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BREAK A SWEAT

July 1, 2006
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After graduating with a degree in graphic design, I was DJing in the early rave scene and doing tons of rave flyers for promoters all around the country. In late 1996, I founded a company called Factory Design Labs to handle all the flyer work. Meanwhile, I was the resident DJ at The Church nightclub in Denver. By 2003, I had grown Factory from a flyer firm to a more organized and legitimate branding agency with 20 employees. In early 2003, a friend of mine, Eloy Lopez, came to me with an idea for a new company. He had purchased Final Scratch and was buying vinyl and recording it into his computer so that he could play it. He thought there had to be an easier way. Together with Eloy, myself and another partner, we came up with a business plan for Beatport (www.beatport.com). In May 2003, we decided to make a run for it.

My experience as a DJ, CEO, creative director and entrepreneur helped me understand the complex world of growing great companies from scratch. It is incredibly challenging to do things right. There is a great book called Good to Great by Jim Collins (HarperCollins, 2001), and the first sentence of that book summarizes the challenge of starting a new business. It is simply, “Good is the enemy of great.” I live by that every day. It is so much harder to do it great — and so tempting to settle for good or worse. At Beatport, we have a culture of excellence that has helped us when times were tough, when we desperately wanted to cut corners. It is our fundamental belief that doing so will hurt us more than the extra effort that it will take to be great. That is the advice that I would give anyone starting a business. Don't be sloppy. The results you get from your business will be in direct proportion to the effort that you put into it. Starting a new label is no different. Young labels or old established labels with deep catalogs all have the same opportunity — to put out great music that is relevant to a market audience. If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right.

How can a label sell tracks through Beatport?

The process is simple. You contact our label sales team and request an application. We just want to make sure that the label applying is serious about business. We look at the application and make a decision as to whether or not we could effectively sell the applicant-label's music (labels are paid quarterly for their sales). If we think we can, then we sign them up. If not, we ask them to continue working on their label and check back with us when they have more commercially viable releases. Our philosophy is to focus on the user experience; there is nothing worse than having to listen to 100 tracks to find one that you want to buy. So we work hard to get only the most relevant content on the site so that our customer can find great music very quickly. And it is a partnership between Beatport and our labels. We believe in promoting them as much as possible when we know that they have something special. Watching their sales grow is what motivates us.

How can you improve the visibility of your label promoting through a digital download service such as Beatport?

We can tell when a small label is really trying. We monitor our referral links to see where our traffic is coming from. It makes us happy to see the smaller labels doing great marketing of their music. The best way to get continuous sales is to have aggressive release schedules and to promote those releases effectively. On Beatport, a label that pushes a new release almost always sells additional back catalog that was on the site. It does not take long for them to realize that the benefit to new releases is twofold.

Keeping in mind that Beatport is a service designed for DJs, how can a label make its tracks stand out from the rest and get on DJs' playlists?

It is superimportant to make music that moves you. Don't focus on making music that you think will sell. That is the wrong philosophy. If you pay attention to the charts on Beatport, you'll see the trends. But the music is always in motion, and the producers that make good music will always find a customer because people are passionate about the music they love, especially DJs who are trying to buy songs that will make their sets more interesting for the dancefloor.

Keep your label's sound consistent, and you will find longtime repeat customers. Change your sound every release, and you are confusing the DJs that liked the last release but don't like your new release. The concept is pretty straightforward — your label is your brand, and your brand stands for something. If you look at the labels that have stood the test of time, it was because they did not vacillate around and chase the hottest trend. They focused on a solid sound and production.

What are some mistakes that new labels make?

Your brand is everything. The number-one mistake young companies make is that they don't understand how important image is to the customer. Even if you just want to use a weird name, it will over time start to stand for something, good or bad. I always tell clients to manage their brand's reputation by design, not by default. If you want to be known for something, tell people what it is that you want to be known for. Don't wait for them to decide for you. Good marketers don't risk being misunderstood. And the results are always better for the companies that constantly invest in their brand.

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