Can a Musician-Entrepreneur Model Render Big Labels Obsolete?

The singer-songwriter is a cross between Elvis Presley and Lana Del Ray.

Derek Fein
Derik Fein Derek Fein

Here’s a familiar story for you: down and out musician crashing from couch to couch, snaring free WiFi at McDonalds to send out demos and bribing mail room assistants to plop his music into the hands of people who make things happen. You’ve heard that one before—we all have. In fact, Hollywood has probably conditioned us to believe that the story ends with just one of those big wig music execs taking a chance on him and launching the hard working hustler to fame. Sorry folks, this isn’t a Disney movie, and singer-songwriter Derik Fein isn’t a cute little animated character with starry eyes.

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No, this is the real world and Fein has no illusions about making it in the music business—probably because he hasn’t yet. Well, at least not in the traditional sense. Despite pounding the pavement to the point that executive assistants were telling him to lose their numbers and security was escorting him out of buildings, Fein never really made much headway chasing the big studios. So instead of sitting around and waiting for one of those handsomely paid suit-and-ties to throw him a bone, he and his fiancée decided to make their own fate. Thus, Modern Diversity Records was born and a new musician-entrepreneur emerged on the scene.

“My entire career is now self-funded,” Fein, whose YouTube channel has racked up more than 500,000 views in the last year and whose social media following has been growing steadily, told Observer. “We plan each step carefully. Everything is approved by my fiancée and business partner [Vanessa Santos]…Major labels are no longer necessary. They can be helpful when the time is right, but artist development is a thing of the past. Indie artists should now be focused on developing their brand and style. Don’t chase the labels.”

So how does one go about successfully launching their own record label while trying to breakout as a solo act themselves? By analyzing trends in record sales and streaming behavior and knowing when music should be leased and when it should be owned, by creating revenue models and adjusting them day-by-day to the rapidly changing music industry, by focusing 90 percent of their efforts on merchandise and touring and then touring in clusters to better maximize regional fan bases.

And here we were naively thinking some radio play and a few crowded gigs were enough to get the ball rolling.

“The ultimate goal is to move and inspire a generation with my music,” Fein explained. “I have a passion to write stories and vent to the world and close chapters of my life with my songs. It isn’t money motivated. Hopefully, one day we can have a roster of artists with a similar mindset, an authentic mindset, that are all about the music.”

For now, Modern Diversity Records is run entirely by Fein and Santos. She handles the day-to-day operations such as booking shows and business opportunities while Fein mans the creative and marketing departments. Any couples counselor worth their salt will tell you that working with your spouse is a bad idea. But it works for Fein and Santos, whose personalities and skill sets compliment one another.

“I’m a really impulsive person and the rash decisions I make tend to cause tension in relationships. I’m the dreamer and the unrealistic one. She’s the one who tells me no because she’s backbone that keeps the structure in place while I come up with crazy ideas.”

Crazy sounds about right for an artist who has been described as a mash-up between Elvis and Lana Del Ray. That’s one hell of a combo. But a lot of the couple’s ideas come from a good place of helping independent artists and those not even involved in the music biz. They recently donated all of the proceeds from Fein’s latest single, Fast Life, to the relief efforts in Puerto Rico. Philanthropy is just one of the pillars of Modern Diversity Records.

“It’s very empowering to give back. It’s definitely the most rewarding part of the journey. We’ve actually also done two anti-bullying tours so far. We want to remain engaged in charity work and the community. I may not be a giant name, but I want to do whatever I can to make a difference.”

Any big dreamers out there hoping to break into the industry would do well to take a page out of Fein’s playbook. It’s all about coupling your creative drive with business savvy. Given the plethora of platforms these days, finding audiences is easier than ever. The 21st Century has given new life to the Do It Yourself-ers of the world.

“Study what the labels are doing, they have the right formula,” Fein said of making your way in music independently. “Look at how they are advertising acts or artists and take that and apply it to your own. Find your niche and test differences. It might not be in your hometown. It’s okay to replicate what successful people are doing. You gotta network, digging is very important. You should also gig in clusters.”

So far, it’s a strategy that seems to be working for Fein and Modern Diversity Records. Maybe it can work for you too. Or, you know, you can just keep mooching off McDonalds’ free WiFi waiting for someone else to call you back.

Can a Musician-Entrepreneur Model Render Big Labels Obsolete?