From Face The Music 2008. Featuring:

  • Craig Kamber, General Manager, Tombowler Pty Ltd
  • Darren Sanicki, Lawyer, Darren Sanicki Lawyers
  • Hayley Wilson, Marketing Manager, Roadrunner Records
  • Emma Wiking, Label Manager, BNM Records
  • MC Andrew Kitchen, Artist Development Project Coordinator, The Push

Alicia Fox Photography_FACE THE MUSIC 2008 (35)

MC – What does a record label do?

EW – Develop artists.

CK – Help artists make a living from what they do and love.

DS – To balance it – actually make records!

MC – How much unsolicited material do you receive on a weekly basis?

EW – We probably get a couple of demos a day. Some days we might not get any, but another day with might get 3 or 4 but BNM is a fairly new label, only just over a year old, at Rubber Records we used to get a lot more than that.

HW – We’ve got the demo box and believe it or not, our A&R manager does actually listen to all of the demos.

MC – You’ve got to be careful about saying things like that. And what’s your postal address?

HW – I’m not saying it always helps, but there is certainly a culture within our company to be interested in what people are producing – but having said that, there’s not always time to listen to everything. We probably get, I don’t know, 15 to 20 a week or something like that.

EW – First impressions I think, make a big difference as to how quickly they get put on, and that’s not necessarily sending it in a box with presents, though that always helps (wink); but we just recently got a really nice looking package, just CD, good artwork, put it on – it’s actually really good. Now I’ve got it in my car and I’m really getting into it. That doesn’t happen a great deal with demos, but yeah, otherwise sometimes we get tapes with hand writing on it and it’s just not quite as attractive to listen to straight away.

MC – You’ve got to make it easy. You’ve got to make it like ‘I want to listen to that’ based on presentation and all that kind of thing.

HW – Can I just say one thing about you sending in your packages too? With your bios, like it’s really helpful just to get a few really clear points. So often we get bios with, “these guys are the greatest band and blah, blah, blah.” It’s really good to get just really clear points on where your band’s at, because if the label is interested we can follow up things.

MC – Also on that, would it be interesting to you if a band actually came with a bit of a strategy? “This is where we’re at, but in the next five years, this is what we’re aiming to achieve?”

EW – Having a band which has clear goals and a clear idea of who they are and what they want to achieve is so much easier to work with than a band that thinks that if they come to a record label, everything is going to be done for them. It doesn’t quite work like that at all. You need to work as a team, the record label is there to advise and show you options, but if an artist doesn’t have a clear idea of who they are to begin with, then you basically have to work with them to find out who they are before you can start anything else.

HW – That’s certainly true. I mean – I think the days of like being “discovered” in some dingy club and then just being made into rock superstars and particularly with our kind of music, which is predominantly heavy metal and hard rock, it’s just really up to the band to come with a market. Even going on what you were saying before Emma, about there being a lot less money there for people who are just selling CDs, like in our positions at the labels, you can’t just kind of have these massive budgets to just kind of create something for a band. The band has to come with an idea, a very clear picture of who they are and what their realistic goals are. If a band comes to us with that, that’s very interesting to us, because it shows that they’ve put some actual thought into it, and what it is that they want to get out of it and if we can help each other, because at the end of the day, it’s a cooperative agreement.

CK – I’ll just follow on from that and say that I think the best thing that any act can do is put the record out yourself, before even entertaining working with a record label. I think one of the key things is to actually understand the entire process – the recording, manufacture, deadlines, artwork – all the nuts and bolts, because then when you actually do get an opportunity to work with a label, and the label says, “We need the artwork by this date because that means that we can release it then,” then you actually understand, what that really means. You’d then know if the artwork is four weeks late, then your release date moves back and how that’s going to impact on your touring plans.

MC – I heard a rumour the other day Craig, were you involved in the signing of Powderfinger? Is that true?

CK – Yes. That was I suppose, a classic case you hear a lot, where people say you know, “You don’t sell a band through a parcel in the mail”, that was a parcel in the mail. It was one of those funny things, Polygram at the time, was running two companies, I was on the Polydor side, and there was Mercury – the other side of the company. I remember Adam who was the A&R guy for the other side of the company. He got the Powderfinger parcel on the same day. He came down and said, you know, “What do you think?” and of course, I thought it was fantastic and (he said), “I’m not really sure, the guy sounds a bit like Eddie Vedder,” and I said, “It’s kind of why I like it.”

