Indie Rock Inc.
“Surviving The Music Business”
“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
From Then To Now
At age 24, I never thought I would be an entrepreneur trying to survive the music business. Honestly, I thought everything was going to be much easier than it’s been. I kind of assumed everyone in music peacefully coexisted, made great songs together in gorgeous studios, and then went to after parties in their Ferraris snorting coke they just scored from a guy named “Dan” in the parking lot of a Chick-Fil-A.
It’s safe to say I had my head in the clouds when I started this journey and was thrown to the wolves immediately. I didn’t think it was possible for industry professionals to be such narcissistic psychopaths and I also never believed musicians paid more attention to cocaine and tequila more than their significant others.
I was wrong on all accounts.
But let’s get you up to speed.
Before we start, as someone who is quickly learning what to do and what not to do, as well as what works and what doesn’t, I want to share my list of the 10 Things NOT to do When Trying to Survive the Music Industry so you can avoid making the same mistakes that I have.
Three years ago I was working at a medical staffing company in New Hampshire, living with my girlfriend at the time. I had just graduated college with a degree in journalism. Life was easy, business was good, and I had money. Working in the music industry was always a dream, but if you’re familiar with New Hampshire, you know there is nothing remotely close to what one would refer to as a “music scene.” So I continued with my boring, yet comfortable life, ready to wither away in good ol’ New Hampshire with a girl I had been dating since I was 16.
But one night I had a full-blown epiphany. I remember walking into this restaurant and glancing around the room, seeing nothing but fat men sitting at tables next to their fat wives and their fat kids, eating baked mac and cheese and baby back ribs, talking about how it’s 6pm and almost bed time, but little Johnny needs to trim his mullet before school in the morning. Honestly, it was probably just a bunch of families sitting and enjoying dinner, but I think the universe was trying to tell me something. I finally realized I needed to get out of New Hampshire for good. It wasn’t until I was on a call with a family friend, who happened to be a VP at BMG, that everything was really put into perspective and I understood what it was going to take to get into the music business.
I remember the conversation like it was yesterday. The more this guy said, the more I started to pace around my apartment thinking of how fucked I was.
I had stayed in my college town so my girlfriend could finish school, got comfy in a job that had a nice office where I was surrounded by other college grads. Listening to this VP tell me that I was literally doing everything possible to make it impossible to end up in the music industry was a real kick in the dick. He made sure to point out that I had zero industry experience and was 22 years old in a place that barely had a working radio station, let alone record label, and was doing nothing to change it.
So two months after our conversation, I quit my job, my girlfriend graduated, we said goodbye to our families, and we moved to Los Angeles.
Fast forward three months and I had lost my girlfriend, was bussing tables for rich assholes in Beverly Hills and was no better off than I was in New Hampshire. My life was literally turned upside down. After six years of comfort and easy living, I was now extremely uncomfortable. I thought I could move, land a sweet job in the music industry, and be back to my comfy life in no time. I was still living in the clouds obviously.
My younger brother Sam (who now works at Roc Nation) and I always joked about what it meant to pay your dues and give your soul to the grind…that was if you really wanted to do something in the industry. I was always trying to find the easy way out and avoid paying my dues, which is why I was under the impression that I could move 3,000 miles away from home and somehow instantly have it easy. I was absolutely delusional. Sam would laugh and tell me I had some serious shit coming my way. Obviously, my younger brother is much smarter than I am. If the past two years have taught me anything, it’s that to even get to the starting point, you best believe those dues are getting paid one way or another.
So, I began the search to find any way into the industry. The problem was, I had no idea what I wanted to do, what field I wanted to be in, who I wanted to be like, who the players in the game were, who could help me figure my situation out….nothing. It was up to me and only me to figure out what to do.
Throughout this time, there was one thing that always kept me going: I loved music and everything that came with it. I’ve never felt something more powerful than the feeling when you listen to a new song for the first time and it hits every piece of your heart at once.
I started by taking internships at small record labels, music websites, and personal assistant gigs. Basically anything in music that I had a skill set for, I took.
The amazing part about these internships is that they are unpaid!!! Yes! No money! Awesome! So, unless you are sitting on $20,000 and have a grandma in Beverly Hills that doesn’t hate you, you are going to need to get another job, which I did.
To keep things afloat, I was working 16 hour days for weeks and weeks on end, going from my unpaid internships to paid bar jobs, receiving little hands-on experience. I think at one point I had five internships and jobs combined. I remember the phone calls with my parents asking me what I was doing with my life. I told them I was staying busy. Obviously, they didn’t understand.
