What’s so great about a recording contract?

[If you like this post please “Digg it”]

We live in the age of the death of record companies. They may not know it. You may not know it but retailers do and many, many artist mangers are fully aware that the end has already come for the mega star record companies that ruled the music world from the 1920’s until 2001.

In 1999 I was retired from managing and owning a label and was living on my royalties. It wasn’t a huge income, I have never been rich but twenty-five years of managing and producing had set me up to retire. I had invested in musical copyrights. That means I owned lots of recordings, or parts of recordings.  Like most people I had worked hard and earned some time off. By 2002 my income from royalties had evaporated. The age of the file trader had come.  I am not relating this story to get sympathy. I am telling you this so that you can understand the magnitude of the changes that we are living through. People are  no longer willing to pay for recorded music. Let me rephrase that, people are no longer willing to pay Major label prices for music. Instead they will pay for music when convenance and connection with the band’s aura can be balanced against money. Let me rephrase that,  price your full length record at 5.99 with artwork or as a download, make the music amazing and you may just redefine the concept of the gold record.

This brings me to the general subject of recording contracts.  I have quite a bit of experience with these kinds of contracts and relationships. In 1993 I was managing The Figgs, an upstate New York band amongst other acts. They were extremely young and, of course, extremely ambitious. They wanted to be rock stars nothing less. In point of fact, they were rock stars, they had everything you wanted in a rock star and enough left over to produce other rock star’s records. Great band, nice guys, at least in the beginning.  They wanted to get signed to a major label. They wanted it bad. I warned them repeatedly that they didn’t have a clue what getting signed would do to them and it might very well destroy their music and destroy the band. Being young, wanna be rock stars they listened and didn’t hear a word.

I produced and released a single for them . We produced some indy sounding tracks and released them on lo fi cassettes. I booked them into places they only dreamed of playing. They learned faster than I could teach them. I filled out their musical knowledge, taught them a ton of studio tricks and got them lots of stage time so they could work up a show. (always remember you are putting on a show…if you’re not then stay home and play guitar hero on your couch..) In the late summer of ’93 (I think, it’s all a little hazy now) they moved into my house for a couple of months to record a real record. They spent their days smoking bongs, watching planet of the apes movies, playing under the covers with various female fans and eating my cooking.  Every night when the sun went down we went into my studio, Morrison Hotel, and cut tracks.  They were fuckin’ smokin’! I’ve recorded lots or sessions. thousands of hours of sessions and I gotta tell you these kids were burning it up.

We had a few rented pieces of nice gear, a couple of mics, a mic pre and a few compressors. I was recording everything to 16trk 1″ tape at 15ips. This may mean nothing to you but I’ll translate–we were laying down big, fat, rocking tracks. Whenever I hit playback the speakers almost melted. After we recorded about 25 tracks they cornered me and demanded to know when I was going to get them a record deal.  I repeated my warning about record labels. They basically told me to go fuck myself. Then I knew they were ready. If I hadn’t done it to them they would have dumped me and found some sleaze ball that didn’t give a damn about their music to do it. There was no doubt they would get a deal.

We were mixing the record down. It was tentatively called “Waiting for the Bugasaurus”. We had pared the tracks down to 15 and come up with a sequence. It was going to be a fantastic indy record. It would make them. I had tons of contacts in the indy record world and we could find a home with a cool, well-connected label. Maybe start with an English release then get the record played on every college station. Everything was in place.

I talked to the band about labels and tried, in vain, to warn them for the last time. They demanded a major label deal ignoring all of my warnings and logic. I made two calls and set up a showcase at SIR studios in Manhattan. The band played a set for a major label A & R guy. Halfway through the set he phoned the label owner and told him he found the label’s next big signing. For the story of how they met the label owner and got offered a deal see my first blog “It’s all about being famous”. This evenings blog is about what went wrong.

The Figgs signed with Imago Records. Now let’s pause for a moment and remember that the band has a great album done, it just needs to be mixed. Now the band has to deal with an imbecile A & R guy that knows nothing about music. He listens to the unmixed record and hears one major problem. Even though he listens very carefully, through an extremely expensive stereo at ear shattering volume he just can’t hear enough of HIS OPINION in the record. As a result it just sounds flat to him. So he immediately demands that the band rerecord the record. Then he demands that we use his sequence. When one of the band members points out that he sequenced the record with the first 5 songs in the key of D, one after the other, he looks at them like a dog watching a Fellini movie and says ” Tell the engineer to change the key of the songs in the mixes so that it’s not a problem anymore” . Now the band wants him dead.  

