How to find music industry people and gain access to them (part 1)……….


I realize, or maybe remember, that when you are starting out in the great adventure of being in a band that the music business is a great mystery. It seems to be this magic city on a distant hill and the road to go there is nowhere to be found. Gee ain’t I poetic?

This is reality for most musicians and it can be intimidating and disheartening. How the hell do you break into the music business? These people fly overhead in gold plated jets while you slog away gigging in the mud. Right?

Well, not exactly. Let me pull away the curtain and correct many misconceptions. This should help you understand the music business and gain access to people.

First major misconception; the record labels and agents and producers are in the music business and you are not in the music business. This is utter crap. If you play in a band you are in the music business. If you play a show, anywhere, you are in the music business. If you write songs, you are in the music business. The fact that you don’t make money at it doesn’t mean you are excluded. The vast majority of musicians make little or no money from playing at different points in the life. The people that are commonly thought of as being the music business people are PARASITES that attach themselves to bands and music. They don’t play, they don’t write, they don’t perform or tour or practice or anything. They only exist to attach themselves to other people that make music. The people that make music are called MUSICIANS and they are truly the heart of the music business.

This may seem like a minor point but it’s not. If you play in a band; you and your bandmates are the real deal not the turd sitting at a desk in the record labels southeast distribution division. Keep that in mind at all times. Don’t let them intimidate you.

Now, those that know me, know that I actually like and even admire some of the characters that inhabit the music business. It’s true there are a few good people but they are rare. When you meet the good guys in the music business you will know them. They will stand out from all the turds. Always remember that you can’t polish a turd.

Next, I’ll give you a tip. You have access to a huge library of reference material that contains the names and some of the contact info of the people in the music business that you are trying to reach. You may be stunned to discover that your main research library is not the web. It is the stack of CDs piled next to your bong.
I remember being 15 and reading the back of the Yes album “Close to the Edge”. They listed the band members and there was a listing for a guy named Eddie Offord. He was called the producer. I thought ‘what the hell is a producer?’. I was pretty stupid when I was 15. (I haven’t blossomed with genius in the past 38 yrs). Then I noticed that he was named on an ELP record as well. There was even a song about him called “Are you ready Eddy?”. I slowly dawned on my clouded teenage brain that this was the guy that recorded the band’s records. This revelation passed for genius when I was 15.
Your CD and vinyl collection is a treasure trove of info for you. If you take you ten favorite records and read all the little notes in the CD booklets you will end up with a list of music industry names that are involved with your favorite bands. Often you’ll see references to managers and booking agents. You’ll see the names of roadies and girlfriends. You see the names of other bands that the band pals around with. These kind of notes are most common on a bands earliest CDs. When a band finally gets a record deal they feel like they have to thank everyone that helped them get to the top. So they list all their names on their first release.
Gee, let’s think about this for a minute. You have a list of people that helped Joe Schmoo and the Dickfucks climb their way from a basement in Joplin Missouri to a deal on Crackhead Records. You love Joe Schmoo and the Dickfucks. You even sound a little bit like Joe Schmoo and the Dickfucks. You are a young band that is part of the new Dumbfuck Rock movement that Joe Schmoo started. Wait a minute… I feel a flash of teenage brilliance coming on….I’ve got it! Maybe a few of these people could help your band climb out of the swamp and become a star! They did it once they could do it again.
The dirty little music business secret is that people in the business are always looking for the next great band.
Over the past three decades I have seen scores of “Guide to the Music Business” scams. You give some ass $400 and they send you a poorly printed list of all the major record labels and all the major agents. These guides are worth about $4. This blog is worth a hell of a lot more if you actually want to find your way into the music business. You can make a much more current and useful guide by digging through the notes of your CD collection. (for those of you that have a collection that consists of 50,000 ripped songs with no art, or CDs you are shit out of luck. You can ask your buddy that buys the music of the bands he loves if he will let you look through his collection)
In the old days most records had almost no names of music business people on them. This has changed. Since we now live in a culture that seems to be “all about me” the people at labels push hard to have their names included in the CD booklet. The bands usually hate this. Any band would rather put their cat’s name in the CD booklet than second assistant asshole from the label.
If you want to take this to the next level find copies of your favorite bands indy releases. These always have tons of info on them. Sometimes they will even put their manager and booking agents phone number in the booklet.
Once you start this list it can quickly become the heart of your black book that contains the contact info of everyone that could possibly help you in any way. Every bit of info helps. For example you may see a reference to another band in the thank you section of the booklet. That band may very well still be hunting for a deal and as a result they may play small clubs. It will be easy to figure out a way to bump into that bands road crew or manager and they may become fans after you give them the gift of your music.
In the next blog I will explain how you can use this info to open a few doors…….
© Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2013

