TPM 66 | Indie Label

 

Many music artists partner with prominent labels because of their wide audience reach and significant impact. But if you want to escape the messy world of the music industry and get your creative self out there, an indie label may be the best fit for you. Bree Noble is joined by Heather Christie of Möonbabe Records, emphasizing why passion always trumps fame. Heather shares how her label builds female-centric communities of fully confident artists with every work they release to the world. She explains why she brings empowerment to moms, breaking the stigma that motherhood hinders achieving success in the music scene.

Watch the episode here:

Listen to the podcast here:


Heather Christie On The Advantages Of Partnering With An Indie Label

I’m excited to be here with Heather Christie from Möonbabe Records. We are going to have an interesting conversation about whether you should release your album, EP or single as an independent or if you should look for an indie label or some label to support you. I know this was a big question that I had when I first started, especially back then. I thought I needed a label in order to release it.

We all know now that’s not necessary, but there may be some serious benefits. We are going to talk about the pros and cons. Before we get into that, though, I want to talk about her journey and how she got to the point where she did start an indie label, why she did that and all that. First of all, Heather, what is your background in music? How did you come up as an indie artist?

First of all, thank you for having me, Bree. It’s exciting to be chatting. I started when I was five in musical theater and wanted to be on Broadway. My basic training was musical theater, voice choir, jazz choir and all of that. I started as a vocalist and performer. By the time I hit college, I was like, “I don’t want to be in musical theater. What is this modern dance thing in philosophy and spirituality?” I traveled to India and got a whole different perspective on the world.

That’s when I started music production because I found that learning how to produce my own music gave me the tools and the power to create the art and sounds that I wanted to hear. That has been my journey for the past is in music production and creating my own sonic brand and touring with that. That’s a very quick rundown.

Were you touring as an artist under your own name at that point?

When I first started, I did start as Heather Christie when I was 21 and had gotten back from travels. I formed a band called Feral Fauna. I was touring under that name for a few years and then I started a band called Sirens of Soul. I started another band called Silk Drop. I have been a collaborator a lot. It hasn’t been until a little later that I claimed my own name and started using that for my primary project.

When did you start your Möonbabe Records?

The idea for Möonbabe Records came and it’s crazy. I realized this and we can get more into this as we talk, but I have wanted an alternative option to what I have been presented with as an independent artist. It hasn’t been out there for me that I have seen. There have been a lot of black and white structures in ways that I don’t necessarily feel good about saying yes to. I have been like, “Where do I go? What is the right label for me?” I had this idea start to bubble up and then I was looking back through my phone. The first time I came up with the idea of the name for Möonbabe Records was when I first got pregnant. I didn’t know that I was pregnant yet, but the idea for the label has synonymously grown with my pregnancy and transitioned into being a mom.

TPM 66 | Indie Label

Indie Label: A lot of indie artists are doing for mainstream deals because they think it might bring them further, get more listens, and expand their audience.

 

I want to get into that and why you are focused on moms, which is awesome because I started my music career in earnest as a mom. I jive with that. I wanted to know what you were looking at out there in saying like, “These structures don’t jive with me.” As far as when you said black and white stuff, what did you mean by that?

First of all, when I was on American Idol in 2016, by accident, I got to the top 200 contestants because my friend was like, “Here, you should do this. I have the producer’s email. Why don’t you audition?” I was like, “Okay.” I did American Idol and it was a big hit of what I don’t want essentially. It’s a major industry around the music industry.

Was this the one during the pandemic?

No, this was in 2016. It was the last year that it was on. I forget what network, but they switched to networks. It was either ABC or NBC. I was in this whole crazy experience of waking up at 4:45 in the morning, putting a bunch of makeup on and then being cattle-called with hundreds of other singers into the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. It’s this whole show and whole clamoring for fame that they want you to feel and go for. I realized, “That’s not the kind of artist I am.” Maybe when I was five and I wanted to be on Broadway, fame was my number one goal, but what that means to me has changed.

