Small Labels and the Side Hustle Pt. 1

As someone who runs a label (and works on this web site), a lot of folks outside Austin probably assume it’s a full time gig. Truth be told, my main gig is as an 8th Grade Teacher, then a soccer coach, then the site and the label. It got me to thinking of all the other small labels that are out there that I follow closely; they’ve all got their own stories, their own side hustles to make things work in order to bring you the music they believe is the best. So I reached out to a few of them of them to see if they’d briefly share their stories; today we have words from Lost Sound Tapes, The Nothing Song, HHBTM and Arrowhawk Records.

Lost Sound Tapes run by Jon Manning

How many releases?

We’re up to release LST-102, almost exclusively cassette tapes, and another 6 seven inches that were a singles subscription series with confusingly different catalog numbers, LST-SUB.

How long has the label been running?

Started in 2005 by dubbing 50 copies of my first “real” musical project called Blanket Truth. I ordered blanks from tape.com and used my dual cassette boom box.

What’s your day job?

I work as a contractor for a company called Aeolidia and I build custom Shopify themes. We mostly work with women-run creative businesses that have outgrown Etsy and are looking to have their own e-commerce site in order to reduce fees and reduce reliance on someone else’s business ecosystem. I feel very fortunate that I can work from my computer and work for small businesses to make a living for myself and family.

How do you balance the two?

Being independently employed is a blessing and a curse. It takes discipline which for me personally comes and goes. Surprise, surprise, I make no money from Lost Sound Tapes but I prioritize it and much as possible. In 2012 I moved from Seattle to Vancouver, BC. Although I live in Canada the label is still based in Seattle. If a band needs to have a release in time for a tour I’ll make the trip down to Seattle, sometimes at quite short notice, to assemble tapes and then work from a coffee shop to get done what I need for the work day.Vancouver is about 3 hours from Seattle (pending traffic and border), so it’s a commitment for sure. I get such satisfaction from helping people achieve their goals especially when all of the bands we work with are friends of ours so it’s absolutely worth it.

What unexpected challenges have you faced as a small label?

Before I moved to Canada I wasn’t really sure what I’d do because most of the people who buy from us direct are in the States. Shipping from Canada to U.S. is about $10for 1 tape and that’s not really sustainable when our tapes are $5. Our close friend Chris Mac from Jigsaw Records offered to ship our mail order from his shop and it basically saved Lost Sound Tapes. I don’t know if I’d still be able to do this without him. I’m eternally grateful to him and everything he helps us with! He continues to ship our orders and helps with keeping our inventory up to date.

I wish there were better ways to sell within Canada, but I only have limited stock at home as most is in Seattle with Jigsaw. We basically have physical locations in two countries and I wish we could take better advantage of our unique situation. At the moment the most inexpensive way for Canadians to order from us is through our Bandcamp lostsoundtapes.bandcamp.com because in Bandcamp you can set inventory and shipping based on locations. Shopify has introduced a similar feature very recently and its something I hope to have sorted out in 2019.

What’s the most important thing you’d share with those wishing to start their own label?

Support local small businesses! Need to print something? Try to use a local print shop and not a huge chain. You’ll often get better prices and better quality. I even consider franchises as part of this as they’re independently owned. My favorite print shop is a UPS store run by a family of 4.

Also, ask people you respect how they got started and ask how they do things. I’ve learned a lot over the years just by sharing information and comparing notes with others.
Both of these pieces of advice can apply to anyone’s life regardless if you run a record label or not.

What’s your biggest success?

New successes happen all the time and I feel like that’s a healthy thing that keeps up your momentum and enthusiasm. Celebrate the little things, celebrate the big things. If you get stagnant, you’ll get bored and quit.

Our first release felt like a big success, the Blanket Truth demo tape! Wow I made something! The lathe cut seven inch series we made that all came out on time. That felt like a big deal. Releasing a tape for Rose Melberg was pretty huge. Then our first LP was Rose’s band Knife Pleats. Now we’re married and have bands together (Imaginary Pants/Kites At Night). Hitting release number 100 was something I never imagined I would do and we have about 10 more releases planned for 2019. Upcoming: Space Daze, Flying Fish Cove, Sleuth, Olivia’s World, Dogsister, and more.

Parting words?

Be good and lead by example. Keep doing your thing for as long as you believe in it.

The Nothing Song run by Trish Connelly

How many releases?

One release – Blushing’s 7″ vinyl/single for “The Truth”. Came out October 26th, 2018

How long have you been running?

A couple months since putting out product, in the process since spring of ’18.

Whats your day job?

Booking and promoting at a music venue, writing film and music reviews/interviews

How do you balance the two?

Booking, promoting and writing are consistently steady with work, whereas the label (so far) has had periods of immense involvement followed by some downtime. Most of the time my day jobs take precedence but when I’m in the thick of an upcoming release I know I’ll be putting aside extra time and effort to get tasks done. My current mindset isn’t on how many releases I can put out, but rather focusing on acts that really jump out to me and being deliberate on the next potential record. I generally have involvement in 7-12 shows a month at the music venue I book at, whereas I would prefer to take some time and have the ability to really consider the next release on my label.

What unexpected challenges have you faced running a label?