After getting my feet wet with some internships, things got a bit out of control. Let me start off by highly recommending not applying for jobs while you’re at your current job. Seems simple enough, I couldn’t resist though. Craigslist, entertainmentcareers.net, and Indeed.com became addictions of mine. I literally became addicted to applying for jobs because I still refused to pay my dues in full. I was being a pussy, but what was even worse was that most of what I was going at was way out of my league. I was applying to be an assistant to upper level A&R executives, thinking I could create expense reports, manage busy schedules and handle heavy phone lines, basically do things that I had never done before. I was still full blown delusional.
During this delusional period, I had stumbled on this ad for a company called Indie Rock Inc. and applied. I remember the ad was looking for someone to come on and help with social media marketing and blogging, two things that I had been doing for a while and most definitely did not want to continue doing. But what caught me was the fact the company was started by a long time rock producer, whose ideas were centered around giving knowledge back to those just starting out in the industry, by using workshops, tools, products, etc to do so.
So I figured that:
- I would learn a ton from this guy.
- He must have connections that I could use to my advantage.
- I will probably get a better experience here than anywhere else because he was actually offering a job, even if unpaid, that was more than just getting coffee.
- The market this company was in had huge potential.
Matt Salazar, the producer set on giving his years of experience and knowledge away to the world, gave me a call shortly after I applied. I was hesitant to move forward with anything because I was waiting for one of the big labels to get back to me and tell me I was their dream candidate. Thank god some part of my brain said “Luke, do not be a moron, set up an interview with Matt,” because that ended up being one of the best choices I’ve ever made.
The next day, I drove to North Hollywood Arts District in between my internship and my bar job to meet with Matt. I got to the building and went up to the 11th floor and knocked on the door. When the door opened, I gazed my eyes upon a warrior who looked as if time had taken its toll on him and that one more sleepless night would put him in the bag for good. Matt looked like Rick Rubin minus Malibu and meditation. He looked like he had been paying his dues for years and I could tell this guy was still working his ass off.
Who is Matt Salazar?
Before going any further, I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t take the time to give you a very clear understanding of who Matt is. Let me start by saying, this man is a savage of unfathomable proportions. He is one of the nicest, hard working, most ruthlessly cunning and intelligent dudes I have ever come into contact with. If you think you work hard, call Matt at 2 a.m on a Saturday night and he will tell you that he just finished a new mix template that he’s going to give away for free.
At age 15, Matt started recording bands in his garage. At age 18, Matt left his home in Central California and drove to Los Angeles in some ridiculous vintage Beetle car so he could knock on every major studio’s door and look for a job. When he finally landed a job at one, it was cleaning their toilets. He said they told him he couldn’t be a runner because he was too young to buy beer, thus making him a worthless runner.
But, Matt was still hustling his ass off. He got another job at O’Henry studios in Burbank because they said he looked scary enough to hold down the spot at night. Eventually, they tasked him with setting up and tearing down sessions, where he began understanding how engineers got their sounds.
It was during this time that he began recording local musicians on his own. When some of his recordings got out there, word got around and the industry started to realize Matt was good at what he did. His recordings for these small local bands were turning into major record deals.
Fast forward past Matt’s success with developing groups for labels, a transition into film, Matt opening the largest independent scoring stage in Los Angeles at the time, having it land on the cover of mix magazine, starting a company called In Flight Music Group (which focused on the management and development of artists as well as building a publishing catalog,) charting to #2 on billboard with a band he built from craigslist musicians and managing film composer Jorg Huttner (50 Shade of Grey, Independence Day: Resurgence, Girl On a Train)….
…..well that would bring you up to the point when Matt was sitting down to chat with me.
Finding New Talent
That meeting between Matt and I was almost two years ago. Since then, Matt has become a father, Indie Rock Inc. has grown quite a bit, and we decided to expand the roster of In Flight Music Group.
Now expanding the In Flight roster was something Matt was very hesitant about, due to his previous experiences with the “professionalism” of musicians and industry folk alike.
Matt was content with just managing Jorg (because he’s a professional guy that has his shit together) and building an ever-growing catalog of music to license to film, t.v., advertising, etc. They were getting some big licenses, Jorg was doing some trailer work in between major film projects, and they were working on a passion project together (that would blow your mind if I can just figure out how to release it).
That said, Matt eventually gave me a call and said he was dying to get back into the studio. He wanted to develop bands again and put all of the information that he was giving to his followers through Indie Rock Inc. to the test…which is something his competitors were not doing at the time.
So at this point, we had to find some new talent. So easy to do! Bands are so easy to work with! Nothing bad could happen! Right, Luke? Wrong again bud.
