Making the Choice To Be Exclusive to a Label

You might have heard of record labels asking for exclusivity, or maybe you’ve at least heard the term mentioned in one way or another. But what does it entail exactly, and how should you approach the decision if you’re ever faced with such an offer?

In another post, I shared a personal story of mine where I had the chance to commit to a huge label and bring my career to the next level — but I refused. It’s the kind of moment that doesn’t happen many times, but when it comes, it calls for careful reflection before making a decision. In my case, it was hard to seek advice from friends, as not many of them had been in the same situation before. I followed my gut feeling, and opted to follow my dreams without considering the possible outcomes.

All and all, there are a few questions to consider:

    • Where do I see myself in 5 years, musically speaking?
    • How can this exclusivity arrangement help me reach that goal?


So that should pretty much form the basis of your reflections.

While it’s hard to imagine ourselves down the road or even to give ourselves a reality check on how achievable our goals are, it is still quite essential to develop a vision of where we want to go. There will be certain things you have in mind, and if you have a firm idea of your goals, it will make it easier to decide whether you should commit to being exclusive to a label or not.

For the DJ and producer, the label you're exclusive to should cover a lot of ground The DJ and producer

Being one doesn’t exclude the other, and while you can do both individually, the winning combination is to do at least some of both. This way you can create a great release, for example, and you’ll be able to tour to promote it, which then brings you more requests for new releases, and then more gigs, and so on. The wheel spins organically. In this case, if you commit to a label, you will need this label to cover a lot of ground for you because there will be a lot of opportunity.


The entrepreneurLabel exclusivity might not work well for the entrepreneur

You want a label, you want to do a bit of everything, and you want to be in control because you like things done your way. This is pretty much a scenario that many people see themselves in, but if you’re not an entrepreneur, it is a difficult road to choose. More power brings more responsibilities, but also all the freedom to express yourself. In this case, exclusivity doesn’t work well for you.

The studio artist

This means that you prefer producing to DJing, and that you’re not so interested in heading out to the clubs to tour. This is a tricky road. Exclusivity can be interesting to you because you will have a platform for your releases, and you can still use aliases to release elsewhere. But to make this worthwhile, your flagship label will have to be a major outlet.

Being exclusive to a music label can work well for some artists/producersBeing dedicated to a label

Some artists want to be with a label and plan all their projects around it. They will be okay not creating many releases, will want to tour using the team’s contacts, and they’ll feel comfortable with everything the label does. The great thing about this is that you’re part of the label’s brand. This can make your own image and sound more powerful in a way, because you’ll be part of a collective of artists who you admire, and who will shape the label’s identity. If you produce a bit less, this outcome might be well suited for you.


SEE ALSO :  Are online communities replacing labels?

Choosing Track Finalization over Ghost Producing

A lot of you might already know what ghost producing is, and you might even have some pretty strong feelings about it. For those who aren’t familiar with the term:

Ghost producing is having your track made from scratch, with your instructions, by another producer.

What you might be more surprised to find out, though, is that many producers — even the most pro or successful ones — sometimes get others to finalize their tracks for them. I can tell you, for example, that even some big-name artists on the Minus label get Richie Hawtin to finalize their songs. But despite how common it is, there’s unfortunately still a sort of stigma around outsourcing your track finalization, and it’s easy to understand.

So first, let’s get this out of the way: song finalization is not the same as ghost production. Track finalization is nothing to be ashamed about, as the song is still the creative work of the producer. Let’s begin with a definition:

Track finalization is having another producer suggest ideas on how to get to a finished product based on your initial ideas.


Track finalization: The sources of a stigma

Back at the beginnings of electronic music in the early 1990s, DJs and producers had to be technicians too. You simply couldn’t get very far as an artist without being a jack-of-all-trades and an expert in the hardware of sound engineering and music production. It came with the territory, and DJs and producers prided themselves on their resourcefulness.

The stigma around track finalization (getting others to finalize your songs) can be partly traced to the DIY culture of electronic music production

This DIY nature of electronic music culture became so deeply rooted that when laptops and software began taking off in the early 2000s, many seasoned producers and DJs bristled at the intrusion of laptops into live performances. I remember the very first MUTEK festival in 2000, when the novel machines began appearing on stage with one performer after the next — it was such an alien sight that no one knew how to react! Many of us viewed their use as a form of cheating at first, but it soon became clear that the game had changed.

Music technology continued to develop at an exponential pace, making electronic music-making accessible for more and more people. One impact of this, however, has been to make it seem like electronic music production is so easy… that anyone can do it! Well obviously, it’s much more complicated than that.

If anything, the proliferation of producers has actually made it harder to stand out from the pack. Meanwhile, the infinite musical possibilities opened up by the digital revolution have made it that much easier to get overwhelmed. Where once your kick drum would be a 909, for example, now there are thousands of options to choose from. Sometimes the best creative surges come when you’re faced with constraints, but pure freedom, while it seems tempting, can make it easier to get lost and lose your focus.

