Monday, November 24, 2008

Keep Your Nose Clean

The past week has seen a rainstorm of legal papers rain down upon me and my little label in a bully tactic from a major label claiming I was honing in on their territory. Well, we assessed our situations and our legal defense fund of $544 and one lawyer that owes me a major favor and a father who wors for free and decided to amount the fastest...swiftest..most hellaicious retreat defense and cotowed to every single demand. It isn't never a matter of right or wrong in these things, it is a matter of do I want to spend the next 5 years obsessing about it. So, my newest record is a collectors item. as there are now probably 15 in existance out there - yes, even agree to the order to destroy - sledge hammer meet CDs in my driveway - that was cathartic.

On an equally distressing note, just caught 4 students cheating on my last exam. I don't want to go into details how I know, but if you saw the evidence, you would be stunned that the brazen stupidity of these acts. Now I have to go through the process of busting them and turning them over to the Judicial Affairs folks. I hate this part of teaching more than anhything - it is a violation of the trust of give these kids everyday on the deepest level - come be yourself, try to be your best self, stand behind what you do - and to get this, renches my heart. Fun day in education land.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

For Artists Releasing Their Own Music Or For Those Starting Their Own Label

So I just got back from the Southeast Regional Folk Alliance Conference that was held at MTSU and I was one of the three co-chairs. I will talk about the conference a bit later. Anyway, I was did a panel on Acting as Your Own Record Label and I just got an email from Carley Wolf asking about the same thing as she is about to release her new album on her own (BTW, she is great, check out her music at Carley Wolf, I saw her at Folk Alliance and SXSW this year).

Anyway, here is a bit of what I wrote (much credit goes to Al McCree from Altissimo Records, who I did a panel with at MTSU for Omega Delta Psi and he is world famous for this George Bush moment):

You have to put the same amount of energy, time and passion you put into marketing an album that you do writing and recording the album. So keep the same schedule that took you through the recording stage into the marketing stage.

There are three stages to releasing a record, think about it this way, just like you did when you made the record (preproduction, basic tracks, overdub, mix, master):

1. Creating Awareness - communicating the artist’s identity to an audience and that you exist and have a new CD out
2. Making The Connection - start and maintain relationship with fans, media and industry contacts. Two areas of focus – indirect (via the media and industry) and direct (fans / the public)
3. Asking For The Sale - create incentive for fans to spend money

There are eight areas of focus, think which ones you can afford and access then make the most of them, remembering job number one is connecting and communicating with your fans:

1. radio / TV
2. touring
3. retail price and positioning
4. publicity
5. the internet (blogs, streaming media, website, RSS, etc)
6. tradition advertising
7. direct / targeted communication with your fans / likely fans
8. creating word of mouth

Sunday, October 5, 2008

From the "That was a smart move" department

"In Raleigh, executives at RBC Bank canceled the parachuters that
were supposed to appear at the grand opening of its new headquarters,
saying it was not an appropriate time to have people jumping off a
bank building."

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Sorry, sorry, sorry

I have been a bad blogger, I know. I have been at 3 conference in the last 2 weeks - Arts Midwest, PAE and IBMA. I have a GREAT new post I am working on about career / life tips. It is culled from a discussion I had with actor / musician Ronny Cox last week at PAE while watching the Presidential debates. It really is inspiring / thought-provoking words of wisdom from him and some less insightful thoughts from my little pea brain.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Good Advice

Good Advice

Very insightful article about what it takes to attract the attention and interest of a record label, specifically an indie label. But, in all honesty, this applies to anything - what it takes to attract a publisher, manager, agent, even job / internship - because in all cases you are asking someone to take a risk on you.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I Think They Get It

Last Thursday I was asked to be a part of a panel by Omega Delta Psi on the subject of Independence in the Music Industry. I am always mixed about doing panels as most of the time it is just the panelists talking about themselves and doling out contrived and predictable advice, but this one I have to say in my 15 plus years was one of the best (the Phili Music conference I did with Jack Ball are still the best - I will write about them later - you'll all crack up - pure theater).

