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Birth of a label, part 10

Why remixes matter, and the power of streaming

2018 Jun 29     
2 Bit Thugs

With ASTIR's momentum gathering, Simon's rethinking his business model and looking to the future

Based in the southwest UK, Simon Huxtable has 20 years' experience as a DJ, music journalist and label manager behind him. In 2017, he decided to go it alone and launch his own label - and we're following his progress every step of the way... 

Things are picking up! The Audioglider release got tongues wagging and it seems, from the feedback data so far on my latest release, that those wagging tongues reached as far as Radio 1 HQ. I’m also convinced my A&R policy is paying off. I’ve received enough new music to schedule releases every week, rather than the once-a-month schedule I have currently. And because of that, I can be super-picky. I’m even picky with remixers.

I knew that bigger artists are attracted to bigger artists, but I didn’t realise just how sheep-like the industry had become until this last release. Tripswitch is, in progressive house circles, the Salah or Messi of our generation. To top that off, he’s a fantastically down-to-earth guy who was more than happy to donate the remix he did for free (the bigger names charge still anywhere from £200-£1000, paid upfront). Thanks to his remix of Hot Jupiters alone, I was able to access music media in a way I hadn’t before. I was like the fat kid with keys to the sweet shop! That promotion helped no end.

Freek is chic
With that head of steam already bubbling up, ASTIR's latest release has Kölsch and a number of other key influencers frothing at the mouth. The record in question is Child Inner from little-known Dutch artist, Freek Strano. I remember him contacting me: unassuming, polite and professional, I had a good feeling about him before I even heard the music, and I wasn't wrong.

Rich, sophisticated and multi-layered, the four tracks he played me got under my skin instantly. I would have signed all four, but he told me he was waiting on another label first. As it happened, they signed three, leaving me with Child Inner. I knew straight away who I’d get to remix it - Pako & Frederik. Their first EP (ASTIR001) is still my best-selling release, so having them onboard made me very comfortable taking a chance with Freek.

With things going so well, it’s been hard to keep focus. Being a one-man-band label has its benefits, but it’s also tough keeping going and staying on track. I’m looking at how and when I run my promotions and even considering spacing out the releases a bit more to give each one more time and effort. I can’t really do that until the new year, so what I’ve decided is to release a couple of my own tracks and to compile two albums - an Ibiza mix and a 2018 best of - which will basically see out the year. Then I’ll take January off and look at restarting at the end of February.

By then, I should have Spotify cracked, which is what I really wanted to talk about this month.

New beginnings
Streaming is gathering pace. “Well, durrr...” you may say, but for the vast majority of label owners, the old business model is still their preferred approach. Without needlessly harking back to "the good ol' days," owning a label pre-digital revolution was easy. There was money, for a start - lots of it. And talent wasn’t something you judged on a TV programme. These days, though labels are almost unnecessary (and yes, I'm aware of the irony in that statement).

You can upload your music to YouTube etc and beam it out to the world for the price of your internet connection (or your parents', in many cases). From there, you can arrange your own deals, licensing, syncs and publishing. DIY is becoming much more affordable and attractive: the problem is, of course, that the gatekeeping labels do is moot. Spotify, to its credit, is looking at changing the shape of the industry and as a businessman, I'd be stupid not to be fully committed to using their platform.

Set aside the fact that music has become less valuable in terms of ownership: that concept is something my generation will see die with us. It won’t be long before DJs are signing into retail stores directly from the club and mixing track streams rather than a downloaded audio file. There won’t be the need for WAV vs MP3 audiophile arguments, and those annoying drunk people can request away safe in the knowledge their choice is merely a mouse click away. There might not even be a need for DJs if automation allows… but let’s not depress ourselves!

Suffice to say, if you want your label to survive, don’t worry too much about a website and Soundcloud, just make sure your YouTube and Spotify games are strong and you have an Insta that posts more than pictures of your dinner. This is where I’ll be focusing my efforts from here on.  

Words: Simon Huxtable

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Tags: ASTIR, Tripswitch, Radio 1, Freek Strano, Pako & Frederik, Spotify, streaming, YouTube, Instagram, Soundcloud