The Only Bands that Matter…………..


I was given my first album at age 5, a disc by the band The Four Seasons. They were a cheesy vocal pop band that competed with the Beach Boys at the top of the charts in the early sixties. (you’ll notice that they don’t appear on the list later in this blog) From that moment I was hooked. I have been collecting and, more importantly, listening to music compulsively. I don’t watch TV. I don’t follow sports (I do enjoy baseball as a live spectator sport)  Now why, you may ask, do you give a damn about this little personal biography?

50,000,000 fans can't be wrong

50,000,000 fans can’t be wrong

Oops!  Forgot one or two

Oops! Forgot one or two

It’s simple really. For the past 48 years I have been listening to music, mainly rock, and learning what counts, what is related to whom and what is truly worth listening to. If you are in a band then listening to other bands is the most important thing you can do. It’s research. It’s what influences your thinking and what shapes your music.

If you are a young musician then most likely you are obsessed with one or two bands or at best obsessed with a particular rock movement like Nordic speed death metal with superhero themed concept albums. This is natural when you are young. You are developing your sense of aesthetics. (feel free to look that word up, I did) You may also be convinced that French guitar pop or Early 80’s straight edge hardcore or Electronica or Zydeco or Polka blues is the most important music in the universe. You are wrong.  It is very important to you and it has its place in the great pastiche of rock but it is not the only form of rock that is important.

The most common mistake bands make (other than not firing the drummer)is they are too focused on the one or two bands that they love. As a result they end up sounding just like the bands that they admire (or worship) and end up making music that is a pale imitation of another band.

I have listened to thousands of demos in the past thirty years. Really great bands are rare. Really bad bands are equally rare and often can be highly entertaining because they are so awesomely bad (The Shags for example) the vast majority are OK, mediocre, uneventful and they are always derivative.  This is the mistake that almost every band makes; they sound like another, successful band.  They fail to do anything new, to do anything risky, and to do anything that makes them truly special. Why listen to a band that sounds like the Black Keys? Why not just listen to the Black Keys?

No one bought our record and now we're the theme song to that 70's show

No one bought our record and now we’re the theme song to that 70’s show

That brings us to the subject of this blog and likely a few more to follow – What bands really count? What bands are great?  And I mean undeniably great. I intend to list a shitload of bands in an effort to outline a good basic knowledge of rock and roll. As you read through the list you will likely say to yourself, ‘hell, I know all these guys. There is nothing new here’. That may be so. I doubt it but assuming you do know all of these bands are there any on the list that you haven’t heard? If it’s on the list and you haven’t heard it then you should check it out then wonder ‘what other cool bands are out there?’.

I am also posting this list to spur people to comment. Please suggest additions to the list. Feel free to criticize my choices and to justify your suggestions. I know that I have ignored large sections of rock history. This is a result of putting together a quick list. Feel free to post bands the comments section.

I will be posting some lists from other people soon. I am certain that the following lists will highlight some of the holes in my first list.

Finally I’ll close with a rock anecdote. When Columbia records acquired The Clash for the American reissue of the first Clash record and for all the follow up records someone at the label’s PR department came up with the slogan “The Only Band that Matters!” In one of those truly rare moments in history the record label had it right. In many ways The Clash were the most important Punk band and Punk was the most important change to come along in a decade.  Over the intervening years it became apparent that The Clash summed up and perfected all of the elements that made Punk important.  You may disagree with this opinion or you may agree.  If you never had bothered to listen to the Clash’s five main albums could you really claim to have an understanding of Punk and be certain that your Punk band is really something fresh and new, something great with a capital G?