For over three hours over 60 college students sat engaged in our discussion about the recording industry and it' current state of flux. Yes, three hours - not that we planed on going that long - maybe an hour or so, but to look out at their faces and that they were all still into it was unbelievable. Having taught for 10 years now, you know that you can't keep anyone attentive the whole time

While it is easy to simply cry the blues about the state of the industry, these students listened and understood that while maybe the old way of doing things is changing lots of opportunities exists out there especially for those willing to do their own thing. They get that this is a time for change - opportunity to do your own thing, carve out your own piece. Waiting to get the ticket into the club 'entry level job' so to speak, is not what you can depend on...I didn't and my learning the ropes on my own was most attractive to future employers.

CD sales are bad, the music business as a whole are good, just changing and new opportunities get it and rather than bitch about the change, these kids, got it, roll with it and see it as a big opportunity.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Ride The Lightning

Was at Best Buy yesterday to get some ink for my printer and noticed that it was Metallica week - their entire discography for 9.99 each. 9.99 to me is about what a catalog item should be priced at and I never converted my LP collection to CD - so I bought 5 of their first releases - didn't have Kill Em All and I didn't get And Justice For All - never liked that one. Popped in Ride the Lightning today and was transformed back to being a dorky teenager. What a great - raw, pure metal album. To me, it is the best of their releases and of the era of what was then termed thrash metal. Funny how it doesn't sound as 'hard' as it did back in the 80's - when that came out it was the loudest, rawest record out there - there was nothing like them at the time - the hardest you could get were the British metal bands - Priest and Maiden granted there was Motorhead, but people didn't know who they were, really, until Metallica started talking about them around their Garage record.

I am looking forward to the new album which comes out this week - got to imagine they leaned their lesson from St. Anger, which is officially the worst album ever made by a 'big' band. You can't try to be a purposely be raw - not when you spend over a year making a record. Thank goodness they released that documentary, otherwise that album might have been unforgivable.

Reminds me of a funny story - a friend of mine, Vinny, had to turn in a poetry assignment for English in 6th or 7th grade. He forgot to do it, so he turned in the lyrics to "Trapped Under Ice."

I don't know how to live trough this hell
Woken up, I'm still locked in this shell
Frozen soul, frozen down to the core
Break the ice, I can't take anymore

Can't move at all
Can't hear my call
I am dying to live
Cry out
I'm trapped under the ice

Crystallized, as I lay here and rest
Eyes of glass stare directly at death
From deep sleep I have broken away
No one knows, no one hears what I say

The English teacher gave it to the middle school headmaster - I went to a conservative, Yuppie private school - and he called his parents in - not because of the plagiarism, but because they were concerned for his mental well-being - now Vinny is a high school English teacher.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Let's Rock

Apple will be making one of their big to do announcements this Tuesday. My industry's biggest retailer and some say savior, will be once again be taking the stage and laying out new technologies and business plans.

Let's Rock

Some say it will be the long awaited subscription model or social networking music site, maybe an all you can download plan, that will be the eventual future of digital retail. I maybe the guy who said TV is a passing fad, but I don't think that is in the cards just yet.

Why? You think the major labels would have been screaming about that if that were come to bear on Tuesday. Apple only has a download deal with the Big Four and us little guys. Now when the big boys want their prices to go up on iTunes, do you think word wouldn't have leaked out that they were agreeing for the prices or their revenue to come potentially come down?

I think it will be more about better and cheaper technology they will introduce - nothing revolutionary...yet.

All you can download looks like the inevitable end game for this industry - but there is still a market for physical goods like CDs and LPs, still a market for a la carte purchases for those people not needing to fill all 60 GBs of their iPod.

The bottom line is that the more variety of ways the music industry can offer the consumer to interact with their product and at the end open their wallets the better. One size does not fit all. Every other consumer product industry offers a variety of sizes to purchase. You can buy soda by the 12 ounce can, 20 once bottle, 2 liter bottle, 6 pack, 12 pack and case - imagine Coca Cola said to their consumer - we are only selling soda in 2 liter bottles and that is it.

Myself, I am hoping Steve Jobs in the short term, offers a cheaper iPod Touch with more storage for folks like me who don't want to have to lug their laptops around, but at the same time don't want / need to buy an iPhone or Blackberry.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Tooting My Horn For Toots

So in the summer of 1994 after I quit my broker job at what is now TD Ameritrade, as Joe Ferry's production assistant, I was hired as the project coordinator for the Skatalites big 30th Anniversary record - celebrating their 30 years as the fathers of ska and Jamaican music.

