If you feel like there are a lot more musicians today, you’re probably right. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the employment of musicians and singers is projected to grow 11 percent from 2020 to 2030. Faster than the average for all occupations in the country.
Major labels have lost market share, and there are more indie record labels than ever before pushing into their territory. With the advent of the digital audio workstation (DAW), even a broke college student with a laptop can record, mix, and master from their bedroom.
Despite an increased number of avenues for self-released tracks, the exposure and support of a label can still make a huge difference to an up-and-coming musician. If an artist can cut through the noise of bedroom producers and reach the ears of the right executive, they can sign the contract of a lifetime.
Derek Clark and Ed Brew were both on opposite sides of the Atlantic when they became bedroom producers during the global rise of Electronic Dance Music (EDM) in 2009. A music movement characterized by thousands of artists producing electro and dubstep dance music on home computers.
Through their subsequent experiences in the music industry, they both realized labels were burning their fanbases. They simply received too many emails and demos to respond to them all and were leaving hundreds of dejected fans in their wake.
The two met over a charity mixtape and created a platform called LabelRadar, a tech solution for artists to better showcase work and access labels. It also grants labels efficient access to potential new artists. They bring in about $300,000 ARR today by disrupting A&R in the music industry – with almost 200,000 plus artists who have submitted nearly half a million tracks to date.
Here’s how they did it.
Getting Airtime on the BBC as a Teen
Both Ed and Derek were entrepreneurial types from a young age. During university, Derek simultaneously attended the Berklee College of Music, ran a lawn mowing business, produced dance music, co-founded a social reading and booknote reminder platform called BookThinkers, and ran his own charity-oriented record label.
For Derek, he knew he loved EDM after hearing Deadmau5’s Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff in 2009. It inspired him to download music-making software FL Studios at 15 years old and start making music. “I simply knew as a kid that there was something special about the music industry and I wanted to contribute to that world,” Derek says. “At concerts, I would always look at the people around the DJ on the side of the stage and try to guess what their role in the industry was. I was hooked!”
But while many of his other ventures panned out, that record label struggled to reach profitability. Derek had trouble sourcing enough releases to sustain a regular schedule. It was difficult to find artists that had tracks available for signing or open to release with another label.
“One of the hardest parts of the industry on the label side was building initial artist relationships and efficiently finding unreleased music,” Derek says. “On the artist side, it was daunting to know where to even begin. Everything from navigating the industry, to finding the right connections, to even having someone listen to your tracks was tough. I knew there had to be a better way for emerging labels to source tracks from artists who had music actively available for signing.”
Across the Atlantic in the United Kingdom, Ed was also starting his career in the industry. Like Derek, Ed began his music career as an artist in the “golden age of EDM” by making dubstep tracks.
Ed claims what got him into production – and music in general – was a software in Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal boxes in the UK called the ejay Dance 4 Club Machine. It was a small sequencer and sampler, tools used to take audio clips and turn them into rhythms.
“I uploaded a couple of them onto YouTube,” says Ed. “I found it addictive watching the likes go up even though I only had about 36 of them. Long story short, I ended up doing more and even got some radio play from the BBC.”
Ed loved making music. He also loved everything peripheral to the scene. He began using his YouTube channel to interview other producers and drop homemade mixes. “Back then, content was kind of lacking in the artist scene,” he says. “I wanted to do interviews with more than, ‘What’s your DAW?’”
In 2013, Ed used his network of bedroom producers to release a compilation album for charity. The mixtape, titled Every Day Matters, launched his career in the music industry and brought him into contact with his co-founder, Derek. “By the time it was released, it was 78 tracks,” Ed says. “It featured some of my favorite artists at the time and raised a lot of money for charity. Although it was never my intention, I got a ton of job offers and decided to pursue a career.”
Ed was in the thick of it now. He was creating content and licensing for YouTube channels, working for a tech startup in London, launching an artist management company, and working at a handful of labels like Monstercat and Disciple.