First of all, the Latin root word of fame means to walk alongside your destiny. That’s more the kind of fame I’m talking about now. Second of all, it was stripping you away from who you are as an artist and the process around who you are. You were supposed to go perform your best show ever in 30 seconds and impress the judges and all the cameras. I was like, “I can’t even do that. I need to warm up. I need to be in my zone.” It felt wrong to me in how they were pushing the ideas of success onto us, pushing us through this whole system that they had and wanting to build out and carve out our artist identity for us, which to me is the old way of the music industry.

It’s maybe how artists came up before and how the labels had control of their artist identity. For me, that experience shot me in the opposite direction. I’m sure you know of Rick Barker’s program, the Music Industry Blueprint. I did that. I signed up. You probably know Cari Cole. I signed up for all of their programs and I was like, “How do I be an indiepreneur and musicpreneur?” I studied all that for five years and then I started signing with these indie labels that were in my scene. I’m in California, West Coast. It’s a music festival scene, Burning Man-esque.

The old way of the music industry pushes the wrong idea of success by carving out an artist identity for every person. Click To Tweet

I have been signing with these indie labels. I won’t necessarily say their names. The way that they did the breakdown for the artists was okay. It didn’t feel like that much better of an option than just releasing my music by myself. They were either asking to own my master 100% or split everything 50/50 with me that I had already poured my heart, soul and money into and then in exchange for putting my music on a few Spotify playlists. That was the extent of the deal.

They weren’t going to do a big marketing push. Why would you even go with a label at that point?

I could see a lot of indie artists such as myself going for these deals anyway because we thought it might bring us further. We could get further listens and plays and expand our audience.

For me, when I was looking at it, I thought that having a label brought you prestige. I didn’t know any better.

There’s this idea that if you have an umbrella over you or are aligned with something bigger than yourself, you will be more presentable. For me, I was like, “Nobody knows what they are doing anymore. This is the Wild West of the music industry.” I started to slowly have this conception of, “If these indie label structures don’t work for me, what could work for me? What would work? What would feel supportive and artist-centric and give me that added boost?” What I think breaking it down further into is a sense of community and support and someone who has got your back and is going to help you navigate things. If you have never worked with distribution options or album art, everything that goes into a release is having some sense of team rather than being yourself in it.

TPM 66 | Indie Label

Indie Label: Indie labels help artists handle doubts about their work, break through the identity crisis, and celebrate their releases.

 

I have a course called Rock Your Next Release. It’s all about planning your whole release journey because the artists don’t have the support. They don’t have anyone to tell them, “Now, you need to do this. You need to get these photos and all of that.” It is overwhelming, especially for artists that haven’t been in the scene. They don’t know the jargon and who are all the DSPs. It’s funny to see the biggest stumbling block for a lot of artists is like, “What DSP do I choose? Should I put it on all the DSPs? What distributor should I choose? I have heard of Spotify playlist, but how do I get on them?” It’s things that, to me, are not a big deal, but to them, it’s keeping them from moving forward.

That’s such a good point because the jargon and these building blocks that you have to learn and understand can feel super in your way and overwhelming because you don’t understand what they are or how you can even interact with them as an artist. It’s important.

It sounds like to you, community was important. Is that why you decided to create a label instead of going out there and releasing your own music outside of someone else’s label?

For me, the drive to start a label comes from my own process around my fear that becoming a mom will somehow outdate me or negate my ability to be a successful artist. It’s based on former societal beliefs around women and our artistry and how we have to be young and look a certain way in order to be successful. Some of that still lives in my bones in some way, shape or form that I have to work with or break down even to this day.

To go out and create a label and community that could speak directly to that and go into that and help others find more confidence too, that’s the best thing I can do in the process of breaking down my own fear and empowering myself, “How can I bring that empowerment to others?” As you know, in the work you do, it’s about uplifting each other. That’s the feminine way. More so, we work together. It’s this co-creative feminine energy rather than the singularity competitive energy. That doesn’t get us the farthest that we can go.

One of the reasons that I focus on building female-centric communities is because when I was getting started, that was what pushed me forward. It’s having a community like that of people that I could get inspired by, see what they are doing and emulate all of that instead of feeling like I was this island and trying to figure it out on my own like, “Why couldn’t I get together with this group of people and we could all move forward together?”

