“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”
Hunter S. Thompson
Some months feel like they go by in seconds, others feel like they last years. April felt like an eternity.
Let me give you a status update:
- We signed a sublease for a new studio in the Arts District of Downtown LA
- After signing the sublease, we came to find out everything we build in the unit will need to be taken down in 1.5 years due to pre-existing plans for the unit. Lovely bit of info that was left out of original negotiations.
- We need to come up with a very large sum of money (more than I have ever had in my bank account) to begin even the least bit of construction.
- All of this has led to us extending our current lease, for at least a month, in order to finish the music we need our current roster of artists and build out the new studio.
- Both bands have signed management agreements with In Flight Music Group!
- As far as Lady Low goes, we had a great photo shoot with our good friend and amazing photographer, John Hong.
- However, we are at a stand still with Lady Low’s music (one of the members has left town for three weeks).
- The Leers sent us an insane amount of files from sessions they did over the course of the last year, which are going to take at least a month to clean up and get ready for mixing…a month we don’t have.
- I have been learning, reading, and researching more about marketing than I ever imagined possible and am putting together the most savage marketing plan for these bands and am almost positive that major labels are not doing what I am going to do for our bands. Actually Im certain labels don’t do anything like this.
- I now drink 5 cups of coffee a day, smoke at least 1 cigarette, eat an average of 2.5 steaks straight up no chaser a day, and drink 1-2 Bourbon Diets every night (need chaser because I’m a woman). This is what I call fuel…or suicide prevention/de-stressing, you pick. Tremendously effective nonetheless.
Now when looking at this list from the outside, you might be thinking, well that doesn’t seem that bad…sign a little lease, get a little fucked over, realize the company needs a ton of money to even begin at square one, have one little photoshoot, get some files ready for mixing, read a marketing book, that can’t be so bad right? Stop it. The amount of work on my plate is terrifying. I feel like I haven’t slept in weeks.
Dealing with the things on this list is a lot for one company to handle…especially when that company consists of two dudes who are giving their souls to the game and receiving no love back from it. Put all of these things together and you would also start eating/drinking like a savage, justifying it all by telling yourself its fuel and a necessity of survival…I promise.
So let’s start from the top, shall we?
Our New Studio and All of its Glory
There are some major pros and cons to the situation we have gotten ourselves into, many of the negatives we were unaware of until AFTER we signed the lease.
When we went down to check out the spot (one of the 20 or so we’ve seen in the past month), we loved everything about it. It’s on the outskirts of the Arts District in DTLA, it’s a brand new complex that from what I can tell consists mainly of tech startups, fashion companies, production companies, etc. I’m pretty sure the female to male ratio is like 45-1, which had me sold off the rip. But for real, its an awesome spot, great people, a ton of creativity, super professional atmosphere, and most importantly, it’s a block away from the new Warner Music Complex.
If you’re unaware, Warner Music is moving all of its Los Angeles locations (Santa Monica, Burbank) into one complex, which is an old Ford Factory in the Arts District of Downtown LA….one block from our new studio. This means when they move, in Jan. of 2018, we will be the only independent professional recording studio (certainly the only one with a Solid State Logic 4000 series console) within miles. I would consider this a major pro of our new studio.
Also, when a major company like Warner Music moves into an area that is relatively undeveloped, it opens the door for small businesses to come in and set up shop. There is already a little scene beginning to happen in the Arts District of Downtown LA, but if I were to guess, in five years there will be something really cool going on.
So here go the cons. First and foremost, when we were first in negotiations for the sublease, we were told by the facilities leasing officer that she couldn’t speak with us until we signed a sublease with the current tenant. Ok, no problem… except for that the original tenant was either totally ignorant or not totally forthcoming.
What was most important to us from the start of this was getting in a long term lease. We wanted to be sure that if we were to take the 1.5 year sublease, we would be able to renew the lease when it was up so we weren’t building up just to tear down. We asked the sublessor (as we were instructed to do with any questions) and she said it would not be a problem.
However, after we signed the sublease and spoke with the property manager, we found out this wasn’t the case. Whattayaknow. The only way out of the situation was for her to move us to a bigger unit (at about double the price for space we really didn’t need), but only if the original tenant would take our unit back. Why in the world would she take the unit back after she just washed her hands of it?
But after a lot of back and forth and crunching numbers, we decided that even if we had to tear down what was built in 1.5 years, we would still be money ahead in a better studio than our current North Hollywood location. This is good to know I guess.
