San Holo’s label bitbird has established itself in a short period of time as one of the most interesting and forward-thinking bass labels around. Capitalizing on the hype surrounding its label owner, it brings together artists like DROELOE, Taska Black, Flaws and others with projects that span sugary bass music, ambient and even indie rock. Keeping all of this on track and on schedule is not an easy task. Bitbird has a strong team to take care of their releases and strategy, led in part by label manager Nikita Wiessner.
Her path to this job wasn’t very conventional. She worked outside of music, first studying business and then in retail / e-commerce. She decided to pivot to the music business and after some additional training and volunteer work, she landed her job (after an internship) at bitbird. Working as a label manager is not easy to pull together all of the aspects of running a label from A&R to legal, sync and much more.
We decided to chat with Wiessner about her path to the business, 2020 struggles of running a label, what they look for in artists and much more. Read on for our Industry Insider below.
How did you get your start in the business?
This is actually my first music industry job. I studied business and worked in retail/e-commerce for a while, but I was and still am really passionate about music and am intrigued by how the industry works. It’s super fast-paced, there’s no one way to success and the industry is constantly developing. For me, it’s the ideal combination of marketing/business, which is what I know, and my passion for music.
I’d been playing with the idea of wanting to work in the music industry for a while already, but didn’t really know where to start or how to get in as I thought I didn’t have the right connections or right education. I started doing some voluntary work for a local venue handing out flyers and did the Music Business Course at the SAE Institute in Amsterdam.
I did a lot of research online to find music companies I liked and identified with. The first one was Heroic, bitbird’s sister management agency. I wrote an open application letter to Budi [Voogt, CEO of both bitbird and Heroic], and after 2-3 days already got a reply where he invited me for an interview. I went through a few more interview rounds and an assignment and eventually got offered a Label Management internship at bitbird. Mind you, I didn’t have any music industry experience, but I think something just clicked. From there on, I made it my goal to make myself indispensable, literally would do anything I got asked to do and tried to involve myself in as many different parts of the company, trying to soak up as much information and knowledge as possible. When my internship was ending, bitbird had just opened a vacancy for a new vacancy and I told my boss I thought I would be able to do it and wanted them to seriously consider me. I ended up getting the job and then at the top of 2019, got promoted to Label Manager.
What do you look for in a label artist?
With bitbird, we want to release music that makes us feel something. Something that touches our soul or something we’ve never heard before. We care about the sounds and the story behind it. Even though we started out releasing electronic music, which is still our core, we look beyond genres and also release for example neoclassical music from Analogue Dear, and indie / alternative acts like Flaws or one of our newest signings Zes with whom we’re going to do a lot of cool things this year. It’s not so much about if an artist fits a certain genre box. It’s about finding that artist that shares our values, that is equally as passionate about music as we are, and that has a clear vision - ready to do what’s needed to take the next step in their career. We like to create and grow together.
What are a few traits an artist should look for in a label?
I think every artist has different needs and goals and they should look for a label when he/she feels like those goals can be accomplished best. Within our realm of electronic music, there are many amazing labels that can be a great fit for a DJ, and all have their own strengths and audiences. Whether you’re looking to grow your audience on socials or YouTube, want to have strong sales performance, build radio presence or start your touring career though support slots on tours of other acts on the roster. That all depends on where you are currently at in your career and where you want to go to. Understanding these differences between labels is super important as an artist. But maybe more importantly: find a label where you feel respected, feel part of the culture even, and that has a team that understands you, your vision and your audience and wants to support that 100%.
What was one thing you learned the hard way about running a label?
There’s always more work to do, but that doesn’t mean that work adds value to the company, your roster or your growth. We’re a small label so we need to be creative with our resources and focus on activities that really make an impact. Our dreams are big and ideas are endless, but it’s easy to get sidetracked and be consumed by our own ambition. Therefore we want to focus on doing a few things and truly master them before moving on to the next thing. Also, FOMO is real, but there will always be new talent or new opportunities. Don’t be afraid to wait until it’s the right time for you and stop comparing yourself too much to others.
What is your recommendation to someone who wants to work at a label? How do you start out if you don’t have loads of contacts / doesn't have a trust fund and can't intern for free?
There’s a lot of different ways for someone to end up in the music industry. I think I’m a great example of this. Most important thing is to be persistent and step up for yourself. A job won’t just be handed to you, you need to be vocal about your ambitions and even if you get turned down, keep trying and trying. That being said, even if you have a full-time job, which you might need to make ends meet, you can still go out, get experience and build a network.
There are a lot of resources freely available online which you can use to improve your skillset, you can occasionally do some volunteer work at a local venue or festival and there are a lot of great conferences or networking events out there, or mentorship programs even, like the ones from SheSaidSo. They’re an organization for women in music and have these mini mentor programs they organize during conferences where young, ambitious women that want to get into the music industry are partnered with experienced music industry professionals for the duration of the conference. My friend Sarah Stam runs the Amsterdam chapter and has made this initiative highly successful in The Netherlands.
How do you work with artists who want to become stars now instead of building long-term growth?
I don’t think we’re the kind of label that is the right fit for an artist that wants to become a star overnight. We want to build longevity and work with artists that share our passion, those that would still be making music even if only 1 person would listen.
How do you balance the need to capitalize on a “moment” for an artist (big single, sync etc) and mental health concerns that can come with that extra demand?
I think here it’s very important to constantly communicate with an artist and their management as at the end of the day they are the gatekeepers of their own calendar and need to make sure there’s enough room for downtime. We present them with ideas and opportunities, but would never force anything on them or plan something without their consent. And luckily in this digital age, there are a lot of ways to capitalize on these big moments that aren’t as physically or mentally exhausting for an artist.
What traits and qualities do you look for in potential employees at bitbird?
We’re a very young and digitally-driven company. We started out when streaming was already the main consumption source for music and through that have been able to reach audiences globally, even though we’re based out of The Netherlands. For our business, this means that our hiring focus is much more on finding the right people, people that share our core values, are enthusiastic about our roster and are really driven to make an impact within the (electronic) music scene, over, for example, someone that is more “convenient” and can work out of our offices. We also highly value self-development and think with the right mindset and attitude you can succeed and grow with us, even if you don’t have the right experience yet. We’ve set up different operational structures, like project management tools, Slack channels (we use an alternative called Fleep), regular video calls, company-wide & departmental goal setting, etc. that allow us to still be very collaborative and efficient even when we all work remote or are based in different time zones (our team is split up between NL, NYC & LA).