I’m right there with you.

I love the mom angle because that’s something that people reach out to me a lot about because I have done videos about being a mom and going on tour. That was the thing that made people think, “This is over now. I’m a mom.” I thought that for about five minutes. The first six weeks that I had my first child, I was like, “This is my life now. I’m giving up that other stuff and that music pursuit. I’m focusing on this.” After about six weeks, I’m like, “I’m going to go crazy. I have to explore this creative side. I have to be out there performing. I can’t deny this part of me.” I won’t be good for my kids if I’m constantly pushing that part down because then I’m going to get this resentfulness.

Thank you for speaking to that.

Do you get a lot of people coming to you saying, “How can I even possibly consider a career now that I’m a mom?”

I haven’t gotten a lot of that yet. Maybe I will because this is new. I have gotten more women thanking me for even holding this umbrella up and being like, “I feel like there’s finally a place for me.” It’s more women who have been flirting with the idea of coming back into their music. They are moms. They haven’t found that rhythm yet or that ability to fully do both. They are like, “To even know that there’s a place for me inspires me to work more on my music. Thank you.” Even that is amazing.

It is with the new moms or the people that are about to become a mom. That’s a lot of times when people approach me because they are super scared that now their life is going to be different and they have to give this up. Once people have been a mom for a while, they realize how they can integrate it back into their life. It’s that, “I’m about to be a mom or I became a mom.” That’s stressful for them because it’s this identity crisis.

One of the hardest moments about being a music artist is how you can take and giving constructive criticisms. You must always have room to grow. Click To Tweet

It’s such a rite of passage from maiden to mother. That’s how it has been for me. It has been empowering to weave my art into the whole process and birth my label as I have birthed my daughter at the same time.

How does your label support artists in traditional ways and then in untraditional ways?

Some of the main aspects that artists do ask me about are like, “What is the PR? What is the percentage?” For me, I’m working with a distribution deal that comes through one of the main major labels. It’s called Six Degrees Records. We have signed a distribution deal. They have this whole network of support with PR if artists want and licensing pitching, which is also a huge question as we know. Working with their team allows me to offer that kind of traditional support to artists.

In terms of what I offer as well, which is my own creation on top of that nuts and bolts, is I like to offer the sense of midwifing the music into the world. What I mean by that is often emotionally and energetically, when we go to release something, there’s this process of, “Can I do this? Is this good enough? Am I ready?” It’s all of these things that could get in our way internally. I like to help artists hold space for that stuff to be like, “Yes, you are,” or whatever it is that they need to break through in order to come to a place of celebrating their release.

It’s hard when you have something beautiful that you have put so much work into and then you release it, but you are not feeling 100% great about it. I want to make sure that every artist that I work with feels in control of their choices. They have thought about all the options and even know what to focus on as they are making their choices and then from there, be solid, “My release is out in the world and I feel great.” It’s not like, “I could have gotten that mixed a little better. Should I take it down?”

Do you help them with the front-end stuff as far as the production?

I do have an option for my artists who work with me as a producer. That’s another leg of the label that I’m exploring because I do work as a producer. I teach music production, too, through my mentorship. What I have done is link my clients through to the label side of things. If we have been working together for a while and I have helped them with their vocal production or even produced some music for them, then it’s a very seamless transition into releasing through Möonbabe Records. Usually, that has been the way things have been flowing. This is new. So far, I haven’t had people come through the label side into the production realm with me. It has been more, “We are working together as a client and then we are releasing.” That’s a part of what I can offer.

I find that a lot of people got their songs. They have written them. They just don’t know where to go for good production.

It’s true. That’s why I’m feeling the call to step into that more as a female producer because it’s needed.

What about the backend stuff? It’s what I like to call the fan catcher system. Do you help them set up their website, email list and socials and make sure that there are ways to capitalize on the fact that they are getting this promotion around their release?

I don’t focus on the email list, which I’m working personally on. I’m like, “I know it’s important. I need to focus better on it, but it’s not my strong point, to be honest.”