Of course the album is rerecorded and remixed. It does well but the label does not. The label folds in the middle of their second guaranteed album. So The Figgs move to Capitol Records, following the same A & R troglodyte. At the new, bigger label they are much smaller fish compared to the bands the label is making money off of.  Whole departments of Capitol Records listen to demos and rough tapes of the album that is in the works and come to the conclusion that the band is utterly lacking these departments opinions and should start over. The art department wants to change the name of the record. The radio promotions department wants to change the band’s idea for artwork. The distribution department wants the band to reschedule the release for 16 months from now when they are certain they will not be busy since they operate on a 15 month in the future calendar. The band gets stoned one night and decides that the most important thing to argue about with the label is what color the paper label of the band’s vinyl release will be even though vinyl is only 1% of the sales at this point in history. 9 Months later they release an album with the original title “Bando Macho” (an inside joke so it means nothing to the fans), Artwork that they never approved and makes no sense, a really cool rear cover photo which was the only thing the band did. They get their special colored label on the vinyl release and the label immediately drops them. The fact that they battled to a standstill with the label president over the color of the vinyl record’s label certainly contributed to his decision to drop them despite their guarantee of three records.

This illustrates many of the problems that come with every recording contract with a large label.  I can’t even claim that it only happens to smaller bands that have no clout with the labels. Phish signed with Electra when they were well on their way to being a stadium act. Electra treated them like crap.  For example, the band wanted to get some play for its videos. So their manager put pressure on the label to get them some attention at MTV.  Did the band get medium rotation? No. Did they get a few plays on the alternative video show? No. Instead they got an offer to be the house band for a pilot for a children’s show! The label even argued that they should be thankful since the show would pay each member a regular salary of $800 a week for the 13 week run if the show got picked up. Phish turned down the offer and were angry. The label was mystified. Perhaps the fact that the band was routinely selling out theaters and earning $100,000 a night had something to do with it.

Now let me touch on another point about recording contracts. It is a point that I will expand into a complete blog at a later date. Recording contracts are set up in a way that all the benefits go to the label while all the risk is the band’s. The band pays for everything but the label ends up owning it. The band pays for everything but the label decides everything that is important. Even with the advice of a talented knowledgable lawyer the band ends up signing a deal that largely is a massive con job. Why would any band do this? The labels control the gateway to fame. Once an artist becomes famous the relationship becomes a battle with the band winning sometimes and the label winning sometimes.  Fortunately for everyone reading this blog, the earth has opened up and swallowed the record labels. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of guys.

In the post web world the labels no longer hold all the cards nor do they control the keys to fame. The only traditional system that the labels still control is commercial radio. There is even light at the end of that tunnel since radio is in a confused desperate period. They have no idea what to program and the cracks have appeared under their feet – satellite radio, web radio, podcasts and many more trends have begun to destabilize commercial radio.  So the last of the Major label strangleholds is on the way out.  Where does this leave the record labels?

It leaves them stripped down to what they have always been, marketing companies. For decades the labels have argued that they were powerhouse artist development machines, starmakers (not to be confused with star fuckers!), distribution geniuses and creators of musical trends. Little of this bragging has been true. Certainly a label like Blue Note helped popularize certain jazz trends and Rough Trade/4Ad rewrote the rise of post punk. Dischord defined hardcore and rap, hell the rap labels have tattooed numerous street trends on multiple generations of kids but in the end they are just marketing companies. They don’t make great records they promote great records.

Now, with the web you too can promote great records. This blog proves it. In the nineties, your access to the advice of an experienced manager/label owner would depend solely on your connections. Now it depends on your broadband connection. So in the 21st century learning to be a rock star on a web blog is one of the magical ways to succeed at rock………….

©Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010     Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.                     ZMVTCS8QHAVF


Volunteers? Not the Jefferson Airplane song….

Ok readers I am looking for volunteers to submit a track or two of their music. It will appear on the site in my blog. I will then dissect the track and criticise ( or praise) songwriting, performing, recording etc.  If you decide to do this you should be thick-skinned and brave since I will most likely beat the stuffing out of your music before I am finished.  In return for volunteering to be publically humiliated you will get seen (actually heard) by a few thousand readers and get valuable advice from an old pro. I will also solicit comments from readers to round things out.

As I have stated numerous times I will not listen to demos since I would be deluged with music and have no time to do the blog which is the most helpful thing I can do for you. If interested send an mp3 that is less than 5 minutes long. The limit is one song per band or writer. In the email please make some sort of statement that says you are willing to have your stuff posted on the site and that you will not cry like a baby when I beat up your music. Send the music to ciceroqpublic(at)yahoo.com. I will collect songs for a few weeks then pick out one or two to post on the site. This should be a good way to wrap up the first series of blogs about recording. So everyone put their best Riff forward and we’ll all learn something about succeeding at rock…….

Brad Morrison

Lesson #13 Label? What Label?