CK – It’s a double edge sword now with things like Myspace and all that kind of thing because there are so many more artists, so the key thing is how do you cut through? I suppose the simplest thing is, and hopefully you’ll hear it a lot today, is actually great songs. It sounds almost like a cliché, but you can have the best marketing plan in the world, a clip or an idea for the music video, you can get like 500,000 views on a Youtube video, whatever it is, but if it actually doesn’t connect with people emotionally where they actually want to walk into a store or jump online, and actually pull their wallet out and part with their hard earned – then it hasn’t actually connected.

MC –  I often remember that moment I heard ‘My Hero’ by The Foo Fighters – some of you might relate to this. I literally dropped what was in my hand, and ran to my car and drove to Sanity and went, “I have to have the Foo Fighters, who is the Foo Fighters.” – Bought my copy on the spot. I’ve often kind of kept that as kind of a bench mark. I’ve got to write songs that make people want to drop their gear and just go and buy it. It has to be that passionate a response. Like – I would prefer someone to say that, “I actually hated your song” rather than “It was alright.”

CK – You want to evoke an emotional reaction.

MC – Darren. How actively and when should a band pursue label backing? What’s your position on that?

DS – Craig touched on it and I couldn’t agree more – I think as late as possible. The question might even be, when is the best time to get a manager? I think it’s always good when they come to you, so the whole notion of building a product and they will come – it still sticks. There’s no rush, it’s not really an ageist thing. There’s no difference between someone in their early 20’s, someone in their late 20’s, or early 30’s. What these guys have been saying is if the music’s great, it cuts through. I think when there’s something to show, not just because you happen to have three or four songs and say, “Hey we might have something here – let’s go and show these people what we’ve got.” Better to say “Hey, you know, this is what I’ve been doing for the last three or four years, this is how my fan-base has grown…here are two or three demos that I’ve done myself.” Show that you’ve actually invested time and effort into your own career. I suppose what I’m saying are generalisations and there are always exceptions, but the people that I see getting signed are the people that have been discovered by labels or by managers out there doing their own thing. Doing their own thing, because they want to build their own product and they have got noticed, not because they’ve just sent demos in every week to record companies trying to get a bite. These days you know, you don’t necessarily need a record company. I mean you might need one later on when you get to a certain level, absolutely, to help, to finance, to market all that sort of stuff, but these days everyone can get started on their own.

CK – Not every artist actually should be on a major label and not every artist, should even be on an independent. It really gets back to what your motivation is. You might just be happy making music for your friends, and put some stuff up on Myspace or give music away to your friends and family. If that’s what you want to do, and you’ve got other commitments and other interests – that’s fantastic. If you actually want to see it being a career and see yourself as having maybe a 30 year career, like someone like Nick Cave, well then it’s a completely different kettle of fish and I actually think it’s important to, you know, come to days like today and learn as much as you can about the mistakes that other people have made, so you don’t make the same mistakes.

Audience Question Time

AQ1 – In terms of demos and sending in demos, and the demo being attractive – would it be better to send in complete songs, or picking out maybe a chorus and a verse?

EW – Definitely complete songs because if you like something, you want to hear it – you know what I mean? Generally you listen to the first couple of bars, so put your best tracks at the start and if you like what you hear, then you listen a bit more and a bit more, so it’s good to have it all there if you want to listen to it all.

HW – I would say two tracks only – your best two tracks as well. Just sort of get them down there, because there’s a lot to kind of listen to and you will look at packaging and things like that. You might only play the first 30 seconds.

CK – If the tracks are awesome, they’ll be on the phone to you straight away.

HW – Exactly

MC – If you do send in two tracks, you probably want to be armed with another five or six in case, dream of dreams they come back to you and go, “Love it, send us 10, or 15,” and you go, “We just did those two.” I would be like, you are wagging uni, you are calling in sick, you are spending the day in the studio the following day to make it happen, so be prepared, I would suggest.

HW – I was going to say too, there are different deals you can get so there are situations where a label may like what they hear, but they just want to see how you go and they might help you develop it. If you’ve sent in two tracks and you’ve got nothing else, we’re not going to like, put up $50,000 to put you in a rehearsal studio. There are certain stages you can go from that sort of demo session if it does happen that way, there’s certainly a lot of pieces that fit into that big picture.