That’s my strong point. Come over here. I’m harping on the email list all the time. My community probably is sick of me, but they are not because they bring it up in almost every meeting that they know they need to be working on it. They know it’s important. It’s one of those things as you know that you got to do.

It’s because the social media aspect is the sparkly quick endorphin release part. I get stuck in that too. The email list is this deeper fan catcher. It’s more reliable, but it’s not as sexy, sparkly, easy or quick.

It involves having systems and making sure that you are being consistent in all of that. Whereas on social media, you can put something out there and get this immediate gratification.

I have been pretty good at helping them build their social media planning around the release and what to do like, “How to post consistently and tell your story through the social media posting?” It’s even what to post like, “Why Reels are better than regular posts?” I’m staying up to date on that end. In terms of optimizing the whole growth funnel, that’s why there are people who do what I do and people who do what you do and other people in the world because we can’t individually do them all.

TPM 66 | Indie Label

Indie Label: It is hard to have something beautiful that you’ve put so much work into, only to not feel a hundred percent great about it after the release.

 

I’m not going to help them with their production or go deep on branding because that’s not my thing. We have to have our specializations. This may be a little bit of an uncomfortable question, but how do you choose who you bring onto your label? What if someone comes to you with music that you think is not quite there?

This is such a good question because I have been secretly questioning that in my own mind. I’m like, “First of all, I want to be this inclusive space and model. I want to have a high-quality curated experience for listeners, fellow artists and everything.” There’s a little bit of a give and take and always a conversation around it for me internally. The most important thing for me is like, “Is it at a certain level that they have been working on it and it’s not their very first thing that they do in GarageBand or anything like that?” It’s above that quality level.

It has an alignment with the brand and the focus and energy of the brand, which is either like, “You are a mother artist who is doing it and you have been doing it. It’s not your first rodeo, but you are pursuing this seriously and/or it’s got this indie-electronic vibe that is my aesthetic that I have created.” It goes in alignment with that. It’s stylistically a fit. It’s all of those things.

Honestly, it’s like, “Do I feel empowered by the relationship with this artist? Are they in it for the right reasons? Do they have integrity as an artist? Do I feel that I can be their number one fan? Are they going to return that sense of mutual uplifting and empowerment?” The way I see this label is as a community and a way to mutually empower, cross-pollinate and further each other’s missions. It’s got to be that energetic fit for me in terms of who I’m going to work with because that means I’m going to put time into that person. They are going to be receiving that from me as well as putting time into the label. It’s got to feel the reciprocal and positive energy.

It’s a give-and-take relationship. You both have to be in it and all that. It’s a community. At the end of the day, this is your brand too. You are putting yourself on the line. You have to be their number one fan. Eventually, you are going to have so many people coming to you that you are going to have to turn people down. You are going to have to get pickier. That’s going to be a hard one. I hate having to do that too on my Women of Substance Podcast. I have to sometimes say like, “This isn’t there. I want it to be there, but it’s not.”

How do you say that in the right way?

I usually say something like, “It doesn’t quite fit our production quality.” That’s usually the problem. Sometimes I will say something about the songwriting like, “I can’t hear a hook in the song. The verses and the chorus sound too much the same.” It’s something like that because we are talking about individual songs here. At the end of the day, you are not doing them any service by not giving them any feedback because they need to know why they weren’t accepted.

This is a huge good point, too, because in the version of the music industry, you email all these people and nobody gets back to you. That’s a horrible feeling. I would much rather have someone come back to me and say, “Thank you for submitting. I can’t quite hear a hook here.” That would give me something to go work on.

I interviewed the Founder of SubmitHub. We were having this conversation. He was like, “We have had to build in all these things for feedback and everything. Some people want nice feedback. They don’t want the gritty like, ‘We are going to tell you what your issues are feedback.'” He was like, “Now, I have to build in something where it’s like, ‘You opt-in for which kind of feedback you want. Do you want me to be true with you or say it’s not my thing?'”

This is huge because this is one of the hardest and most important things about being an artist is how you can take constructive criticism and give it because we always have room to grow. I know I have room to grow.