Reaching out to others to help you finalize your songs is a form of creative collaborationTrack finalization as creative collaboration

The truth is that even the most experienced artists get writer’s block, and every producer is likely to have a hard drive full of tracks that they never got around to finishing for a variety of reasons. Chances are that there is at least one great album or a few EPs in there waiting to be unearthed and brought to fruition. So what’s holding you back?

Chilean producer Dandy Jack once told me that the day he understood that a shared victory was way more meaningful than doing it alone, his entire perspective on collaboration changed.

dandy jack told me that his perspective on creative collaboration changed when he realized the value of a shared victoryHaving a trusted hand finalize your tracks can be an antidote to writer’s block and a gateway to beautiful and fulfilling creative collaborations. Unlike ghost producing, track finalization isn’t about substituting for your own creativity, but about gaining a fresh and friendly perspective to help you out of a rut. In writing, even the most masterful authors need a good editor. Why should music be any different?

Even if the finalized track isn’t always exactly what you had in mind at first, it then becomes much easier for the producer to take it from there and carry it across the finish line. Track finalization is about finding what’s blocking you and unblocking it. It’s about unleashing your creative potential.

And I’m here to help.



The Day I Refused Exclusivity to a Label

I don’t always talk about things that happened in my “career.” Since this is a blog though, I thought it would be fun and instructive to share some of the different decisions I had to face, and the consequences of each of them. I have a bunch of fun stories going back to 1998, and some might interest you.

If you haven’t read my bio, I can tell you that I early on took out the standard line all artists have, where they say they’ve been into music from an early age. Instead, I will point you to 1998, to the year where I created my alias, Pheek. What really ignited the project was a performance by Richie Hawtin, who made a rare live show (back then) as Plastikman/Concept:96. It was amazing!

That inspiration was critical in my development. It took me 5 years to figure out where I wanted to go and for me to feel confident enough to send a demo to Rich, which I finally did around 2003. He loved it, and he asked me for more music for a release. What followed was one of the most creative moments of my life: I made and sent him 5 CDs full of music over a span of 2 years. He finally picked one track, “Le Plan B,” which was released on the first Minimize to Maximize compilation, on Minus.

That was a big deal for me. Well, not just for me, but for everyone in the netlabel scene. You see, in 2005, there was no Beatport, selling MP3s was a bit of a weird concept, and people releasing on netlabels were seen as outsiders, even nerds. It was one of the first times that one of the guys from the community graduated to a big label like Hawtin’s Minus. Almost at the same time, there were other artists that followed, and netlabels became more and more recognized as a source for quality music.

I wanted to stay a free artist so I could pursue my own label Archipel, which I launched in 2004.I had my own label, Archipel, that I had founded in 2004 and that I wanted to pursue. There was no doubt that a release on Minus could only mean a great push for my personal projects. I started touring more, and soon there came a big milestone for my career that I still think about often. The guys at Minus offered me exclusivity, meaning that Pheek could only appear on their label, which would have given a huge boost to my career.

I refused. Yeah, you read right. I said,


“No, I don’t think I can see myself being exclusive, but maybe under another alias?”


To be honest, when I think of that day every now and then, I wonder what would have happened if I’d said yes. It was around that time that Minus was exclusively signing big names like Barem, Gaiser, Troy Pierce, Heartthrob and others. If I’d said yes, I think I could have pretty much become someone else entirely than the person I am today. But in a way, I have no regrets.

One thing to keep in mind is that it’s hard to achieve alone or with friends what an established label and group can do for you. You can build from scratch, but it will take a long time to get things to the same level. I released for labels like Sushitech and Leftroom in their early days, and I watched them grow as they became what they are now. I’m proud do say that I was a part of it at their beginnings.

If I decided to work with other labels, it was because I was producing a lot of tracks and felt like I wanted to tap into different networks and reach out to people I liked, even if that was the more difficult path.

There are two types of artists out there:

  • The ones who want to work with you for the long term. Those are the ones you connect with intellectually, and you love each other’s musical output. The connection is real and both parties feel it.
  • Then there are others who you only want to work with in the short term. Both labels and artists can qualify. Unless there’s drama, if the arrangement ends organically, then it had to be this way.


The reason labels want exclusivity is to get a return on their investment (ROI) by farming their own artists. The constantly changing branding is risky and tiring for labels. If the sound constantly changes, it can be an irritant for fans too.

I hope this helps you understand the complexities of label exclusivity from another perspective.



Turn Your Writer’s Block Into an Opportunity

You’ve heard about writer’s block many times, and maybe you’ve experienced one. I also get one routinely. Many others have addressed the topic, but I’ll share some of my own views on it here.

Before anything, let’s just check a definition first so we’re on the same page:

Writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work or experiences a creative slowdown.


