starting a record label


The following article marks the beginning of The Creators Article Series featuring how-to’s and insights from creative entrepreneurs in business, music, art, fashion and entertainment. In this article Sola Ogunbitan, CEO of Role Model Records, gives you some practical steps to starting a record label.


I grew up listening to my older brother blasting classic albums like The Infamous, 36 Chambers and Doggystyle from his room in the basement of our metro Toronto housing complex. Growing up, hip-hop culture surrounded me. It was how I lived, dressed, talked and even how I viewed the world. I remember nights when my boys and I would argue about who was better, Pac or Biggie. I still think 2Pac, hands down. I never knew it then, but music would become a deep passion of mine; one that I would pursue as a career.

1. “Passion Over Pockets”: Don’t chase the money

I always knew that I wanted to own my own business, but I never really knew what that would entail. My mentality was “whatever makes me the most bucks”, which is the mentality that a lot of people have when it comes to business and pursuing their career paths. If I’ve learned one thing over the years it’s that money moves faster than the feet that chase it. If you’re looking to make quick money then the music business is definitely not for you. You can’t come into this thinking that money is just going to start rolling in overnight. In my opinion, it’s like a risky investment; you invest your money and it takes time to grow into what you’re looking for, but the thing with risky investments is if you win you win big, and if you lose you lose big also. All this just to say that you have to have a passion for music because passion doesn’t worry about a dollar, rather it’s more concerned with the quality, the delivery and the little things that others overlook in their products. Passion generates income; it opens doors and has the ability to create opportunities that you never thought possible.

2. “My People Perish”: Have a clear vision

These days everybody and their grandma have a record label. It’s easy to start, record a dope track, create a name for your crew, put out the track and you’re in business, right? You could do that, but you’re likely to stay a local, no name record label that nobody takes seriously. So what’s the difference between the label that you’re thinking of starting and a label like Roc Nation? It’s not all about the marketing dollars or the big budgets, even though that does help a great deal, but what it boils down to is the vision. A large majority of businesses fail because of lack of vision so the simple solution would be before you start a label, write down your vision and make it plain, don’t complicate things. You have to have a clear message and a clear direction for people to support and for your employees to know what the heck they’re even doing working for you. Vision is the key to a successful future.

3. “Truth Be Told”: Look for partners

Truthfully, nobody can run a label on their own, but at first you have to be very much prepared to wear more than one hat. With that being said you need to scout for partners that have the same passion for music as you do. One thing to keep in mind is that people don’t work as hard, or even want to work at all, when money is not flowing, which is why people who have a passion for music and the business are ideal. You can also look for people in your close circle such as family and friends that believe in your vision and are just willing to help out. Some essential partners to get you started would be the following:

Business Administration: Someone to look over the financials and bookkeeping of the label

A&R: Someone to scout for music talent and the development of the artists

Marketing: Someone that’s really good with communicating your label campaigns to your audience and dealing with fan engagement.

Lastly, you need that one person that’s really good with networking and building relationships with key people that will get the word out about your label and artists. If you’re finding it really hard to find good people to work with there are many colleges and universities out there that offer internship programs with students looking for these opportunities. The plus side is they have a passion for the industry and they’re just looking to gain knowledge and experience. This means no financial expense for you.

4. “Dollar Dollar Bills Ya’ll”: Find capital

You’re going to need some capital. Nothing more to say. If you don’t have it you have to go get it. There are a number of ways to accomplish this for your startup. First, you can try and raise capital support through friends and family that believe in what you’re doing. Second, there are a number of funding platforms that you can utilize for funding, like GoFundMe. To get the word out about your funding campaign you can leverage your social media network. Third, there are a number of government grants available in Canada that you can apply for to support what you’re doing. These range from grants for marketing and touring to music projects. Once you get the money, have a plan for what you’re doing with it because every dollar counts and needs to be accounted for in order for you to be successful.

5. Young Picassos: Find talent

Well, if you’re going to run a label you might as well have artists. Start signing artists; artists that fit the vision and agenda of the label. Be careful not to go trigger happy and sign a bunch of artists that you’re not able to handle or do anything with. As humbly as I can put it, artists are like selfish babies who want all your attention so make sure you and your team have what it takes to give them the attention needed to develop their careers. It’s better to sign artists who already have their own buzz going on, that way you don’t have to drop a whole bunch of marketing dollars just to get that artist hot. It’s okay to sign an artist who doesn’t have a lot of buzz going on, but if you do, make sure you really, really believe in that artist and are willing to do what it takes to elevate the artist’s career. In my opinion, look for artists who have nothing on their mind but music, someone who is young, has a long career ahead of them and maybe even works a part-time job so that they can support themselves in the meantime.

Make sure your artists are able to travel and leave for extended periods of time in order to go on tours. Many people don’t think about this, but after putting out projects it’s really important that they’re able to tour in order to grow their fan base and promote their music. If your new signees have a lot going on in their life it might hinder their ability to move around. “Out of sight out of mind”, so you have to get your artists in the sight of their fans in order to gain notoriety.

Last Words

By no means is this the end all and be all of starting a record label, but if you get anything at all out of this, understand that you better know your audience and the music business in and out before even pressing the launch button. Starting a record label might sound like fun; it’s very rewarding and has its perks, but only after a lot of late nights and the struggle of sometimes wanting to give up. But don’t give up or give in because good things come after a long journey. You appreciate it more and will be respected by others when you finally succeed.

Written by Sola Ogunbitan – CEO, Role Model Records

Sola Ogunbitan is the founder and CEO of Role Model Records, where they don’t aim to be successful, but strive to be significant. Current artists include DJ Lagit, Juliem, Shopé and DruBex. For more information about Role Model Records visit or follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

(photo credit: BorjaDesign by Creative Commons)

Starting a record label, The Creators Article Series