Why So Many Artists Go Unsigned
While Ed was working with Monstercat, he noticed a huge communication gap between artists and labels. “We would receive a huge amount of demos every week but struggled to answer them all,” he says. “Labels have limited time to go through demos, and when they are frequently getting spam emails, they aren’t getting ROI from going into it. To listen to an artist you have to go through a lot of steps. You need to download the emails and then download the .wav files and do all these things just to hear what could be a bad track.”
Derek and Ed, who were catching up regularly at this point, realized this was causing a huge rift to form between artists and labels. “The same people sending demos are the same people who buy merch and go to shows,” Ed says. “When these artists send their tracks in and hear nothing from the label, it creates a rift with their community and hurts their brand. It’s not that labels don’t want to interact with the community, they just don’t have a system for hearing everything.”
“These very same artists getting rejected by labels would be perfect for the tens of thousands of small-to-mid-sized labels.”
Derek adds, “These very same artists getting rejected by labels would be perfect for the tens of thousands of small-to-mid-sized labels. Unfortunately, there simply wasn’t an easy way for these connections to happen.”
Having both been bedroom artists struggling to get attention and having both worked at labels both small and large, Derek and Ed commiserated over this industry flaw. In 2017, after discussing for some years, they put the pieces together and came up with LabelRadar: a tool that would make sure artists couldn’t spam labels and gave each one a better chance to be heard and responded to.
They recruited two brothers as technical co-founders, Juan and Sebastián Ferraras (both engineers originally from Argentina) who had worked with Derek on previous projects. They used Derek’s life savings at the time to make their first hire: an Argentina-based full-stack developer named Ariel Kohan (one of Juan’s classmates) and got down to business.
What LabelRadar Does
Derek describes LabelRadar as Linkedin and Tinder for artists and labels put in a blender. Artists create an account, upload their songs, and select 20-second clips that labels can listen to. “This lets them control the impression,” says Derek. “Any artist can sign up, but we do content ID scanning to prevent copycats and spam accounts.”
Once they’ve uploaded their tracks, artists can select which labels to send which tracks. If they don’t know which they want to send to, they can list their tracks as open to anyone.
Artists are incentivized to be choosy about who hears them. They get a set number of submissions to labels every month if they don’t have a pro subscription (pro subscriptions let artists send more submissions and rank at the top of label inboxes automatically for faster responses).
If they don’t want a pro plan, artists can buy more credits for more submissions. “The credit system introduces intentionality so we don’t have artists spamming labels,” says Derek.
“Artists have to be more deliberate with where they send their music. Labels receive submissions that are more relevant to them, which in turn increases the chances of success for artists,” adds Ed.
LabelRadar also makes it possible to earn credits without paying for them. Artists can participate in regular competitions to earn credits, alongside other prizes such as official releases, money, software, hardware, and more. LabelRadar also has a credit-back guarantee if a label doesn’t listen to a demo within 30 days.
Besides being a way to get tracks heard, Ed and Derek want LabelRadar to offer a community experience to artists too.
“There is all this stuff that can make being an artist isolating,” says Ed. “We want their experience to have a motivational and inspirational aspect to it. We want people to say, ‘I’ve had rejections but I can see X, Y, and Z tracks have had signings on labels, so I can too if I keep pushing.’ And if you have a track that’s genuinely better than the others, you will get more label offers for that track. This helps you realize the value of your tracks.”
On the label side, Derek and Ed have yet to monetize. They are focused on attracting the best labels they can find right now so artists have a lot of choices. “We usually like labels that have been around for a while with a couple of years of release history and a meaningful online presence,” says Derek. “Not all labels are equal.”
So far things have been going well. Their small team brings in a healthy $300,000 in ARR and is growing with only Ed, Derek, and their full-stack engineer working full-time. “We’ve all only really met up once in person,” says Derek. “We all just bootstrapped and worked separate jobs for years until we were able to jump in full time. Besides us, Juan, and Sebastian, we also have Ariel in Argentina and a couple of additional team members in Columbia and Brazil. We’re all remote.”
