INTERVIEW: Keith Holzman
The Complete Guide to Starting a Record Company (Keith Holzman Solutions Unlimited)
By: Alex Steininger
Keith Holzman has worn many hats throughout his illustrious career. Starting out in the music business as Senior Vice President for Elektra Records (which was run by his brother) in 1964, Holzman left Elektra in 1984 to start his own independent record label, ROM Records. After leaving ROM Records, he accepted the position of Managing Director and Executive Vice President of Discovery Records (subsequently Sire Records Group), and in 1998 left Discovery to run his own consulting firm, Solutions Unlimited.
Holzman currently works from his home, running Solutions Unlimited, and assisting both major and independent labels to organize and structure their business.
Having discussed his fees with many start-up independent labels (who all balked at the price), Holzman decided it was time to write a book for those interested in starting up a label on a shoestring. The book, The Complete Guide to Starting a Record Company was self-published and self-released earlier this year.
"I had all these ideas turning around in my head and I realized there wasn't a good book about starting a record label," he says of his idea to write The Complete Guide to Starting a Record Company. "Then I got e-mails and phone calls from people who had questions about starting a label and had no clue how to do so, and wanted to hire me to help them. When I started discussing my fees with them, you could hear them turn colors over the phone.
"I realized there was a need, and a market, for a book like this. I spent a year writing the first draft and then did two more edits and then hired an editor who tightened it down more."
Holzman, who writes a monthly newsletter, which hits mid-month, about various music business related topics, used his newsletter to springboard his book idea, and his mailing list to help get the word out about the book.
"Writing the newsletter made writing the book easier," Holzman tells me. "It made me write regularly and pick a topic, which is the hardest thing for me."
Just as The Complete Guide to Starting a Record Company teaches someone how to start-up an independent record label, Holzman, who had early on decided to take his own do-it-yourself approach and self-publish the book, sought a familiar book to teach him how to self-publish.
"I thought I'd have to print up 10,000-20,000 and get the bulk of them returned if I used a book distributor," he recalls. "And then I read an excellent book by Dan Pointer, The Self-Publishing Manual. He publishes a new edition each year. I read that and learned a lot about self-publishing, which helped me tremendously."
Holzman isn't in it to make a profit, but rather to help educate and save those who wish to start an independent label a lot of heartache. A point made clear when he recommends a competitor's book, one he found out about during the writing of The Complete Guide To Starting a Record Company.
"Peter Spellman's book Indie Power and my book compliment each other well. They're the only ones on the market I would recommend getting, and the only ones I see as helpful."
"There are no other good books out there," he says without the slightest bent or agenda.
At one point Spellman and Holzman were thinking of collaboration, but with Holzman two-thirds of the way done with his book, it didn't happen. However, they did trade books and, according to Holzman, both enjoyed each other's and learned something new.
"Despite the fact I've been in the business for 40 years, I still am learning stuff," he admits.
As is his brother, who, following leaving Elektra in 1973, became a consultant for the Warner Music Group, until 2000 when he retired.
"He saw an early draft and said there was stuff in it that he wasn't aware of, since he hadn't had to go through the nitty-gritty of getting a label started since the 50s when Elektra got started."
I ask him if his brother is still active in the music business, and Holzman quickly answers, "Yes, he is".
"He keeps up on things and forwards me tips and I send him tips to make sure nobody missed it," he tells me.
Calling upon friends and business associates to help him with the book in slight ways, Holzman was able to write the bulk of the book from first-hand experience and knowledge, not research and other's encounters.
Holzman found very specific notes he had from when he started ROM and, after realizing that not much had changed, he began work on the book.
"Now you have to get IRSC codes, which we talk about in the book, about how they're now getting added during to the mastering process, which is new. But, the infrastructure and starting a label, the foundation, is still the same," he informs me.
Holzman sees the book coming at one of the most opportune times for independent record label would-bes. He stated that despite increased competition from indies, he still sees enough room for plenty of them to survive, telling me that "majors are so confused as to what they're doing now, so it makes it a great time for indies."
Many labels that Holzman respects have told him that they wished they had a copy of the book when they started their labels, a feeling that made writing the book, gain or no gain, well worth it.
When asked if he had any advice for someone who was thinking of starting a label that's not in the book, Holzman tells me that, "if anyone has the faintest thought of starting a record label, I would advise them to get the book. I invite them to e-mail me if they have questions. I get e-mails all the time from people who have read the book and have questions. I invite people to sign-up to the Manage for Success e-mail, too."
Holzman plans to add regular updates to his book on his web page. And tells me that if anyone is interested in learning more about the book or his consulting firm, or to sign up for his free mailing list, they should visit his web site at holzmansolutions.com.