We Are Busy Bodies

Lessons in keeping an indie record label alive

WE ARE BUSY BODIES 10th Anniversary party with the Meligrove Band, Limblifter, DJ sets by members of The Elwins, Pink Wine and Neon Windbreaker at the Garrison (1197 Dundas West), Thursday (August 6), 8 pm. $20, adv $18. ticketfly.com.

When Eric Warner launched his record label We Are Busy Bodies in 2005, major record labels and indies were struggling. Imprints were going out of business each month, and there were few people with the ambition and optimism to start new ones. Nevertheless, he managed to carve out a niche for WABB as an important stepping stone for emerging artists, with a focus on limited-edition vinyl releases. 

Ahead of the label’s 10th anniversary (also one of the Meligrove Band’s final shows), NOW talked to Warner about what it takes for a scrappy DIY punk record label to survive in the 21st century. Here are the essential ingredients for success.

Don’t plan on making much money from selling records, so learn to diversify 

This label operates so that the money made from one record goes back into the next record. I make money myself more on the management side, but with the label, I usually just reinvest it. If you want to be in a band and try to make a living from it, you need to be looking at it from all angles: touring, merchandising, licensing and sync.

Keep applying for those grants, even if you’re not getting them.

Like a lot of label heads, it took me years and years of writing grants before I got any. I don’t rely on grants in a big way, but it’s great when they come through. 

Don’t schedule anything until the vinyl is in your hands.

When I started putting out vinyl records, I could have a finished product with a test pressing in 10 weeks. Now it takes five or six months, and that sucks. Even if you have the best planning abilities, you can’t control bottlenecks or bigger labels coming in with their Record Store Day releases. I’ve learned (the hard way) not to plan a release date or a tour until you have physical records in your hands. 

Learn from both your mistakes and successes.

I build timelines for every single thing I work on, and I look back a year later to see if we’ve accomplished them, or why we haven’t and what’s changed. I’m always trying to learn from what I’m doing and hoping that I can apply those skills to help better the next artist or record. 

Ask around.

There are so many great labels in the city and so many people with a wealth of knowledge. I’m not afraid to ask questions, and I think that’s very important with anything in music. 

benjaminb@nowtoronto.com | @benjaminboles

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