SEE ALSO :   Where to Get Fresh New Ideas for Tracks

What I’ve learned through time is that a writer’s block is also your body and mind telling you to slow down. There’s no better way to see it. While you can learn to change your way of working, which might be leading to feelings of insecurity, frustration, or confusion, you also need to first make sure that you’re really in a writer’s block. These are some symptoms:

  • Nothing you work on makes sense. You feel the music is just copying a trend and that it’s not bringing you joy anymore.
  • Everything music-related sounds crappy. Your brain is tilting and all the beautiful sounds aren’t pretty anymore.
  • You have the omnipresent temptation to give up.


relax-smWhere many people get confused is between a writer’s block and being exhausted. I know many prolific producers who work really hard for 3-6 months and then will not do any more productions for the rest of the year. They will focus on DJing, collecting new toys for the studio, or just spending more time playing music.




There’s no better way to approach the situation than taking a step back. For my friends, for example, this usually involves:

  • Collecting music that makes you feel good or listening to early tracks that inspire you. Just make playlists on Soundcloud, listen to old liked tracks, and take a moment to buy some.
  • Listening to music you never listened to before or music you actually don’t normally enjoy.
  • Playing video games.
  • Exercising.

It’s easy to fall into simple psychology tips, but I’ll refrain from doing so, mainly because each person has their own way about it. But one thing that I absolutely encourage you to do is to not panic.

Music producers: Never delete songs or projects you don't like. You may recycle them later!Resist the urge to delete or sell anything you don’t like. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people tell me they deleted a project they were working on. I believe that this is one of the last things you want to do. Not only does every project have at least one great thing about it, but they can probably be recycled later on, maybe even many years later.

Take time to learn sound design or sound engineering. One of the things that happens when you are creatively productive is that you lack the time to perfect your design skills. You’ll be absorbed in mixing and making tracks and arrangements, but sound design is one of the most important parts of your work. Also, when do you ever have time to read technical stuff? Mostly never or just a few minutes here and there. Take the time to read up on the technicalities you usually avoid for fear of boredom.

Reach out to fellow producers to collaborate or remix. When working with others, things usually flow easily. That is, it’s not really your work, and teaming up brings motivation. Try it!

Pheek Talk 3: Productivity Tips

In this video, I do a follow-up on my free coaching program and share a few tips on boosting your productivity as a music producer, based on the discussions I’ve been having.

You can also visit my YouTube channel for more videos and talks like this one.

Pheek Talk 3: Productivity Tips


Two birds one stone. Separating ideas.    

Recycling Your Tracks Into Fresh New Ideas

Like with any creative work, writer’s block can be a very frustrating and demoralizing thing for producers of electronic music. Many artists spend hours and hours wrestling with their ideas just trying to come up with something new – but what if what you were looking for was already under your nose? What if old tracks that you thought weren’t good enough to release were actually the seeds of something brilliant?

I’ve found there are many practical ways for electronic music producers to beat the writer’s block and jumpstart their creative process. Recycling old tracks is a great place to start. 


Generally, producers might make between 5 and 10 tracks before stumbling on the one that they love. But then, we’re also our own harshest critics! I’m not going to address the tracks that don’t even get done as we all have a huge collection of those.

The truth is that each song has something cool in it, even if it’s not good enough for release.


Elements (or “stems”) of old songs, whether it’s a kick, a bass line, a loop, or a vocal sample, can be remixed and made into something completely fresh.

It’s important to remember that remixing is the most accessible part of music production. Reusing stems, loops and parts of old tracks instead of starting fresh can kickstart your creativity and help you jumpstart a new song. This isn’t just about saving time. More importantly, it will make the creative process less intimidating and more exciting by allowing the creative juices to flow more freely. When you start with small ideas, bigger ones follow.

Pulling your inspiration from old material can also be a fantastic way to re-appreciate your own work. This will in turn boost your confidence and momentum as a producer.


To get you started on recycling old tracks, here are a few tips to think about:


To help with recycling tracks, organize all your music projects in the same folder.

  • Organize all your music projects in the same folder. This will make going back and reviewing old tracks easier. Avoid the temptation to sort tracks into different folders depending on how good or finished you think they are right after creating them — and never, never trash them! You might be surprised later at what gems you’ll find that you had written off or forgotten about!


  • To help with recycling tracks into fresh new music, save all your synths and effects as presets for later use. Save your effects and synths as presets. The key to being an efficient producer is to never let your creative time and energies go to waste. Nothing is a more valuable resource for an artist – don’t deprive yourself of these resources, harness them! Building up your bank of presets will save you from always having to return to square one, and it will encourage you to develop your own distinctive sound and aesthetic over time. I also encourage you to create groups/macros in Ableton as a way to have personal tools.



  • Another tip for recycling tracks is to open an old song and keep all arrangements as they are, but swap the sounds.Open an old song and keep all arrangements as they are, but swap the sounds. For example, you can import the stem of a kick you did from a certain song, which has its variations and moments of silence or its own structure. Then you combine it with the snare-clap of another track. Removed from their original context, united in a new canvas, they might interact in a way you’d never have thought to do on your own.

Recycling old tracks can be an extremely practical, effective, and (most importantly) fun way to beat writer’s block and take your production to a dimension you rarely visit. It will make you feel less stale and more fulfilled in ways that will surprise you, and it will encourage you to develop new styles or rhythmics.

Give it a try!

SEE ALSO : Is My Song Good ?