‘Too many lanyards, not enough music’: How to run an independent label in Melbourne
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01.06.2023

‘Too many lanyards, not enough music’: How to run an independent label in Melbourne

Credit: College of Knowledge Records
Words by Noah Redfern

In recent years, Melbourne’s bustling music scene has been defined by its strong independent slant.

Local artists are popping up all the time, starting labels, artist collectives and other groups. But why follow the independent road? Why not just do it the old-fashioned way, send your demos to a major label and go from there?

For decades, bands have been moving into the market share of the music business by taking matters into their own hands, subverting corporate greed, old-world management and typical music publishing. Many labels start off as an extension of a band or artistic project. Born out of necessity, DIY ethics define their independence. 

Find your next favourite act. Check out the best new music from local and independent artists here.

COOL DEATH records

Enter COOL DEATH records. A label born out of DIY band projects, making low-budget music out of a bedroom.

“We started out with our own band, recording for cheap and then dubbing cassettes one at a time,” says Coco from COOL DEATH. “Covers and inserts printed at the big corporate copy shop – we may have forgotten to pay for the paper.”

Coco is adamant that independent music is at the heart of Melbourne’s scene. Most artists and bands within the space join with smaller labels because of the personal emphasis. Working with people on their level, with real goals and respect, instead of the terrifying world of big budget labels.

“Our niche has always been our personal taste,” they add. “Being a punk label, it’s never going to be for everybody. We simply believed in our taste.” Exploring deeper, keeping the mind open but sticking to their guns, they’ve managed to carve out a realm of Melbourne heavy music including acts such ERUPT, Power, Romero, and Straightjacket Nation.

 

Starting a label comes with many difficulties. The source of stress is constantly moving, but there are certain things that always take the most time and energy. Creative differences will always crop up, but finding a way to make it work for all parties involved is always the goal.

“We’ve only ever been interested in working with artists that we have an organic relationship with,” Coco continues. “This usually means we’re working with friends. Disagreements will happen and it helps to be working in an environment where there is trust and respect going both ways.”

While there’s no guarantee that anything will make money, a good label is always into it for more than the bottom line. Holding principles in your decisions and standing by those choices helps to make the best releases.

COOL DEATH’s goals have always been to release great music that they’re proud to be associated with. Enthusiasm is essential, and it’s what it’s all about. Releasing art that is important now and stands the test of time is the endgame.

Learn more about the label and check COOL DEATH’s artists here.

College of Knowledge Records

Like COOL DEATH, College of Knowledge started as an outlet for personal and band projects and grew into something more. Started by friends Lachlan and Jethro, the label had humble beginnings.

“Jethro and I would DJ together on weekends and pool the money we made. We used that money to press the first 45. Like any label in our position, we were working out of our house, with a recording studio upstairs and shipping orders from our lounge room,” tells Lachlan Stucky of College of Knowledge Records, “We learnt from getting our feet wet release-to-release.”

When College of Knowledge began, there was only a small circle of bands in Melbourne that made music that resonated with Lachlan and Jethro. Resonating with the Putbacks, Karate Boogaloo and The Pro-Teens, the friends found a vibe that worked for them. Lachlan states how it often ends up: “We didn’t really seek out the niche, it was just where we found ourselves”.

“Ask for help whenever you need it,” Lachlan advises, “seek out advice every chance you get. With that said, be wary of people telling you what the rules are – you have to find what works for you and what you’re trying to achieve.”

Art is subjective, and so is the music business. There are guidelines and general rules, but Lachlan says that flexibility and creativity are key to carving out something bold in the modern world.

The strain of ensuring growth can be a difficult process for many. Within College of Knowledge, exponential growth has meant exponential headaches, but learning from choices and understanding the needs is key to long-term success. Make sure to get your money right, learn from your mistakes as well as your successes, and keep your eyes on what it’s all about: the music.

“Too many lanyards, not enough music,” Lachlan says. College of Knowledge is a label first and foremost for the artists and the listeners.

Check out their label and listen to their artists here.