Related pages: Getting started with music DIY • What is DIY and indie?

DIY music checklist
start a record label, sell cds, take payment

The main steps

These are the main steps in setting up a DIY artist label. Many of these steps are optional and depend on how you want to work. Most labels would need the Basic steps and some of the Extras.

You should also look at the Recommended books and read these guides.

AIM now charges for their guide (see AIM e-Books) unless you’re a member.

The government Business Link site has information about setting up a formal business from scratch.

Preparing for business

1. Sorting out your names
StepMore info hereWeb site
BasicsCheck your brand names are not already in useBand, web site 
Check your ‘business’ names are not already in useLabel, publisher 
Reserve your names on any key sites and forumsSocial networks, etc. 
ExtrasIf you decide you need a CompanyCompany nameCompanies House
If you decide you need a TrademarkTrademark namePatent Office
2. Joining professional bodies
StepMore info hereWeb site
ExtrasIf you want MU, legal advice or professional supportProfessional bodiesMU, BASCA, AIM
If you publish work by other writers, or expect royaltiesPRS membershipPRS
If you perform your own material regularly at licensed venuesGigs & Clubs SchemePRS
If you record work by other writers, or expect royaltiesMCPS membershipMCPS
If your recording copyrights generate royaltiesPPL (labels)PPL
If your recorded performances generate royalties
Performer ID from the Performer Registration Centre
PPL (performers)PPL
3. Do you need any legal stuff?
StepMore info hereWeb site
BasicsProof and copyright statements for your materialMusic copyrightPatent Office
ExtrasIf you keep personal details for your businessDPA registrationICO
You might not need to start a formal companyTrading statusBusiness Link
4. Do you need any contracts?
StepMore info hereWeb site
ExtrasIf you’re in a band you must have partnership agreementBand partnership 
If you have a manager you must have a contractManagement contract 
If you have a publisher you must have a contractPublisher contract 
If you are signed to a record label you must have a contractRecord label contract 
If you employ anyone you must have a contractEmployeesBusiness Link
If you have other contributors you should consider contractsOther contributors 
5. Keeping accounts
StepMore info hereWeb site
BasicsKeep a record of money in and money outSimple account 
ExtrasIf you pay VAT, or form a Company or employ anyoneGet an accountant 
6. Paying tax
StepMore info hereWeb site
BasicsBe aware of government income and tax rulesTrading statusBusiness Link
ExtrasIf you form a Company (Inland Revenue)Company TaxHMRC
If your turnover exceeds the VAT thresholdVATHMRC
If you employ anyone (Inland Revenue)National InsuranceHMRC

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Running your online label

1. Setting up a web site
StepMore info hereWeb site
BasicsConsider social networks, blogs, media sharing, etc.Internet options 
Buy a name (24 hours for registration)Web site nameInterNIC
Buy web hosting (72 hours to connect your site name)Web host 
Design, write, test and upload web pagesMake the site 
Select a format (MP3), prepare and uploadDownloads 
Submit to search engines, check results and tuneSubmit and check 
If you don’t want to set up your own siteOther web site and host options 
ExtrasIf you use additional formats (Ogg, WMA, …)Download options 
If you want site stats, virus checking, spam filter, …Host services 
If you want to stream audio files, …Host options 
If you want a database, guest book, forum, …Host software 
If you want guaranteed bandwidth, more space, …Host upgrades 
If you want to take credit card payments onlineOnline payment 
If you want to use other online payment methodsDedicated accounts 
If you want to accept donations or tipsDonations 
Additional promotion or advertising for the site  
A web presence on a relevant blogging site  
A web presence in relevant music communities  
Uploads and feedback in relevant review forums  
2. Making and releasing a CD
StepMore info hereWeb site
BasicsJewel case, Digipak, spider, booklet, inserts, etc.Choose CD package 
Design art-work for CD, inserts and booklet printingCD art-work 
Notification of No Claims for your own recordingsMCPS clearanceMCPS
Get a run of pressed CDs with cases and insertsCD duplication 
ExtrasIf you need bar-code (EAN) numbers for EU onlyCD bar-codes UK 
If you need bar-code (UPC) numbers for USA + EUCD bar-codes US 
If you need ISWC song/work numbers (PRS)Song identifiersPRS
If you need ISRC track numbers (PPL)Track identifiersPPL
If you have outside songs to clear for duplicationMCPS clearanceMCPS
If you use outside songs in full or partPRS clearancePRS
If you have other outside songs to clear for usePublisher clearancePRS
If you have outside samples to clear for useLabel and publishing clearanceMCPS, PPL
If there are other performers on your tracksNotify PPL (via CatCo)PPL CatCo
To register details of your recordings (CatCo)Join PPLPPL CatCo
To register eligible releases for the music chartsNotify OCC (via CatCo)OCC
Clear graphics, text and any other content  
Promos copies and other publicity for CDs  
3. Selling downloads through other sites
StepMore info hereWeb site
BasicsIf you want to sell downloads through third party sitesOnline music distro aggregators 
(You will need a barcode for online distribution.)Barcode options 
If you want to sell downloads through third party sitesBigger indie sites 
4. Mail order
StepMore info hereWeb site
BasicsChoose and get CD mailersCD mailers 
Check the package weight and get stampsCD postageRoyal Mail
Keep a record of orders, payments and shipmentsPaperwork 
ExtrasA postal address for web registration and other mailPO BoxRoyal Mail
Compliment slip, mailing list card or other inserts  
T-shirts, posters, or other merchandise  
5. Local and online record shops
StepMore info hereWeb site
BasicsIf you use local record shops, online record shops, …CD sales offline 