This is Rock

This is Rock

[for the sake of brevity I have only included bands and artists from the first 4 decades of rock, that is to say 1950 to 1990]

Classification(s)  B-blues, J-Jazz, P-Punk, PR-Prog Rock, CR – Classic Rock, F-Jazz/Rock Fusion, H- Hardcore, I-Influential, S- Soul, A- Alternative Rock, N- New Wave, O – Folk, SY-Psychedelic Rock, C-Country, Reggae –R, Metal – M, Glam Rock -G


The only bands that matter Part 1

The Clash – P, The Sex Pistols – P, The Buzzcocks – P, The Damned – P, The Germs -H, The Dead Kennedys – H, Mission of Burma – A, The Modern Lovers – I & A, Velvet Underground –I & A, The Beatles – CR, John Lennon – CR, Paul McCartney -CR, George Harrison – CR,  Big Star I &  CR & S, The Small Faces -CR, The Faces -CR, David Bowie -G, Robert Johnson – B, The Kinks CR, Jimi Hendrix –CR, Creedence Clearwater Revival –CR, Velvet Underground-I, The Soft Boys- I, The Pogues – P, The Band – CR, XTC- N, Nick Drake – O, Tim Buckley – O, Fairport Convention – O, Sandy Denny –O, Richard Thompson –O, Traffic –CR, The Byrds –CR, The Ramones –P, The New York Dolls – I, Yes – PR, King Crimson – PR, Frank Zappa –PR, Captain Beefheart  – I, The Talking Heads – N The Creation – SY, Love-SY,  Scott Walker –SY, The Pixies –I & A, Genesis –PR,  Leon Russell -CR, Cream –CR, Derek and The Dominoes – CR, Hank Williams –C, Johnny Cash – C, The Dictators – P Tommy Roe –CR, Jimmy Webb –CR, Joni Mitchell –CR, Janis Joplin CR-, Lou Reed –I, Jethro Tull –CR, Echo and the Bunnymen –N, Bebop Deluxe – N, War – S, Sam and Dave –S, Otis Redding – S,  James Brown –S, Gang of Four –N, The Smiths –N, Curtis Mayfield – S, Booker T and MGs – S, Ray Charles –S, Blind Lemon Jefferson – B, Bob Marley and the Wailers –R, Peter Tosh – R, Jimmy Cliff –R ,  Bob Dylan –CR, Led Zeppelin –CR & B,  Van Morrison – CR & S, Temptations –S, Ike and Tina Turner –S, Peter Gabriel –N, The Who –CR,  The Rolling Stones – CR, The Dead Boys – P, REM – A, Flamin’ Groovies – I, Thelonius Monk – J, John Coltrane – J, Charlie Parker –J. Count Basie – J, Chet Baker – J, Santana –CR, The Feelies – A, John Cale – I & A,  The Replacements – I & A, Deep Purple – I & CR, Little Feat – CR, Grateful Dead –CR, Metallica – M, T Rex – G, U2 – N, Elvis PResley – CR, Buddy Holly – CR, Beach Boys – CR

©Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010

Why the Flamin’ Groovies are cool……………….


So do you know about the Flamin’ Groovies? It’s likely that you haven’t heard of them since they are still relatively obscure.  The fact that there is a chance that you’ve heard of them is a major improvement compared to thirty or forty years ago, that is to say, when the Flamin’ Groovies were still a band. They made a few albums. They were signed to a major for a nanosecond.

The coolest trash in San Francisco.........

Then they made their own recordings and released them on little labels. They went through personnel changes. They became hip among  hipsters in France and still no one paid attention. They were ahead of the curve and they could write songs. Here is a video of them on French TV in 1972. The song,  “Slow Death” is in the grand tradition of drug songs like “Waiting for my Man”, “Sister Morphine” etc.

http://youtu.be/EL3pP29N-Wc

The song even got them banned from airplay.  This is often a step towards glory in the sun, success, stadium shows. In their case it never worked. The point of today’s blog is that there is a difference between being cool and being successful. The Groovies are cool. They wrote some great songs which have survived to be covered by other cool bands. They were never successful, at least not in the terms of becoming rock stars.  They did all the things beyond coolness wrong. They signed with a label that promoted kid pop. Since they weren’t kid pop they were ignored by the label.

