Artist Interviews

How to Start Your Own Record Label – Q&A with Strong Island Recordings

Photograph of the blog post author, Mary Woodcock

Mary Woodcock

24.4.2014

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The thought of starting your own record label may seem slightly ambitious, or perhaps even daunting… but with enough passion and time, there’s no reason why it cannot be a success. Of course, it’s important to first think about the key fundamentals that should be in place before the launch, and the goals in which you wish to reach. The interview in the latter part of this article with Bradley Sked (Label Manager) of Strong Island Recordings will help pin down why he thought to start his own label, and the structures that had to be in place at the beginning.

Creating your own record label not only gives you a chance to showcase and put out your music favourites and those who you believe have talent, but also gives you 100% creative control of a potentially fun and flexible venture. But be aware, it may not always be fun and games as deadlines may soon creep up within this ever-competitive industry, including artist releases, press/PR tasks, finding new artists, and distributing promotional material.

It may take a while to reach a point of fair capital, but with enough passion and love for the label and the music you release, it may develop quicker than first thought. It may be healthy to begin by treating it as a hobby, something mainly for spare time until things may begin to pick up in terms of label success. It’s important to not just solely focus on the label at the very beginning, as we all need money to live, right? Be patient, take it in your stride, and love what you’re doing… And remember to keep those huge bags of ambition!

The first questions to ask yourself should be:

– What are my motivations? – What genres am I hoping to work towards? – Is there a market for this kind of music? – How will I raise money? – How will I distribute both promotional material and my music? – And of course before I start… The label needs a name!

Research is absolute key to the knowledge and successful development of your record label!

Strong Island Recordings is a boutique record label based in Southsea, Portsmouth. The label is a collective of producers, engineers, DJs, promoters, photographers, filmmakers, artists and ultimately friends…all drawing together their own creative ideas which make this label something unique on the south coast. Label manager Bradley Sked talks to us at Music Gateway about his ideas and experiences of starting the label and the current development:

1. Firstly, what inspired you to start your own record label?

I did a music technology course at college at 17 and one of the lectures was on music industry management, It was the only lesson in my life with a less practical element that I actually loved going to. I had zero musical talent but I still wanted to work within music. That and a book on Death Row Records: the rise and fall. It was a crazy tale of the infamous Death Row Records. Although I want my life to be absolutely nothing like theirs, the craziness somehow drew me to wanting to run my own label!  From those aspects really I decided all I wanted to do was run my own record label pushing acts I loved, it seemed a lot of fun.

2. Was it something you always saw yourself doing as such, or more of a spontaneous decision?

More so something I saw myself doing over time during my first year doing music technology and it was something I was passionate about. Leading up to it, after college and during university I did a few internships here and there and then co ran a label called Sounds of Sumo to get experience before I started this project. About 2 years into SOS I decided it was time to start a label with my own vision as SOS was very much Kry Wolf’s as that was his vision and baby so to speak.

3. What fundamentals did you have to make sure were in place when starting up your own label? 

An experience of the music industry and a strong understanding of the goings on. It’s a very unique industry with its own practices, there’s no manual that states how things should be done so hands on experience of working for labels and music companies was the number 1 tool for starting a label. Once I had enough confidence from working in various sectors of music over a few years I knew it was time to go and get started. That and artists, we needed them otherwise we would just be releasing silence!

4. Are there any other practical angles you use to promote the Strong Island Recordings? (E.g. live shows, festivals, networking events etc.)      

Shows are a good way to promote the label and artists yeah but we tend more to do live events more for fun really. Suppose it’s a ‘networking’ tool in a sense, we get to meet a lot of new people but I tend to think of it as a way of having a good time and curating a bill of acts we love and getting to see how the crowd react and talking to punters after their thoughts.

I tend to avoid music industry networking events though, I’ve been to a few in the past, they’re always awkward, seems too much of an ‘I am’ sort of thing where conversation at times can seem contrived and false.  In terms of promotion of the label I prefer to focus more on the promotion of the artists though. They’re really what the labels about, without the artists we’re nothing so it’s more about pushing the talent, they’re the engine that keep us going.

6. As an already brand with multiple areas aside from the record label (Strong Island Media, Strong Island Clothing, and even Strong Island Ale etc), what inspired your decision to collaborate with Strong Island when creating your label? Has this been a big positive in terms of brand awareness and marketing for the label itself?

Yes certainly, Shadow Child ironically enough helped launch the label and introduced me to Strong Island and suggested them due to their amazing creative vision. The art and visual aspect goes over my head, ask any act who I have ever dealt with! Paul & Tristan who run the main Strong Island site was digging my vision and ideas of the label, being big music fans they were thinking of some involvement of music in their DIY empire but weren’t sure how at the time to fit it in so it came together perfectly. They’re great, with branding, tee shirts, videos, photos, stickers the lot, they’ve taken the vision I had in my head of the labels aesthetic & made it 1000 times better than I could have ever thought. It’s helped us as well with events to signing bands as people appreciate the strong aesthetic of the label and it’s unique, (no pun intended) strong branding.

We also got a nice head start from the local area such as being able to launch our label at Southsea Fest which was really, really cool. Without teaming with Strong Island, the label wouldn’t even be half of what it is today. 

8. Aside from strong material and live performances, what do you look for in a band/artist with regards to signing them or putting out a release?

Their personalities totally. If they’re genuinely nice, easy to an extent to deal with people, I’m willing to go that extra mile to push them as far as possible. I like to sign acts that would get on with everyone else, maybe helping build a sort of community. It’s also great to see artists with ambition and belief in themselves. I would rather work with an act I love, who is totally cool and down to earth with 1 follower on Twitter and 1 Facebook fan than an unreliable band with 10,000 followers.

10. And finally, what do you enjoy most about being Label Manager at Strong Island Recordings?

Getting to work with acts I love and release their music that I think is the best thing in the world. If I get to release something and others dig it then that’s a great feeling especially when the artists are happy too. A lot of what I do is gut instinct so it’s nice to know my gut feeling can be right at times!

Click on the link to find out more about Strong Island Recordings and their artists.

If you would like to be featured on a Q&A on the Music Gateway blog, please email: team@musicgateway.com



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