I’ve gotten quite a few requests to write about Labels. Record Labels that is. Most of the requests come from readers that would like me to discuss how you start a label. This is a topic I know a great deal about since I started a few along the way. In many ways the reasons I had for starting up a label had more to do with advancing the interests of a particular act rather than owning a powerhouse label that helped decide what played out of your radio. The last label I founded was called Absolute A Go Go Records (’87). It was far and away the most serious and successful of the labels I either helped start (Incas records ’83) or started on my own (precedent records ’81) For a good portion of my life owning a label was like being in a band or going on tour, it was just what you did. Everyone did it, didn’t they?

Looking back I now realize that starting up a record label had a long and honorable history and the era that I was a part of, the rise of that evil movement ALT ROCK, has more in common with the way bands become successful now in the internet age than the 40’/50’s R & B single jukebox era. That means that the promotions and distribution problems I encountered are essentially the same ones you’ll run into now.

So here we come to the question, how do you start a label? I am going to approach the question from the angle that you, the reader, would like me to explain, in detail, how to actually set a label up and run it.
It’s quite simple. Make up a name, like MegaMonsterHit Records and go to your county government office. There you fill out a form saying that you are starting a business. Hmm, now you gotta check those little government generated boxes, Sole proprietorship? (this means you’re the boss and the only boss. You’re the label and the label is you) Partnership? (You and your buddy(ies) are gonna own it which means you will eventually want to kill each other ) Corporation Sub Chap S? (this is like a baby corporation. Until you have a relationship with an ACCOUNTANT this is not the way you will go) or finally Corporation. (Yes, that evil giant octopus business that is part of the conspiracy to destroy the world. Once again you don’t want this until your ACCOUNTANT gives you a good reason why). Now that you’ve got that over you give the county people $25 bucks (about) and they give you a business certificate. This is just a piece of paper that lets you walk into a bank and open a checking account. So go do that and come back. I’ll wait. Ok, now you’re in business…let’s move on.

Soon you will need a bar code. That the little box with lines in it that you scan at check out. Without this item you can’t get your CD’s in any real store. The real name for this little baby is UPC code.

Here’s a link that covers that topic:
It can cost you about $750 bucks to get your own bar code. So you put that off until you absolutely have to do it. Remember though that it takes about 6 weeks to get one. That can feel like an eternity when you are waiting to launch a record. There are also some businesses out there that will give you a bar code using there master bar code number. This means you can get one for $50. That’s ok for your first release but if you are really gonna sell records you will need a bar code for your label. if you’re a hyper christian and you believe that the bar code systems is the mark of the devil and that is all controlled by the anti-christ then I suggest you write a few hit singles that say exactly how upset you are about it and that should balance some of your bad karma.

So now you’ve got the tools to actually do business and create a product. As I write this, physically manufacturing CDs is still essential. Sixty percent of music that is sold is still on CDs rather than downloads so for the foreseeable future you will be in the business of making CDs.

Now we got to stop and ask some basic questions.

Why are you starting this label? Is it just to promote your own band? Is it to help you make a mark on the local scene? Are you aiming to work your way into the big labels as a career? Are you starting your label with the ambition to become the next Richard Branson and build a mega monster multinational business. All of these are good reasons and there are quite a few more.

To add to these questions you’ve got to ask yourself are you going to sign other bands? Are you going to produce? All of the answers to these questions are going to help determine what you do to make your label successful.  For this blog I’ll assume that you are starting the label to release your own band, release projects that you produce and with the ambition for the label to continue on after you’ve reached enlightenment and become a eerie ball of light that we all worship.  I won’t follow this through all the way to the part where Mr. Spock does the mind meld with you and you bugger Simon Cowell.

So now you’ve got a label, and I’ll make another assumption and say you’ve got an album mixed waiting to be released. This is going to be the big step up as you launch your label and rise to fame.  We’ll also assume that your band gigs regularly and that you can gig in a couple of cities within spitting distance of your home base.

So you’ve finished the record now you scratch together $750  and send the project to disc makers with a list of songs for them to put on the back and a picture of the band ROCKING THE WORLD for the cover.  WRONG. You are far from ready to put the record out.

There are numerous things that you gotta do before you release a record. Skipping any of them is a good way to insure that your small chance of selling lots of records becomes much smaller.  If you do follow these tips you will be set up for a decent shot at selling enough CD’s to get your money back, which is the key to running a label for longer than one month. If you just wish to blow $4000 on putting out a CD and you’re dying to have 2000 copies of the CD in your mom’s basement for the rest of eternity then you should just plow ahead.

Things to do to set up a release, either your own band or any band you sign to your label.