Since I’m a one (wo)man operation and Blushing’s single is my first release, the whole label process has been filled with new challenges. I think the most difficult ones have been the business side of things, distribution, and being a brand new label how to best get The Nothing Song Records and Blushing’s music on people’s radars.

Whats the most important thing you’d impart on folks wanting to start labels?

I feel like you can only start a label for the sheer love of it. If monetary value is the driving force or you have a casual attitude towards starting one, I feel like that will either come across to the audience you’re trying to reach along with the band(s) on your roster and/or be a disappointing venture somewhere not so far down the line. Be sincere and thoughtful in the type of label you wish to craft — if your heart is set on starting a label and your love for the music you release is genuine, you’ll find a way to make it happen. Also asking questions and having a driving curiosity for what others out there are doing as a means of learning from and collaborating with each other.

Whats your biggest success?

Recognizing that for most of 2017 I had it in my head that I wanted to start a record label as my next music venture, and actually making it a reality rather than an idea that just lived in my head for 2018.

Arrowhawk Records run by Alyssa, Sammi and Tori.

How many releases?

2019 will bring our 20th release.

How long have you been running?

Arrowhawk turns 6 years old this coming February.

What’s your day job?

I work full time as a publicist at Riot Act Media handling album and tour press for great labels like Mexican Summer, Polyvinyl, New West, and independent artists as well. I’m also an adjunct professor at UGA’s Music Business Program, at the Terry College of Business.

How do you balance the two?

I try to look closely at what time will be required from each project and space out release dates. Since I do publicity for Arrowhawk’s releases, any album I put out on the label means one less paid 3-6 month campaign I’ll have room to take on, so I also have to make sure that financially I can handle the lost day job income, in addition to funding the physical components of a release. Within the label, I try to put out one album at a time so each artist gets to be the baby for a time. As a project-based publicist, I’m now ten years deep into making sure I take on enough work to pay the bills without spreading myself too thin, so it’s a constant balancing act, but hasn’t been an issue really! My interns end up being joint Riot Act Media+ Arrowhawk Records interns, which I hope presents more of a variety of tasks for them. I’m fortunate that my day job and my label are in the same field, so contacts met on a label trip could be future clients or press contacts, and vice-versa. There’s a lot of overlap.

What unexpected challenges have you faced running a label?

It took me a long time to feel confident enough that I was offering bands enough to justify my cut. I’m now at the point where I realize that offering publicity, international distro, warehouse+ fulfillment services, radio, project management, time from rad licensing team with work with, a personal loan (aka producing physical), a new fam of other rad artists, and midwifing the whole release process is indeed something. Something that continues to be hard is recognizing when an artist is a good fit for your label, and when you should respectfully decline, even if you like the person or like their music.

Whats the most important thing you’d impart on folks wanting to start labels?

Figure out first what it is that you can offer artists beyond putting your name on their album. Building community and communicating directly with fans will bring you more longterm value than obsessing over getting on a specific playlist or particular piece of press. All that said, no one was truly ever “ready” to start doing anything, so better to dive in than wait for your plans to be perfect.

Whats your biggest success?

Existing after 5 years. Not being in debt (yet).

Anything else to share?

Support independent record stores. If you notice you’re streaming a record a lot, throw some money the band on Bandcamp as a virtual tip jar.

Happy Happy Birthday to Me Records run by Mike Turner, like a champ.

How many releases?

197 and counting. Three more already lined up so hitting 200 won’t be long.

How long have you been running?

On July 7th of 2019 will make 20 years.

Whats your day job?

Currently my day job is doing publicity via Crashing Through Publicity and industry consulting from manufacturing to distribution and so on.

How do you balance the two?

There isn’t much to balance really. I wake up, take the dog out, drink a big glass of water and either package up orders, sit at the computer and do email, or run errands until lunch time, which usually means getting tacos, then repeat the email part till I need a break, then I watch some Bojack Horseman or BMX videos on youtube until I can talk music stuff again.

What unexpected challenges have you faced running a label?

Mainly learning how to keep the business part business and the friend part not mixed into that. Then maybe putting a layer or level of separation between myself and each project. It’s not fun to deal with hurt feelings. Also, having to relearn everything every few years because the industry is always in flux and how not to get left behind. There have been some changes (myspace, facebook, digital distro, cassette revival, vinyl revival) that have been great, then turned out to be a bit pointless. It’s been way more fun to just stop caring to some degree and just do what has always worked and not worry about the current trends as much.

Whats the most important thing you’d impart on folks wanting to start labels?

Start small and work your way up. Just cause you can put out vinyl doesn’t mean you need to. Let the format fit the artist and audience. Know when to ask for help. Be nice to everyone, and be respectful of other people’s time and energy. Always price stuff out, don’t be dumb and just go with the first price quote you get for manufacturing.

Whats your biggest success?

Making it almost 20 years…. being on pretty good terms with almost every band I’ve worked with… not just giving up at the times where it went wrong or giving up during some of the more lean times… feeling like I don’t have to stick to any one genre or scene and I can put out whatever I want…. having put on 10 Athens Popfest festivals over 15 years.

Anything else to share?

Buy HHBTM records, get multiple copies of records and give them as gifts even if the person you are giving them to doesn’t have a record player! Support your local record store and go to shows.

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