We Never Spent a Dollar on Marketing
Ed and Derek did two things well when they launched. They had two major clients upfront and created enough buzz that the product marketed itself. That’s why today there are 118,000 artists on LabelRadar, over 1,000 labels, and over 200 promoters and counting.
Derek and Ed initially worked directly with Monstercat, figuring if they could solve one large label’s problems, they could do the same elsewhere. Once LabelRadar went live with Monstercat as their launch partner, other large EDM labels like NCS joined shortly thereafter. “This was pre-COVID so we could meet with them in person and get a better view of their needs,” says Ed.
Once LabelRadar had two big labels on board, word began spreading like wildfire on social media and artists were lining up out the door. “We were opening portals to artists who couldn’t access them before. Naturally, people wanted to know if it was legit so we had a lot of chatter on Reddit,” says Ed. “A lot of our growth has come from word of mouth. We’ve never actually spent on marketing; it’s been purely organic.”
A key feature Ed and Derek added to the platform was hosting competitions for things like remix contests, collabs with major artists, sync briefs, compilation album placements, video game soundtracks, and more. They’ve managed to land some monumental opportunities for artists on their platform and generate lots of buzz.
“We wanted to give people access to career acceleration,” says Ed. “Last year alone we ran highly successful remix contests for the likes of Tiësto, Galantis, Common, Armin Van Buuren, The Knocks, Cedric Gervais, Benny Benassi and many more.”
As any SEO expert will tell you, working with big names gets you big traffic. “We hosted the official remix contest for Tiësto’s The Business,” says Derek. “When we got a swipe-up Instagram story from Tiësto our traffic went up over 300 percent.”
Facilitating a Breakout Career
While Derek and Ed like making a profit, the most rewarding part of their experience has been the success they have heard from artists on LabelRadar.
“Just before Christmas 2020, we did a newsletter blast to artists in our ecosystem asking if any had a cool story on our platform,” says Derek. “We ended up getting about 1,000 emails back.”
Ed adds, “It was so rewarding to hear all these examples of the platform achieving exactly what we hoped it would. Many artists mentioned how they had been trying to get signed to a label for years with no success. Once they tried LabelRadar and were finally able to get the attention they deserve.”
Ed and Derek say their favorite success story was from an artist named Roy Knox who used LabelRadar to go from bedroom producer to a breakthrough artist with tens of millions of streams. “We ran a music search for an artist to collab with a popular artist named Koven,” says Ed. “This guy won the competition and nailed the collab track which was used in a video game. That game got a nine out of ten rating on Steam. The track then was released with NCS and he was able to use that as a springboard for more releases with them and became their breakthrough artist that year. It’s such a great way to shine a light on undiscovered talent.”
The Future of LabelRadar and Advice
Derek and Ed believe the future of their platform lies in the community they’ve created and expansion into new genres. “We want these artists to interact more with each other,” says Derek. “We want more transparency and to make it easier for them to find people to collaborate with from the community.”
For other founders working on similar projects, their advice is this:
“Most products will take years to perfect, so get in front of your target market sooner rather than later and grow from there.”
“For me, when we were planning the MVP, I found it was important to challenge our expectations for essential features as possible,” Ed says. “Even some of the biggest tools today are missing some of the functionality you’d expect of an MVP. Look at Hubspot, they don’t even have a ‘mark as unread’ feature. You need to be brutal with what you cut out and ask, ‘What is the core of what this is?’ and ‘Which are the essential features to get that done?’ Most products will take years to perfect, so get in front of your target market sooner rather than later and grow from there.”
“Talk to customers often and dive as deep as you can into the core of their needs almost to the point of being obsessed,” says Derek. “Besides that, take care of your mental and physical health. Read books. Don’t tie your self-worth to the performance of the business. Picking a space you love is important. For both of us, it’s work, but we also love music and I would probably do a lot of this for free and that’s what we did for the longest time.”
Ed and Derek only set out to cut down on spam emails preventing labels from hearing artists. They ended up creating a community for artists, labels, and promoters alike to push the industry forward and make better connections. That small problem your business has could be the start of something huge.
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