Improvising on the mode of success: Edition Records’ story

I’ve been sent this prepared feature by a PR agency, and I don’t usually just put anything I’m sent on this site in unadulterated form, but as this interview/case study is with Dave Stapleton of Edition Records – a man I have great respect for running a really classy label – I thought I’d go with it.

Dave has some interesting things to say, especially about embracing music streaming, about how he divides his time, and about how his record label survives in an industry which is “badly funded”:

Dave StapletonHow does a record label and micro-business survive and thrive through a music industry revolution? As the eighth World Record Store Day takes place this month, jazz label Edition Records’ founder Dave Stapleton explains how his indie label and micro-business operates in an under-funded market, as well as the tools that are improving his cashflow and giving him room to grow.

Hungerford-based jazz label Edition Records will be celebrating its eighth birthday at the end of April, and has over the last few years grown to become ‘one of the most vital record labels in jazz music’ according to the Yorkshire Post, and by the Irish Times as ‘one of the more artistically credible independent labels to emerge in Europe in some time’. Edition Records now looks after between 20 and 25 artists on a continual basis and has just increased its release schedule from 9 to 17 – proof of an extraordinary level of growth in a tempestuous and under-funded market.

“Edition Records has always been about supporting and empowering the artists, and above all, the honesty of the music”

“Edition Records began after I wanted to find a way to put my music out myself, and an inability to say no to friends who were in a similar position,’ explains Dave Stapleton, a professional pianist and composer-turned-entrepreneur. “It grew to the point where I needed to make the decision to scale back my own music career and focus on the label, but it’s always been more about supporting and empowering artists and the honesty of the music than about profit.” Under Dave’s direction, Edition Records has since been named as one of the top five jazz labels in Europe, achieved essentially as a one-man band, with office support from just one other part-time colleague and now a network of distributors across the globe.

“Vinyl is a great listening experience, but the manufacturing is a challenge”

The label produces CDs, vinyls and digital releases, where Dave is experiencing the full extent of change that consumer behaviour has driven around music format. “Our most popular format is still CDs, but vinyl is growing a huge amount at the moment which is really exciting,” Dave explains. “Vinyl promotes a great listening experience, but the manufacturing process is difficult at the moment – the printing cost is a challenge, as is the three to four months it takes to get vinyl pressed and prepared. It’s a much slower process and there is not much investment in vinyl, although we’re expecting this to change as it continues growing.”

“if someone buys a CD and listens to it 20,000 times, the artist will only be paid from the single transaction that took place at the start of the customer’s experience. Streaming gives artists much longer-term revenue.”

While digital downloads have been falling, Dave has embraced this change as a business. “Streaming is increasing massively so of course it isn’t a surprise. We embrace streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music in a way that other labels aren’t doing, as they are long-term revenue streams and really help to promote our artists and build audiences. For example, if someone buys a CD and listens to it 20,000 times, the artist will only be paid from the single transaction that took place at the start of the customer’s experience. Streaming gives artists much longer-term revenue.”

As indie publishing and the vinyl revival continues, record fairs are popping up all over the country. Old Spitalfields Market in London for example now hosts regular record fairs as well as an Independent Label Market, welcoming collections of specialist record traders and music enthusiasts.  “While we haven’t been able to go to any in the UK recently, there are a lot of events popping up in Bristol and London that are great to see”, explains Dave. “Mixing with the customers and labels is always a benefit. It’s a small industry which encourages a really nice community.”

“The jazz industry is badly funded, and late payments and credit terms can be especially crippling. This is where the business management tools I use make a difference”

Edition Records has survived through a financial crash and immense industry changes, so the journey hasn’t been easy. “Starting from just £5,000 in an account and growing in an industry that has transformed so much has been a huge challenge,” says Dave. “The jazz industry is badly funded, and late payments and credit terms can be especially crippling. This is where the business management tools I use make a difference. I started using accounting software from Xero last year, after doing all the accounts on spreadsheets and the time it has saved me is incredible.”

“As a musician with no previous accounting knowledge, Xero has radically changed things for me”

Dave uses Xero in the office for invoicing, checking payments and for an overview on the health of the business’s financials and the software has saved him vast amounts of time a week. “I used to spend hours per week typing and checking everything in by hand. Xero has automated the process and radically changed things for me as a musician with no prior accounting knowledge. The daily notifications I get are really useful, as are the monthly reports I receive, and seeing what’s owed and what’s coming through gives me peace of mind and confidence that cash flow will be healthy for the next few months. I use it daily and I know there’s a lot more it can do that I haven’t learnt about yet.”

But aside from using management tools such as Xero, Dave is strict with the organisation of his time as a micro-business. “I tend to separate my day into quadrants, split between communication with artists, operations, such as registering tracks and sending things off, the creative side such as the development of the assets we need to promote, and planning for the future. I give some time each day to these four areas to try to make sure nothing pressing gets missed.”

For budding entrepreneurs who may be considering starting their own music label business, Dave has the following tips for the best chance of success:

Focus on what’s important: distribution, promotion and accounting:

  • Distributors are key for getting the music in front of fans so they need to be experts in the market and quick to react to a fast-evolving market

  • Promotion is equally important – it can be handled in-house, but try to make sure you are giving the artist every opportunity if you choose to promote without the help of an agency.

  • Invest in the right tools to help you with your accounting, particularly if numbers aren’t your strong suit. The right package will do all the hard work for you.

  • Ensure you understand the terms of each deal with the artists you sign, and try to ensure you get the longest term possible for each album.

  • Although your own goals are important, try not to focus too much on them. Running a record label is varied, exciting and really satisfying if music is your passion. Enjoy the journey!

  • You can find out more about Edition Records (which on Friday released the sixth CD by Anglo-Scandinavian trio Phronesis – yep, I’m listening to it as I write in order to review it very soon) HERE.

Categories: Interview

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