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STEPHEN LUYA: LABEL DEVELOPMENT BLOG

Life Update - December 15th 2023: 

 

We have made adjustments to our initial roadmap for the SEMBLANCE. brand, particularly concerning our upcoming EP release and launch event. This decision was prompted by a significant personal development - the birth of my son, Alex, on January 21st, 2024. Due to this, my focus temporarily shifted away from advancing with the label until I was able to establish a suitable work-life balance. Whilst I did manage to attend to some tasks during this period, progress label-wise was not moving along as anticipated. In addition to this, I was unable to return to University until late February, thus requiring a rescheduling of our timelines.

 

During this period, Henry organised an event at Strobe Nightclub in Plymouth. Despite strong planning, including thorough promotion, scheduling, and securing a top-flight headliner, the event resulted in an overall financial loss for him and his team.

 

Based off of this and reflecting on our own plans for a launch event, we concluded that using our resources towards building up the brand itself through marketing and promotion would be more valuable to us at this time. By solidifying our presence in the industry and creating collaborations with artists through releases, we aim to establish a strong foundation before venturing into event organisation. This shift in our strategy not only better positions us to host a more successful event in the future but also improves our chances of further successful nights as we would be an established and well-known brand. In hindsight, our initial goals may have been too much for our current positions, necessitating a more gradual approach to growing the label.

 

After careful planning and deliberation, we developed a comprehensive mind map to steer our future goals and prioritise the most essential tasks (How to Make a Mind Map, 2024). This proactive measure was inspired by feedback from our course leader, Matt Ward, who emphasised the importance of clarity and having a clear vision for our plans both individually and as a team.

Fig 1.1 - Our mind-map

Initiating a Collaboration - February 22nd 2024

 

Sol Clements, a former college friend from dBs, had been teaching himself TouchDesigner (Derivative, 2017) for several months prior to our search for a visual artist, making him an ideal candidate to reach out to. He eagerly agreed to collaborate upon asking and was happy to discuss the logistics, so we set up a Discord (Discord | Your Place to Talk and Hang Out, 2024) server where we could all meet on March 7th. Sol's deep understanding of our music genre makes him an ideal collaborator, able to bring our artistic vision to life. His expertise in both visuals and electronic music suggests he is well-positioned to also make valuable suggestions and edits. We believe this partnership will enhance our label's online presence and help establish a strong USP (Sheldon, 2022) for our brand.

Discussing Distribution - February 25th 2024

 

After some deliberation around different distribution platforms, we decided to contact Cygnus Music (Digital Music Distribution | Cygnus Music, Home, 2023) to see about running our music through them and to be represented. One requirement for being eligible is a clear release schedule, so we devised a plan to mediate this. This plan shows our short-term and long-term goals, demonstrating our commitment to growing and promoting talent of all levels within our scene. Content is also well-spaced to keep up hype and engagement around the label:

LUYAH & Deft Design 4-track EP - May 2nd

JAYNIE - 2-track single - June 15th

VA Album - end of June/early July

Armenez - August 20th

One of the Inner Circle artists - September/October

 

Unfortunately upon application, we were unsuccessful in our endeavors, however, for both of us the experience proved to be valuable and gave us some insight into what we need to do in the future in order to have more success being accepted by some of the larger distributors. 

 

Due to the issues of not meeting their requirements at the time, I suggested we use SoundCloud’s distribution, as we would be using SoundCloud a lot regardless so paying for the Next Pro (SoundCloud, 2024) subscription made sense, as well as having a great personal experience using the in the past. This would also be cost-effective for us, as a Next Pro subscription costs £6.25 per month, split between us both.

Fig 1.2 - Contact with Cygnus Music

Further Talks for Visuals - March 7th 2024

 

We ultimately chose Discord as a project management tool to easily share concepts, ideas and plans between us all. One example of this being used was in the planning of the EP and visuals being created, where me and Henry were able to link our potential track selections for the EP to reach a final decision on the release, as well as discuss marketing techniques and distribution.

Fig 1.3 - Discussing track selections and distribution in the Discord channel

Fig 1.4 - Discussing marketing and distribution techniques in the Discord channel

Overall, Discord has been an excellent tool in allowing us to work asynchronously, as well as keep our project ideas in an easy-to-access, organised manner that keeps a record of all of our progress thus far. 

 

Henry and I discussed our label's visual vision on Discord before we invited Sol to join. We saw potential in having Sol on board for several reasons. Firstly, his growth alongside our label could lead to a permanent role for him, providing reliable visuals that align with our vision. Secondly, collaborating with us would help Sol build a strong portfolio for future opportunities, opening doors for him. Thirdly, Sol offered to create one free audio-reactive video for the first track of the EP, to gauge compatibility and workload before we discuss compensation for future projects. We also discussed a waterfall release strategy (Waterfall Releases - EmuBands, 2022) for the EP to market each track individually before a collective release on major streaming platforms. A waterfall release is especially effective because tracks from the EP are staggered in their release, highlighting them individually, and building up hype and attention to what is to come next - before releasing the EP in its entirety at the end of the promotion, maximising visibility of all the tracks as well as the EP as a whole. This approach aligns with Sol's workflow as it allows for ample development time between videos, and ensures consistency in when content arrives, whilst keeping us on track with deadlines due to a steady schedule. 

