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An Interview with Elliot Aronow

RCRD LBL's creative director gives us some insight into the world of music and start-ups

by Greg Stefano in Culture on 04 January 2011

An extensive collection of diverse artists combined with a huge assortment of free and legal downloads, RCRD LBL is the premiere site for discovering emerging artists. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with RCRD LBL's Creative Director Elliot Aronow, who told us about music distribution, start-ups and the importance of sharing.

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How do you describe RCRD LBL?

RCRD LBL is an editorially driven, free and legal music site focusing mostly on emergent talent. If I were talking to my aunt I'd call us a curated, cool, free iTunes.

For artists that are established, do you act more as a distribution platform?

Personally I always believed that the expiration date for records on the Internet was way too short. What we do is plan out our schedule 5-10 days in advance so we are able to offer a robust second wind to a label. The response from our audience has been remarkable, we get about 40,000 people downloading a record that has been "out" on the internet for a few days.

How would you, as the Creative Director, define your market?

I would say our market would be very well intentioned, passionate music fans that want to get put on to good stuff. It's regular people who are interested in more left-field or independent music—a really refreshing audience to be communicating with. There are college kids and cool dads, and then there are the communities that we're super meshed in with, DJs, producers, punk guys or Brooklyn and London kids.

Are you targeting your brand at any one group specifically?

My dream from a creative standpoint was to cross the brand over. I always looked at shows like "120 Minutes" and "Yo MTV Raps." Thats how I got into PIL, Depeche Mode, Nirvana and all that kind of stuff. I knew that because of the level of taste we were always going to resonate with DJs and the music heads, but really for me it was more about breaking things to a more casual listener. That's what I try to do, that's why you can juxtapose Waka Flaka Flame with some super weird UK funky guy that's put out his first 12-inch. You get people with the big hook and hopefully you keep them with the newer stuff that they haven't heard before.

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How has RCRD LBL evolved in relationship to the way people are accessing information?

We started right after the first wave of professional blogging. Initially we wanted to design something people could come check out everyday and there would always be cool new records. In the past couple years things have changed to where we are entering into much more interesting distribution agreements or using platforms that are super commonplace now. Rather than building the mountain and expecting people to come, we have decided that people want to engage with the material in a lot of different ways. They might follow us on Twitter, check in on Facebook, they might get it in their email or check it out via RSS—it's just important to give people a lot of different ways to interact with the music rather than creating a very static one-dimensional relationship with them.

Is it more valuable to expose the artist to the public or the public to the artist?

It's important to expose the artist to the public because people that are making compelling music, that know how to tie it together with good-looking album artwork and great live performances, I think they deserve to have a career that goes beyond the Internet. If we're going to put MNDR in front of people I want them to listen to her record, enjoy it, and then hopefully be inspired to go check out a show or buy a t-shirt.The artist is always the centerpiece.

What are some creative decisions you've made to directly broaden RCRD LBL's appeal?

When we started I was mostly working with groups that I knew, mostly from Brooklyn and a couple from L.A. My logic at the time was that if this band can sell 3,000 CDs then we can give away 40,000 free downloads. But then I realized that once you get out of major cities certain bands are a lot less exposed than you think. One of the decisions I made around two years ago was rather than being in a conversation with blogs, I was more interested in being in a conversation with our users and I think that decision has really paid off for us.

What differentiates RCRD LBL from other music sites?

We have an intentionally narrow focus. We don't do interviews, we don't do videos, we don't do news—we serve up downloads everyday. I think its good for people to know that when they come to RCRD LBL there will a bunch of new stuff. We're not music critics, I like to think of us more as authoritative, passionate fans. A lot of people like to interact with music from a trusted source, and they want a little "amuse-bouche" if you will. I think that we do something similar where if we are turning you on to a new band we'll give you what we have decided is the best song, and if you are interested in digging a little bit deeper you can certainly go and do that. There's always been a really rich history of DJs and journalists and people in the scene putting people on to other stuff, that's where I've always drawn our editorial inspiration from.

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Do you think your model has staying power as system for distribution and exposure online?

Well I'm a bit biased but I do think our model certainly has room to grow. Our audience has really pleasantly surprised me in the past few years. I think there are more and more people out there interested in the stuff we are excited about, and I think there is always an opportunity to reach them.

What's the next step?

Without giving away any of the trade secrets that we keep in a small box under lock and key, I see us being able to offer more kinds of music to people. I think the format of a site that offers you free music with the artist's and the label's blessing is a good model. Personally, I would like to see some punk and hardcore in the mix—it's really just about showing people that we can go from Passion Pit to abrasive, strange music to very beautiful stuff and it all makes sense.

Any advice for start-ups in the new year?

Strive for consistency and don't take too much money up front because you'll wind of spending it on bad things before you have any idea what you're actually doing.

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