They booked tons of guest artists from the jazz, ska and reggae world. One of my jobs was to coordinate the arrival and departures of the band, guests and production staff. Basically I was a chauffeur and taxi dispatch. Now, at the same time of this recording was the Stanley Cup playoff where my beloved NY Rangers were finally there making headway towards their first cup since 1940.

I got a call from Randall Grass, the GM of Shanachie Records and my future boss, that Toots Hibbert was arriving at JFK airport and someone needed to pick him and his companion up. He was arriving around 7PM on June 14th - that's right, during Game 7. No way, I was picking him up, so I call my crew of drivers that Joe hired and one guy, Dave said he could do it. Give Dave the details and make my plans to go to Joe's house to watch Game 7 and enjoy some Snapple and pizza bagels(Joe doesn't drink and we had too much fun watching Rangers games, The Simpsons and of course Ed Wood movies, who needed beer).

So, I get a call that afternoon from Dave saying he can't do it, some lame excuse, so now I had to do it. I didn't even know who this Toots guy was. I was on the phone with one of the members of The Juicemen, a band I booked, telling him how ticked I was that I had to pick up some guy names Toots Hibbert and he starts freaking out telling me what a legend Toots was, second only to Marley and Jimmy Cliff when it comes to reggae and how lucky I was - I of course tell him he can do it and I will pay, but his wife wouldn't let him go.

So off I go in my tan Mazda Protege (ne 323) to pick up reggae royalty while listening to the game in AM radio.

I drive up to the international terminal at JFK and pull up to the Arrivals curb (this is pre-9/11, so you could stand) with a bunch of limos and Lincoln Towncars. I am holding up a sign that says "Toots" and everyone starts to ask me with a thick Jamaican accent if I was picking up The Toots and when I say yes you can see a look of excitement and confusion when they see my tan Japanese compact. "Hey Mon, I an I be pickin up Toots in dat?" I am not really paying attention, the 1st period is beginning and I am intently listening to my low-fi AM feed.

After about 30 minutes people start leaving customs from the flight from Jamaica and out runs Toots, full speed sprint, sees me and jumps into the back seat of my Protege - like it is a limo and I am his driver. He has no bags, just him. Everyone is screaming like it is the Beatles, I guess Toots is famous, what did I know, I am a 24 year old indie rock and metal guy.

So, I hop into the drivers seat, but Toots tells me to wait his girlfriend is still in customs. About 15 minutes later, out comes this little girl dragging two big suitcases behind her and a carry on around her neck. Now that is what I call chivalry!

I, unlike Toots, jump out and help the young lady put the bags into the roomy Protege trunk, but she won't give up the carry on and throws it to Toots. Ah, I get it now - why she has the luggage and the distance between him and her in the customs check out.

She jumps in the back seat with Toots and off we go heading towards Manhattan, Gramercy Park Hotel, got my Rangers - Canucks game on, Toots and friend in the back seat and they whip out the bag full of pot and start smoking in my car. I roll down the windows and generally don't mind, as long as I can hear my Rangers game.

About 20 minutes into he ride, we hit traffic right before I get to the Queens-Midtown tunnel when it happens - a hand comes out of the back seat and hits my radio and changes it to 95.5 WPLJ - home of the crappy pop hits.

OK, I play the game politely and ask Toots if it was OK that I listen to the game - playoffs, championship game, winner takes all, haven't done it for 50 years, etc. He doesn't care, his mind is flying and he needs music. He changes the channel back. Out comes the dulcet tones of Lisa Lisa and The Cult Jam or Jody Whatley or whatever marginally talented pop R&B singer of the day dominated the airwaves.

I summon the patience to remember that this is my job now, this is what I wanted and was one of the steps I had to take to get where I wanted to go. Then it happened, I channeled my Dad who on many occasions had to calm my sister and I in the back seat of the car on some ride to some family outing. One time, maybe when I was 6 he said this and out it came....

"Toots, if you let me listen to the game, I will let you honk the horn in the tunnel."

Toots became a 6 year old boy, so excited, so enthralled by the notion "Yeah mon, I and I gonna honk de horn in de tunnel." Granted, it is illegal and subject to a $250 fine, I clearly saw that sign on the entrance to the Queens Midtown Tunnel, but it was game 7 and worth every penny.

