Record Labels in New Times

By Judy van Koten on 29-06-2020

It's a big goal for many artists: getting signed to a record label. Unfortunately, because of the outbreak of the corona virus, the entertainment industry is partially on hold. In these uncertain times it is questionable if record labels are eager to sign new artists. We spoke to Erroll Antonie from the allround label and publisher 'BMG Music Benelux', Bas Kruijssen from the trance/dance label 'Black Hole Recordings' and Sami Dmitrovic from the drum and bass label 'Korsakov' to find out if they look differently at scouting and signing new talent now and how they operate in times of corona.

What did scouting and signing artists look like before corona?

Sami (Korsakov): "Everything went really well! As record label we came in contact with people from the backstage at events and artists would play their songs to us. We also got submissions through Facebook or email."

Has the process of scouting and signing artists changed?

Erroll (BMG): "There's no difference. Recently, we haven't signed any composers without meeting in real-life first. We all did this within government and BMG regulations during this crisis! The only downside is that you can't see the artists play live right now."

Sami (Korsakov) adds: "Not much has changed really, except that scouting can't be done through events anymore. Because of these times, I feel like people have more time to dive into the studio, so we get a lot more submissions than before. This means the situation is also positive in a way, just not for the events. We also can't 'push' the names of the artists any further. The times in which we live has its advantages and disadvantages."

Bas (Black Hole Recordings): "We still get a lot of demos every week, so we don't have to actively look for artists who make music!"

errollFrom Left to Right: Erroll Antonie, Bas Kruijssen en Sami Dmitrovic

Are you more cautious in signing new artists now that live performances are not allowed?

Erroll: "The supply of composers is enormous at the moment, but it forces you to be more careful with your budget and more selective in attracting new talent. The fact that live performances are not allowed right now is killing for the whole industry, but also socio-economically. A performance for 30 people won't cut it!"

Sami: "We are still signing people for the record label. For the agency we don't. We did sign one duo in corona time: we placed a post in a big drum and bass Facebook-group with a call for some sort of talent album, for which people could send in their songs. We received more than 120 entries from different DJs and one duo was so good that we decided to sign them and release a solo album. They also played on livestreams to get more exposure."

Bas: “No, most artists dive into the studio now. If there is any material that can be released, we can do that. The end user is our main focus and that is usually the person who ultimately listens to a song on Spotify, for example. Record labels in the dance world don't really sign exclusive contracts anymore, but if they do, they will definitely think twice about it in these times. What's most important is that artists start performing again!"

When scouting for new talent, do you mostly focus on the online interaction and engagement from an artist on social media and is this enough for now?

Erroll: "No, signing a composer takes more than that. It also concerns matters such as how an artists 'moves': with whom or what does the artist surround themselves with and does that match with their profile and the message they want to bring across?"

Sami: "We do look at the socials, what the following looks like and how long the artist has been active. Also if the artists doesn't post strange things on Facebook, haha! Having a following and engagement is important, but it's also important to know if someone is truly passionate about what they're doing. There has to be a purpose."

Bas: “The most important thing is that artists that release music start performing again. By performing they will get more fans and thus more interaction and streams. But if they can't perform for a couple of months, the only thing a record label can do, is make sure they keep on releasing music. Artists won't release big albums now. The reason is simple: a big release must be supported by a tour. You will see a lot of big artists postponing their albums. Most artists in the dance world run on single releases, so those singles will continue as usual; also to ensure continuity! This means that we as a company just keep going and make sure people have something to listen to at home! I don't think we are the group most affected by the corona virus."

How do you stay in contact with artists in these times?

Erroll: “Everything is online now and I feel like it may even be more targeted/efficient than pre-corona! My point of view: some things go more efficiently!"

Bas: “Our contact with the artists is the same as before, but the way they reach their fans, did change. Performing live, but at home from you computer!"



PRFCT Mandem, the duo Korsakov signed after placing a call on Facebook

Do you see a future in paid livestreams as a replacement of live performances?

Erroll: “I think livestreams can exist NEXT TO live performances and maybe must, but they will never replace them!"

Sami: “No, we would like to keep it free! I feel like there's no use to pay for a livestream. You can find so many free livestreams, especially in the scene that we are in, so a paid one wouldn't work. Maybe if we offer something really unique, such as virtual reality. There would be some possibilities there."

What is your view on your position as a record label if the coronavirus persists long term?

Erroll: “My personal opinion: the music industry has had to reinvent itself a few times already and I'm sure we can do it again, one way or another. There are plenty of initiatives going on. It will affect our revenues, just like the rest of the economy, so you have to adjust your investments accordingly."

Sami: “As a record company I feel like it has both a positive as a negative effect, because our sales are going better than ever. Almost everyone is at home and is up-to-date with new releases: people want to do something! If corona persists long term, this will stay the same. It also has some negative effects, because a record won't 'break through' until everyone is listening to it. Now, it stays in a 'small circle' and isn't being spread globally, so the potential for it to become big is missing. 'Label nights' are cancelled as well and these nights are perfect for 'pushing' artists. If events will continue to be prohibited, it will have an enormous financial impact for us. We might even go bankrupt, so I really hope we will be allowed to do that again in September."

Bas: “It's hard to say, because we have never been in a situation like this. We did go through the economical crisis in 2008 and many smaller labels didn't make it. The catalogues that they left behind were picked up by bigger labels. If we really won't be able to perform for a few years, I think the smaller labels will get in trouble again and the 'bigger' boys will be able to take over their catalogues. But I find it pretty hard to make prediction. It can go either way."

Did the crisis have any positive effects?

Erroll: “It all had to be 'bigger', 'better', 'harder' and 'faster'. Humanity got a lesson in humility and so the music business did as well. I hope for the good in the end.”

What advice would you give starting artists that want to get signed?

Erroll: “Start out with asking yourself what you have to offer to the other party and make sure you know exactly what you expect of them. Write down 5 things that you really want/really enjoy and 5 things that you would never want or can do. Motivate your choices. Remind yourself that YOU are the CEO, CFO, R&D Department, the Sales Team and so on! Parties that you decide to collaborate with are nice 'amplifiers', but in the end it's a 24/7 job because it's about your art, your career, your future and your brand!"

Sami: “The production level needs to be very high and you need a unique sound. If the quality isn't good to begin with, we skip it. If we see potential, we will send you feedback on how to improve. We do try to help new artists, so they keep coming back to us. Who knows, they may get much better and will be worth releasing. We would never try to 'create' an artist: we want everyone to stay exactly as they are. People must move forward with their own strength and we can help to bring someone a bit 'higher'!"

A careful conclusion that we can draw after this conversation: the coronavirus not only had negative effects! We can also conclude that events shouldn't be postponed much longer, because this is an important part of the music industry that influences artists and labels immensely. If they are postponed longer, it will have huge financial consequences with chances of bankruptcy for some labels. Events or no events, though: music will always live on and real talent will not remain unseen. And, who knows? Maybe in these times of crisis this art form may be more needed than ever!

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Tags: record labels, korsakov, black hole recordings, bmg music benelux