On Nov. 14, MilkBoy Recording announced the launch of “The Unlabel,” a marketing, recording, production, design, management and distribution service for independent musicians.
Following the launch of The Unlabel, Amusement got the scoop from Director Tom Laskas at Milkboy Recording, and Jamie Lokoff, a partner at Milkboy Recording and The Unlabel, on what this means for today’s changing music industry scene.
Amusement: What’s the story with MilkBoy? What was the inspiration behind The Unlabel? How long did it take to get up and running?
Lokoff: We started out as a recording studio in Philadelphia in 1994. Two years ago we had the concept for The Unlabel … We saw the bands that recorded with us didn’t have a place to go and didn’t know what to do after we gave them their finished product (a CD). That’s when we came up with this concept that seems to be all over the place now. Given the nature of the Internet and the state of the music industry, The Unlabel lets artists promote themselves without giving themselves away to a record label.
Laskas: The idea for The Unlabel started out informally to help out our clients. Bands wouldn’t do anything with (their new record) and it would fall apart. So we decided to make it a more formal process. It took about three months to establish (The Unlabel) and work out the kinks. We were full force after that.
Amusement: That sounds like progressive thinking. What’s MilkBoy’s staff like, a bunch of 20-somethings?
Lokoff: There are about 25 employees. We’re a pretty young staff, mostly between the ages of 18 to 27.
Amusement: The Unlabel sound too good to be true, like an iPhone minus the Cingular contract. How do you help out bands without completely taking over?
Laskas: We’re teaching bands to invest in and support themselves. Nowadays in order to get a contract you have to appear as if you don’t need one. You need substantial record sales as an independent artist to get industry eyeballs on you. The Unlabel gives bands the tools and resources to act as their own entity. If a band sells 10,000 CDs at $10 a pop, that’s $100,000 going straight in the band’s pocket. Usually, bands get 10 cents a record. It’s all about budgeting. A lot of bands don’t know how (or) where to spend their money. We have a lot of experience. Bands see that and want to be a part of it.
Lokoff: Think about what a record label does. They sign a band because they have the money to do it. In exchange they’re saying, ‘We’ll sign you, but we’re gonna take a large percentage of what you’re worth in exchange for promoting your product.’ Labels used to have an advantage because of all their contacts and their connections with record stores. Now, with stores like iTunes and CD Baby, independent musicians can distribute their music without the label. When I was a musician playing in (New York) I didn’t have that option. The Unlabel can use these Internet tools to development a band’s awareness online. As a band’s Web site traffic increases, hopefully fans will buy products there so all the money goes to the band directly.
Amusement: The members of The Unlabel’s biggest band, Sleeping Naked, go to two different schools (UCLA and Vanderbilt). They don’t have time to tour. What “out-of-the-box solutions” did you provide the band so they could get their name out there? It sounds like a Postal Service style
Laskas: Working with them was a unique opportunity because we didn’t have a take in the recording process. They just handed us a CD with 12 really good songs already produced. What we did was make their weakness (not being able to perform a lot) their strength by garnering them a really big Internet fan base. It’s something we call the social network collective (about 12 networks). We take an active role in recruiting new fans … We didn’t want their Web site just for band news. We wanted to make it more of a community … It’s about using music to promote a destination. We’re creating a brand for the band. We know exactly where people want them to be. If there’s 300 fans in New York, we’re gonna send them to New York to do some shows.
Lokoff: Our job at The Unlabel was to figure out ways to drive traffic to their Web site … In their music video we placed clues and pieces of lyrics throughout so that if fans can identity these they win free CDs, T-shirts and even an iPod touch.
Amusement: Which social networks are we talking about here, MySpace.com?
Laskas: We’ve got the big ones covered, MySpace and Facebook.com. Sleeping Naked’s new MySpace page design is really a progressive overhauling of their old one. There’s actually a bunch of smaller Web sites to aggregate fans though too. (The Unlabel) offers a whole force of tour support.
Lokoff: A sweet MySpace page is one of those things you gotta have to get signed now as a band.
Amusement: Besides Sleeping Naked, how many other bands has The Unlabel helped out, without “signing” them?
Laskas: Sleeping Naked is definitely the most thorough campaign we’ve done. We’ve focused on developing their career and image. We’ve had about 25 to 30 bands total. We try to keep it on the medium size so we can focus on each band’s individual needs. Each campaign takes about three months to launch. It’s pretty in-depth and it takes a while. It’s about quality control … we want to make sure it’s well done and well executed
Lokoff: Most young bands don’t know what they’re doing. They know how to make music, not how to promote themselves. They do the music and we do the rest.
Amusement: Is The Unlabel aimed specifically at college age musicians?
Laskas: We’re open to anyone really. Labels tend to keep artists from developing as they’d like to. We do campaigns for each band with a custom template to find target bases for each one.
Amusement: What’s MilkBoy Coffee all about?
Lokoff: Three years ago my partner and I had the concept of opening up a creative arts coffee house that’s also a live venue … We record the shows live … (and) we’re actually putting out a first release, with 12 different artists.
For more information on MilkBoy Recording go to www.milkboyrecording.com. For The Unlabel, visit www.milkboyunlable.com. To see Milkboy’s coffee shop, go to www.milkboycoffee.com.