It’s going to become a thing down the road that you will have to be a little bit pickier. Are you looking for specific genres? You mentioned that electronic vibe. Are you open to multi-genres?

I’m open to multi-genres. I have a focus on what I’m calling Fem-EDM or Embodied Electronica. It’s like this vocal-centric, electronic cross-pollination.

How does the financial stuff break down? I know that when you are looking at the major labels, it’s generally not at all favorable to the artist. You are also thinking, “That label has got a lot of overhead and expenses.” The thing that bothered me the most about label deals was that the artists had no input on what the label was spending their money on. I haven’t spoken to an indie label owner to have that conversation. Since you have looked into indie labels in the past and considered that, I would be curious to know. What did you see in that financial relationship in indie labels? How are you doing it on your label?

Throwing yourself in the fire is the best way to learn. Click To Tweet

To be honest, that’s something that I’m still figuring out the perfect structure for and I may be figuring that out for a while. I’m committed to taking a percentage that supports the artist. If I am going to be putting their budget into something, it’s a conversation with the artist where they are getting to decide what that is. In the past, I have seen indie labels that either take 50% and don’t offer any kind of support other than a Spotify playlist experience or they own the master entirely. I have been bought outright and still have not done a full marketing campaign or anything like that. That’s what I’m clearly steering away from.

Another thing in the middle that I have seen is an indie label I also signed with for an EP. They took a lesser percentage and offered me some support around funding the album art. It was this nice intermediate play of like, “They are not putting thousands of dollars behind a PR campaign for me by any means, but they are helping me do the actual nitty-gritty of the work of getting the release out there and branding it and all of that.” I’m working with the distribution that I have the distribution deal and what they offer and funneling these options to my artists. It’s always a conversation.

What I offer in terms of production, if that filters into it, is this very highly personalized experience between the artist and me. I like it that way because it allows for the most form-fitting release plan because I don’t think that there’s a one-size-fits-all release deal. That’s why I love being an indie label owner is because I can do that because I don’t have to say, “This is for everything, end-all-be-all. This is what it is. This is how it’s going to work best for every single artist.” It’s like, “Maybe this person needs a lot of support with their album art. Maybe this person has all that dialed and so they don’t need that.”

Everybody has people in their life. Maybe they have a bit of a team or past experiences that they can draw on. Some people are new and green. They don’t know anyone and they need support in everything. That’s a good model to pick and choose what they need, like a café-style model. Do you get any kind of money upfront from them? I’m always a sympathetic artist, but I’m also a business owner. I know that you have costs. Taking a percentage, first of all, that’s coming down the road and royalties. It takes a while and all that stuff. How are you able to have your costs covered from the beginning of the relationship?

That’s one that is this conglomeration of my coaching business. If I have worked with them as a coach, mentor and/or producer, some of that gets covered there. There’s also the option of them investing in some PR for themselves that then I help curate for them and that their investment goes to cover that as well. I’m not honestly looking to get rich with this label.

It’s a passion project. It’s a purpose-driven calling for you. I’m not looking to get “rich” with what I’m doing either. When you have a team and payroll, you have to know that you are covering stuff.

I don’t have a team yet. This might change for me pretty drastically or soon as well. For the time being, I’m working with it as I can. I have honestly even thought about what a community model would look like of fundraising for, similar to how you would like an organization that’s doing good in the world. What if I could get a nice chunk of a PR budget for all of these artists from people who believe in the model of women and music and supporting mamas who are putting their music out there? I’m playing with different options down the road to get heftier support financially.

I also wonder if maybe each person has their special skills and they could donate their skills to the pot like, “I’m good with design.” They donate that to the pot in return for getting back some equivalent value of some other thing that they needed.

This is what I’m talking about. It’s like, “How can we create a different model for a label? Have you ever heard of a label doing that? I haven’t yet, but why not?”

It sounds cool.

Thank you, Bree. Do you want to be a part of it?

It’s in my wheelhouse. It’s perfect for the demographic that I champion. I love it.

You could be the email list specialist.

In return, I can get my next single produced. That would be perfect. Do you guys offer any support for the performing arm of this whole thing of getting out there to tour to promote your releases?

