Ever dreamed of starting your own record label? Here’s how one duo did it

You do it for the love of music, there’s no other reason to do this really, but that’s probably the best reason I can think of for doing a job.”

That is Dan Finnegan, one half of Dublin indie record label Paper Trail Records, the bi-product of two music fans’ desire to see good music brought to light.

“It does mean that you get up every day and you’re like ‘I get to go and hang out with my friend, and listen to music’ … it’s the best job in some ways,” he told TheJournal.ie.

Finnegan and business partner, Jack Rainey, both in their mid-20s, founded Paper Trail about a year ago when they signed New York indie act Cloud.

Each of the pair had a keen interest in music, with Finnegan having worked for a US-based label, but the catalyst was their shared appreciation for the artist and the straightforward aspiration of working with him to put out a record.

"It wasn’t like at an early stage we said let’s do this label or management company, it was the Cloud release and then it kind of just fell into a plan to try and do it as our jobs, to see how it goes,” Rainey said.

A milestone

And 12 months on it appears to be going well. On Monday the label, whose roster now includes three artists, will pass another milestone with their first official album launch, Cloud’s Zen Summer.

With that release out of the way, the pair’s next goal will be extending the business’s reach into the UK – a reality for any Irish label to survive – and growing its list of acts with a shift of focus onto artist management.

Finnegan said one of their aims was not to become what was often wrong with the industry, when labels became fixated on money at the expense of producing good music.

“I remember one of the best pieces and earliest pieces of advice that I got was never work with anyone or put out any music that you don’t really believe in, because that’s the one that always fails,” he said.

"When you’re working with a person you shouldn’t see that as a commodity because it’s their career.”

Good business karma

So a year after taking the plunge together, what advice would they give to anyone else dreaming of setting up their own record label? Work hard and don’t be afraid to spread around some good business karma, in a nutshell.

“Only work with artists who are going to take it as seriously as you take it, there’s no point working with a band or solo act whose sole ambition isn’t trying to make it in music,” Rainey said.

Also, be willing to talk to anybody – even if you don’t think it’s going to benefit you straight away, these things do come back around.”

Finnegan said it could be financially difficult to launch a new label because the industry fell in the “grey area” between regular business and art, meaning many funding options were closed to them. But that was why building contacts with industry expertise who could provide mentoring was key.

That meant sending a lot of blind emails and dealing with rejection, although the inherently close-knit music scene in the Republic made the network-building process easier.

“In Ireland, the industry’s pretty small … so if you were getting nasty it would be a bit awkward I think,” Finnegan said.

And while Paper Trail was unlikely to ever be a ticket to millions, Rainey said he was still “absolutely loving it”.

"Obviously we are ambitious, but to me it would be successful if I could make a living doing what I love and then anything beyond that would be a bonus.”