Quarter review: Q1/2018 a.k.a Holy sh*t, I did f**k up a lot

The first quarter, where I planned to take things seriously with Dark Beauty, is gone. TL;DR: Boy, did things go sideways! 

What I promised

In Q1, I wanted to mostly catch up on the release pipeline. “Timeless”, “Juno”, and “Carol” were planned to be released in February, March, and early April. I had a couple of artists I wanted to talk to about building DBA, being a platform for artist development. Last but not least, I wanted to bring at least one product to the market. Nope, didn’t happen.

What happened

All was going extremely well in regards to Dark Beauty up until January 20th. The quarter review would have been full of high fives, if I didn’t interview in one awesome company. Everything went pretty smoothly and I joined them… full time. At the moment of writing, I’m Chief Technology Officer of an InsureTech project. And I’m really passionate about what I do. I was never happier at work. Problem: The amount of time I spend with Dark Beauty is almost non existing.

Also, Burning Man happened. After 4 years of trying to gamble the system, I decided to not look for shortcuts in getting there anymore. Seems like my intentions to participate in the rough, artsy, inspiring, and dusty temporary city became pure enough… and I got tickets. I’m going to the Playa in August/September, which means two things: Preparations are cutting into the spare time I don’t have; and I’m possibly not going to make it to ADE 2018.

Releases

Yes, the Russians are still spamming demos to 400+ labels on CC, like they did back in 2015. But now they use Mailchimp, and apparently not well enough. It should have told them clearly, that I did open their mail, but never clicked a link. So why do they bother to send the same tracks over 3-4 times?

While demos were not the best channel to scout, there was one exception. Simon and  Fabio, a.k.a. Pindura. They originally sent their self released single for repost consideration. As I don’t do this anymore, I politely responded and thanked them for the effort. Well, then I listened to the track, and was blown away. After couple of e-mails, we agreed to try a remix EP. As unbelievably as it sounds, we got 4 remixes out of 6 people I’ve asked. 4 really great remixes, coming out later in May.

I’ve mentioned the new place where i work now. Well, the world is small. One day, I’m scouting the german scene to find nothing groundbreaking. The other day, I come to work for my first work day to meet Marvin and sign the EP together with his longterm collaborator Patrick. Space EP is currently being distributed for promo.

With that said, I will fit “Timeless”, “Juno” and “Carol” into the upcoming schedule, as I didn’t make it in Q1.

The good stuff that happened

In Ultima and Space EP are my Q1 highlights in terms of music. The Proton contracts have been a huge relief from bureaucracy. Other than that, there wasn’t that much going on. Except…

It was just before Christmas in 2017. I got a message from a girl, named Anastasia (It’s not my Prague DJ in crime partner Anastasia Lova). Our conversations got long and deep ever since. She is an aspiring DJane, now successfully played a club debut, an open air event debut, and gets recognized in her local scene more and more. She has a vision for herself. She is excited. She is curious. She’s the prototype of a person I’d love to work with in DBA. She taught me a lot by simply asking questions I’d never ask myself. It’s really very simple lessons for any aspiring artist: Be young. Be pure. Be curious. Be like Anastasia, a.k.a. Mierri. Thank you so much!

What needs to change

Mastering. I used to do mastering myself up until the point I couldn’t do it reliably due to hearing loss. After trying out few mastering services, I finally found a reliable and affordable mastering engineer. It’s none other, but Cid Inc. What I find as a bottleneck though: the label placing orders for mastering. I mentioned it’s affordable, and it really is. But if you’re a label, you cannot just pay it straight from the pocket – you need to do contracts, accounting, budgets, taxes. This stuff takes an awful lot of time. So for the sake of not waiting three months to get a release out, I’ll expect artists to arrange mastering themselves from now on.

Time. I need to put Dark Beauty time back to my calendar. Past Saturday’s three hours made a huge leap forward, so this is possibly going to continue.