DIY record label choices

What does DIY mean?

DIY means do-it-yourself. An independent record label for one artist or a band is often called DIY—from bedroom hobbyists to bigger self-contained labels like Righteous Babe.

It doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself, in person.

Until recently it was conventional to work with established businesses in almost every area of the music industry. A recording artist without a record deal or a big label sponsor was seen as unusual. DIY is simply about taking charge yourself.

Some music business options

There are many ways to be independent, and that’s the whole point. The Internet is an obvious vehicle but it’s not the only one—there’s no substitute for your own research. Take advice but make sure you get a first-hand understanding of what you need. Don’t think you have to do what everybody else does (the only real brick wall is the law). There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.

Some different approaches to music business
Records and gigsAre you a gigging band or a recording band, or both?
Song-writingDo you write your own material or does somebody else?
External samplesDo you make your own recordings or do you use samples, or both?
Recording formatsDo you make CDs or videos, or downloads, or not?
Retail optionsDo you sell by mail order, distribution or one-off retail?
Payment optionsDo you use a retail or financial card payment gateway?
Distribution optionsDo you use general distribution or one-off retail outlet deals?
Fulfilment optionsDo you use a fulfilment house for duplication, retail and delivery?
TerritoriesDo you sell in the UK, Europe or globally?
Virtual tip jarDo you distribute your material free and accept donations?
Performance royaltiesDo you get a significant amount of club, TV or radio play?
Rights assignmentAre you are a member of any foreign rights or other organisations?
Licensing recordingsDo you own your recordings and license them to a record company?
Licensing materialDo you license your material for games or ringtones?
Publishing adminDo you retain copyright and make a publishing administration deal?
Income TaxDo you break even or make a clear profit?
Value Added Tax (VAT)Do you make enough money to cross the turnover threshold for VAT?
PartnershipsDo you have a writing or performing partnership agreement, or legal obligations?
Contract commitmentsDo you have label, publishing, management or agency commitments?
Employing peopleDo you employ anyone else?

This isn’t a complete list. There’s a step by step guide to the main choices and what they mean in the DIY checklist.

Opting out of the music business

Of course, you don’t need formalities for the sake of it, and your music isn’t a business unless you make it one. I don’t recommend expending any effort unless you really have to, or want to do it. Here are some things you might ignore and the possible consequences.

One-man operation
FormalityIf you ignore…Possible consequences
Choosing namesCheck for existing usersExisting users may force you to change names
Registering namesBand name registersUnlikely to make any difference
TrademarkUnlikely to matter unless you are well-known already
Take legal advice if there is a significant risk
CopyrightEvidenceLoss of your rights to the material
Unlikely unless it’s derivative and a big earner
AccountingRecordsLegal and tax penalties if you’re liable
TaxPaymentLegal and tax penalties if you’re liable
Bar-codesIdentifying CDsNo distribution, high street retail or chart eligibility
ISRC codesIdentifying tracksNo royalties from radio etc.
Other codesIdentificationLoss of credits, royalties, etc. if they apply
Professional bodiesMembership, registrationLoss of royalty payments, advice and information
Working with other people
FormalityIf you ignore…Possible consequences
Data Protection ActRegistration, complianceLegal penalties if you’re careless with data
ContractsPartnershipLegal action over rights and shares
ManagementLegal action over rights and payments
LabelLegal action over rights and payments
Other contractsLegal action
ClearanceBorrowed samples, tracksLoss of 100% income from the material
NotificationThird party creditsLoss of royalties, liability for third party losses

Some of this might look a bit worrying but there are working musicians who never formalise anything. For example The Bays never publish or record, and Negativland never copyright. Copyleft is increasingly popular for artists who eschew rights and royalties. Or with very little effort you can exploit your rights and collect royalties. It’s up to you. The only thing you can’t opt out of indefinitely is legal requirements like paying tax.

You can’t make choices unless you know the options. If you check out the pros and cons you’ll find that most decisions make themselves.

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Related pages: Getting started with music DIY • What is DIY and indie?

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