The Pit and the Pendulum:
Notes on setting up an indie record label

The success of our recent Horse Party singles and the Bury St Edmunds album has made R*E*P*E*A*T feel like a real record label.

Packing up and mailing out orders, being interviewed by the media, employing PRs, reading reviews, hearing our stuff on the radio, 'This is The Sound of Sugar Town' has kept me out of mischief for months... and it has all been very exciting and gratifying. The success of these releases is of course relative (even the album is still some way off covering costs, for instance), but has been immensely rewarding, satisfying and cheering – despite whatever front we may put up, it is always comforting to feel appreciated. It has also lead to several other bands asking to release stuff on R*E*P*E*A*T, and to others asking advice about setting up their own labels.

The below is the reply to one such query and deals with what I have learnt over 20 or so years running what I'd call an artistically successful but financially challenged indie record label. Other people no doubt do it completely differently, but this is my truth (now tell me yours)...

* Do this only because you want to put out bands that you love, to share their music and to get them to a wider audience, not to make money. In my experience, it's very unlikely you will cover costs (only one of my 'proper' shop releases has ever done this) and running a label will also take up oodles of your time, energy and patience. It's 100 per cent worth it though when, for example, you hear your tracks on Radio 1, as with the Horse Party single only last night.

* Engage some quality control; comparing some of our mid period compilations with the recent Bury one (where I had Seymour's opinion too), and the very early ones (when we didn't know many bands in a position to release with us but the ones we did know, really were the biz), I see I have perhaps put out some substandard stuff! Mentioning no names...

* Lots of 'the biz' works on the basis of who knows who, what favours certain 'in' people do for each other and what exciting 'gifts' you can provide them with – it came as a rude and brutal shock to me that, sadly, 'success' is not all about the quality of the music, but which of the slick slackers in Camden you're prepared to suck up to. You need to identify the people really into the music and not into the extra curricular benefits, and get them on your side. On the subject of little presents for influential people, we recently provided DJs with Bury St Edmunds tea towls and news paper cuttings on crocheted wolves... it seemed to work though!

* Be clear with the bands who pays for what and where any profits go; though I don't normally do any signing of contracts, I do write a clear email summarising what I think we have agreed, and stating that taking part in the project means that everyone is happy with these terms.

* Make sure you are clear who holds the copyright of the songs – with our releases bands hold the copyright of their tracks but we have copyright of the collection as a whole, so no one could re-release it exactly as we have, without our permission.

* We used to fill in MCPS forms so that any song writers who belonged could get their royalties, but now that seems to be done when you upload tracks ready for digital distribution.

* Song writers in bands may well benefit from joining PRS – they will then get paid for playing their own songs in a PRS venue, as well as when other people play or broadcast it. You night want to encourage them to do this.

* Our distribution (we use Backs / Shellshock) is invaluable. Not only do they get stuff into shops (or, more likely, arrange for it to be possible for customers to order stuff in), they also get it to Amazon, Play etc as well as giving it a push on digital platforms. We chose them all those years ago because they talk about records as works of art and not units, and clearly love the stuff we produce.

* MP3 and vinyl seem to be where it's at at the moment. I like Horse Party's strategy of alternating free download releases with vinyl singles (which we are now compiling for a CD album).

* Even if your tracks are already mastered, get the whole collection mastered – and mastering for vinyl is different than mastering for CD – Sam Marsh of Machismio's is great at this, and very reasonably priced!

* Bandcamp has worked well for us for the Bury album, although I wouldn't say even the 'free' version is cheap.

* Though another expense, using a decent PR, who is respected in the industry, is enthusiastic about your sounds and will work hard, is worthwhile. I'd not employ anyone who doesn't want to listen to your tracks before agreeing to work with you. In Cambridge I believe there is Quite Great PR (who I've never used); we've been using Manilla recently and they've done us proud. But you don't have to rely on an established company. One of our previous releases was reviewed in NME (and many other places) as we got an unemployed friend to hassle them in person every day until they agreed to give the record a spin! Enthusiasm is more important than professionalism.

* Extending the above - the personal touch often works best. I've only recently started using a PR, we got stuff on the radio in the past just by sending it personally to DJs with personal message and appropriate little gifts (no sex and drugs in our case); even with a PR, we still try to send personal messages out ourselves to our most important reviewers, on top of anything the PR might do.

* Make sure things are easy for journalists – as someone running a 'zine who also has to go to work, I find it much easier when CDs are submitted with just a one page of press release, or where digital media is submitted with some prose that can be pasted onto news pages etc, if there's not enough time for someone to write a full review. Put a folder of everything else a reviewer may need (MP3s, press release, band pix etc) in a folder on Dropbox or similar, where they can look if they want, rather than bombarding them with it unsolicited.

* Send out review copies at least 6 weeks before release date.

* Make sure bands utilise their own social media, that they remember to sell copies at gigs, plug the release etc. Try to get them to arrange at least a few gigs to coincide with the release.

*Good pressing plants:

I'm loving these people for vinyl at the moment tell MD Sam we sent you!
I have often printed the sleeves for 7's myself – that means you don't need to finalise the design at the same time as submitting the audio. I print on a rectangle 14” x 7”, fold and put in a plastic bag. If you use colour card but black and white printing, this is very cheap but looks professional– I always use David at Cambridge Printers.
However printing sleeves yourself for 10” or 12” records is a false economy, as I found out to my cost with the Beverley Kills single.

For Cds production,there's some helpful, local competitive producers

Don't forget, we at R*E*P*E*A*T can copy you CDrs at a very cheap rate!

Running R*E*P*E*A*T Records has taken my time, my money and maybe a portion of my sanity. It has also been one of the best things I have done in my life, and I am insanely proud of all the releases, even the slightly dodgy ones. They are all indeed works of art, if, occasionally, flawed ones. There's not many better bottomless pits to pour your finances and your energies into; so here's to our new single (a flexi!), albums and eps...

Rosey R*E*P*E*A*T, November 2015

Hear and buy our sounds on bandcamp here or direct here and here

Hints on running a PR campaign here