Products. There was none released, but there are two in the works. A book, and a series of video tutorials. Book first, tutorials later. No more multitasking on both.

Goals. I set bold goals for Dark Beauty this year. But strayed away. I need to focus more. And I’ll be actively looking for an intern. Yes, I’m going to pay that intern for work.

RIP music curation on Soundcloud? Discover Dark Beauty is no more

Soundcloud deleted Discover Dark Beauty along with several other music curation channels without notice. I’m wondering, if this means an attempt to take a bite off repost channels’ revenue. Looking at previous attempts to monetize, I’d say the guys in Berlin are starring into the barrel of a gun yet again (if true).

This is highly speculative and subjective content.

 

It seems to be a calm afternoon. I try to have a look on some cumulative stats of Dark Beauty while on the go, but it won’t load. I dismiss this as connection error. Two hours later, friends start messaging me they cannot find Discover Dark Beauty (I call it DBR internally, so I’m gonna stick to that as an acronym). Houston, we got a problem!

How DBR worked

I was launching DBR with one intention in mind: Instead of 4 niche-specific channels I’d need to follow personally, I wanted to group them into one feed, and filter it by quality. The backend consisted of simple APIs that periodically fetch newly posted tracks, and evaluate their popularity (comments, posts, reposts). The best tracks bubbled through the threshold. I logged into Soundcloud, opened today’s batch. After doing one more manual QA of each track, I have liked and reposted them on DBR (manually).

Surprise surprise: during testing, I found out that there is a wide overlap in people who like and repost almost every single track from that. The Dark Beauty niche is real! 🙂

Where I might have crossed the line was what happened afterwards. I started following people who were active on the tracks on DBR. As a result, I would get data, and get them to follow back. Soundcloud usually gives you a warning strike if you follow too many accounts at once, but I already know you’ll never get a warning if you reach out to 99 people per day. Noteworthy: you do not follow anyone twice – that raises flags. I was hoping to get an audience big enough to be able to pitch producers for eventual premieres on DBM. I won’t lie to you, if this would have worked and artists would later on start pitching their tracks to DBM, we could start charging them for the service – as some channels do.

Lesson learned: A music curation channel should serve the audience and help grow it, organically. I have crossed this off from the possible direct revenue streams, but am going to continue building one.

What this might mean and who’s going to suffer

I really do hope it’s me who broke the Terms of Service (I’ll look into that). It might become a disaster if repost channels start to get banned. It might be a disaster for SoundCloud. You could guess, that having a big audience usually means, that you also have a big mailing list. Instead of monetizing the audiences of Progressive Astronaut, Sweet Musique and similar, they could very easily lose them. The channel gets banned? E-mail newsletter out, and the community starts to move to a new place (Spotify? Website?). Money? Gone. Audience? Gone.

Since the upcoming one is yet another “music industry hacking weekend” for me, I’m including the topic of music curation to the itinerary. While the channel is gone for good, my API is not. I only need to craft some nice UI on top and voila.

Note: This is by no means an attempt to rant on any company or subject. I just analyzed a very unusual behavior, that’s all.

Dark Beauty in 2018 – Still an electronic music label?

It happened one Friday in later October 2017. I snoozed my alarm to realize I was going to be late to work. Again. Even though it was the best job I had to date, after a weekend spent in thoughts about future, I handed in my resignation. Today, a week after my notice period was over, I’m getting up 6:25. To annoy my wife, and write few hundred lines of code / text /marketing for Dark Beauty. For the next couple of days, my own electronic music label is becoming my full-time job.

So, what exactly changes? What are the plans? Before I can go deeper into that, let me share a piece of background.

Very openly: Dark Beauty started as an outlet for me and my aliases only. When it comes to record labels, most of the producers I know are frustrated about not getting responses, or not getting signed. Which was not really the problem I was facing: I was in a state where I could sign tracks, but then usually lost all transparency about what was happening later. When are my tracks going to be released? How much money am I going to make? Who is going to remix my work? Who gets the promos? Guilty as charged, these were all issues I was very eagerly pushing aside myself while working with ABTC Recordings a while back.

