I have been in the fortunate, and sometimes unfortunate, position of securing a record deal for each of the three acts I have been a part of in the past. The route to gaining those deals came in three very different ways and for three very contrasting bands. Some decidedly old school in approach, others very current, however, I believe each would bear the same results today given the right acts. Or even produce a better outcome by taking a more independent and contemporary route to selling records.
PART 1: The Gig, Gig, Gig route.
Band: The Hoax.
Label: Warner Brothers.
I formed The Hoax when I was still at school, alongside my brother and couple of friends. We all lived in the same small village that I grew up in the English countryside. My dad would often take us to see local bands, and host parties where these bands would play. They would mostly play covers, though I didn’t know it at the time, but it soon lead me to check out the music of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Muddy Waters, BB King and ZZ Top. At age 14 I wanted nothing else then to be in a Blues band. Even though I was young, I would phone around the local pubs, send out press kits, and not quit until we got a gig. It paid off, by the time I was 15 we were gigging 3 nights a week and I quit school.
The band started to cause quite a stir on the local scene, especially due to the uniqueness of a bunch of teenagers playing Blues in southern England during the mid 1990’s. We would go to a pub the first time and play to 5 people, but they would always have us back because we were polite respectful, and always entertained. By the time we returned for the third or forth time, it would be packed out.
Our success was due simply to the fact that we wanted to be the best band we could, and we would play anywhere that would have us. We would each tirelessly study our instruments, learning how to shuffle like Texans, and put on a show that would have the audience shouting for many encores. The last thing on our minds was a record deal, we just wanted to play as often as possible, and get as good a reaction from the audience as we could. We always got paid, even if it was the equivalent of just $100, and never even ventured into the showcase cities like London.
Each member of the band would have different tasks in making sure the band was run efficiently. From book keeping to booking shows, distributing posters to PR. We were a self-sufficient unit, and this helped propel the popularity of the band without the need for big marketing dollars.
GETTING THE DEAL
After playing a couple of smaller stages at Blues festivals, word got round that we were the band to see on the UK Blues circuit. Someone passed a copy of our demo into the hands of legendry producer Mike Vernon (Peter Greens Fleetwood Mac, John Mayalls Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton) and within 5 minutes of seeing our set opening for a touring American Blues act, he offered us a record deal.
It was with his new Warner subsidiary Code Blue, who had also just signed Bo Diddley. At the same time Virgin were also interested, as well as other smaller labels. It took us a year to eventually sign the deal, mostly due to the fact we were busy touring and didn’t feel ready to take such a big leap. This decision paid off, because by the time the album was released it received rave reviews and we got major TV and Radio coverage. On our first US tour - opening in theaters for Buddy Guy - we would get standing ovations at every show and sell hundreds of CDs afterwards. After just three years we had taken a band from obscurity to an international touring act signed to a major label.
You can see this route to a deal working ever since that time, most recently for acts like The Black Keys and The Alabama Shakes. Niche acts find their way into the mainstream, due to building a solid word of mouth following that keeps growing.
This is what it takes:
- Being Unique by offering up something that stands out and is unlike anything else around. Trouble is this comes from actually being unique, not deciding to be unique. Not a hipster version of contrived uniqueness, but uniqueness without thought.
- Not caring about obtaining success for monetary gain or a record deal. But caring about gaining success because the audience loves you so much that they just have to come and see you again. It takes time and dedication, and overcoming many knockbacks. The reward is lifelong fans, deal or no deal. If you can fill venues, you can always have a career in music.
- Study your craft like a lawyer studies for the Bar exam. By the time we were first seen by a record exec we had done many, many shows, from tiny bars to bigger stages opening for touring musicians. We had also rehearsed relentlessly, and each individual dedicated thousands of hours to our respective instruments.
- Shake the hand of every fan, call them by their name if you can remember it. And be polite and courteous to those who book you for shows.
- Run a tight ship and be organized as a band. Don’t wait for someone else to put up posters, hand out flyers, get email addresses. Give each band member a task to do.
The Hoax Split in 1999 and we each pursued other projects, which will lead to part 2 of this series. However we reformed in 2009, and thanks to the hard work we put in during those early days, the popularity of the band has grown in the years we were apart. Last November we hosted the first HOAXFEST that included Sold Out shows in both UK and Europe.
THE HOAX Live at the Peer Festival Belgium 2010