Don’t take this little tale in the wrong way. Cool is great. Cool is very important. The world needs bands like the Flamin’ Groovies, or Big Star, or Mission of Burma or The Velvet Underground. These bands show us the way to creating music that is new and exciting. My point is that more often than not these bands aren’t very successful.  Instead they are influential. Their music echoes through other bands that go on to make it big.

Big Star is another case of too cool to be huge. They, once again, got signed to the wrong label. They were a Beatlesque band with soul roots signed to a large southern soul label. When I first heard them in 1979 they were completely unknown since they sold less than 3000 records total. They were a hidden treasure. People passed around tapes of their songs from hand to hand. They never made it. When I met Alex Chilton, one of the two writers in the band, he had given up playing for almost a decade and was living in a tent in the woods.  Eventually the girl pop band the bangles would have a hit with alex’s song September Girls. Then, in a cruel twist of fate, another of their tracks became the hit theme song for That 70’s Show, performed by Cheap Trick.  Once again cool wins through but not for the band that was cool.

Too cool for words

The ultimate combo is an ultra cool band that explodes all the way to the top.  If that is you send me your tracks so I can come along for the ride. If not, learn about cool and learn how to make it your own since it will open doors and pack in the fans as you struggle to succeed at rock………..

©Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2011

Further thoughts on why Major labels suck….


Now it’s 2011. As I mentioned in my Christmas post I intend to add tons of new posts in the first 4 months of 2011.  As of now I don’t have any structure or plan covering these upcoming posts so I will encourage everyone to post their suggested topics as comments. I will certainly be adding more info on recording, playing live and band politics. Beyond that I will just write what comes to mind.

This morning I had a conversation with a musician friend about the demise of the music business.  It’s interesting to note that some people are still arguing that the music business still exists. This is complete lie. The days of the huge labels controlling a massive industry are over. The labels that remain are pale shadows of their former selves. How did this come to be? It’s simple. They did it to themselves. 

In the late 1980’s and early 90’s the music business underwent a format change. Vinyl records became obsolete and the CD became the new format.  For the major labels (names like Columbia, Warners, RCA, BMG, Arista etc) this brought in a deluge of unearned money.  It’s important to understand why this money wasn’t earned.

rebel yell

All you labels suck!

When CD’s were first introduced they were viewed as some kind of miracle. The supposed quality was in a new class.  This new technology was promoted as extremely expensive to produce and manufacturer. This, of course, was a lie. Yes, the earliest releases cost huge amounts of money to create. Yes, the new production plants were expensive to build. Yes, the digital format had higher apparent clarity and as a result the recordings needed to be carefully produced in order to exploit this clarity but the whole story was cleverly hidden from the musicians and more importantly the public. The real story was that the manufacturing process was like most manufacturing processes and as the amount of units created rose the costs per unit plummeted.  Soon after the introduction of CD’s the cost to produce each CD dropped from $6-8 to $1.25 per unit,  On the other hand the labels had used the introduction of the new format to raise retail prices from about $7 per vinyl record to $14 for a CD.  Their production costs had risen slightly and they had doubled the price.  And then, like a rain of gold from the gods, every hit record from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s became hits again.

What most people don’t realize is that the vast majority of music is bought by people 16-24 years old. This is a key factor in understanding the mechanics of the music business.  It defines the way records are marketed. It drives the cycles of music movements and it means that a tyranny haunts the record labels. If they don’t get you to be a fan of some of their artists in that 8 year period then you are lost to them forever. Yes, there are some odd characters, like me, and, perhaps like you, that listen to new bands for decades of their lives but most people are not like this, they fall in love with certain bands as a teenager and they listen to them ’til the day they die.  This makes the music business obsessed with youth culture and youth trends. They create them. They track them. And they exploit them.

