Band Essentials is a new category on The Silver Tongue. In this category, you’re going to find articles that cover all the essential elements that need to be in place for a band to make it out of their garage and onto the radio.
There are many things that come in play when it comes to the success of an artist. I’m not going to cover them in any particular order but I think that most of you will find this piece especially helpful.
You write great music, record great music and you have great stage presence. You’re ready for the big time, so you think. But how do you get discovered? How do you get your big break? Well I think I might have some answers for you.
Today I had the pleasure to speak to the Senior Director of A&R for Roadrunner Records, Mike Gitter.
Mike Gitter has been in the A&R business since 1993 when he worked for Atlantic Records. In 1997 Mike took his talent for finding and signing bands like Killswitch Engage and Cradle of Filth to Roadrunner Records. I had plenty of questions about where and how labels discover bands. How do bands go about capturing the attention of major record labels such as Roadrunner? What’s the ‘extra’ something that pushes a band over the top? Luckily for me Mike had plenty of answers.
Before I got to the “how to” questions I decided to be little selfish and ask Mike some questions that I personally wanted the answers to.
After all this time, what has kept you in the music business?
“To work with great artist and be a witness to that process has been so exciting for me over the years. Since I was 12 music has been a friend, a refuge, a home for me. And to be part of that process has been a privilege.”
How does feel to be responsible for signing such huge names in the business such as Killswitch?
“Killswitch is the most gratifying sign of my career. They are down to earth and you don’t get all that rock star bullshit. It’s been amazing to grow with them and watch them become a success on their own terms. It’s a case of the good guys finally winning one.”
Is it harder now in this day in time to find good talent?
“Sure, and I blame that on forums like MySpace. Bands get out there but haven’t developed yet. They don’t develop their music and build real followings. You have to get off the internet and develop your band.”
I had read that Black Label Society had at one point signed with Roadrunner?
“Roadrunner had signed BLS for a one record deal.”
They were only signed to a one record deal. How exactly does that work out? How does a band only get signed to a one record deal? Were they a good investment?
“They’re a great investment. There are a lot of factors. The relationship between the label and band plays a factor. The music of course, a lot goes into those decisions.”
Black Label Society has a show coming up in Atlanta and I’ve always been curious about bands like BLS. They are the type of band that I would expect to be playing outdoors at Sturgis or something. They seem to have a really loyal cult like following, but they appear to only cater to one type fan and having been around for so long and having been successful for so long I wonder if they’re actually interested in making new fans, different fans?
“The purpose of great musicians like Zakk is to make great music. Zakk is the last great American guitar hero. He’s the American boy, no bullshit. The Strokes have nothing to do with real America. Parents who are going through hardships and want to go out and have a few drinks aren’t interested in listening to The Strokes and the Plain White T’s. Those bands mean nothing to them.”
The business of A&R:
A&R reps read a lot to see who’s getting coverage. So working your ass off and performing every chance you get is a good idea. Get as much positive press as possible. And apparently word or mouth, especially from other bands is incredibly useful. In fact Mike stated that it’s always been more valuable to him to hear about a band from another band instead of from some cheesy press kit.
How do you feel about MySpace?
“MySpace is a great informative tool. It’s the best immediate press kit you can ask for, but it also opens up the floor to bands that aren’t ready”.
And that makes perfect sense. Anyone with access to internet connection can build a MySpace page, but that doesn’t make you a rockstar.
How does a band or artist attract the attention of a record label?
“Don’t suck, stick out and be a leader not a follower. It’s important that artist follow music and not trends”.
And what exactly does that mean? It means focus on your music and not gimmicks. It means that you’re not going to get any attention sounding like and looking like the cookie cutter band next to you. There are a million Blink 182 wannabes, how many do you think are going to get signed?
I know that most of you reading this have decided that you were going to get your demo directly in the hands of someone like Mike Gitter by just sending it to him. Just slap a stamp on it, mail it off and next thing you know you’re signed with Roadrunner and rolling in the dough. Well that’s probably not going to happen. Most labels have a policy of NOT accepting unsolicited materials because if they did they would get millions of crappy CD’s every week which they probably do anyway, but apparently there is a lot to be said for persistence.
Do you listen to unsolicited demos?
“Everyone gets their 30 seconds of fame. If a band has moxy and they get their CD to me then they might get 30 seconds and if the first 30 seconds is good then I might listen to the entire song. If an entire song is good then I might listen to the whole demo”.
Now that puts it in perspective doesn’t it. You get 30 SECONDS. You have 30 seconds to make an impression on someone you’ve never met and that might change your life forever. So, if you’re going to send that demo make sure it’s the best thing you’ve ever done. Make sure the song is perfect and reflects who you are as an artist because 30 seconds goes by really, really quick and it might take you a lifetime to get another 30 seconds.
Getting discovered and taking your fans with you:
How do labels discover bands?
“Well there are less and less shows. The club circuit, at least here in New York has dried up so we find bands through other bands, magazine and newspaper coverage. Getting discovered is partially talent, partially drive and partially luck.”
How important is it for a band to have a good manager?
“Very, that’s the X factor. Bands need a good manager to handle the business end so they can focus on their music. The best managers I know are just the ones that view it as a comfortable process. They view the band as a friend. The worst are the ones that view the band as an island to themselves.”
How should bands go about making fans and building a following?
“Make great music. Make that first great song that all the girls are singing and then all the boys will come around because that’s where all the girls are. If you make great music these things will just happen. Fans are loyal. There are two types of artist, artists that are established and the younger artist. There is no middle ground anymore, but Metal artist probably has the most loyal fans. If a young metal band sticks around then fans will grow with them cause Metal is a lifestyle.”
“The record business as become the music business. All the great bands that have had long careers such as U2 and Nickelback are the ones that write great music because that’s just what they do and they are the ones that will have a history, a legacy.”
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