Mihalis Safras on starting Material Records and getting signed to Toolroom

By Emmy Morales

As a main figure on Mark Knight’s Toolroom label, Mihalis Safras is one of tech-house’s go-to producers and DJs, but he’s also got a wealth of experience running his own stable of labels under the Material umbrella. Here we chat with the Greek tech-house god himself to see what it takes to start your own imprint

What are the benefits of having your own label?

Well, I never thought of a label as a revenue stream. But, for sure, the label owner is lucky to listen to and select the forthcoming big hits before anyone else. And you can imagine how it feels to play those tracks months before they are released—it feels awesome!

What are the first steps to start your own label?

To start a label all you need is a passion for what you do. Actually, to be honest, it’s been like seven years and I don’t remember the actual details. All I remember is that me and Mark Broom were talking and said, “Hey, let’s start a good label where we release only what we like!” Then one step led to another and soon Material had released more than 1000 vinyl records  and had fve sister labels.

Was it difficult to get noticed among all the other labels?

Indeed, it is so hectic trying to promote your label’s music since there are more or less 1000 tracks released digitally everyday. What we decided to do is to aim specifically at tech-house, where it is only pure club music, and focus on releasing high-quality tunes from talented artists. Trying to work as a family is something that the fans can see, so people always like to follow a label that is warm and catchy.

How do you turn your label into a profitable business?

Well, in the long-term, a label can be profitable, though some releases may not do as well as you want them to. Those ups and downs are in every business, but, as I said before, when you have a passion for what you do and work the family way, then all else will follow. Of course, working with the right people is always something that affects a label and I can truly say that, in that area, I have been very lucky indeed.

Do you need to have a knowledge of business to start a record label?

Of course, you do. Not everyone can start a bakery shop—it’s the same with music. You need to have a background; you need to have some knowledge of music. The attitude where everybody wants to start a label in order to be famous—or act like it—is something that destroyed the dance scene before. The good thing is that sooner or later, if you do not have a proper background, failure will be knocking at your door. A label isn’t a toy to play with; it is a proper business that most people hardly understand. But, again, the only thing you need is true love and a passion for music in order to start a label.

Should you focus on one sound or aim for a variety of releases?

Having a variety of styles is always good and can open new doors in the market. In our case, at Material, we prefer to stick to a specific style and that is why we created Materialism and the Mr. Carter sub-labels. This way, I think fans have a much clearer idea and can follow you more easily according to the genre you release. On the other hand, a producer is not a one-sided coin, so it is hard to tell sometimes.

How did you go about being signed to Toolroom?

Being signed to one of the top labels in the world is crazy! The good thing is that the guys over at Toolroom HQ are proper professionals, plus they do not have a snobbish attitude, so it’s a family affair. Toolroom quite often licenses tracks from Material, and so that is something that bonds us even more. You should check out my Out of the Box album later this year, which is really the result of all my Toolroom work.

What’s the benefit of working with a label the size of Toolroom?

As I said, benefits come second in my list. First of all, the feeling of working with people that really love and promote quality dance music is just unbelievable. It gives you power to evolve and work more. Of course, the label head, Mark Knight, is inspiring. But if you like to talk about real benefits, then the best is that I get to have free drinks at Toolroom gigs [laughs]!