Sense Traxx: The Difference and Similarities Between Large and Established Labels and New Ones

Author : Marco Sgalbazzini
September 07, 2017

Sense Traxx: The Difference and Similarities Between Large and Established Labels and New Ones

Simon Shaw, founder of Sense Traxx

Sense Traxx  is a record label and event brand that really starting to make a name for itself in the underground circuit of its home city of London.

Simon Shaw, the brain behind Sense Traxx, started the project as an annual party at his house, eventually having to move it to a legit venue in Southend once more than 150 people started turning up. “Sense” quickly became one of the most talked-about underground nights in the area, with guests such as Josh Butler, Doorly, Jonas Rathsman, GW Harrison, Riva Starr, Emanuel Satie and more all appearing behind the decks. Since, the Sense party brand has hosted parties in Ibiza, London, Luxemburg, Switzerland and more.

The brand launched its label, Sense Traxx, in March 2016 hitting Traxsource #1 with their Julyan Dubson “Make A Thing” release, and hosting other standout releases such as Kalyde “Tied,” James Curd’s “Balloon Talk,” Tobias” “Fya Bun” and South Royston’s “Work It Out.” Simon used to work A&R at Defected and has since moved on to run Kerri Chandler’s Madhouse and MadTech, bringing his experience and expertise to Sense Traxx.

We asked Simon to dive into his experience working with large labels and launching his own, and to dissect the differences and similarities between the two:

Firstly I know I am very fortunate to be able to sit on the fence when it comes to working with and running record labels of different sizes. Over the past 6 years I have worked at some amazing labels and learnt a lot, which has become very useful when carving my own way through this stressful and sometime tricky industry.

The most obvious difference between large and small labels is profile and general awareness. If you’re a bigger fish you tend to get a lot more attention than some of the smaller ones, but fear not – there are plenty of record labels out there who have climbed their way to fame and had success from hard work, consistency and perhaps a little luck. As a smaller label, the frustrating thing you might see with larger labels is that they can sometimes dangle a carrot in front of people and because of the weight of perhaps the label itself, or the DJ/Producers involved, it’ll automatically give them the magic key to the next level. However, having seen this from both sides I know that while it might appear this way from the outside, this is certainly not always the case and ultimately, success is about releasing good music.

I never try use the large labels I work with to benefit my own project, Sense Traxx – although there may be some moments when you can have one help the other, each label has its own agenda and direction, and ensuring they all keep on their own path and don’t end up just becoming the same entity is very important.

One of the most important things about my role with Madhouse and MadTech is that although I am trusted and they pretty much give me the thumbs up to take them in the direction that will give them maximum success, I also have to keep in mind that the sound needs to reflect its originator, Kerri Chandler. On the other hand, Sense Traxx is my own label from the ground up – it has its own vision and its own goals. Of course, one day the dream would be for it to be a highly respected and established label within music, but I know that it’s going to take a long, so for now I have to just keep pushing hard, investing literally everything I can afford, and dedicating as much time to it as I can without everything else falling apart.

With a smaller label you will find the first 2-3+ releases will be all about establishing and building a catalogue. Unless you’re incredibly lucky, don’t expect to hit the big time immediately – you need to be ready to ask the question: “how much do I want this and what am I willing to do to get in there?” A larger label will always have the upper hand when signing larger names and having bigger releases to begin with, but rest assured that even the big name labels have to work on tight budgets to ensure every release is a success.

For example, Madhouse is a label that has been running for 25 years now and has an extremely rich catalogue of music, some of which is home to some of Kerri’s best productions and are classed as timeless classics. Having control of a catalogue like this means I have to always think long term and consider how I am exploiting the music. Sense Traxx, on the other hand, has only got one year’s worth of catalogue so most of our efforts are spent pushing the brand forwards with new music and parties. We’ve been fortunate to have had more chart success in that one year through stores such as Beatport and Traxsource than some other small labels have in the past three years; I think it’s all down to understanding the scene, the market and having a good game plan as to how you’re going to exploit each release to maximize its results.

Here are some lessons I learned: 

Working at established labels opened my eyes to a lot of things and productive ways to work releases – one of the biggest things I have taken away is understanding how to exploit your music as much as you can, and being clever when it comes to marketing. Also, the obvious ones to stick on your CV about working professionally and efficiently!

Before Madtech, I worked at Defected, a label I would consider to be one of the best and most professionally run in the industry, and I was therefore lucky enough to learn from some of the best. It made me realise that no matter how big your label is quality is always the main focus – however, the way you look at and approach things is different. My experience at Defected and Madhouse have taught me that to survive just a record label is very difficult, and if you want to have the success you need to have a lot of other factors to go with it. Branding is so important, I don’t think that can be stressed enough, but one of the other key things I focus on with Sense is having our own family of producers and DJs who regularly release with us and are now part of what we stand for. Having this solid ‘family’ around the brand and label gives you a great network to promote, support and work all releases and projects. It’s a strong look and if producers can see that you look after those who release with you, it’ll encourage them to send you their music.

Some important things to consider before launching a new label:

Image and identity are everything – if you look at any successful and well-established brand in any industry, you can normally spot their branding a mile off. There are so many labels, artists and events happening in the industry so making sure you stick out from the rest is as important as the music you are signing. Look at Coca-Cola, Red Bull, British Airways and Adidas, even down to smaller businesses like Premiere – you can recognize all of these brands without a second glance. It might sound odd focusing on visual imaging for a record label, but when you think of all the artwork you see on Beatport, the social media profile pictures and banners, the posts that you scroll past without even thinking – you need to stand out. Once you’ve got a clear brand image you need to make sure that all of the corners of your business work in harmony with each other across every platform – social media, stores and even merchandise.

Things I would have done differently:

Hindsight is a great thing – one of the things that I’ve always wished was different would be a better location for Sense; we are based in Southend in Essex so well away from the main population of the city, which makes it much, much harder to promote when getting people to our parties. We have to work double time to get the results and it’s worth it when you see the party in full swing, but the music scene in more rural parts of the country will always make it harder to establish a solid brand than being in a city. I think with what we are trying to achieve we’re doing ok, but Sense is getting to a point where it can’t be run by me on my own as there is a lot of work to keep it consistent, however it’s not quite yet generating the money required for it to become a full-time thing and pay its way. So right now, it’s a case of working out ways to make it overcome this location obstacle to take it to the next level – we’ve been hosting pop-up parties in places like Ibiza when the opportunity arises, and this exposure will (hopefully) set us up to run our first night in London.

Thinking of starting a new label?

Be ready for a painfully long and expensive journey! I would strongly suggest setting targets and knowing exactly what you want from the project: is this a long-term career option or is it something you just do for the love of music? Are you happy for it to just be a hobby and release as and when? Either way, be prepared for it to drain your bank because running a record label is not cheap, and if you want it to be a success you are going to need to be prepared to invest everything into it.

Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get the results straight away, but most of all have fun. This industry can eat you up and spit you back out, leaving you asking the question “why do I bother?”. But when all the hard effort is put in and you get those moments of success, make sure you take full advantage and enjoy them because it’s those moments which make you remember why you love it. Nothing is easy and it’s very competitive so be nice to the people you deal with, work hard and your time will come – but (and this is a big but) nothing will happen unless you get out there and go get it because there are thousands of other people trying to do the same thing as you.

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