The music industry as we know it continues to experience a rapid state of change and evolution, ranging from switches to streaming based platforms, the ‘rise of vinyl’ once again and the ever-increasing role that social media now plays for both artists and those involved in running labels and events from behind the scenes. As a result, the role of label managers and A&Rs has seen increased importance in recent years as both artists and label owners look curate, influence and stand apart from other artists and imprints.
In light of this we managed to sit down and speak with Chris James, head of Distribution at MN2S label services. With 2017 being such a huge year for the company, not to mention their milestone achievement of 200 clients, MN2S label services has cemented itself a key figure within the industry and with label clients including Kerri Chandler’s Kaoz Theory, My Favorite Robot Records and 20/20 Vision it’s easy to see why.
WWD: Hi Chris, great to chat with you! First of all, we’ve introduced MN2S Label Services briefly already but can you give us a quick insight into how the division of MN2S was formed initially and what services you provide for artists and label owners?
MN2S Label Services was born out of the company’s success from 1999 onwards with our in-house labels, MN2S Recordings and 1trax, after the formation of the company as an events promoter in 1995 and then addition of the agency in 1997. It quickly became apparent that the team assembled to handle these imprints could also offer their expertise to external labels looking for distribution, but also management, license negotiation, neighbouring rights registration, syncs, and anything else label-related that may arise.
WWD: MN2S Label Services quickly established itself as a main fixture of the MN2S profile and was a key component in the companies transition from a strictly physical product driven company into one that took some vital early steps into the digital era. Do you think this early adoption philosophy was key to not only the success of MN2S Label services, but also to a number of the other strings to the company’s bow? e.g. Booking Agency etc.
Yes, it’s important to always be forward-looking and back then, Dave Elkabas made an astute early move into the digital sphere, enabling MN2S Label Services to establish direct relationships with all major stores, and more recently, streaming sites. As we began to grow our roster of client labels, there has been synergy between DJ/artist representation and label services in numerous cases, with a recent example being DJ Jazzy Jeff.
WWD: Could you tell us a little bit about your backgrounds within the music industry? Did you have previous experience in Label Services, and if not how has it been to learn, adapt and grow alongside the company?
I started in the industry as an intern at Gusto Records, the dance imprint of Gut Records. As a producer of commercial dance, it was a very natural fit for me, and was a great place to learn about the industry, working closely with Simon Hills, now at Axtone.
WWD: Speaking of growth, this year was a significant one as it included you reaching 200 label services clients. First of all congratulations, that’s definitely some achievement! Secondly, what do you feel are the key reasons behind reaching this figure? What makes MN2S label services so unique?
Thanks, it’s been a great journey! Even with the growth to 200+ labels, we pride ourselves on being a ‘boutique’ distributor, allowing us the time to meet clients’ individual needs. Labels tell us that they really value a person on the end of the phone or an email who can and will respond to queries and suggestions, and actively seek and then navigate with them new opportunities to grow revenue and exposure as they arise. We’re very selective about whom we work with, and this means that our voice is always heard when we present releases to retail/streaming for feature placement. MN2S Label Services also provides vinyl and CD manufacture/distribution for our clients, and with so many years’ experience working with suppliers worldwide, we help labels maximise the impact of their releases, while avoiding common, and sometimes less-than-obvious pitfalls.
WWD: The nature of your role is quite different as you head up distribution. For someone looking to enter into the music industry what would be some key tips for your preparing and working towards your position and role?
For someone looking for a distribution role, being organised is very important, especially in a role like mine where I am responsible for ensuring 200 + labels’ releases are delivered on time, and in the correct manner. An in-depth knowledge of the specific area of music you want to work in is definitely a plus; one benefit of this within the dance world is the ability to spot samples that others (including sometimes label owners) haven’t. A good network of contacts across labels, stores, mastering houses, blogs, art designers, etc will bring a lot to a distribution role, and if you don’t have these yet, the willingness and consistency to forge and maintain these relationships is the next best thing.
WWD: 2017 has seen a slight dynamic shift with vinyl sales increasing, whilst the digital industry seems to be entering into a state of transition from online sales and downloads to streaming via platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music. Why do you feel this is and do you see is as a major ongoing development within the music industry?
I think the industry is constantly evolving and looking for new methods of making the most of new technology. As this process continues, what is clear is that music is intrinsic to the human experience and will always have a value for that reason – it’s up to us in the industry to make sure label owners/artists are rewarded appropriately for their hard work and effort. Whilst Spotify et al are here to stay, I think there exists a future for high-quality, DJ-friendly music ownership/distribution utilising blockchain or similar technology, as we can see its viability with regards to bitcoins!
WWD: Bearing this in mind, what advice can you give to individuals who may be looking to start a label to release either on vinyl or digitally? What are the three most important factors to be aware of?
It’s definitely still possible to start and run a very successful label, and in fact has never been quicker, easier, or lower-cost. The three most important factors are establishing a strong, recognisable identity for the label through name, image, and artists/producers you release; being regular and consistent in your release scheduling; and of course making sure you release only the best music you possibly can!
WWD: With 2018 fast approaching we’re pretty certain MN2S Label Services is set for another big year. Are there any key projects that we should be looking out for? What are your own personal aims and goals for the new year?
Kerri Chandler’s Kaoz Theory label, which we’ve handled from its beginning, continues to go from strength to strength and 2018 is set for huge things, which I sadly am unable to divulge right now…
We’re very excited to be working on a forthcoming DJ Jazzy Jeff album project that involves a whole host of other artists too, so I am looking forward to that one! We have some new labels that have started very well and I can see really blowing up in 2018, so I’m looking forward to giving as much guidance as I can to help them on their way.
WWD: Lastly, having been involved with a significant number of releases and projects, alongside working with a host of top tier artists in the past it would be rude not to ask this… Can we get a quick list of your favourite projects that you’ve been involved in to date and why?
1. I really enjoyed, and learnt a massive amount, from the sync I secured for Pixar’s ‘The Secret Life Of Pets’, which took over a year to finalise, and huge amount of work!
2. Achieving Mixmag’s Compilation Of The Month for Roger Sanchez and Todd Terry’s Hard Times’ ‘The Best Of Times’ was very rewarding after all the effort we put into the release on behalf of the label.
3. I have found that often, the most accomplished artists/DJs are the easiest to work with, and this plays a part in their success, so working on a daily basis with DJ Spen on Quantize Recordings/unquantize, or Terry Hunter on T’s Box/T’s Crates (as just 2 of many artists like this) is always a pleasure.
Insider Insight is a music industry focused series brought to you by When We Dip & Dip Artist Management.