All was cool until I started working more in the product business in my day-to-day job. Suddenly, all my frustrations became opportunities, which I was validating during 2017. Especially the time at ADE was eye-opening. “You don’t start a record label in 2017” was the message I kept hearing, and… I agree. I’ll get to that later. I also had the opportunity to speak with the most powerful people in the industry and have a look how top labels like Spinnin’ and Armada are working with their data. Turns out, top labels do their job several levels better compared to what I perceived.

Based on this, the first thing that I need to change is:

My commitment to Dark Beauty

Long story short, signing artists, getting their music on Beatport, and eventually paying them is only about 1% of the work a good label needs to do. And in order to take it further, it takes what? Time. I wrote that I’ll be working with the label full-time for upcoming few weeks. It’s going to be weeks with almost zero income, which for obvious reasons does not work. After that period, I will set aside 2 hours per day and I have to take that time from somewhere. Which unfortunately means putting my Raavn brand on autopilot for few months (already happening since November – mostly means no new releases or remixes). A sacrifice I’d make any day.

Dark Beauty is part of Proton now

In past few days, I have finalized the transition to Proton as our new distributor. Our previous one was fine for previous purposes, but there were few issues I would need to address in the future. The reasons for the switch is mainly:

Transparency: With great power comes great responsibility. Every now & then, an artist would come to me back in my days, asking about how much he or she earned. That required me to log in, click through a series of filtered statements, export, calculate, get back to the artist. As you can imagine, it was not comfortable. Not mentioning that credibility of the label suffers if you’re not able to send back a number in 2 minutes. Every artist should be able to check himself (herself) and that’s what we (Dark Beauty artists) can, now.

Contracts: Hands down, the contract text of the paperbacks was hilarious, but it was a disaster to produce, get them signed, and imported. Now, our artists get an email, click a link, that’s it.

Opportunities: The friends over at Proton are not new to the industry. It’s a vivid community that knows whats and wheres. With joining, we can use a part of their credibility, which is already opening new doors for us.

Technology and communication: having perks like account monetization on Soundcloud is sure very nice to have. But what Jason and his team are doing absolutely well is proactive communication, that’s simple to understand and actionable.

I’ll be catching up with releases, finally

I have to confess, that I lost most of the agreed releases, because artists don’t like to wait. After remastering, “Timeless” will come out in February; Sierra Haven “Juno” in March, and Cold Hatred’s “Carol” in April (Spotify + Free Download). I’ll be scouting in Prog and Techno music for new exciting local names in the Prague and Berlin region. I’m aiming for 10-12 releases this year. I’d rather have less, with better music and a lot of great remixes.

Dark Beauty is having a sister label, soon

This is an investment for the future, aiming at emerging markets around India, China, and Russia. These markets have quite different attributes and are VERY VERY VERY exciting to explore. Target niches are Uplifting Trance and Main-room. I will be working with the awesome folks at Horus on this one. It’s possible there won’t be that much buzz around this project, tho.

Q1/2018: We’re repositioning away from an electronic music label

My friends and colleagues from the music industry have noticed that light blue notebook I’m carrying around. Yep, that one, with the bear 🙂 Some of you are joking about it containing a million dollars worth of intellectual property. Well, guess what? Turns out there really is a lot of great ideas inside.

What is Dark Beauty going to be, if not and electronic music label? First and foremost, it’s going to be a business. A product business on two levels. Yes, it’s tempting to say that music is about emotions, and that an artist should be in it for the good vibes, not for the money; that a label should be a family. And that’s well true. I want Dark Beauty to be a family; a well-fed family that’s intellectually stimulated, has bold goals, and celebrates achievements together. A family of artists, that want to make it in the industry, or die trying. A family of artists that take actions instead of sobbing with lame excuses.

