Record labels are not all fun and games. In fact, most people don’t even really know what a record label is or does. We got the chance to speak with Standby Records owner Neil Sheehan about his venture into the record label business. He sheds light on what it is Standby does, any hardships that he has come across and also tips for all of you either looking to grab a label’s attention or start one up yourself. However, he leaves us with this note, “I am living a dream life. I love my bands, I love my job, I love my family. What else could you really ask for?”
HM: How did Standby get it’s start? What inspired the venture?
Standby was started by the lead singer of Before Their Eyes, Nick Moore, sometime in 2006. I purchased the label from Nick in 2008. He had a few bands on the label however did not have major distribution and it had been more of a part-time venture for him as he was very busy touring. NIck had been a Management client of mine and approached me about purchasing the label. At the time I owned two recording studios, a concert promotion company and a Band Management firm. I kicked the idea around my head and to my staff at the time and we decided that a label was a natural progression for us in expansion of our business model. After purchasing the label in 2008 I secured distribution through Victory Records and started an overhaul of the roster.
HM: Was there a specific reason you chose mainly a rock/metal format?
At the beginning of our restructuring of the label we wanted to be as diverse as possible. We signed pop punk, christian, hardcore, post hardcore, metal, rock, etc. I didn’t, immediately, want to brand the label with a specific genre or ‘sound’. I thought it best to just build up our roster of talented acts, get some sales behind us and build a brand as a new indie label. In 2009/2010 I felt there wasn’t a true Rock N Roll label that was a true DIY Indepedent. Sure there were Indie labels like Eleven Seven and Wind Up that had been releasing great Rock N Roll, however, they were more established and I felt there was a market for the developing Rock N Roll bands. I also am a fan of straight up Rock N Roll and that made the choice fairly easy; to sign bands I like and could actively listen to and market. I started to target what I felt were underground Rock N Roll bands that had the image, sound and brand that could be developed into something that could really make a splash and put us on the map. That lead us to bands like Black Veil Brides, Modern Day Escape and Picture Me Broken.
HM: Were there any surprises starting out? Any successes or hardships you were not expecting?
I think the biggest surprise was the difficulty in transitioning from Mangement to actual label owner. Managers have an overall picture of a bands career path and tend to put out fires. The label owner tends to be the bank and thinking about not only the big picture but day to day operations issues that some Managers don’t have to worry about. Things like Meta Data, overall budgets for a full project, deadlines for production, sales books and one sheets with distributors, etc. A lot goes into viewing the band long term, however, having the day to day oversight of managing that act budgetarily to make sure the band can be marketed for several years/albums. A lot of Managers think in terms of one album cycle or one tour, as a label you have to view things from the 10,000 foot view and not throw all the money or put all the opportunities in one basket right out the gate. As far as hardships, we definteily have dealt with what I believe every small indie label has; finances, bands taking the label seriously in its infancy, getting industry people like agents, managers, publishers, etc to take your bands seriously. Those things were continual hardships on a day to day basis, there def is some dues paying and also maturation period you need to have as a label to get taken seriously. On the flip side we have had some great successes early on that have made things easier. Obviously the success of Black Veil Brides was fantastic. While we always believed the band would blow up, it didn’t take very long.
HM: What advice would you give people trying to start an indie label?
I’d tell new label owners to really make sure they have the financial backing and the legal representation that is necessary to start such a venture. I didn’t have an investor, but I was lucky enough to have some good lawyers that I hired. That being said, you will still need to pay lawyers for a lot of things and to insure you are legal therefore the finances are key. I had to use all my own personal money and its definitely a risky venture. If you aren’t ready to take on that type of risk or have limited funds to invest in bands, marketing, legal, etc. then you should really re think taking on not only the burden mentally of running a full time business but also the burden of not being able to adequately fund a band.
HM: how do you go about finding new artists? What advice would you give an artist looking to grab your attention?
We find new Artists from all different sources. Obviously our GM is Shawn Carrano and he is one of the premiere Managers in the business right now. Therefore he gets a lot of leads on a daily basis. We also scour the typical social networking sites and music blog sites. Some of us go to local shows and look for bands as well. It’s really multiple sources of information. They key for an Artist to get any labels attention, however, is really easy; selling power. If a band has a great social numbers, already selling merch and music, touring, etc. labels will come to you. We will find you. Therefore, the best thing you can do is create great music, have a solid message that relates to fans and have that translate into sales and drawing power. Remember this is the music business, if you create a profitable business with your band at the same time your making fantastic music you will have people notice you.
HM: What are some releases you are really looking forward to on Standby?
We have a lot of releases coming up for 2013 and 2014. To pinpoint one or two would be difficult; however, I’m personally excited for band like Farewell, My Love and The Relapse Symphony in the rock genre. We have been developing them for quite some time and I think they both have a great worth ethic. They write great music, they have great messages and they have fan bases that are very cult like. You can’t ask for anymore than that from your bands. On the metal side I really like Bruised But Not Broken and Outline in Color. Those two bands are on repeat in my office all the time. Young guys, very hardworking and they all just want to drop everything and tour. Lastly, I’d say The Nearly Deads and Consider Me Dead both are very interesting releases for Standby. Both are departures from our normal Rock/Metal signings. The Nearly Deads are very grunge/punk with a hint of rock. TJ, the female singer is a fantastic charismatic front person. I really think they lyrics she writes and her stage presence will gain a huge following. Consider Me Dead straddles the EDM/Rock world and again, have a cult like following of fans. They are writing songs that merge not only the EDM world but live instrumentation as well. It will be interesting to see them develop over time. That being said, we have plenty of other bands that are going to have great releases as well, I really like to sign stuff I will listen to everyday so its exciting to release all the music we sign.
HM: What would you say is the most difficult part of your career and how did you overcome it?
I’d say the most difficult part of my career is also the most exciting, that is not having a 9-5. I’m married, have a daughter, bills, etc. So its very easy to want to throw in the towel and get a ‘normal’ job with a paycheck. However, while its difficult not knowing if bands are going to be profitable and where your next check is coming from, its also very exciting. It makes you really push the bands that much harder. It makes you get up in the morning and really want to have all your bands be the biggest bands in the world and be as successful as possible. If you have investors or your’re beholden to corporations/stock holders, I think it may take some of the true DIY heart out of not only the love of putting out the music but forces you to really be successful and believe in your bands.
HM: What has been the highlight of your career?
The highlight of my career? That I have been self employed for 10 years. I make my own money, my own schedule, I get to work w/ amazingly talented people and I’m trying to change peoples lives w/ the messages of the bands music we distribute. Those things are daily highlights!
HM: What is the one dream moment at which point either personally or collectively you would be able to say yes, I’ve achieved this, I’m living my dreams?
I think I can say that now; sure I’d love to have all my bands winning Grammy’s and selling a zillion records, but I can’t complain. I am living a dream life. I love my bands, I love my job, I love my family. What else could you really ask for?