Not specifically yet, but there is the sense of being in the community and being a part of the brand. The connections I have built over the past years in the worlds I have played live can come in through those doors.

TPM 66 | Indie Label

Indie Label: Indie label partnership is a highly personalized experience between the label and the artists. It allows for the most form-fitting release plan.

 

I see some label showcases coming here because I used to do that for Women of Substance a while back when I was in LA. We would do a showcase for 5 or 6 of our artists in one place. That could be a cool thing to do too.

I’m doing my first show since becoming a mama pretty soon. It’s like that energy.

For those who are reading and thinking about, “Should I look for an indie label? Should I look into Möonbabe Records? Should I do this on my own?” Do you have any advice as far as what criteria could help them decide whether they should look for an indie label or to try to do it on their own? Do they need to have a certain level of skillset or something to try to do it on their own?

I would say the opposite like, “Have you ever even tried to release anything on your own yet?” If no, then maybe dabble. Maybe put some paint on the canvas. I know that might be an uncomfortable notion for people, but you learn a lot that way. You will learn whether or not you want the support of a label, whether that be Möonbabe or another indie label. You will know what better to look for in terms of what each different label offers and whether that’s going to be amenable and supportive to you.

I always say like, “Throwing yourself in the fire is the best way to learn something.” Even if you sign up for a month of DistroKid and you put one thing out there, if you haven’t put anything out before, you are going to be in a better position to then say, “I would like to sign with you. I would like to release.” You are going to bring more to the table as an artist who at least has a name on Spotify, for example. You are not creating a brand-new artist name because there’s a lot in and of that.

That’s important to empower yourself to lay the foundation for because you don’t, from the get-go, want to be running to somebody else to figure out these things for you. What I want is to at least have this partnership model where it’s like, “I’m supporting this artist who is already invested in their career.” They are willing to do the thing themselves to figure it out, but they can benefit from what I have to offer.

That’s exactly the approach that I like to take. On the level of people always asking me like, “I want a manager,” it’s the same thing. If you don’t know how to do your own stuff, how will you know that this person you are hiring and paying is doing a good job? It’s getting that digital footprint as an artist of figuring out what it’s like to be on Spotify. Like you said, working with DistroKid, “Do you like that experience? Do you feel like you need support there?”

I do get a lot of pushback on that from people because they are like, “I don’t have time. This is too techie for me. I can’t do it myself.” I get that, but we are going to learn so much by doing that thing that’s uncomfortable. You are going to up-level yourself as an artist and entrepreneur. You are going to be a much better contributor, not only to your own career but to this collective that you would join if you join an indie label.

It takes a lot of patience anyway to be an independent artist. If you are not comfortable with that notion, then maybe that’s something you’ve got to work on a little bit because things don’t come overnight in this career. You have to be willing to take every tiny step and celebrate the little wins because, in my experience, that’s what growing a successful independent music career consists of. There are so many little steps and failures too.

It’s spoken like a true artist who has been through the fire for sure. You know what it’s like and I agree. If our readers want to reach out to you and find out more about you and Möonbabe Records, where should they go? Give them all the links.

The best way to reach out is through my coaching email, which is Hello@MindBodyMusic.co. You can also visit MindBodyMusic.co/MoonbabeRecords to find out more and sign up for the mailing list and all that.

Are you on socials too?

Yes. On Instagram is @Möonbabe Records. Facebook is Möonbabe Records. If you want to find out more about me and my music, I’m Heather Christie and you can find me on Spotify. You can find Möonbabe Records on Spotify as well. Please follow us and all of our playlists.

Thank you so much. This has been such a cool conversation. I appreciate you bringing all your expertise to this.

Thanks for asking all the uncomfortable and exciting questions. It has been good to chat with you.

Important Links:

About Heather Christie

TPM 66 | Indie LabelHeather Christie is a dynamic music artist and mentor. She is a new mama, Ableton producer, lifelong performer, songwriter and collaborator.

She mentors other music artists through her business Mind Body Music, and has recently started a record label for female artists and mamas called Möonbabe Records.