AQ2 – What is more attractive to you guys, to get an email with a Myspace link or a physical demo from a band?

EW – It’s a hard question. It’s really easy not to open an email and to just go, “I’ll go back to that later,” and then not go back to it, because you get so many emails. So as much as it does save costs for the artists, which I’m all for, and also it saves us having all these CDs that just build up. There has to be something in the beginning of the email that really grabs my attention and I have enough time to click the link to a Myspace. It’s the presentation, so I think it doesn’t really matter which way it comes. It’s got to have something that grabs your attention to listen to it there and then.

MC – How much creative input would you have for an Australian act? Like what would Roadrunner’s position be when listening to demos and suggesting songs? If there’s a song you like and you’re like “I wish that song was like a minute shorter so we could service it to this station and this station”, or do you just go: “The art is the artist’s?”

HW – Certainly! We have one local artist at the moment Behind Crimson Eyes. Those guys are very creative and know what they want to do. They work very closely with the producer and our role really comes in when we listen to it at every stage. We may have our opinions, but the band decides whether to listen to them or not. When it really comes into us working with them, it’s when they’ve completed something and they’ll say ‘”Now we’ve got this, we want to take this song to radio and this is why and we want to take that song next and we want to do this.” I think that’s really where we collaborate and work with them. If they’ve got something that’s just really over the top and they’ve given us 10 20 minutes songs, we can’t do that – that might be a situation hypothetically where we might say, “We want this or we want that so we can take it to here.” I will visit the studio when they’re recording but I’m not in there going “Josh, do you think you could sing a little higher?” – that doesn’t happen.

CK – I was actually going to add there too, sometimes one situation which we had years ago with Spiderbait with ‘Buy Me A Pony’ where the track originally came in at 1 minute 20 and so we actually had to sit down and talk to the band down and say “Can we do a reverse radio edit? Can we actually make it longer?” 1 minute 20 just wouldn’t get played, so I think we took it out to 1 minute 50, or 1 minute 55.

MC – There is a strategy on it with radio though? As they’re approaching the news time, they need a really quick song in there.

CK – So if there’s anyone in here with a really awesome 2 minute track, you might be able to get Triple J airplay.

MC – There’s a new thing coming out called ‘360 deals’ –I think Robbie Williams was the first one to sign on the dotted line back in 2002 or 2003 or something like that. There’s some other name for it ‘multiple income stream deal’ can you explain what that is, and the phenomenon and the pros and cons?

DS – Basically a 360 deal means that you are signing everything to the one organisation as an artist. So basically, you’re an artist, I’m a record company – you sign to me, I take a cut of your management, your publishing, your recording, your touring, your merchandise THE LOT! Don’t even look at is as being signed to a label or signing a manager or signing a publishing deal – look at it as though you are going into partnership with somebody, because you need to sign all this stuff before you actually jump into bed so there’s no element of unknown in there. The main thing is that I still believe a manager should be exclusive to an artist and I still believe that the manager needs to be an artist’s champion in a way and be their voice and their person out there in the industry who is out there representing the artist – because that’s what every artist sort of needs. The business side can be the other party, but when the manager is also the record company and is also the publisher, then you can just see that there is all these, I guess, conflicts into what hat different people are wearing at different times, so there are a lot of dangers. I’ve sort of painted a negative picture of it, they’re just some of the dangers, there are many dangers and that’s just one of them.

EW – One of the things that is important to think of when you’re look at a 360 deal; for each element of your management, your label, your publishing, your touring, all that sort of stuff, you really want to put the person who’s going to do the best job in charge of helping with those things. If someone who wants to sign a 360 deal with you, can they show you that they can do the job and do it well, and do you believe in them and will you work well together – then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t sign a 360 deal. If you think that they’re weak in one area and they’re not going to do the job, then you’re better off to exclude that and find a person who is going to do the job right. I don’t think that it is necessarily a right or a wrong thing, but I think that is what you ultimately need to be looking for.

HW – It is difficult – I’m not saying it is right or wrong, as what you were saying Emma – but the landscape has changed a lot. There’s been a lot of publicity, a lot of criticism of 360 deals about the labels just trying to make a land grab because revenue streams have shrunk so much, but I think it has to go on a case-by-case basis, because sometimes a 360 deal is fair for both parties.

