“We don’t want to be big, but we want to be great.”- Daniel Glass, Glassnote Records.
It had been a long week. Last October’s CMJ conference was crammed with meetings, label presentations, and artist showcases scattered about every corner of New York City. I was tired and still buzzing from the Odd Future show at Terminal 5 the night before.
And then he said it.
“We don’t want to be big, but we want to be great.”
I immediately perked up. In one simple sentence, Mr. Glass had defined “indie” in a way that I’d never understood before. I couldn’t believe it. A label didn’t have to be big to be successful?
Glassnote Records is a small independent record label based in New York City with worldwide distribution through Sony RED. Music industry veteran, Daniel Glass, built the full-service label in 2007 as a sort of rebirth, modeling the former great independent record companies such as Motown, Atlantic and Chrysalis.
Named “Best Indie Label” by Rolling Stone in 2011, you may also recognize Glassnote as home to indie-folk sensation, Mumford and Sons, and the Grammy-Award winning Parisian rock band known as Phoenix. But it isn’t just the talented acts that make this artist-friendly indie one of the top labels in the business; Glassnote is doing a few key things right that I believe have directly contributed to their success.
Quality over Quantity
I can’t emphasize this enough. This is what Mr. Glass is talking about when he explains that being great isn’t about being the next big thing.
While the traditional major label business model is to sign a ton of different artists in order to appeal to the masses, assume that 90% of their roster will “fail”(not recoup), and focus on making every one out of 10 artists an absolute smash to compensate for all the lost causes, the indie model is much different. This concept focuses on developing and exploiting a select few artists that strongly identify with a certain niche.
Glassnote has a relatively small roster (currently nine active artists); each very diverse, yet still have that same “alternative” connection in common. These artists also share another intentional quality; they are strong live performers. In an interview with Billboard, Glass explains that a great live show is imperative for their artists in order to create that emotional connection.
I had the opportunity to see Glassnote’s first hip-hop artist, Childish Gambino, play Cannery Ballroom last year, and let me tell you-he is no joke. In addition to selling out the venue, he actually engaged the crowd in a way that almost seemed like magic. I didn’t know anything about this guy before that night, but absolutely everyone in the room was dancing to his music, including me. And if you live in Nashville or play shows here, you know we’re an annoyingly critical audience to please.
Childish Gambino performing live
But it isn’t solely about the live show quality either. In the same interview, Glass also explains the importance of album sound and mastering quality and even touches on the bright future of vinyl. He describes a growing trend of record collectors who actually care about the heightened audio quality of vinyl, and he intends to fulfill that niche.
A Business Strategy That Works
So how do you market that quality and turn it into something both the artist and label considers “success”?
“Our game plan was to be very permissive,” Glass explains in an interview at the Billboard Future Sound Conference. “We are progressive in the way we leak music, sometimes to the chagrin of our distributors.”
“Our marketing plan is to get people to see the artist live,” He continues. “It’s a one-line plan.”
That plan involves a lot of time and patience.
Mumford and Sons released their debut album, “Sigh No More” on Glassnote on February 16, 2010. It wasn’t until 47 weeks later that they reached their peak at #2 on the Billboard Top 200 Chart. That was almost a year of slow, patient growth and heavy touring. “Sigh No More” is still currently on the Top 200 with 115 weeks to date and also happens to be the number two biggest-selling digital album of all time.
The fan is the absolute most important factor. That’s why Glassnote insists on artists that connect with their fans personally, emotionally, and digitally. Glassnote listens to what the fans want and then gives it to them. That’s why they stream every one of their albums before they’re released.
In an interview with Spinner, Glass explains the integral part Spotify and other streaming services play in the success of Childish Gambino’s Camp:
“We saw evidence with Childish Gambino, for example, that in two weeks, a million plays, 63,000 a day in the first few days of people hearing, streaming, sharing the music.”
“The two factors that I noticed in the first few days of Childish Gambino were the NPR stream and some of the Spotify statistics, which were extraordinary. I think that turned people on to the artist,” Glass continues. “It was really, really good for the artist, so I’m excited about it.”
Another fan-friendly feature is the label’s digital presence. I think they may have an account with every single social media platform out there…or close to it, which is great and allows for a journey towards more seamless integration. Glassnote’s website is clean, easy to navigate, personal and welcoming. You can even sign up to be part of the member forum embedded right there on the site, which is a really cool interactive feature.
Grammy Award winner for Best Alternative Music Album 2009- Phoenix
I always tell people the story of how Mr. Glass signed Phoenix because it is so genuine to me. I’ll keep it short and just say that a three-hour meeting in a Parisian Café between him and the guys in the band ended in hugs and a “contract” scribbled on a napkin. I love that.
Above all, Glassnote is a family and a team. It is a mutual partnership between the label and the artist that allows each entity to do what it is they do best. The greatest thing I heard Mr. Glass say at the CMJ keynote was that he and the team are actually huge fans of their artists before they sign them. Glassnote signs artists based on their attitude, talent, and creativity and they don’t try to interfere with that. That kind of passion and enthusiasm just can’t be forged.
Glassnote is a small company of patience and teamwork, slowly (but most surely) creating longevity and legacy, just like those great independent record companies before them.
They may be small, but they sure are great.
http://glassnotemusic.com/page/about-us [About Us- Glassnote Official Website]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glassnote_Records [Glassnote Records Wikipedia]
http://a2im.org/groups/glassnote-records [A2IM Label Profile]
http://www.billboard.biz/bbbiz/industry/indies/a2im-elects-daptone-s-bauer-glassnote-s-1007246752.story [Billboard Article]
http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/cmj-daniel-glass-keynote-252047 [CMJ Keynote Recap-The Hollywood Reporter]
http://glassnotemusic.blogspot.com/2011/04/glassnote-in-rolling-stone.html [Rolling Stone Article Cutout]
http://www.billboard.biz/bbbiz/industry/digital-and-mobile/daniel-glass-on-building-glassnote-connecting-1005552752.story [Billboard article + video]
http://www.billboard.biz/bbbiz/industry/digital-and-mobile/turntable-fm-s-seth-goldstein-glassnote-1005544152.story [Billboard FutureSound article]
http://www.billboard.biz/bbbiz/charts/chart-search-results/1?orderBy=chartDate&orderType=a [Billboard Top 200 Album Archives]