Follow the birth of ASTIR Recordings in our monthly column by label boss Simon Huxtable
Based in the southwest UK, Simon Huxtable has 20 years' experience as a DJ, dance music journalist and label manager behind him. Now, in 2017, he's decided to go it alone and launch his own label - and our monthly column follows his progress every step of the way. Over to you, Mr H...
The last few weeks have been a bit of a blur. Paramount in my thoughts has been the need to grow the label organically, whether via social media or journalistic input from established magazines. Having a bit of an inside track has, of course, helped enormously and I would urge anyone who's starting up a label to spend a few weeks researching other label heads, magazine/website editors and a few well-placed public relations people. They all have a role to play in the larger plan of any music-based business, and having good working relationships with such people in place can only strengthen your position.
So, what have I achieved? Well, in the scheme of things, quite a bit for a brand new label! A couple of magazines have been quite keen to work with me, and as well as this monthly iDJ column, I managed to get an artist interview and a music review published before my first release went live as a Beatport Exclusive in mid-August. So let's spend a minute talking about promo lists because they are definitely a two-edged sword.
As a DJ, I loved being on promo lists - I still do. I save a fortune now the emphasis is on having the new tunes at your fingertips every week, rather than working a bunch of tracks you really like for a month or six weeks like we used to in the ‘vinyl days'.
Everything was harder to come by back then, even if you were on a list, such that incidents of records mysteriously going missing at the post office or en route to your house were all too commonplace. Not to mention actually staying on the list depended upon you properly feeding back to the label or distributor - none of that "downloading for R.Hawtin" nonsense!
I remember being added to my first list when I was a vinyl buyer at HMV. Our security guard was called Mr Crook (no, really), and he was a a bit of a jobsworth. Everything coming into the store was "property of HMV", according to him - even if it had your name on and the words ‘Promo Only - For DJ Use' emblazoned across the foot square envelope. Suffice to say the 18 months I spent at that store were peppered with cat and mouse games - hiding my promos and smuggling them from the building at the end of the day. Good times!
Anyway, after a few discussions with some label manager friends and the distributor, I'm left thinking promo lists are quite troublesome things if you don't look after them right. They are undoubtedly a useful tool for labels, but be super careful who you set up on your list because about 80 per cent of them have scant regard for your music and merely view the free tracks as "better than silence".
I have only 50 names on my list and as I write these words, not all of them have opened the promo email - possibly because I'm an unknown sender, possibly because they don't like the artist, but most likely because it's found its way to their spam folder and they don't even check there. And it messes with your head. It's easy to just add a load of mates, but what will that do to increase the exposure of your business if all your mates get the free tracks and none of them play outside the bedroom? Better to streamline, and focus your attention where it can have the most effect.
Given this, and the fact that music is so quickly passed over, I'm planning to shorten my promo runs to around two weeks, personally contact tastemakers and have conversations rather than blindly hope distribution promo services work. I don't mean to sound disillusioned or embittered, but I think the personal touch is important. I may even find I make a few new friends along the way.
Another aspect of keeping the label in the minds of the general public is radio. I have a few options at different stations and I've also been speaking to a dude who runs a syndication service, so keep your ears peeled. I'll let you all know how that all goes...
Words: Simon Huxtable