Q2/2018 DBA and DBF (Thanks to working for IBM I’ll never be able to let go of acronyms)

So where is DB going to shift from an electronic music label again? I’m heading into the product sphere from two different perspectives. The way most indie labels operate is: they perceive (or don’t) themselves as the product. They put out music as “The Label”. I want to level up that game by building artists as separate products. Instead telling the story about DB, I’ll be maintaining distinct artist stories of whoever comes in. In order to be able to support and grow the family (I’ll refer to it as “DBA” from now on – A is for Artists), I’ll be building industry specific products. People are able to build industry-changing apps in 24 hours, so I don’t se a reason why I couldn’t build 7 products in 12 months (I’m saying building, not launching). Goes without saying I have a budget for it.

The core

While in Q1 I’ll be focusing to identify first members of DBA (Looking at usual suspects like Martin Michniak and Nephyx, hi guys! 😀 ), I’ll physically build that thing in the second quarter of the year. How it’s going to look like? I don’t know. But I sure do know that it needs to retain every piece of information that I share there, so I don’t need to repeat myself with everyone who joins. I want to cover an artist brand development roadmap first and foremost: From brand New artist, through Emerging brand, Local hero, into a Global hero. I’m also seeing a network of visual artists, as well as managers being part of the inner circle of DBA. DBA will also cover management issues (a.k.a. happily showing the finger to promoters who’d love to see you perform for free).

The inspiring outer circle

Once there, we will discuss about DBF (F for Focus). I do have a very specific network of people I absolutely “click” with. They can be identified by being able to have a bi-directional conversation with me (Meaning: we were able to intellectually enrich ourselves, both ways 🙂 ). I want to expand this network of people. The trait they share: everybody wants to make the world a better place, and is not afraid to dig in. Most of my great ideas come from talks with these people. I know why I want to bring them in, question is how and what to do.

Q3/2018 Sample Packs, HAZE2 and DBM

“Sample packs? Seriously?” – well turns out there’s still room to bring fresh sounds into the game, especially if you have an analog at home (I don’t but it’s planned). Niche specific sounds, a fresh perspective on packaging. It’s going to be primary a way for DBA to get inspired, but I believe we can get a buck out of it later on.

Lessons learned from 2017: 2 months are enough time for 2 remixes only. So this time I want to allocate 6 months to make the HAZE compilation better by having at least 6 remixes. I already started poking around, gonna pitch tracks to remixers in Q2, and will chase for the deliverables in Q3.

My current consulting biz (Problem solver for music industry) will also join the Dark Beauty umbrella, and will be rebranded as DBM (M as Marketing). After implementing rates, my world got polarized into the half which tells me I should charge more, and the other half who are never going to contact me again. There’s going to be possibly a more affordable version for the general public (maybe even free, don’t know yet), which will in essence guide you to solve your issues using DB products. It’s not going to be applicable for DBA, people who can make it in are worthy of my time investment.

Running an electronic music label successfully? All in the mind
Q4/2018 ADE, DBF, End of year evaluation

There’s going to be a lot to talk about at ADE 2018 if all goes well! I’ll be extending mostly personalized invites to DBF, as well as talking to artists and targets for our product line(s). If there’s a Hackathon, I’ll fight hard to bring a whole team to the hacking table.

After ADE, I’ll try hard to develop DBF, possibly with some outside mentoring. The goal is to be of such relevance at that time, that whoever I would like to bring in, would consider it a very worthy challenge.

I’ll wrap the year in between Christmas and NYE with some analytics. What did work? What did not? Does DB have active revenue streams? How did DB do financially overall and what’s the trends? And then early on in 2019, I will make the decision together with DBA and DBF: to either plan to scale what’s good about Dark Beauty, or kill the project altogether (to make room for something else).

Why the changes? Why can’t you just stay an electronic music label

Short answer: Cause a small indie electronic music label can change the world only with help of what they release. There’s exciting times for all artists ahead, and I want to contribute to the future of music.