The construction of this studio is a slippery slope all around. On one hand, we need a studio that is uncompromised in order to work at an exceptional level sonically, most importantly to attract labels and potential clients, etc, but we can’t empty the accounts because where will that leave us in 1.5 years? Tearing down an amazing studio that cost a ton to build.
Oh that reminds me, the company accounts. Everyone is working on the side just to keep enough gas in the tank for us to push onward. Basically, we are going balls deep. With all that said, I cannot get the image of tearing it all down in a year and a half out of my head. It’s truly frightening. Also, it’s been brought to my attention how much acoustic paneling costs. My life savings is basically worth 1 acoustic panel. Neato.
Signing the Bands
In general, from what I’ve experienced over this past month when signing bands, the stakes are naturally high. From management contracts, to release and publishing contracts, there is a lot of heavy verbiage, there are major commitments on both ends to deliver what’s necessary for success, and there is major uncertainty. It’s not like you get to date for a long period of time, get to know each other, go take a walk in the park, and then in five years talk about whether or not you want to tie the knot. When music is involved, there is a time stamp, there is a sense of urgency on both sides to get to work, and the hunger is real. But no matter what, it seems like there will always be that voice whispering to both parties, “Are you sure this is the right move?” and How could you ever really know? There is only so much you can learn about a person or a band in a short period of time, so you have to take what they’re giving you and go with your gut.
Either way, I truly believe that both bands are flat out better than anything you would go out and see right now in the scene and most definitely better than what labels are signing. This knowledge is mostly based on the dozens of horrible shows I’ve seen in Los Angeles over the past two years, as well as the most recent signings of some big labels.
Talks with Lady Low started back in September of 2016, but right when we were about to get rolling, the band lost a member. We believed in the band and the music, so we stuck with them and found a new member. After quickly building a relationship and trust with the new member, we have finally gotten back to the point where we were months ago.
Overall, Lady low is not doing too shabby. Even with all those bumps in the road, we were able to sign the band to a management deal.DETAIL AGREEMENT HERE. Matt is wrapping up vocals for the band’s EP, so we’re about ready to begin mixing, choosing singles to start on first, we also got some stellar photos, some great video content, and so on. Everything’s going well.
At the end of March we spoke with the band and told them we absolutely needed to take care of band photos. It was something that just needed to be done and is standard procedure for any up and coming group.
Now from what I have seen from other Indie Bands, photographs are something that fall by the wayside, even if the groups think they look awesome, and badass, and super hipstery cool, etc. These young bands think they look cool in leather jackets under a street light at a bus stop, which is totally not the case. When I see that, I see a bunch of clueless idiots with no purpose other than to saturate the music industry with more bullshit, thus making my life more difficult when I’m trying to get a buzz going for a band that’s actually good. But what do I know right? Actually I do know something. I know that Lady Low is not going to be one of those bands. I want to make them look like superstars, I want people to see pictures of them and be intrigued.
So, I began figuring out how to take care of photos. I asked for 3 potential dates as to when the band would be available. We came to find out one of the members was headed to Japan to see her boyfriend, and due to a general clash in schedules, I was able to receive one potential date…that was two weeks from the day they sent it to me. Do you understand what I am saying here? I had two weeks to lock in a photographer, hair stylist, makeup artist, wardrobe stylist, venue, basically everything. I asked Matt how we were going to make this happen, he said I don’t know Luke, you tell me? Fucccccckingggg great Matt. Just what I wanted to do, plan something that I have never planned before, have zero clue about, and have never participated in ever. I literally knew nothing about photography, fashion, makeup, hair, but I caught on pretty damn fast… I think that is what Matt intended all along.
Thankfully, Matt is very close with an extraordinary photographer, John Hong. Let me take a second to tell you about John. I’ve got to meet and hang out with him a few times and bottom line, John is an absolute boss both off and on set. His work and overall attitude generally reflects that. John runs a great company and puts out some awesome content, always shooting LA’s best. Honestly, I know nothing about photography, but I know John is good at what he does because I’m always seeing familiar faces pop up in his catalog. Actors and actresses, models, musicians, you name it, John shoots it. Between you and I, John is surrounded by more beautiful women than you could imagine. I am waiting for the day he calls me and asks me if I want to hang out on set with him. Models galore. Imagine just showing up to a slew of dimes, snapping some pictures like it’s second nature, and then cashing checks. Sounds like the American Dream to me…and to have a guy like this supporting us and what we do is unbelievably helpful. It’s something I am very grateful for because as you would imagine, John is not cheap. I’m really not trying to have some fucker named Eric come in and tell us he knows of a great street light at a bus stop in Silverlake that we could shoot at. Thank you John, for keeping Eric out of this equation.