DS – That is a valid point. From the record company’s point of view, their income stream has been reduced to some extent over the last 10 years, as we all know about, and they can successfully argue “Well hey, we’re about to spend $50-$100,000 making a record, developing you as an artist, marketing you, getting you out there … why shouldn’t we have a percentage of your other revenue streams that we are helping to create?” There’s nothing wrong with that as well as them saying “We’ll assume a larger role in the development of your career.”

HW – That’s it and we’re sort of fronting, in some cases, a lot of this is hypothetical too, because we haven’t really done any local 360 deals or anything like that. Then you’ll have, particularly with our larger artists, you’ll have a promoter come in and do a tour, and if the tour is very successful, a lot of the time, you’re also buying tickets, and we’re like, “Well we put all this cash and development and people in the label have personally put in all these hours and maybe lots of over-time,” and then it’s just sort of like, that entire kind of chunk is just gone.

AQ3 – Short of being offered a 360 degree deal, can you tell me about distribution and then licensing as well? I don’t really know the distinctions and what’s what.

DS – (There are) 3 basic type of deals. Direct signings – so a record label signs you directly to them on an exclusive arrangement whereby you make a certain number of records for them for a particular period of time. The other 2 are basically a little bit similar, one’s called a licensing arrangement and the one is called a straight distribution deal. In both of those you actually make and control your own master recording, so the job effectively of a record company is to fund the making of your recordings. If you’re not going to do that, you’re effectively an independent artist – a self-funded artist who is paying for your own recording. Once you have made a master recording, that is one that you’re happy with, you’ve got basically 2 choices – you try and license it to one of these labels, or another type, or a major label who might say “Ok, we’ve saved a whole lot of money, because you’ve paid for the recording yourselves, so we’ll just take it from here, we’ll do the manufacturing, the marketing, the artwork etc ourselves” – and that’s effectively a licensing deal. It’s still your master that you’ve licensed to a major label and at the end of the day the deal is a little bit similar, because you’re allowing the record label to do the bulk of the work in terms of getting it out there and selling it. Or the final thing, if you’re at that level of interest, is that you take on much of the responsibilities yourselves and enter into a distribution deal with a distributor. The distributor might be someone like Shock, MGM or Inertia, and there are different deals that you can do with them. Now obviously the master is still yours. Then there’s a P&D deal where you actually manufacture the CDs yourselves, you literally rock up to the record company’s warehouse with your box of 500 CDs, do a deal with them whereby they’ll add you to their new releases that week. Their extended network involves all the music outlets as well as digital distribution, but effectively all that they will do is add you to their sheet and put you on their website as “now available”. They won’t do anything in relation to marketing. The shops might see the new release sheet and see that your new album is available, but they’ve still never heard of you, so they probably won’t order it in, which means that it is still going to be your job to still go out there, still get radio play, still market yourself, do all the shows etc and build up some momentum for your product.

EW – Can I just add to that, with the distribution, I always get asked by artists “At what point should we be putting this in the stores?” It seems that an artist’s first thought is to go out and get physical distribution straight away. My personal feeling on this these days is that it is better to have digital distribution, so you’re up there online and just sell your physical producer by your shows with touring. That way you make 100% of your physical profit and can put the money back into the band. Once you have built up a good following, a good history of record sales, after you’ve sold a good 1000 or 2000, then it’s time to go and approach distribution and say “We’ve already done this amount of sales physically, we’ve done this digitally.” Then you’ve probably got more of a story to actually justify being in record stores. There’s no point in having a product in a retail store if it’s something they’ve bought, because it just gives the band a bad name at retail and makes it that much harder for the record label when they do go in with a release that is really ready to get pushed, they’ll go “No their last record didn’t sell, we don’t want to take any of that.”

CK – One final thing, the really important thing is as well is to build up mailing lists. That band George, from quite a few years ago, they toured extensively and I think they built up a database email list of I think it was about 22,000 names, so their first 2 EPs I think the first one sold 16,000 copies, their second sold 18,000 copies. That put them in a very strong position to negotiate and do deals. That’s the other thing too, every time you do a show make sure you get everybody’s email addresses if they like what they see.