Initial Track Selections - March 11th 2024

 

Myself and Henry agreed that out of our available productions for the EP, his track “First Off” would be a great initial candidate to receive the free visual video. This is because it perfectly fits the theming and sound of what we want to be releasing, and is very polished off, only requiring minor tweaks in regards to the mastering, so it is in the best position to be worked on as of this time. I had another call with Sol to relay this information, and we discussed how my track “Cache” would be the second track to receive the promotion work. 

 

We also got around to setting up our first social pages - starting off with Instagram (Instagram, 2014) and TikTok (TikTok - Make Your Day, 2024). We used our collective SEMBLANCE. email that we had previously set up as the login details on this as well, so we both have easy access to the page. The TikTok page was set up the same way, with the same login details. Having a specific SEMBLANCE. email also allows us to be perceived more professionally when people potentially send track submissions to us. The graphics used will be consistent across all of the pages so that people can find our other pages easily and to keep everything looking uniform. With this, we also set up a Linktree (Linktree: Link Everything You Are, 2022) account, where we could easily showcase all our latest music and updates.

Fig 1.5 - Linktree account

We initiated the Instagram page with an introductory post, showcasing our label’s logo, an edited picture of me and Henry, as well as a formative description of who we are and what to expect from us.

Fig 1.6 - Introductory Instagram post

Fig 1.7 - Instagram bio featuring demo email

Continued Track Selections - March 19th 2024

 

I finalised my second track on the EP called Payments - a dark, gritty Drum & Bass track with minimalist features to fit the vibes of the label (something Henry’s tracks convey very well!). We also started focusing on a couple of names for the EP - considering options along the lines of Emergence or Genesis EP; something to represent the start of everything. 

 

Finalising EP title - March 26th 2024

 

This week, we finalised the title of our EP, opting for "FORM EP." This decision to do this was influenced by the fact it was one of the original names we considered for the SEMBLANCE. label, something we mutually wanted to use in some capacity. In addition to this, we found that the term "FORM" resonated well with the aesthetic qualities we aimed to convey through our music production.

 

Due to recent interest from multiple labels in our work, adjustments were made to the EP's tracklist. While Henry's track "First Off" remains on the project, the selection for his second track is undecided, as Foto Sounds (Foto Sounds, 2019) is currently considering his submissions for an EP release. Similarly, one of my tracks, "Cache", was replaced with "The Code", a decision influenced by the track’s better alignment with the EP's overarching sound, as well as pairing up better with Henry's style for overall cohesiveness. Furthermore, Scandal Sounds (AD, 2022) have expressed interest in releasing "Cache", offering a strong opportunity for me as a solo artist to expand my audience, ultimately leading to more exposure for us as a label.

 

The final addition to the EP is my track "Jesters", a departure from my typical Drum & Bass style, introducing a 140 BPM track to provide variety and contrast to the release. This adjustment was made to enhance the EP's diversity in terms of genre and ensure each track contributes well to the aesthetic and sound on offer.

 

With this revised selection, the EP encompasses a range of genres, including dubstep, halftime drum and bass, and traditional drum and bass, showcasing our versatility while maintaining a unified sonic identity for the label.

 

The SoundCloud page was set up this week as well, where I created custom graphics so that the logo and banner would seamlessly blend together - this can be seen below:

Fig 1.8 - SoundCloud banner and logo integration

Designing the EP Artwork - April 5th 2024

 

I was tasked with designing and creating the EP artwork for the FORM EP - I kept the colour palette similar to what we were already showing in our logo graphics, which was monochrome, and faded tones. The artwork needed to stand out on its own however also slot in with our other posts when viewed on our Instagram page for instance. The project came together very quickly and did not get trialed too much as both me and Henry were happy with the results. Below is the final artwork:

Fig 1.9 - FORM EP Artwork

Whilst I was at work on the graphics, we thought it would be an appropriate time to set up the Bandcamp page too, where I could decorate that in a similar way to this, so we have a professional-looking store page that would reflect us well as a label and hopefully encourage people to interact with us and support our work. This is how the Bandcamp page turned out in the end! We sourced inspiration for our visual design, as well as use of language and branding from several labels we are big fans of - the first being Inner Circle Recordings (Every Waking Moment / Lonely Stepper, 2024), who Henry has actually released with in the past, some others being Alix Perez’s 1985 Music (1985 Music, 2024) and Kasra’s Critical Music (Critical Music, 2024). 

 

Studying bold and minimal branding across various socials such as the ones highlighted have been crucial in shaping our label's foundation and established a strong visual style.