Anyways, have a look at some of John’s work, it’s pretty awesome.
Robin Lord Taylor
Sarah Wayne Callies
Link to John Hong’s full portfolio: John Hong Studio
With a photographer locked in, the next thing on my list was booking a venue. Simple enough, call a cool place, talk to the owner, schedule some time, throw him $200, take some pics, and be on our way. Simple.
That could not be farther from reality. John told me I was best off calling an agency that acts as a middleman between those shooting and the location. I did this and was quoted an average of $1,000 per half day. I knew we needed a full day and there was no way we were paying $2,000 just for a venue. This company also mentioned to me that insurance was necessary, as was a permit. Now John was able to provide this for his Photography, but since we were planning on having the film producer and director for a film we are currently music supervising roll through and shoot some promo videos, we were also going to need a film permit. Again, I was quoted a price that was very much over our almost non-existent budget. So, I was yet again in a pickle and hadn’t even begun figuring out how we can pay for stylists.
Thankfully, Jimmy Sweet of Lady Low has connections to Break Room 86, an awesome 80’s themed retro bar in Koreatown, and was able to get the manager to agree to slide us in for the day.
So at that point we had a location, a photographer, and needed stylists for hair, makeup, and wardrobe. I knew I had to call in the big dog…Matt’s wife Zulma. She had worked with John years ago when she herself was a makeup artist, so I knew she would be able to sort all of this out and find us some great stylists. I was also terrified of sending the girls in the band hair and makeup suggestions, knowing that I would be crucified for suggesting the wrong person or something.
After a long search, we found three great stylists that the girls loved and that we believed would do an outstanding job based on their previous work.
Makeup: Anton Khachaturian
Now I will admit, I wasn’t sure how we were going to pay for any of this. Between a venue, photographer, stylists, and the film guys, I think all of their normal rates combined was upwards of $20,000-$30,000. However, we managed to pull some favors. The venue came through connections of the band, the photographer is obviously a close friend, the stylists were friends of the photographer and agreed to drop their rates just to be a part of his work, and Matt agreed to provide licenses the music for the film the producer and director were working on at no cost. I was able to put all of this together at a cost that the band (with a little help from our piggy bank) could afford, something I again did not think was possible.
We were ready to rip. I remember thinking that there was zero chance that we were going to be able to have a shoot a photo shoot with three looks (which I learned meant three outfit changes, hairstyles, and makeup styles) on top of shooting promotional videos for the band, all in one 8 hour day. Nevertheless, I put together a very tight schedule from 9-5 that included one 15 minute break and did not account for any bathroom time, eating, etc., and pretty much demanded that we hold tight to the schedule. I was convinced there was no way we could get this done, but was ready to try anyway.
However, the day of the photo shoot came, everyone showed up ready to throw down, the stylists were on point and did some outstanding work, they worked quickly, John showed everyone in the room just how much of a savage he was, the film guys tossed together some great ideas on the fly and got the job done, everyone involved was just downright personable and professional. It was a great day.
So as we await photos, Matt is going through music, we are choosing singles to mix, and getting ready for the Lady Low train to leave the station.
Previous to our talks, The Leers had great tracks released in Auckland and were getting a good buzz, but had no traction with their music in the States. This was back in mid-2016 when I first heard them. They were always in the back of my head, but Matt and I just needed to get to the point where we thought we could bring on bands and really offer something solid. I always knew that if we could take their already awesome tracks, re-mix them to give a fresh spin, and re-package everything with some new photos going along with the fresh sound, we would be able to catch some American buzz. That is what my gut was always telling me, so let’s see how trustworthy my gut is baby.
Nevertheless, it has been a long road with these boys. In five months we have gone from the initial reach out email that I sent the band, consisting of “Hey, you guys sound great, what do you have going on?” to locking in a management agreement which will take us through the next 2-3 years. We needed to move fast with them, both due to our studio situation and the amount of music we need to finish before leaving, on top of the overall lack of ability to deal with bullshit. We couldn’t spend a year building a relationship with these guys and twiddling our dicks, even though it would’ve probably made the relationship stronger, all due to the fact that things were moving extremely fast over here, and still are as you can tell.
We needed to move fast with them, both due to our studio situation and the amount of music we need to finish before leaving. We couldn’t spend a year building a relationship with these guys, even though it would’ve probably made the relationship stronger, all due to the fact that things were moving extremely fast over here, and still are as you can tell.
We’re now cleaning up the tracks to begin mixes and figuring out what to do about band photos so we can make these guys look like rock stars, same as we did for Lady Low.
