5 Things I Learned While Pressing My Label’s First Vinyl Release

Hello again. Thank you for taking a few moments out of your day to spend with us. We have been planning a very special reveal for the end of the week, but before we get there we have the pleasure of hosting an editorial from Antique Records about their experience putting out their very first vinyl release. If you have any questions about developing as a business owner in music, please do not hesitate email james@haulix.com and share your thoughts. We can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

For the last two years I have had the great fortune of running a tiny indie record label with my best friend. We started our label, known as Antique, on a whim. It dawned on us one day that we shared a mutual bucket list goal of owning a label and that life had put both of us in a position to create that very thing. It was exciting and thrilling, but also pretty low risk as far as money was concerned. You see, until very recently we were known solely for creating limited edition cassette pressings of popular indie albums. Yes, people still buy cassettes.

Anyways, at the end of 2013 we decided that if we ever wanted to take Antique to a new level we would have to invest more time and money into the products we create. We went back and forth on the best way to expand our horizons, but truth be told we settled on the very first idea that came to mind (after spitballing an additional 100 or so ideas that are still unexplored). That idea, as the title of this article suggests, was pretty simple: Let’s make vinyl. I was already an avid collector myself, as was my co-owner, but the costs associated with such an undertaking turned out to be about 10x what we had experienced when placing a new cassette order so we had – until that point – never thought about pressing records ourselves.

A few weeks after Craig, my label’s co-owner, and I had that conversation about expansion we decided to take a leap of faith an register an LLC for our label. We admittedly should have done this about two years ago, but as we were paying for everything out of pocket and barely breaking even, if not losing money outright, we never thought it too necessary to pay the costs associated with ‘properly’ starting a business. Once we did, however, we were able to sign up for a company credit through American Express, which made our dreams of making vinyl (and accruing large sums of debt) a reality. We searched the net and found the perfect voice to represent the future of our label, made a deal to press their latest album, and in early February placed an order for 500 vinyl records.

Months passed, but eventually the records did show up at my apartment, which for the time being doubles as Antique Records HQ. There, buried amongst boxes and packing tape, I embarked on a multi-hour mission to organize, pack, and ship 150 pre-orders that until this very afternoon were a drain on my free time. Now that I’m all caught up, I’m ready for more, but first I wanted to take a few minutes and share some insight on my experiences with this release. Some of it may feel obvious, but when you’re in the midst of trying to start your own business, let alone doing so while promoting a relatively unknown artist’s new album can make you so busy you overlook basic tricks of the trade. So, here it is, the best of everything I learned while putting out my label’s first vinyl:

1. Record pressing, like pretty much every other facet of entertainment, can be a long and frustrating process that is almost entirely out of your control.

When we decided to press our first record in the early months of 2014, I knew we would be facing competition at the production facility from all the major label releases planned for Record Store Day in April. What I did not realize, however, was just how much of an impact the growing demand for vinyl would have on my business. The company we ordered from guaranteed a 6-8 week turnaround, but told me it may be closer to 10 considering how many orders were pouring in when we first contacted them. By my math, that put our album release date somewhere between April 15 and the beginning of May. You know when the records arrived? June 25. That’s just over four months after I placed the order, which is a fact people who pre-ordered the album reminded me of well over a dozen times in the weeks leading up to the record’s arrival at my label’s doorstep. I called multiple times during the wait, but the most insight anyone could offer is that it was ‘being processed.’ Ultimately, I had no choice except to keep my cool and wait for word from the plant.

2. You will always need more tape. Always.

One thing no one ever talks about when it comes to putting out records is the amount of time and tape you will need to box and send off your product. We all want our records to succeed, of course, but as the owner of an independent label you need to realize the responsibility of making all those consumers happy falls entirely on your shoulders. As such, you need to make sure you’re ready for your first album to arrive by buying plenty of boxes, tape, and whatever additional shipping supplies you feel you may need well in advance of the final product arriving at your door. I cannot tell you how much time I wasted making not two, but three extra trips to the office supply store because I underestimated the tools I would need to do my job well. Plan ahead. Over plan, in fact. Just be prepared.

3. You cannot please everyone. You should try to, of course, but eventually you have to accept that some people have demands that are just too great.

When releases records, especially early on in the life of your label, people may be suspicious of just how well you actually run your operation. Delays may be out of your control, but that does not mean people will not blame you when their orders do not arrive on time. Likewise, there will be people who expect you to ship their order the same day the final product arrives from the plant. You may be able to comply with this request on rare occasions, but if you try and meet every demand made by consumers you will be inundated with too many requests to handle. Keep communication open at all times, but don’t be afraid to put your foot down whenever necessary.

Above all, don’t be a dick. Even when you have to be the bad guy, be as nice as you can possibly be.

4. You’re going to need help.

The fact you’ve taken it upon yourself to start a label and put your own money into making records is great, but if you believe you can handle all the ins and outs of owning a small business without a little help from your friends you’re sorely mistaken. As your business grows so will the various task that demand your time and attention. This goes double for super successful order, which come with a large number of pre-orders that need to be packed and shipped in advance of the album’s intended release. It’s the kind of thing people call a ‘good problem,’ but it’s a problem nonetheless. If people ask to help, let them. If not, consider seeking an intern.

5. International shipping has the power to break your spirits (unless you plan accordingly).

We may live in a digital age where essentially every task that can be turned into an app has been turned into an app, but that does not mean every thing your business needs to succeed is automated as soon as you sign up to open an online store. Many services automate overseas shipping, but not all of them. I know at least three labels who put up records with $5 shipping and forgot to make sure international orders had a different rate, including my own. The results, while not completely miserable, set the labels back several hundred dollars. Some orders even lost money! Always. ALWAYS. Double check shipping before pushing a new product live.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.