The format change to CD’s didn’t change this pattern of human behavior but it did add an interesting wrinkle to it. Suddenly everyone that had loved music when they were young decided to completely rebuy their favorite artists of yesterday. This translated into a deluge of cash to all the major labels.

Rather than seeing it for what it was, an aberration, a strange one time gift, they decided that this was the new normal pattern and expanded their staffs – fueled by the river of money rolling in the door.  The mania reached a fevered pitch and the word that money could be made in this remarkable way spread. Sony, the Japanese electronics giant, bought Columbia and Epic records in an effort to acquire their catalog. The thought being that they could introduce yet another format change ( the mini disc) and sell billions of dollars worth of gear to those crazy americans. They falsely believed that they could once again resell the complete catalog to the whole american public. All the while that this was going on the web was growing in scope in the background. It didn’t occur to any of them, as they counted their millions that the massive price increase that they had duped everyone into paying wasn’t in direct opposition to the MARKET. That’s the MARKET as an entity. The type of entity that levels playing fields with brutal indifference.

It is interesting to note that my experience working inside record labels as a manager had taught me that on the whole the executives of the large labels were lousy businessman. The upper echelons of the major labels are stocked with people who couldn’t run a Carvel ice cream store with any authority. On more than one occasion I sat through a lecture by an executive about how the music business was different. The normal rules and market forces didn’t apply.

All of this carping and self-delusion was a smokescreen to cover a little considered fact.  It’s a dirty little secret. The Music Biz is an illegal cartel. To state that more clearly in case my terminology is kinda vague, the biz is a group of huge corporations that meet secretly to fix prices and control all supply to the stores. The same companies own the production and large portions of the distribution networks.  They own it all and they never compete in the one area that counts, price. That’s why a visit to any large music retail chain will find the average music buyer looking at a sea of releases, all at the same price. Imagine that, what an interesting coincidence. How do they get away with it? Do you really have to ask? The answer is bribes. Big ones paid to politicians and regulators.

So now this particular blog has moved up to recent history. Starting in the very late 90’s the music business started to hemorrhage money. It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving bunch.  Let me take a moment to point out, so as to be crystal clear, that I am not talking about musicians. Musicians have little to do with the music business. The music business if made up of people who know little about music and in my experience have little interest in music and more to the point none of the are musicians.

As file trading came on stream the fact that music CDs had never fallen to a market driven price sent the feeding frenzy of kids downloading into overdrive.  Any what did the major labels do? Did they let the price of CDs fall since they were a dated technology? No they sued their potential customer base and got together to decide that they should RAISE the price of CDs. What utter idiots.

Now they are attempting, yet again, to use a potential price controlled monopoly system to get everyone to pay ridiculous prices for music – Apple’s I tunes. Yes it’s an amazingly convenient brilliant new technology that demands you pay the same damn price that doesn’t work in the stores. It makes this demand even though there are no costs of delivery, no physical format to manufacture and minimal artwork to produce.  I expect that some of you will argue with me on this point. Go ahead I will argue back. Please keep in mind that the rise of filetrading devalued my life’s work by a factor of ten. Nonetheless I believe it can’t be fought and needs to be utilized cooperatively.

What does this mean to you, the dudette playing in a band? It means that the labels are of no value to you. They are whales beached in the sun. Their continued attempt to dominate the market will only serve to drive music from the center of youth culture. It will only serve to make every band have to make it by playing live and promoting themselves. It means that the labels will now move aggressively into merchandise (t shirts and stuff) and live fees as part of their contracts. It means that you should avoid labels like you avoid herpes. Oh wait a minute that’s a bad analogy for musicians…fill in your own…..Is there a way out for the majors? Yes, but I am not about to tell them how to do it.  Right now there is a kid in his bedroom that has the same thought and he will end up buying their catalogs. Good for him……………..

Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2011

The ultimate prize a recording contract..II….


The last section covered how a recording deal is structured.  Please read it before reading this blog. If you don’t I guarantee that you’ll be confused.

As I mentioned in the last blog the deal is structured as a series of options. These lock the band into a consecutive series of time periods when they are bound to the label and are working on creating a set of recordings that meet their obligations laid out in their contract. I realize that sentence is pretty complex and may not make much sense without a great deal of head scratching. Let me put it another way.