1. Have the finished, mixed down, album MASTERED.  This means that a MASTERING STUDIO will take the recordings and change the EQ and Compression. They will make sure all the songs are at the same level and are as LOUD AS POSSIBLE. (this is a modern mastering thing and for rock it’s a must) They will make sure that all of the mixes blend together from the standpoint of playback EQ. This is essential. It will make the difference between an OK sounding demo and a POLISHED ALBUM THAT WILL ROCK THE WORLD. I will probably cover what you should do during MASTERING and how, on a basic level, it is done on another night.  Great MASTERING STUDIOS are extremely expensive. You can’t afford them. Don’t worry about it. If you post a comment looking for a reasonable mastering studio I will email you a couple of names.  You should be able to get a project MASTERED on the cheap for about $500. If you know a really good, pro studio with nice pro gear you can ask the engineer to Fix your record. Take it from me, they always need fixing. DO NOT USE THE SAME STUDIO WHERE YOU MIXED. If you do it is generally a waste of your money.

2. Plan and Design the CD cover art. This must involve someone that understands graphic arts and printing. Creating a great CD cover takes as much talent as writing a great song. Your package should stand out when it is in the CD rack. It should look professional and IT SHOULD SAY SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR BAND IT SHOULD HELP GIVE YOU AN IMAGE AND MAKE THE BAND LOOK SUCCESSFUL. Look at the covers of bands that are in your style of music. Which ones are great? Why?  Imagine the CD cover as a T Shirt. Is it a smokin’ T Shirt that will make your girlfriend look like a million bucks?  Some labels have built up the label image by having every release for the label have a certain “look” to the CD art. 4AD in England and Dischord in the US are two labels that used this trick to make the label famous and help the artists sell.

 Part of the artwork process is working out credits and liner notes.  I personally believe that a CD package that has something to read, something that fills out the band’s aura and image is a great help in turning a casual listener into a hardcore fan. Lots of bands have done this kinda thing well, look at Beatles (after Revolver), Rolling Stones (69 -79, with Sticky Fingers perhaps being one of the greatest LP packages ever), Pink Floyd, Genesis (Lamb Lies down on Broadway) The Clash (Sandinista)…….

3. Prepare a promo list. What’s a promo list? It is a list of names and addresses of writers, promoters and radio stations. You must compile this list before you send the record out to be manufactured. You also need to set aside some money to pay for postage. If you don’t do these two things before you order the record they will not get done later and the record will do nothing to help you get famous or help your label survive and flourish. It’s ok to only set aside $200 bucks it doesn’t have to be 3 grand.  But you must spend some money promoting the record. It is better to order less copies at first, like 500 instead of a thousand in order to free up some money to promote the record.  Not having enough records to sell is NEVER A PROBLEM. If you put out a record that goes wild and starts selling like cookies at a fat farm you will order more and they will arrive and that will be that. Never worry about how many copies you ordered. Only worry about how you are going to sell them. My record label Absolute A Go Go Records would always give away at least 750 copies of every release, usually more.  You want to send copies to any writer that writes about bands like yours, any college station that plays any rock at all, any promoter that fits into the band’s current plans for expansion. Don’t send records to big commercial radio stations. Don’t send records to Rolling Stone. Don’t send records to promoters that are far outside the circuit that you have set up by following the instructions from my earlier blogs.

Ok so now you have done these things because you are crazy enough to believe me. (I did after all do this kinda thing for about fifteen years) There are a few things that you need to understand in order to run a record label. It doesn’t matter if the label is for your stuff or for band’s you find in the frozen food freezer at Wal Mart these are fundamental truths.

First, nine out of ten records will not sell. This applies to your band as well. Face up to it or you will never succeed at rock. Most of the records that you release will only serve as a very expensive but necessary calling card to help that particular band’s career. Get used to this idea before you spend your first nickel. If you don’t you are gonna end up depressed and walk away from something that you could have done successfully if you had the correct attitude.

Like I just said most records don’t sell. You should be trying hard to sell them but in the end if you sell enough to break even, lose a little cash or make a little cash then you are doing it right. That can’t be right!!! Well it’s true. Let me explain why. If you look at any label that survives and perhaps thrives they have operated in this manner. The secret here is that when you release ten records and nine of them flop you still have one that sells. The one that sells will make mountains of money and will pay for the other nine, plus a month in Rio, a new Mercedes and the legal fees from the lawsuit that the successful act’s drummer creates when he supplies Jack Daniels to his hometown middle school. Get used to this fact or don’t start a label. If the act that goes big is your band, great! Congratulations! But the odds are against it. If, on the other hand, your band releases 6 albums over five years and finally the last one sells well then the label served its purpose. The most likely way your band will make it big is to slowly, steadily become popular and grow to the point where a great song can become a hit record.

In a music market where downloads are rampant and will continue to be a fact of life it will be extremely hard to make money with a label.  Instead you need to view the label and the CD’s it releases as a machine that helps the bands get ahead. The real cash will come from concerts.

