Everyone wants to work in the music biz, it seems. Which is a shame, because unless you’ve got enough cash stored in your cheeks to survive endless months of unpaid ‘internships’ or you’ve had full sex with at least three signed bass players, it’s pretty damn hard to break into.
Far better, you could argue, to start your own record label empire from your bedroom. It’s easier – and cheaper – than ever to knock up a load of vinyl singles and get them out into the world. So with that in mind we’ve got a load of bands and label bosses to give us their top tips to inspire you to take the plunge. Check it all out in the new issue.
Here, for further inspiration, we’ve been taking a look at our own favourite labels in the office. Let us know yours below.
My own personal favourite has been picked more for gushy personal reasons rather than the fact that it defined a generation of bands or whatnot. It’s Cardiff’s now-defunct Boobytrap Records and it will always have a place in my heart. Formed in 2000 (when I was living in the city) by the then 21-year-old Radio 1 DJ Huw Stephens, the label released one single a month by mainly local bands until pretty much everyone with a guitar or a kazoo in south Wales had had a single out through them.
Quality was obviously mixed, but this wasn’t an aimless indie fight for local losers – the likes of Small Victories, Zabrinski, Johnny Boy and Mclusky got some absolute belters out. Whether turning down the chance to release a song called ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’ by a new band called The Darkness passing through the city on a support slot was a mistake or not, you can be the judge…
Key song: Mclusky – ‘Whoyouknow’
I love the story of Postcard. It was only going for about a year before it went bankrupt, but its lucky 13 releases were all gold – from Orange Juice to Aztec Camera. The label was also home to probably my favourite Scottish post punk band, Josef K. I love everything about their 1980 single ‘It’s Kinda Funny’ – from Postcard’s vinyl packaging to the harsh, acerbic recording of the single to, not least, the song itself (which is heroically good).
While I’m talking about The Sound Of Young Scotland (Postcard’s excellent motto), I also really, really want this documentary to be released…
Key song: Josef K – ‘It’s Kinda Funny’
Madonna called Prince’s bespoke label a ‘harem’ and there may have been some truth in what she said, in that he basically wrote and produced everything on the label under his name (or others).
Still, there’s no arguing with the quality of his own ‘Parade’, ‘Sign ‘O’ The Times’ nor The Family and Jill Jones’ self-titled debuts and Sheila E’s ‘Romance 1600’. Still, the less said about Carmen Electra’s album the better…
Key song: The Family – ‘The Screams Of Passion’
Founded in 2001 by The National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner and their uni friend, Alec Hanley Bemis, Brassland was initially conceived to release The National’s records at a time when no-one else would. A decade later they’re now on indie heavyweight 4AD, but Brassland continues to release thoughtful, eclectic albums by the likes of DIY punk fruitcakes Buke & Gase, classical virtuoso Nico Muhly – whose work you’ll hear on albums by The National and Grizzly Bear – and Baby Dayliner, a sort of hip–hop Jens Lekman.
This year they’ll release records by British folk band This Is The Kit, and potentially some instrumental works by Aaron and Bryce. Last March I got to spend a day with Alec, Aaron and Bryce, going around the different parts of New York that are so crucial to its function, and indicative of its open-minded ethos: the label’s warehouse office in DUMBO, Aaron’s Brooklyn home, Aron from Buke & Gase’s flat and studio in Red Hook, and a concert hall in uptown Manhattan where the label’s chamber group Clogs played that night.
Key songs: Buke & Gase, ‘Medulla Oblongata’,
The National, ‘About Today’
Back in the late 1970s, being quite into synthesisers marked you out as a deviant sort of character, the sort to be avoided, and synth-pop’s crown prince Gary Numan didn’t really do a lot to change that perception. It was Mute Records that made the synth a proper pop tool, and their early roster – Fad Gadget, Depeche Mode, Yazoo, Erasure – laid down a lot of that language that’s still being flagrantly ripped off today.
Of course, they signed their fair share of deviants too, and the continuing excellence of their roster (which today includes Liars, Josh T Pearson and S.C.U.M) confirms they remain a British institution to be treasured.
Key track: Depeche Mode, ‘Master & Servant’
This week’s NME magazine features a full feature on how to start a record label in a week, featuring advice from key industry insiders, Radio 1’s Jen Long, Glasvegas and more. There’s also interviews with The Maccabees and Chairlift, some lovely posters of key 80s icons and loads more. Find out more, grab a digital issue, or subscribe now.
There’s a few of our picks – it’s not a definitive list. What labels would you recommend for special attention and why?