Half way in, Toots leaned in and with more enthusiasm than I saw come from him in the studio that week, he pressed the protege's wimpy hi pitched horn.

Toots couldn't stop talking about it all week and I got to listen to the second period of the game in peace.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Working With An Agent

Without a doubt and hands down, the best article for the new and developing working artist regarding the relationship between themselves and a potential agent was written by my current associate at The Roots Agency, legendary booking agent, David Tamulevich.

(David is the handsome guy on the right with the guitar. Also in the photo are Michael Hough from his band Mustard's Retreat and Lucy Kaplansky)

Combining his decades of experience as both a ground-breaking agent and working, touring musician, David provides real depth and insight to how both sides of the team view their craft and what both sides should expect. It is a realistic and honest appraisal that should be required reading (well, it maybe in my courses - LOL) for all musicians before they pick up the phone, hit send on their email, mail a package or drop by the booth at the trade show when communicating with a potential agent!

Working With An Agent by: David Tamulevich

Venture Capitalists

In the 1990's I worked and scouted for investment opportunities for a small venture capital company near silicon alley in NYC - no, not one of those multi-million dollar incubators that put tons of money into sillyidea dot com and turned college drop outs into paper millionaires or in some cases, real billionaires - no the one I worked for was called Shanachie Records.

Wait, you mean the indie roots label, also had a side private equity investment company? No, but really when you think about it, isn't that what a record label really does? Find a good investment, fund it, provide its experience and know-how to get the product created and then to market. In return for taking the risk of time, energy, expertise and money, keep the vast majority of the profits and ultimately own the investment (the sound recording).
Here is a picture of me 'back in the day' doing A&R on the Debbie Davies album "Tales From The Austin Motel" with Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon from Stevie Ray Vaughan's Double Trouble with Joe Ferry and Matt 'Slippy' Baxter.

Many artists have eschewed the old label set-up - what do they need them for anymore that justifies giving up ownership, control and potential future profits? The Eagles didn't need a label (or a radio hit for that matter) to get their new album up to platinum and into Wal-Mart. Tons of artists today are choosing to release their albums on their own - so what will become of the label.

I, for one, am not on the bandwagon that says record labels are obsolete and on the way of the typewriter manufacturer, but they need to adapt their business model to what their customer and their suppliers (the artist) want / need. The answer, in my humble opinion, is not grab more ownership avenues (AKA the 360 deal), but to continue the basis of what a label does and enter into a different business relationship with the talent.

What does a record label have to offer the artist. The key when I did A&R was access - access to retail, media and money. The label knew all the gatekeepers and which key each one needed to open up for their affiliated artists. But with iTunes and Amazon willing to sell anything for you worldwide, Internet media and radio, social networking and viral marketing, word of mouth is easier to get and more effective and the cost of recording has dropped like a lead balloon.

What the label of the new millennium or Record Industry 3G should do is transform from a venture capital based business to a service industry. Labels need to still do effective A&R and develop their brand with the consumer (more on that in a later post), but their role needs to morph into a menu of support services and marketing professionals supplied to the artist for a fee or equity stake in the sound recording.

While it is great that artists are taking more control and ownership in their creations, they unfortunately are spending WAY too much time away from the stage, writing, practicing, honing their craft, collaborating and being inspired and instead they spend it doing publicity, radio promotion, back office work (accounting, licensing, shipping, etc) to run their business that I am afraid the quality of music will start to decline.

Record Labels 3G would offer their services in partnership with the artist. The label would continue to do the marketing, promotion, distribution and back office, but the artist would produce and own the master (or most of it) and share the proceeds. This is very similar to how many indie labels in the 1990's did deals with their artists (better known as a 50-50 net profit deal). In fact, labels should do a trade show where they show off the services they can provide an artist.

When I was a stock broker, a friend of mine and I thought about going into business for ourselves. There were broker/dealer services that would provide you the access to trading and back office work like accounting, compliance, mailing, etc, so you could focus on selling and developing client relationships. Leaving the talent, in this case, the salespeople, freer to focus on building the business - no different than how I see the evolution of the label.