Since this is the new reality it is only a matter of time before labels will demand, and get, a cut of the band’s live money. Perhaps your label will be the one that rewrites that part of the Rock Book.

This brings me to another point. The price of your new releases WILL BE $4.99 or $5.99!!!! This is not negotiable. Each release that is over a year old will be priced at $3.99!!!! The days when CD’s sold for $15.00 or $20.00 are over. The major labels will realize this fact when they are dead and buried. You need to realize it now.

Two years ago a Blue Grass band called Fetish Lane ended up hanging out at my house after a concert. They hung around drinking heavily and playing old country songs on guitar, fiddle and banjo. Nice guys living the dream of being Hillbillies. (I’m not sure what planet this dream comes from) This band played lots of hippy festivals during the summer. They had a couple of CD’s out and they were bragging about the fact that their CD’s sold about 2000 each per year. In Hillbilly land 2000 records is almost a gold record. With the cost of recording and manufacturing the CD and paying the girlfriend that hauled the merchandise table around they figured that they were making about $5000 a year on CD sales.  Like everyone else they sold their CDs for $15.  I was in a preachy mood so I ended up arguing with them until the sun came up about the price of their CD.  Since they were living the Hillbilly Dream they did the idiotic thing and decided to listen to me. They lowered the price of their CD to $4.99.  In the next year they sold TEN TIMES THE CDs! They made four times the money and, most importantly,  they had TWENTY THOUSAND fans listening to the CD. Fans started buying extra copies for friends and relatives. If you are selling your CD for $3.99 you are doubling your money on each sale since even the most expensive CD pressing deal will cost a lot less than $2.00 per disc to manufacture and package. The idea that something you buy for a buck or two, must sell for $15 or $20 is insane. Most other businesses are happy if they can make 10 or 20 percent. The music business screams bloody murder if they don’t make 1500% or 2000% on their product. Smarten up. If you sell your CD for five bucks kids will buy it to support the band and not bother with the hassle of downloading it and ending up with a burnt disc with no art.

More on running a label in future blogs………………………………………………………………….

Please vote at my poll  

Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010


Lesson #10 How to Find a Manager ( or how to be one) (pt 2)

[ Ray Charles “Lonely Avenue”]
Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010

So now I’ve looked at some anecdotes of how some bands came to be the proud owners of a manager. I’ll look at it a little differently now.By management I mean a whipping boy, designated asshole, dreamer of crazy schemes, loser that gets to hang around with the stars, parasite that sucks the band dry and the glad handing salesman that a band has to tolerate. Managers, good and bad are all of these things. The description is based solely on whether the band is going up, down or sideways.

Yes, a band can manage itself. It’s rare that it’s done correctly and usually a band managing itself translates to one of the girlfriends doing all the work and getting shit for it.

[Jimi Hendrix”Crosstown Traffic”]

Managers may very well be parasites but they do not kill off their host. Bands that have managers on the whole do better than bands that do not have one. Someone has to do the business and promotions end and a pro, in my opinion, is always the best.

[Thelonious Monk”Ugly Beauty”]

So how does a band get a manager?

1. Look around the SCENE that you are part of, if you’re not part of one then you should correct that error. Look at small time promoters, big fans that are also accountants (that’s how The Pixies met Ken), College station DJs, fanzine writers, bouncers (Zeppelin’s Manager was rumored to be a small time collector of cash for jukebox companies), bartenders etc. Look for two things. A head for business and honesty. That’s it. A Manager doesn’t need much more. Being a hard worker will come automatically or he’ll wash out. The job is always busy, busy, busy.  They must also love your band.

I will be outlining manager tricks, techniques and methods in later blogs. The bottom line is that some of the best managers start out as a buddy of the band and then grow into the position. Make sure if you go this route to give the person plenty of time to sort out their job – six months to a year. You got to let him make some mistakes that’s part of learning. After a predetermined time period then look hard at what’s gone down. Has the band moved up? Talk about moving up means nothing. Be brutal. If they can’t cut it fire them. Make sure that you have a contract and it allows the band a way out after six months to a year.
[The Clash “Brand New Caddillac”]

A good trick is to talk two people into being a management team. Sometimes these work beautifully. The usual outcome is one of the two eats the other one alive. This is a good thing. It shows which shark to employ. If you hire an amateur make sure that he agrees that you will be his only act for at least the first year. After that time if he doesn’t pick up someone else then he may not be a good manager. Any manager worth twelve cents is being constantly to manage new bands.
(I’ve had over a dozen requests since I started this blog)

2. If you have any kind of label deal have the label solicit pro managers. This will make more headway than a band trying to contact them directly. Remember all managers ARE NOT LOOKING FOR NEW ARTISTS EVER. Their roster is always full. Yet, miraculously, they will find a slot for your band if you convince them that your rocket is about to leave orbit.

