In part one I shared the route my first band took to getting a record deal. Essentially playing live as much as possible and building a following by word of mouth. In this second part of the series, the record deal was secured in a very different way. It serves not only as a reminder to the importance of widening your creative abilities and embracing new technologies, but also understanding that sometimes, just because you can see the potential of a new idea, it may not be as accessible if the rest of the world hasn’t caught up.
Record Deal #2: Signing The Potential without the Product.
Band: The Davey Brothers
After my first band The Hoax split, my brother and I talked about forming another outfit to capitalize on the success we had both shared as members of the band. However, we had been gigging non-stop for 8 years and needed a break.
In The Hoax we had become completely self-sufficient. From recording and producing our own albums, to making our own music videos, including a full length concert DVD. This was in the late 90’s long before DIY was commonplace. We were posting pictures from the studio on our website as early 1997, and the emerging technology and speed of computers allowed music and film production to be done on home computers for the first time.
Both my brother and I were heavily into film and the break seemed a good time to venture into that world. BT (the UK’s equivalent to ATT) was hosting a filmmaking competition, and with my brother Jesse directing and myself starring in and collaborating on the script, we made a low budget short. The film won the competition, and to cut a long story short, the movie fell into the hands of Dave Stewart from The Eurythmics.
One day, out of the blue, my brother got a call from Dave. He said he loved the movie and wanted to meet. In the meantime we had been working on some demos for our first album. When Dave discovered we were delving into not just movies but music too, he realized it completely fit what he was trying to do with his new label. He was quick to sign us to his latest venture, The Artist Network.
THE FIRST RELEASE
Embracing the multimedia angle, we released a 3 disc set in the UK through the label. With a Blues album, a more mainstream album, and a DVD with music videos, short films and other content, the album received mixed reviews and confused a lot of people. It is strange to think now that something like this would seem foreign to the music world, but back in 2002 when the album came out, it was very unique, especially for a band releasing their debut album.
However, Dave Stewart has always been forward thinking and quick to jump on new developing trends. Through his connections and charm he switched his operations to Los Angeles. With the go ahead from Jimmy Iovine himself, we were soon signed to Interscope Records as part of Dave’s renamed label and joint partnership, Weapons Of Mass Entertainment.
THE DANGER OF POTENTIAL
Though we had two completed albums, Interscope did not feel ready to release either. We had been signed very much on the potential of what we could do rather than the product we actually had. Dave worked tirelessly to bring in collaborators that would help bring the whole project together. We worked with Glen Ballard and Katy Perry long before she was a worldwide star. We did showcases that were packed out with record company execs and renowned artists like Denis Hopper. We talked making movies with Mick Jagger and other film companies, but ultimately all the components we could offer couldn't find an obvious outlet. This was before Youtube had launched and the speed of the Internet couldn’t handle decent quality streaming video. Though Dave and others at Interscope could completely understand the reach the project could have, the elements were not in place to make it a reality. Even bagging a featured spot on the second Tomb Raider movie couldn’t jump-start a successful album campaign.
After three years, two managers, and no releases, Interscope decided to drop us. By this time the advances had long since been spent on the expenses of relocating stateside. We just about kept ourselves afloat, not by making music, but by directing music videos for other artists.
We got the deal due to the fact the potential of what we could offer was undeniable to those who signed us. However, no matter how the project could be envisioned, the simple fact was that without an obvious radio single, the label mechanism was unable to embrace other avenues that our multimedia capabilities could offer.
My previous band, The Hoax (see part one), succeeded because we didn't care if we had a deal or not, we just wanted to play live and reach as many people as possible. The Davey Brothers deal with Interscope failed because it needed a very specific plan put into place and be skillfully executed, but no one was quite sure exactly what that plan was or how to distribute it given the limited means of digital video distribution at that time. With no organically growing fan base being constantly nurtured, the success of the band was totally reliant on something being cultivated basically from thin air. It doesn't matter how famous the collaborators are, or how big the label is, without a fanbase you are nothing.
A record deal is not your passport to success. In fact the constrictions and expectations can easily scupper the momentum you have already achieved. Unless you have a very specific and easily executable plan, coupled with a collection of great songs, it is unlikely that you can utilize the advantages of the major label system. Even if you are releasing your records independently you still need to be completely sure of what you are trying to achieve if you want to get a foot hold in the market place.
In the next part of the series I will explain how the technology shift of youtube, and the birth of social networking made everything that didn't work for The Davey Brothers, fall into place for my next project. Excecuted without the aid of any marketing dollars or major label support.
THE DAVEY BROTHERS - Baby Please