A recording contract says that the band can only record for the label and no one else. This is absolute and final. There is no scenario where the label will allow the band to record tracks without the label being in absolute control of those masters. I have run into these kind of conflicts while managing bands. For example the band Miracle Legion was on tour with the Icelandic band The Sugarcubes. As is natural on a tour the bands became good friends. Soon they started to join each other on stage. The logical next step? I get a call saying that they would like to record together.

I immediately knew the problems that would come once the labels got wind of this plan. Miracle Legion was signed to Rough Trade at this time and that label, perhaps the only one in existence at the time that would allow it, I knew would work out a compromise. The Sugarcubes on the other hand, were signed to Electra. Electra, like all majors, had no capacity to compromise.

As soon as the bands brought it up I booked the time and rearranged the tour to free up a recording block. I then set about doing my best to cover up what we were doing. I started some false rumors. “Miracle Legion was leaving the tour” “There was tension based upon who was sleeping with whom” etc. All the rumors were untrue of course, but I tried to make them as plausible as possible knowing that any potentially harmful rumor would grab the label’s attention. If they were concerned about who Bjork was sleeping with they might not spend the time to notice exactly why a hole had appeared in the band’s schedule and it conveniently left both bands in New York for three days. I knew that the key was to get the bands into the studio and get the tracks cut before the label could stop them. That’s exactly what we did.

The end result was 4 wonderful songs and years of war with electra. We put the tracks out under Rough Trade and said “Sue us”. So they did. At least the fans got to hear it. The point to this little tale is that once you sign with a label they own you. What I did with the Sugarcubes was basically unheard of… no one signs with a major and then records without their approval.( well Hendrix did and Miles Davis, and a few others…) They never, ever, ever give their approval unless it is their idea.

So if you sign with a label you are their possession, their slave. If this doesn’t sit well with you then DON’T SIGN WITH A MAJOR LABEL! I am sure some of you are imagining that your stubborn son of a bitch personality will allow you to manipulate them into allowing whatever you want. This is extremely naive. They have enslaved bigger egos than yours, bet on it.

So now lets look at the second half of a recording contract the section that covers royalties and payments. This is the heart of the agreement and this is the section where the band gets screwed. Yes the first section that controls everything you do is bad but the second section where the deal outlines how the band is paid is the part that really guts the band and controls them.

The way that royalties are paid and accounted for is based upon the way records were sold long, long ago. As a result the language used and the system used can be confusing. The first thing to understand is that everything is based upon MSRP. Manufacture’s Suggested Retail Price. This is a price, agreed by the major labels and representatives of retail music chains. It is a fictional price that is somewhere near the real average price that CDs sell for on a daily basis. I have been in the business for twenty-five years and I am unsure exactly how they decide this number. I expect that I could find out more about the process but I just don’t care to. The only thing that matters is knowing what the number is. For the balance of this blog let’s just assume that the MSRP is currently $14.98. I have no idea if this is current but it doesn’t matter. The number is a basis for calculating what a band is paid.

A typical contract my say that the band will be paid 12% of MSRP. This works out to $1.80. So it appears that for each CD sold the band, the artist, you will be paid $1.80. Sounds great doesn’t it. So you sell a 100,000 CDs and get paid $180,000. Fantastic. Well it would be. It’s just that the balance of the of the language in the contract takes this simple formula and starts to alter it. So what is the real formula? Well it goes something like this……. The first thing they take off is called a “packaging deduction”. This is a fictional discount that the artist pays for to “package the CD”. ???? What the hell does that mean? Well, quite simply they are charging you for putting the CD in a jewel case and putting a booklet in the case. The standard seems to be 25% currently. So now we add this to the formula and it looks like this $14.98 x 75% =$11.24 $11.24 x 12% royalty = $1.35. So that little trick cost you $.50 of your royalty.

So now you sell those 100,000 CDs and you get paid $135,000 right? No, not so fast. It seems that the sales figures and not just a simple count of CDs sold. The first 50,000 CDs get half the normal royalty rate….What???!!! what the fuck???!! Oh yeah, don’t worry about that you’re gonna sell millions right?

