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.

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