Recording contract. Can there possibly be a more magical combination of two words in the English language? It's the mystical gateway, the magic bullet, the ultimate sign of respectability and a harbinger of wealth and fame. People have sold out their family and closest friends for the merest hint of one. It's the gold at the end of the rainbow.
Right now, Houston is seeing a tremendous upswell in record labels and management companies willing to gather together the cream of the city's musical talent and try to turn them into, well... real rock stars. But suppose you do manage to sign on the bottom line with one of our local labels? What exactly do you get out of it?
The Ride Home made headlines last week when they signed to Mia Kat Empire Records. Band member Chase DeMaster let us in one the details of what the label's investment amounts to: Mia Kat Empire will press 1,000 copies of The Ride Home's upcoming album Quite Some Time on CD, packaged in a high-quality digipak.
Mia Kat gets to keep a portion (approximately 250 copies) to sell for the label, send off for press review and general promotion. Other than pressing the record, they'll aid the band by regionally distributing physical copies. The Ride Home gets to keep the remaining 750 or so, no strings attached.
"They also emphasized that we are free to shop the album to other labels post-pressing," says DeMaster.
All in all, The Ride Home has netted a pretty sweet deal. Bear in mind that they went into negotiations with a completed album already scheduled for release.
If you haven't completed the recording on your own yet, that's no problem to the winners of this year's HPMA for Best Label, Space City Records.
In addition to providing in-house merch, graphic design, and social-network management all free of charge, the label has it's own in-house recording studio, Music Room Recording Studio, where the band will make either an EP or a full length release, depending on the agreement made between the artists and Space City.
All the studio time is fronted to the artists so they can just do what they do instead of counting down the hours. The studio takes record of all time spent, and figures out a total at the end of the project. The final price for the release is extremely discounted to the label.
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Most importantly to those of us who have followed rock and roll biographies and watched as artist who were initially successful spiraled in the wake of their debut album due to money owed their labels, the bands on Space City don't owe the money spent on recording back.
The label makes the money back when the release starts to sell, with a percentage for the audience. The master recordings do become the property of Space City Records, but the music rights remain the property of the artists.
The people up at Magnolia Red, run by Jeffery Armstreet and his partners, take a somewhat different philosophy. While Magnolia Red also offers in-house recording space to its bands, even rehearsal space, they are far more interested in the publishing rights than the master recordings.
"Songs are the amino acids of the music business," said Armstreet. "In today's world songs are not valued. People download songs for free and never think about the time and money spent in making those songs worth hearing. There are a billion songs all over iTunes and everywhere else one can get music and the quality control was burned down with the record stores.
"If a band is truly good, its songs are going to get it the attention nine times out of ten," continues Armstreet. "Great bands without songs are usually called cover bands, and how many of their albums are on your iPod? So the songs need an advocate. We are an advocate for the songs and for that we take a cut of publishing. This is not always popular, people like to own 100 percent of their publishing and that's understandable, but 100% of zero is still zero.
"We don't just take a cut, though; we work on the songs with the artists and writers. We make sure the production is great so that the songs have their best chance of connecting with a particular audience. We develop and execute marketing plans for the songs and the bands alike.
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"Most successful artists today are not making their living through selling records and maybe just get by on touring, the business of the song is what's getting it done today and probably in the years to come."
Armstreet came by his philosophy the hard way, in a band called Evangeline that had some success and a lot of mistakes. Like the people at Mia Kat and Space City, what he and the new crop of labels in town are most interested in is the ancient art of talent development.
More and more, we are seeing businesspeople with a keen interest in investing in artists they believe have some potential to achieve success. Frankly, it has never been a better time to be an up-and-comer in Houston.
"The bottom line is, we do whatever it takes to make things happen for our artists," says Armstreet. "If our artists look good, we look good. If our artists don't succeed, then we're out of business. So we are highly motivated."