If you speak/write/fax/contact via talking drum a real manager YOU MUST TALK ABOUT HOW POPULAR YOU ARE AND THAT YOU ARE THRILLED WITH THE PROSPECT OF SOMEONE TAKING 15% OF YOUR ASS. A band that is defensive and cagey about money makes a manager very nervous. This is why managers always work out deals where they get paid as the band gets its cash.

Here’s a story to back this up. I saw a band open for the Figgs. They were called Super 400. They sounded like an updated version of the 60’s supergroup Cream. To make it better they were decked out sixties outfits that were way over the top. The bass player was a hot woman with ass length blue black hair that played the bass like James Jamerson. I was hooked.

I started to talk to them about a deal. They immediately got evasive and get bringing up the fact that the drummer’s brother was Lenny Kravitz’s bass player. According to their version of reality he just had to ask for a major label deal and they would have it. I told them to have the brother manage them. Well, of course, he was so busy…. I went round and round. Finally they agreed. Then they started to fight about my cut. I’m a manager and I’m thinking I’m gonna make you a huge pile of cash and you’re gonna weasel me out of my share?!

[The Clash “Hateful”]

In a moment of Adult Onset Stupidity I continued to talk to them. They very cleverly maneuvered me into setting up a showcase for a label before they had actually signed the deal. I very cleverly knew that this is what they were doing and had my own plan. I figured that a showcase cost me nothing other than a few calls and an invite to an A & R guy. They, feeling that their pants had grown awful tight, DEMANDED to have a list of the people were going to attend. I, of course, refused. If they wanted me to prove that I “knew some guy in the music business” I would go through with the charade.

I set the showcase up in a small club in the East Village of New York. They acted as if they wouldn’t play the showcase and in general acted like horse’s asses. It’s interesting to note that it never occurred to them that I had set up a gig in the middle of the afternoon in one of NY’s hotspots. The owner had agreed to open early and BRING IN STAFF. Had they had any smarts they might have wondered how I had arranged with two days notice that a nightclub would open two horus early and would be waiting for the band with waitresses, bartenders, soundman and bouncers. Gee, what did Brad tell the owner of this nightclub?
[Traffic “Rainmaker”]

I had played the band’s demo to the VP OF A & R for Warner’s music. I had told him truthfully that I had come to him first. He loved it. He told me if they didn’t shit themselves on stage we had a deal. He trusted ME to know what was hot. He asked one thing. Give him first shot. Don’t turn it into a bidding war for the band’s contract. He’d pay big but he wanted to avoid some kind of sick payout on a band that had nothing other than a good manager that had a great track record. Of course the band didn’t know this. They didn’t wonder about the club. If they had they might have figured out something was up.

Now I knew that Warners were the band’s dream label. I also didn’t have a signed deal. This gave me one option, A private showcase. I told the band that they would be playing for a few writers and maybe a real A & R guy if we were lucky.
[The Band “The Weight” My current fav]
So I arrive in a chauffeured town car with the VP of A & R for Warners. We walk in the club and the bar is packed with the stoney faces of every A & R scout, wanna be scout, junior A & R rep and indy label A & R guy in New York. The VP of A & R glared at me. Three of the guys sitting at the bar worked for him and were so far down the food chain that they had only met him once or twice.
“What the fuck is this? Some kind of sick joke?” He turned on his heel and stormed out. None of the people left in the room had ever signed a band. None of them had the power to sign a band.

The band, being much smarter than me had told the drummer’s brother about the showcase. The drummer’s brother being much smarter and better connected than me had told the band that they shouldn’t sign with me and that he would get some real A & R guys to see the band. This would result in a deal. He, of course, had never signed a deal for himself or anyone else. The news that I had set up a daytime showcase in a hip club was enough to set the jungle drums throbbing.

I’m not sure if the VP of A & R has ever forgiven me. He has continued to answer my calls. Much more slowly than in the past. Since Adult Onset Stupidity is incurable I went on to sign the band to a management contract. I managed them for one calendar year. The whole time I represented them they continued to argue with me that the drummer’s brother’s advise was much better and he wouldn’t rip them off. In the first three months of my contract I produced a record for them and then signed them to Island Records. After a year of constant battles and efforts by the band to keep me from earning any money from them I dropped them. They were mystified by my actions.

[The Feelies “The Last Roundup”]
They hired the almost famous brother to manage and produce for them.   A short 7 years later they released a self released EP. They still sell out a little nightclub in Troy NY. They are the only band in the area that has ever been signed to a major label deal.

Ok more on techniques to attract and keep managers in the next section. I hope to have that online by Wednesday evening……stay tuned………….

Lesson #10 How to Find a Manager ( or how to be one) (pt 1)

Note: Please don’t copy and paste my blogs into emails to friends. Please send them to my blog the old fashioned way via a link. Hits make me giddy.