Either way, nothing in this process has been made easy, per usual, I know. It’s hard enough to go through, understand, and communicate/discuss contracts to someone when they’re sitting right across from you like we did with Lady Low, let alone trying to communicate everything via email, skype, and facebook, especially with a group of young guys thousands of miles away across an ocean, in a different time zone, conveniently after they just had a rocky experience with their previous managers. I understood why they were shy at first, hesitant even, but also why they were seeking an opportunity and open to conversation. These guys really do work hard and are level headed, which is always a plus.
Marketing is Now Life
So of course, we know Lady Low and The Leers will kill it, simply because music in the Indie scene is pretty blah right now and labels are signing trash…and we wouldn’t have signed these bands if we thought otherwise. But having a good band is like just sticking the tip in. Just because you have good songs, can play a great show, and can look cool doing it, doesn’t mean you can create a diehard following that will sustain your career as a musician. I’m not looking to just stick the tip into the ears of America, I’m looking to fuck them ruthlessly.
To do this, there has to be an ecosystem surrounding the band. Yes, the first step is the band being a group of talented musicians, that can write great songs, perform great shows, and so on. But, there is a giant misconception that I hear from young band’s all the time…they think that this is enough. They believe that some AnR god from above is going to swoop down, pick them up, and drop them off in success-land, simple as that. This could not be farther from reality. Honestly, it’s not even just young kids. Labels are guilty of thinking like this as well. In case you didn’t know, Warner lost millions last year. Obviously, they are not utilizing the talent they have to the best of their ability. Labels believe they have a better chance of getting a young band out to the world because they have connections to outlets that have large built-in followings. For example, when one of their young artist’s comes with a hit song, they set out on the same string of radio shows, late night shows, and so on, hitting the same audiences that follow those outlets. The label just puts different bands in front of the same audiences to see what sticks. But not everyone enjoys the same music…so, why not target the
This could not be farther from reality. Honestly, it’s not even just young kids. Labels are guilty of thinking like this as well. In case you didn’t know, Warner lost millions last year. Obviously, they are not utilizing the talent they have to the best of their ability and Im going to guess they could give a fuck about building an ecosystem around their bands. They use the same tactics for every artist, basically shotgunning all of their music at America and seeing what sticks.
But a label deal means I’ve made it though, right?
Keep telling yourself that. Labels believe they can get a young band out to the world because they have connections to outlets that have large built-in followings. For example, when one of their young artist’s comes with a hit song, they set out on the same string of radio shows, late night shows, and live sessions, hitting the same audiences that follow those outlets. The label just puts different bands in front of the same audiences to see what sticks.
But not everyone enjoys the same music, therefore using the same outlets for all different kinds of artists isn’t the best move in my opinion…sure, you’re getting the music out to millions of music listeners, but what are the odds that those listeners will be fans of your band. Probably slim. Why not target the right audience for your band and market to them directly? What if you didn’t need to build an audience for the band, but tapped into one that was already built? What if we stop trying to give fans what WE want to give them, and give them what THEY want? It seems to me like that would be best…and that is exactly that I am going to do.
By next month, I will be able to explain to you step by step, through Facebook user research and extreme audience targeting, how we can create ecosystems around these bands that allow them to reach thousands and thousands of people, giving these people the content and music that we can prove they are already interested in, resulting in true diehard fans…ones that will support our bands, buy tickets to their shows, buy merch, and allow our bands to evolve.
All in all, we aren’t in a horrible position. We have two great bands signed and should have new music coming out soon, we have a studio leased, Jorg is working away, and my groundbreaking marketing plan is coming along.
In regards to signing these bands, having watched Matt do his thing, representing the work we do in the best way possible and assuring the bands that we know what we’re doing and will get them the traction they deserve, was a great learning experience. Matt’s not a bullshitter and tells you like it is, which is something I saw immediately when I met him and something I think everyone else sees’s as well. Not a bad guy to be in business with.
However, that doesn’t change the fact that we have a year and a half to make it or break it. It’s both frightening and motivating. Obviously, we are put in a situation that could drive us out of business very quickly, but it also lights a massive fire under our asses. Since I realized that this is our reality, every hour of every day is spent with this in mind. Taking a day off isn’t an option anymore. Probably going to up the fuel intake to 3 steaks, 3 cigarettes, and 3 bourbons a day.
Nevertheless, this next month is going to be crucial. We have to finish both bands music, get ready for release which means my marketing plan needs to be complete and flawless (which it will be), as well as come up with a pretty solid sum of cash to begin studio construction. Your boy is going to be back behind the bar explaining which chicken wing sauce tastes better and what’s in a mojito. Great.
Until we meet again friends.