Fig 2 - Critical Music Bandcamp design

Fig 2.1 - 1985 Music Bandcamp design

Fig 2.2 - Inner Circle Bandcamp design

Fig 2.3 - Our Bandcamp page design, influenced by labels such as 1985 Music, and Inner Circle Recordings

Visuals Discussion - April 12th 2024

 

During our review of our posting schedule and agreement with Sol regarding visual delivery, we decided to have a call to discuss. While Sol aimed to create lengthy YouTube videos showcasing various aesthetics and visual techniques, we emphasised the importance of shorter, social-media-friendly clips to promote our tracks effectively and concisely. After our discussion, we agreed for Sol to create shorter clips taken from the main visual projects as he is developing them, also spreading out his aesthetics and styles to allow for a quicker turnaround as well as ensuring each video maintains its distinctiveness and highlights his techniques effectively.

 

We will be receiving three clips per track alongside each full video, totaling 12 short media pieces for the EP release. This change allows for more frequent posts if required leading up to the release date, that can supplemented by filler posts featuring graphics I have created on Photoshop (Transform Photos and Make Gorgeous Graphics | Adobe Photoshop, 2024) in the background to further highlight our label's identity. These graphics can also serve as logos or prints for merchandise, enhancing our brand presence across platforms as well as real life if people purchase any merchandise.

Fig 2.4 - SEMBLANCE. Graphic Design 1 used for filler post

Fig 2.5 - SEMBLANCE. Graphic Design 2

Fig 2.6 - SEMBLANCE. Graphic Design 3

Fig 2.7 - SEMBLANCE. Graphic Design 4

Fig 2.8 - SEMBLANCE. Graphic Design 5

Fig 2.9 - SEMBLANCE. Graphic Design 6

Running the promotional videos - April 10th onwards

 

On April 10th, we launched Henry's "First Off" track clip on Instagram with a £15 ad campaign over 3 days. Despite our small following, it still gained good traction. TikTok's initial engagement was low however, which I put down to an overly lengthy intro, prompting a re-upload with a condensed introduction that nearly doubled stats within 24 hours due to keeping users engaged much better.

 

We uploaded the full track to SoundCloud, with a link on there to pre-order the track on Bandcamp as part of the full EP when it drops on the 2nd of May 2024. We did the same over on TikTok, running a similar promotion for 3 days that aimed to maximise profile views to grow our page. We found success in this method, capturing 2816 plays on Instagram, and 3997 on TikTok, gaining additional traction through sharing the posts with both of our artist accounts. We learned about how to judge better whether a post will be successful or no, because the last clip for my track “Jesters” did not do well upon uploading. It was uploaded at around 1 pm on a hot and sunny Monday afternoon, which we believed severely affected its reach due to our audience either being at work or out enjoying the weather.

Fig 3 - Discussions around review of the loss in engagement on the Jesters promotional posts

This method was repeated for the other main clip posts, allowing us to grow our Instagram page to 127 followers, with a total of 11,820 views on Instagram, and 50 followers on our TikTok page with a total of 25,798 views and 2003 likes. By attaching our SoundCloud page to these posts, we managed to amass 870 plays on the EP. 

 

Contacting Sam Willis from dBs - April 11th 2024

 

dBs Music features a "Track Of The Week" campaign on their social media platforms, showcasing top music from university attendees, which both me and Henry have found success with before. This exposure has boosted our past releases, and so is an avenue we’d like to explore again. We contacted Sam to introduce SEMBLANCE. and our collaboration with Sol from dBs Music Bristol. Sam agreed to feature the label and EP in a "Track Of The Week" post and potentially interview us later in more detail. We were lacking a press release, so we created one using emotive language, clear descriptions of the label, our goals, and contact details (UAL, 2020).

Fig 3.1 - Press release

Receiving Demo Submissions - April 26th 2024

 

Roughly a week after our initial release as a label, we received our first demo submission via email from William May, where we ended up not signing the first tune sent to us initially due to keeping consistency with quality, but kept in contact with Will and enjoyed his second submission, so this has been signed for use in our VA mid-June.

Fig 3.2 - Will’s first demo

Fig 3.3 - Signing our first demo

We were fortunate to also receive demos from several other people, helping us to have a stable pipeline for music releases, as well as allowing for consistent growth of both the artists involved, and us as a label and brand.

 

Contracts - April 26th 2024

 

With the EP release fast approaching, we created our artist contract to sign for legal reasons and to ensure transparency around finances. We agreed on a 50/50 split of any royalties generated, applying to all physical/digital sales made as well as streams accumulated (Sandvick, 2016).

Fig 3.4 - First page of contract

EP Release Day - 2nd May 2024

 

The EP was released in its entirety to all major streaming services. We also uploaded the full visuals onto YouTube to accompany the audio and showcase Sol’s work on the project. Due to our strong promotional campaign, as well as tracks being added to playlists across platforms, our streams were consistently growing. As of right now, the EP has amassed 288 streams on Spotify, and 47 views on the YouTube page overall, combined with SoundCloud which is at 874 plays.

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