I guess it is inevitable that I got around to this topic earlier rather than later. For a band management is the key to success. By management I mean a guiding light, a sense of purpose, a game plan, tactical response as a course of action and a broad concerted effort to take the band in one general direction. For most bands just starting out getting a manager is an impossibility. You may be surprised to find out that this problem can continue even though a band ends up with a record deal and gets tours. There are always lots more bands than managers. This seems to be an immutable law of nature. So the question starts out as ‘which bands get managers’?
[Peter Gabriel “Here comes the flood”]
Very quickly it becomes ‘which bands get good managers’? I’ll try to answer these questions in some kind of erratic random disjointed manner. Helpful huh? Let’s look at some real world case studies.
[Neil Young ” A Man Needs a Maid”]

1. Miracle Legion and me. Miracle Legion was just starting out although the band leaders were well known in the Connecticut scene and had played in successful bands. I was a promoter, had already managed one artist and was a DJ. We knew each other. (Gee isn’t funny how all of these stories involve people knowing each other rather then meeting through random demos sent through a great uncle’s elementary school teacher’s friend?) I approached Miracle Legion because I heard a hit in their set, a song called the Backyard. I was right. The record sold and sold and was licensed and sold.The record would be selling today if the lead singer wouldn’t fight with me every time I try to remaster it for I tunes. I also saw in them a band with ambition and connections. I felt I could use their connections to expand my already large pool of contacts. I was right. Through Miracle Legion I made Legions of friends. The list covers people like Bjork and Michael Stipe and continues on through tons of labels like Rough Trade, Mute, 4AD, RCA, Warners, Atlantic etc. and even covers lots of great producers and writers. I used Miracle Legion shamelessly and they used me back. I landed everything a band could want for the band and I also was careful to make sure they had a fuckin’ blast along the way. I only wish I had taken more pictures. The reason I didn’t take more pictures is that pictures are known as “EVIDENCE” in the music business and that’s not always a good thing. Lesson to be learned here – make connections, lots of them, meet everyone that you can, always. These connections will attract young, up and coming managers. These are often the best choice for a band.
[Stiff Little Fingers “Alternative Ulster”]
To further illustrate that point I’ll use another Miracle Legion story. Miracle Legion’s Backyard EP had run its course and the band was now searching for the next step. (I believe that this was ’86) They were booked at CBGB’s as a headliner. They played a great set to a packed house. After they had pried a few dollars out of Hilly the owner they started loading the van in front of the club. There was tons of fans hanging around and one guy was being particularly pesky. Someone in the band said ” If you’re gonna hang around then at least help!” So this guy started humping amps from the doorway to the van. When they finished someone else said ” We’re going to get something to eat. You comin’ along.” The guy hopped into the van and joined the tour which was heading to Boston, Northampton and then points West.


                                                                                                                         [Stevie Wonder “Living for the City”]



I wasn’t managing the band at this point although I was managing other artists. This was one of the two periods in the 80’s and 90’s when I had been “fired” for having the temerity to think for myself.
Two days after the CBGB’s gig, which I had been at, the phone rings, quite early. It’s London.
“Hi this is Janette Lee. Is Brad there? ” Holy shit! I think. THE JEANNETTE LEE? Member of the infamous band PIL with Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols?
“Yeah that’s me.”
“I’m partners in a UK label called Rough Trade Records. You’ve probably never heard of it. I had only been sending them packages for five years at that point…”She’s kidding right? ” but I’ve got a problem. Our co-owner and founder is missing. He hasn’t called his wife in two days. It’s most unusual. The last time he was heard from he was going to a club to see a band you manage Miracle Legion. Have you seen him?”

                                                                                                                    [Fairport Convention “Tam Lin”]

The band had mistakenly kidnapped the owner of the hippest record label on the planet. Within a week they had signed a deal and I was back managing them.

2. Phish and John. I won’t use his name so I can at least be a little more honest. Phish met John because he was the local college herb salesman. They recognized in him a wicked smart businessman that was dead honest. Good combination. When they dangled the carrot of rock money in front of him he cautiously bought in. He didn’t have a clue how to manage a band. He made it up as he went along based on common sense rules. This helped him rather than hindered him. Remember Rock is the land of reinvention. Everything you see in the rock world was made up by people posing as businessmen. I’ve worked in the real business world. Most of the people in the rock business are wash outs from the real world of business. The rock business world is a joke from a business stand point. It is only really serious about taking risks and trying to define culture.
[Creation “Pass the Paintbrush Please”]
Phish are a great case study because the music business has hated them since the beginning and they have thrived. This proves that you do not need the Music Business to be a successful band. Ask Ani DeFranco. In the case of Phish and John you have a talented aggressive businessman and a band that wanted to do it their own way. Lesson here? Talented amateurs often succeed at management.