Long answer: What I was hoping to achieve at ADE 2017 was to find ways to bring Dark Beauty under a reputable umbrella, because it will never survive as a one-man show. To be part of the future of the industry, in my opinion you need to go big. Balls deep in. Didn’t work unfortunately. I was too overwhelmed from where the industry itself is compared to the state of DB.

Later on I had talks with great labels that are struggling in my opinion. I tried to listen to the concerns, tried to think about ways how an eventual merger would help both. Unfortunately, label owners are almost exclusively the cause of 100% of their problems. Excuses like “If I had the skills, time and money, I’d own the world” are statements that are a showstopper for me personally.

The wrap up

If one does not have a perception of at least one of skills, time or money, I think there’s something very wrong. I’m now talking about 3 totally different labels (one of them is out of operation already) who are more less saying the same. Then I have a look on collectives like Monstercat, and am like: WTF? How can there be such a gap in mindsets? I don’t really want to solve this particular question, though. I think you are not able to fix a broken mindset, but you sure as hell can be the inspiration for that mindset to start changing. And that’s what I ultimately want to do with Dark Beauty. Inspire with success stories.

p.s.: Yup, I did use the words “electronic music label” in a slightly sarcastic way. It’s also good for SEO.

Raavn pres. Setwork #32

The final regular instalment of Setwork for 2017 is here. And it’s dreamy, deep, orchestral, cinematic, and very moody. 

It feels like I found a blueprint for the selection I love, the past few sets have a very distinct vibe. The 32nd part of the series spanning the past 7 years is one of the best in terms of what DJs call storytelling. Yes, the mix is not perfect, I did not care about harmonic mixing at all – it’s about the Journey and the Destination.

I was mixing this episode of Setwork rather late at night, and it took me 1.5 hours to get out of the state it brought me into – especially thanks to the resolve in form of Quatri’s track “Into the Oblivion”. Brought shivers all the way.

Also, I possibly might have a teenage crush on Nølah 🙂 She’s easily became one of my go-to artists this year. Worthy of a mention are also the amazing guys over at Saturate Audio, who are currently reinventing themselves into a very promising progressive label. The music is already there, no doubt – just give them a listen and you’ll fall in love.

 

Tracklist

01 // Baime – Tyras
02 // Dario Dea – Symmetry (master)
03 // RY X – Lean (Fake Mood ‘Sleepless’ Mix)
04 // Roma Moss – Full Moon Riders (Original Mix)
05 // Max Richter – On The Nature Of Daylight (Retza Edit)
06 // WhoMadeWho – Heads Above (Fake Mood Remix)
07 // Rupert Gregson Williams – Duck Shoot (Bloody Shelby edit)
08 // Artsever – Picturesque (Original Mix)
09 // Following Light – Peripatetic (Original Mix)
10 // Nølah – Lost Island
11 // London Grammar – Rooting for You (Robero remix)
12 // Quatri – Into The Oblivion

Innerspace played at Transmission 2017!

While we aren’t really a label focused on trance, we will never hesitate to release a trance track that’s Dark and Beautiful. Proof of that is “Innerspace”, a track by our household name, Martin Michniak. It’s incredibly humbling to get the kind of support we got during the recent weekend – a play at one of the greatest trance event there is: Transmission.

Thomas Coastline has our deepest thanks for including the Division One remix of Innerspace in his warmup set. For a small, young label like us, it means the world.

Pic by Martin Michniak, author of Innerspace

Why, you ask? During Transmission, there isn’t any real warm-up period. As soon as doors open, people start to pour in. The limit is just the capacity of the gates and security checks. Which is why, 11:30 minutes into the first set, there were already thousands of ravers on the dance floor. Exposed to the sounds of Martin Michniak, and Dark Beauty.

The whole set can be found here, and rumors say there might even be a video. You can download the track here.

Thank you, Thomas, for playing out Innerspace once again. You’re awesome! 🙂