So let’s look at the formula again….100,000 sales now pays $106,000. Ok still seems like you can get by on this kind of money. BUt that, of course, is not what the band is paid. The band paid the producer, 40,000 and the studio 90,000 so that money is still owed. Yes, that’s right, the fees for production and recording come out of the band’s share. Doesn’t sound fair does it? (Let’s not get all trapped in the whole “fair” thing…it’s just too complex) This little fact looks even more outrageous when you consider that the band pays for the recording sessions and producer, engineers etc but the label owns the recording. In fact even though the band is paying the producer the producer answers directly to the label. Any band that thinks otherwise will learn a quick lesson.  It might be workable if this is where the band’s debts ended but, of course, it doesn’t.  The band also pays for promotions costs. Yup, that’s the costs that the label incurs to promote the record. The band pays for radio bribes. The band pays for print advertising. The band pays for the generation of artwork. Let’s just cut to the chase—- the band pays FOR EVERYTHING THAT HAS TO DO WITH THE ALBUM!!!. Yes that’s correct. I didn’t just make it up. 

So the A & R guy flies out from LA to visit the studio while the band is cutting tracks. He stays a few days a goes back to tell the label how brilliant the band’s new tracks are….. and sure enough 18 months later the costs of the flight, the hotel he stayed out, the car he rented (and boy was it a nice one), the meals he ate and yes, that nice meal he treated the band to… they are all deducted from the band’s cut.

Here’s another possibility. The record starts to get some college airplay in the Northwest on a half-dozen college stations. The head of College promotions jumps right on this trend. He jets out to Seattle, rents a car, gets a pocketful of cash and starts to make the rounds of the radio stations. he hires as many of the music directors and program directors for these radio stations.  He pays them to put up flyers for the band on campus and more importantly on other campuses and to talk to other DJs and staff at other college stations about how they too could have this cool, lucrative job putting up flyers. As a result the band’s record climbs from 36 on the Northwest college charts to #11.  This whole little exercise costs $43,000 over the course of two months. two years later the band discovers they must pay back $43,000 before they earn any money.

Here’s another angle.  The band hears about the scheme to promote the record in the Northwest and says “hey we got a better idea. Why don’t we play in Seattle and Tacoma and Portland and Vancouver!!”  So you rent a bus and gear and travel around and play all these towns and your record goes from #36 on the college charts to #1 on the college charts. The label, orgasmic over this cosmic stroke of luck decides to celebrate. They fly a third of the staff out to Seattle for a rocking celebratory show. Here it comes… you guessed it kiddies…two years later the band discovers that their tour support, the chartered plane, the hotels, the bribes they still insisted on handing out to DJs etc. are all being paid back out of the bands cut of the royalties. It all comes to a whopping $211,000. Are you starting to see the picture here?

Let me be extremely clear about this blog and this particular topic. IF A BAND SIGNS A MAJOR LABEL CONTRACT EVERY SINGLE DIME SPENT TOWARDS MAKING THE RECORD OR PROMOTING THE RECORD OR PAYING ANYONE COMES OUT OF THE BAND’S CUT!!! As a result, unless you become Bruce Springsteen you will make nothing from recording for a major label. There is only one exception to this rule. Whoever writes the songs and controls the publishing of the songs on the record may very well make some money. Since the law demands that labels pay for the use of the songs the songwriter is the only one that gets paid consistently when a record sells.

Well that’s enough for the moment. I realize that I haven’t been posting lately so I am now back in the swing of it……….

©Brad Morrison/ Billiken Media 2010

It’s all about being famous again…..


For those of you that are following along rather than just reading random postings tonight’s blog strays from the promised path. I will get to beating up Reader Oliver in the next blog. For the moment I will take a moment out to revisit the original post, “it’s all about being famous”. This is the most popular posting on my blog. Night after night it gets the most hits. I suspect that this is the result of being the first “lesson”. It may be that another factor is that it is the most important point I make in this blog.