3. Danny and Rosemary and Nirvana and Hole. Jeez where do I get started on this one. Danny, when he signed Nirvana was already a major name in the business. He was married to Rosemary, one of the most genuine well intentioned people in the music business. She also happened to be a great lawyer as well. Nice person, with a heart and a lawyer, a rare thing. Rosemary and Danny had great taste and often Danny found his management clients through Rosemary’s client list. I believe that’s how they met Kurt. So this is a classic case of a band finding a big New York lawyer and this puts them on the path to the top. But what you can’t see unless you were there at the time is that both Rosemary and Danny knew everyone in the underground rock business. Rosemary bailed a drummer out of jail for me in 88. I knew her for years at that point. Her ex husband was the poet Jim Carroll, may he rest in peace. So you see Rosemary was an active member of the SCENE in New York in the late 70’s. In the music business it is always people you meet early on that help you out later. So the real lesson here is to make connections, lots of them and KEEP IN TOUCH. Let me follow that with saying that one ironclad rule in the music business is never call someone unless you have something REAL to talk about.
                                                                                 [Pixies – “Bone Machine”]
When Nirvana signed with Warners the Seattle scene had been hot for a decade. I had already managed and dropped Jim Basnight one of the Seattle proto punkers fifteen years earlier by the time Nirvana got signed. Once again here is a band making it big with a regional scene as a springboard.

My last post was brutally long. So I will break this one up into sections.                                                  
        [ War “Bolero Live”]

Lesson #8 Some comments on A & R…………..

A & R. Artists and Repertoire. What the hell does that mean?

In the good old days record labels would sign performers to contracts.  They were exactly that, performers. The label didn’t care if they wrote songs, music, soundtracks etc. They only cared if they could perform. Then they would take this lucky person and tell them play this song…Add this musician to your band…Look at doing this style of music. In short the label would tell them what they were going to record. Their recordings would influence and define what they played live.

In order to guide these empty vessels the label would employ a person called and A & R guy. (sometimes a lady) This person had the magic touch of knowing the correct music to perform, the right producer to employ and, often, how the music should be arranged.  This was the system. Then along came Bob Dylan.

Bob Dylan wrote his own material. They had seen that before upon occasion. Bob Dylan decided what he wanted to record. They hadn’t seen that before although there had been many arguments over it in the past. Bob Dylan did whatever the fuck he wanted and he had the talent to back it up.  I’m simplifying things here. It wasn’t just Dylan. It was the Beatles. It was Carl Perkins. It was a bunch of Country Music Greats. But Dylan is in many ways the beginning of the end of the old system of A & R. After him the A & R guy became an expert in finding artists that could do it all.  They knew just what scene to follow or just what town to hang out in. They were detectives.

When I entered the business that was the way it was but already things were beginning to change. A & R guys with the rare combo of talents- talent scout/producer/visionary became extremely powerful once they had a few hits. It was plain that they knew the new system and everyone else in the music business didn’t. Soon A & R guys started to demand their own labels like this guy. To make things worse for the major labels other talented visionary people like this guy decided they would begin their own labels. The punk and underground scene began.

Record labels still employed people that were called A & R people but they soon became disposable. They continued to be highly paid but if they released a few artists that flopped they were roadkill. For bands the changes in the business made life even tougher. If they got a major label deal they had one shot. If their record charted and the kids started to riot every time the TV showed their image then they were all set. If not they got dropped. In the past labels had recognized that it took a band 2, 3 maybe five records to develop a sound that was mature and would sell. They could see the evidence of it before their eyes. Despite the evidence they continued to sign and drop bands in an endless cycle. There were a few genuine A & R guys, like Joe at Warners and Mike at Electra but even though they had been successful they had to fight to hold onto every band they signed.

In the background indy labels gathered steam. REM came from nowhere in Georgia and rose over the course of a few years to become stars. There were even a few labels that ignored the rules, radio play and the major labels and released bands that sold big. One of these labels was run by this guy and another one of these labels was run by this guy.

Then along came Nirvana. When Nirvana broke through to commercial radio the major labels went into a feeding frenzy. They bought up every label that would sell and signed anything that sounded even vaguely like a guitar band. Regional music conferences like South By Southwest were suddenly overrun by label reps fighting over any band with buzz.

All across America kids got guitars for Christmas. Musical instrument sales boomed. All of them started bands and the relatively small underground music scene became central to the following generation’s world view. This continued through the 1990’s until around 2001 then came the internet and downloadable music.

In the past seven years downloadable music has destroyed the major labels. It has rewritten the rules and for the first time in about a hundred years it brought about a world where thankfully musicians could be successful and never learn what the term A & R means………………………..

Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010