What Is A Record Label? - Turntable Kitchen
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What Is A Record Label?


This may sound like a silly questions – we all know what a record label is and does, right? Or wait – we think we do? I’m sure this is going to sound like common sense to a lot of you but you’d be surprised at how many people walk into our work building asking where the recording studio is.

To many people’s disappointment, we have to explain that a record label is not the same thing as a recording studio. Or I’ll constantly get interns saying they want to work in the label department and when I ask them what they want to do, they look at me with a blank stare.

I’ve come to realize that most of those college kids envision the major label’s that are depicted in 70’s music industry movies – flashy men in expensive suits with wads of cash in their pockets at all times. Hell, maybe the major labels are still like this but I can tell you right now that indie labels are a world away from that.

So what exactly does a record label do then? The main thing you need to keep in mind when thinking about record labels is that they put out (and pay to put out) records. I’ve worked with labels that range from a one man show to a 30 person operation and there is a wide range of tasks these labels do that vary based on size.

I’m not an expert on the topic (I work in distribution which is also not the same thing as a label) but know enough record label owners to tell you a little something about them. Again, if it’s a one man show than that person is most likely doing ALL of these things themselves but if there are a handful of employees, chances are they are each assigned to their area of expertise:

– A&R: someone has to scout for bands to be on the label. Sometimes this is one person’s job and other times a team effort, it’s just a matter of word of mouth, label people going to shows, and buzz that gets a band signed.

– Publicity: write up press releases, make sure cities along tour routes are aware of shows, make sure albums are being played on radio stations, etc. There are all sorts of publicist (tour, radio, etc) and many labels hire outside of their office for this.

– Retail Rep: some labels rely on their distributor to be in charge of this but others want to make sure they are reaching out to record shops and stores directly to make sure their albums are stocked everywhere. These are also the people in charge of maintaining good relationships with record shops and setting up in-stores, promotional events, and giveaways.

– Project Managers / Artist Development: these people are in charge of marketing budgets, promotional planning, production timelines, and overseeing that the record is released at its fullest potential with as much momentum behind it as possible.

– Social: This is a newer job but someone has to be in charge of running the labels (and often times the artist’s) Facebook, instagram, twitter, google+, spottily profile, Rdio profile, and other social networks.

– Mailorder: someone has to fill those orders that you place on the label’s website. I’ve seen labels who have mail-order specific employees while there are other labels I’ve worked with who have all the employees tackle the orders in addition to their usual tasks.

These are all in addition to the normal roles that all businesses must have in place in order to run an efficient ship (accounting staff, general managers, tech support, legal representatives, assistants, interns, etc). In the end, all of these tasks are things revolved around putting a record out. Phew! If it sounds like a lot then it’s because it is!