Making independent music

 4 February 2011

Music mangers Billy Grant and Rob Stuart founded recording label 2Point9, and later Jayded Entertainment Ltd. They’re responsible for the internationally successful artist Jay Sean, who recently had a number one single in America.

Rob Stuart and Billy Grant co-founded independent recording label 2Point9.
Rob Stuart and Billy Grant co-founded independent recording label 2Point9.

Founding an independent label

“At the time we were at Telstar Records, working on Craig David, Mis-Teeq, and doing pretty well. But we realised, creatively, it wasn’t going the way that I wanted it to.

“When you’re working for somebody, no matter how good you may be, at any minute the rug can be pulled from under your feet. And so we thought the only way we could actually control this, is to set up our own company, and actually do things the way we wanted to do it.”

Working as an independent label

“You need to do research, have a very open mind. The UK is a great market, but it’s a really hard market to break."

“We’ve been going eight years now. When you’re spending your own money, and your own time, there’s a lot of risk involved and that can affect a lot of other parts of your life.

“You’ve got to be prepared to put everything into it. If you’re going to start up an independent, you’ve really got to be doing for other reasons than the money. If the money comes, then that’s great, but you can’t hide with an independent. With such a small set-up, everybody needs to be accountable for what they’re doing.”

“Travel’s been a massive high. I think all of us were quite lucky with the Asian scene, where we started off with some success with the artists we had. They were global and we did a lot of travelling in the first five years, which was great.”

Jay Sean’s number one single: ‘Down’

“It was a bit strange. In your wildest dreams, you just don’t expect it to happen. Also, no-one else expected it to happen. We just wanted to get it in the marketplace and build it from there. Slowly and slowly and slowly, and then it started building.

“The early stage was interesting because it responded very well in iTunes. I think that was down to the fanbase we’d helped to build up in the states. It went in the Top 40 in iTunes in the very first day.

“Then it built and it built, and eventually it kept on getting added to radio, and it kept on building slowly over a number of weeks. And then it got to number two and it held there for quite a few weeks. And we thought: ‘that’s great’, and every week it was number two, and then we saw there were other releases coming – Jay Z was coming, and about three or four other big releases was coming – and we just said: ‘it’s not going to happen, this number one.’ It’s cool. We weren’t complaining, we were number two!

“And then I remember we were in Choice FM. Jay was over for the week and we got him doing an interview. And all of a sudden, somebody just said through the window: ‘number one’. And we just went mental, jumping up and down. ‘Oh my God, we’re number one! That’s just great.’

“It’s a great feeling, but it’s also a bit weird. You just move on and do what you’re doing next, rather than dwell on it. But it’s one of those things that no-one can ever take away from us, whatever we may do in the future.”

Promoting music internationally

“You’ve got to think broader now. And you’ve also got to realise that the UK’s a great market, but it’s a really hard market to break. It’s very expensive. Most people abroad wait for somebody to break the UK, then start jumping on your record.

“You need to go out there, do a bit of research, have a very open mind, okay. Because the UK is a great market, a very creative market, but is can also be quite a difficult market to work in.

“But you’ll find there’s a lot of territories which are very, very open to actually working with you. So you need to go out there and start making some contacts to see if you can actually get your music placed in different territories from whichever way possible.

“Research is the biggest thing. I’m really into this whole idea of just finding out different countries, radio stations, record labels. Once you find the people that want to embrace you and your music, then you kind of use them to try and get in a little bit more.”

Getting help from the Association of Independent Music

“You’ve got the major record labels, which everybody knows: Sony, EMI, Warners. They do their thing, they’re very big and they’ve got a lot of power.

"When you’re spending your own money, and your own time, there’s a lot of risk involved."

“And then you’ve got the Association of Independent Music, which is an accumulation of 800 independent record labels. These can be anything from a one-man band, to bigger labels like Beggars, who’ve got a lot of big artists and very successful artists. They join together as a big collective to help each other. It could be advisory. It could be to make decisions. And it could be also to lobby, to try and get certain decisions made in certain particular areas.

“There might be other things, very much related to record labels themselves. Like holding an independent media day to meet people from radio face-to-face, show them your stuff, swap email addresses. These things are very positive so for me. AIM can help independent labels as much, or as little, as they’d like to. Because they are a body which has got a lot of power, a lot of contacts, and a lot of influence.”

Advice for setting up an independent label

Keep your costs down

“Don’t go too mad. Putting records out doesn’t necessarily have to cost a lot of money, especially nowadays. A few years ago, you had to go out there, you had to press up CDs, which meant you had to have capital investment. But nowadays you don’t, you can actually do things digitally."

Don’t expect to sell millions of units

“Anyone can get into a digital shop, but the difficult thing is that people have to find it. So it’s about being creative about how people are going to find your music. So you have to be really good at marketing and working it."

Concentrate on your music

“Make sure that your production’s really good, making sure your songwriting’s really good. You’ve got to set the bar high enough that the music’s good enough. Sometimes you might have to spend a bit of time and you’ll go out there and you’ll do it, and maybe you’ll get your artists to go out there and perform it, to actually see how it works live."

Presentation is very important

"Whatever gatekeeper you’re trying to get past, you’ve got to package it in a right way. To actually make them think: ‘oh wow. This has made me feel better today. That’s really great, I’m really glad that I opened that mp3 and listened to this.’"

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