table and decide with your team what way to go – left or right. That is what I love about being an indie.”
Coming from a smaller country was, for Bysted, not a disadvantage. Rather it was a hugely positive thing because it meant they could experiment and change without being in the spotlight.
“You can use Denmark as a playground – a place to develop things,” he said. “Maybe that’s harder when you come from a big country where there are lots of people looking at you. The stakes are not as high when you are starting out in Denmark. We are giving artists a peaceful place to experiment and get going – without thinking too much about the pressure.”
Ryser’s advice was to be brave and focus on the music to start with and get that right – and then worry about the finances later.
“It’s not about selling music at the beginning,” he said. “Not at all. Of course, you tell people you are a label and selling music, but [at the start] it is everything around that.”
Bysted added that the economic realities are such that you cannot focus on one thing. “It’s about multi-tasking,” he argued. “We release Ice Age in Denmark and then manage them outside of Denmark. I organise their tours in America, for example.”
That, however, can prove difficult to navigate sometimes. “I like to multi-task,” he said, “but it would be a nice challenge to narrow things down.”
Jovanovic said that his label was an anomaly in the beginning in the Balkans, but things are starting to shift as others follow their lead.
“Competition is tough and it’s getting fierce,” he sighed. “But that’s something. People have started giving advances again – which they didn’t do three years ago. That means something has changed in the business.”
He did, however, say there was still something of a knowledge gap in the music industry in the Balkans. He said companies like Spotify and Deezer need to come over and teach the labels there how to properly monetise playlists. He added there was a pressing need to educate people there about contracts, copyright and marketing.
Ryser ended by saying that a throwing-everything-at-the-wall strategy was unworkable for small labels, suggesting they limit what they do but do it well. Less, the argument runs, is more – and that is nowhere more apparent than in release schedules.
“Don’t release something every week,” he said, “because you are just cannibalising your own artists.”