There is no question that this concept has been debated heavily through the years. Once again I am going to come down on the rock star side of things and say it really is all about being famous.  If you would like to putter around in obscurity then please don’t read my blog. This isn’t a value judgement, well, maybe it is a bit of a value judgement but it isn’t a monumental denunciation from moral high ground. There is music made at all levels of fame and success and it is all valid. That’s not what this blog is about. instead this blog is designed to be a lecture series for those of you that want to make it big with your band.

Making it big, becoming famous, getting a hit, breaking through whatever you choose to call it is not just luck. There is certainly luck involved in making it but luck doesn’t rule the game. Instead the proper attitude, actions and philosophies allow some people to weight the luck in their favor.

My five-year old son loves the song “Hey Jude”. He lives in a home without TV. He lives in a home that is saturated with music. He has never questioned this he just accepts it. He is, after all, five. Out of the constant pastiche that flows around him he has picked “Hey Jude”. What can I say, the kid knows a hit.

This morning as I dropped him off at his preschool he suddenly decided to explain some of the details of his school life.

“Mr. Ben sometimes plays us songs on his ipod. He has the song Hey Jude but its the song without the singing and only the piano. I told him that no one could love the kind of Hey Jude without the singing!”

What is my son seeing here? He recognizes that an instrumental cover version of the massively famous song “Hey Jude” is a pale shadow, a retarded Doppelganger, a fading echo of something that is rightly  famous for its beauty and magic. Do you want to spend time with the freakishly robotic cover version of the music that defines your favorite bands? Of course not. You want the real thing. So does my son.

There are many ways to define fame and influence in music. I certainly have spent many hours listening to obscure yet influential music. This is one level of fame. It is the level of notoriety that resides on the side of hipness and art. Many of the questions and emails I have received revolve around musicians wrestling with the worry about becoming some kind of robotic boy band nightmare in exchange for fame.  This is a false concern. For most of my readers the possibility that this is your route to the top is slim. Instead the majority of sacrifices and conflicts lie in the realm of understanding that the path to the top involves mastering the craft of showmanship.  PT Barnum, Andy Warhol, David Bowie, The Sex Pistols, David Blaine, KeithRichard, The Grateful Dead are all the same from the viewpoint I am trying to teach. When you look at the list did you recognize every name? Why’s that? Simple they are all master showman.

When I signed the Figgs to Imago I set about creating an aura around them. I signed them to a big booking agency and I told the agent that I wanted to the band to do a tour that would go on, and on and on and hit every little town and every mom and pop venue.  The label, of course, loved this idea. The agent thought it was overkill.  I wanted to do it for a reason that none of the people involved except for the band and I understood.

When the tour was booked it ended up being 147 dates in a row with just a few breaks. The band were young enough and dumb enough to do it. When they finished they looked, acted and played like they were five years older.  This was a bonus. As they got ready for the next journey onto the road I printed up a shirt – on the front was a drawing of a van gripping the world in its arms and the words The Figgs, on the back was a list of 147 dates in small type and the words “The Giggs”. Towards the end of the list on the texas date for the club Goats Head Soup the date was listed as “Burnt Down!”. It just happened that the band pulled up to sound check to find the club on fire.

Why did I do this? I , of course, was after fame for the band. That was my job. I decided that I wanted them to be known as the hardest working band in rock. As the band prepped to go out on the Van’s Warped Tour I had the record company calling every human on their list and dropping the words “the hardest working band in America” in every conversation. I would answer their incoming calls with “The hardest working band in rock!”. Three months of this stupidity and everyone else was saying it too.

Remember that with your music no one has decided what to say about it. Often you have the opportunity to put some of the words in their mouth. Ask yourself “What would be the ideal thing to be famous for?”. You certainly could pick “the band with the biggest cocks!’ (as long as Zeppelin isn’t touring). You can pick to skip it. In that case you better be happy with whatever the press wants to tag you with. My two decades of experience with this kind of thing tells me that if you aren’t  crafting your band’s image then you will likely end up with nothing.

I recently read a review of the Figgs from a live gig. The writer was about twenty. He used the phrase the hardest working band in rock twice. The band hasn’t  used that in their press pack in years but it follows them nonetheless. I can think of worse tag lines……

©Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010