I am starting to see and hear about a few artists getting these kinds of deals (different from the P&D deals, as P&D deals still leave most of the marketing and promotion up to the artist) - I heard about one through RED distribution, I believe. Artist X 'signed' with them, produced and own their master, but the 'label' is handing the set-up, marketing, pressing, distribution, accounting, etc in co-operation with the artist, who now has a bit more time to tour, create and not necessarily have to worry about the day to day business of being an artist owned label. At the end of the record cycle, if it worked, they will continue the relationship for the next album, if not, both parties can walk away - no harm, no foul, no master left behind to be forgotten about or abused for generations.

Just a thought - undeveloped, unfinished...but makes sense to me.

Welcome To The Vault

I have decided it was high time that I should start a blog that deals primarily with music and the music industry - my experiences, insights, thoughts and whatever else comes to mind. I hope this will be a place to get things out there for discussion, dissemination, dialogue and disagreement.

I keep myself very busy everyday inside music and the music industry. I teach in the Recording Industry Management program at Middle Tennessee State University, book over twenty super-talented artists for The Roots Agency, run a small, but profitable, record label, Larchmont Recordings (from time to time produce tracks in the studio), study the indie label business, research and write a discography and book about Gennett Records and Studio and am constantly listening to music and reading about the business and history of both music and the music industry. I hope that insight will entertain, inspire, incite and educate whoever takes the time to read this blog.

Straight from the Vault was the name of a column that I used to write (and may begin again someday) at AllAboutJazz about that months new releases of jazz and blues reissues. This weekend it also became the title of a digital only album that my partner, Joe Ferry, and I will be releasing on our little label, Larchmont Recordings, which compiles twenty recordings from 1995 through 2008 of unreleased tracks (Joe and I are in shock how much great music we had lying around from new American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi to the former student and classmate, Langhorne Slim, to ska super group, Joe Ferry & The Bg Ska Band and everything in between). It also is a great title, as most of my writings on this blog will come directly from that steel trap I call a brain, thus Straight From The Vault.

A little about me - this is from a bio that was recently released about my rejoining The Roots Agency:

From 1994-2001, Charlie was the A&R Director at Shanachie Records where he signed and/or work with artist such at The Skatalites, Duke Robillard, Anders Osborne, Sue Foley, Debbie Davies, Sara Hickman and Richard Shindell. He has produced or been apart of the production of over 100 commercially released albums, including two by the Skatalites, both of which received Grammy nominations. Currently, Charlie is an Associate Professor at Middle Tennessee State University in the Recording Industry Department and co-owns Larchmont Recordings which produced and released several albums featuring Rhonda Vincent, Regina Spektor, Melissa Ferrick, Langhorne Slim, Eileen Ivers, Stacey Earle, Randy Brecker and Joe Ferry and The Big Ska Band. In 2007, he founded The Dahan Agency, which represented Sara Hickman and Amanda Shaw. In 2001, he was an agent with The Roots Agency and from 2001-2007, was an Assistant Professor in the Music Industry Department at Oneonta State College. Recently, he and Joe Ferry co-produced over twenty albums for CMH Records which featured Dr. Lonnie Smith, Rueben Wilson, Guy Davis, David ‘Fathead’ Newman and their band ‘The Lounge Brigade’ with their takes on the music of Eminem, Ozzy Osbourne (some of which was featured on MTV’s The Osbournes, Season Two), Ani DiFranco and Sublime.

Charlie is researching and co-authoring a discography and label history on the Gennett Recording Company and Studio with T. Malcolm Rockwell (for which they have received several grants from ARSC and The Starr Gennett Foundation as well a Ford Grant), in addition to a study of modern Independent Record Companies. He serves as the new editor and reissue reviewer for the award winning jazz website, AllAboutJazz. From 2002-2007 he was the sound and scoreboard operator for the Oneonta Tigers, a Single A Affiliate of the Detroit Tigers.

He received his Bachelors degree in History from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Masters Degree in Music from Purchase College. He maintains memberships with The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, The Blues Foundation, Starr-Gennett Foundation, The Association for Recorded Sound Collections, The Jazz Journalists Association, The Folk Alliance and The Southeast Regional Folk Alliance, where he serves as the convention co-chair.

In his spare time, he is an ardent birdwatcher and a volunteer researcher for various bird population studies, obsesses over the New York Yankees and UNC Tar Heels, and enjoys spending time with his wife and two children.

I look forward to a long and fruitful dialog!