Now because I was young, hungry, full of life (this was only two years ago), and was unaware of the darkness this industry can bring out in people, I assured Matt that everyyyyything would be totally fine and I could manage the bands, he would produce them, ya know, everyone lives happily ever after.
Well, as it turns out, my.head.was.still.in.the.clouds.
We found a total of three bands that we thought we could do something big with. One of the bands was a hard rock band, the other a very cool harmonizing alt indie pop trio with a full string section, and the last, a group of young and hungry Indie Rockers…who happened to be located in New Zealand, but it’s really not that hard to communicate with people in New Zealand…. even if they live on the top of some hill in a beach town with poor connection….
But I’m sure you’re wondering how we even went about signing these bands. Oh, I’ll tell you don’t worry.
A while back, Matt took some business and law classes at UCLA and learned the ins and outs of music business contracts, to the point where he can throw together 20+ pages of contract lingo overnight. Originally we planned on signing these bands as a sort of record label because that’s where we thought we could bring the most benefit to the band’s career. This apparently was the most frightening thing these musicians have ever seen. The band’s wanted to keep it old school, which meant signing them as managers and compensating ourselves with a percentage of their gross income.
However, before we decided to deem ourselves managers and restructure our agreements, the hard rock group was shown a “label” contract, with exactly the same terms as discussed over the course of five months of us putting work into them (i.e meetings in fucking Temecula, 2 hrs south of Los Angeles, writing sessions, shows, etc.)
Here are a few details of the deal Matt and I put together that had checks and balances for both parties, again with the band’s best interest in mind. For example, the band would be able to terminate the contract if we failed to release music within a year, something that major labels would NEVER do. A band’s record can sit on the shelf at a major label and never get released, just because of some A&R dude who thinks he knows music doesn’t like the tracks. We also added a clause to our agreement that stated if we did not reach a certain amount of gross income for the band in a certain amount of time, they would be able to terminate the contract. Are you kidding me? If we don’t make you money, in a certain amount of time, you get to leave. Find me a better deal than that.
Now, we originally wanted to go over the contract with the band’s manager (if you could call him that) so everyone was really on the same page, even though we just put everything we had been saying over the course of five meetings into contract form. But, when we called this manager, at an agreed upon time, he said he couldn’t talk because he was hungry and that we should just send it over. Sending this guy 20 pages of law and order was the WORST decision I could’ve made.
Within 24 hrs I received a response from the group’s lead singer saying “the band must decline.” When I called the band’s manager he said (stoner voice) “Dude…you guys just like…. benefit….. from everything.”
Oh wow! I forgot your band is on the cover of Rolling Stone every month, has great songs, doesn’t look like a group of kids pretending to be Metallica, and has the funds to tour the United States. And I forgot you magically un-dipshitted yourself and are now capable of managing a band….
After I typed like 6 emails out, filled with rage and hatred for said manager, blaming everything on him, my adult self caught up with me (aka Matt and my Dad) and I hit delete.
I haven’t heard from the band or manager since. Saw they were playing a dive bar in east bumfuck last week though. Sick guys! Free well tequila! Fuck yes. You guys made it!
As I proceed to tell you what may be the first sign of hope we have seen in the past two years, keep in mind there is probably some ungodly force working against us on a mission to ruin everything and all of this may change in… give or take…30 minutes.
The two other bands have been sent management contracts (that all parties up to this point are on the same page on) and it looks like by the end of this week they will be signed to In Flight Music Group.
Where Does That Leave Us?
It’s been almost two years since I met Matt. We have been sued, our accounts have been hacked, we have been fucked over by musicians, managers, and landlords, but somehow we’ve rallied and gotten through it.
We (hopefully) will have two great bands gearing up for their releases this summer and some projects coming in on the side to float us by. We’ve brought on a great guy named Zephan to work on Indie Rock Inc. while I handle the talent at In Flight Music Group as Creative Coordinator.
The plan is to have In Flight Music group managing, releasing, and publishing all of its roster’s music, which means drafting two more agreements for each band…. which means I will probably be writing to you in 2020 saying “Well guys, we’re almost there.”
But most of all, we still have a major fucking problem… We’re scheduled to be out of our studio by the end of the month and have no clue where to go. Our lease is up, we have projects coming in, our bands need their singles mixed and packaged up for release, we need to get both bands better photos and artwork, and we are getting tossed around by sleazy landlords that think it’s normal to raise rent 5% every year for the next five years and shit, which now means getting kicked to the curb is a real possibility. Absolutely insane.
But like I said, in 30 minutes, everything could be different.
It’s just survival of the fittest baby.