Hard Rock Records: A Change is Gonna Come?

Recently, we were told about an idea that changes the way that we think about “major labels” and the way that they do business. It’s obvious to everyone that, thanks to things like MySpace music (a few years ago) and more recent sites and ideas like NoiseTrade, Bandcamp, and other small music websites, the music industry is fundamentally changing. When bands like Bon Iver can win Grammys, its clear that it’s not the big label push that makes bands successful. What we want is honest music, music that shows what an artist is capable of, not what a mixer is capable of. We want less Nickelback and more Green River Ordinance.

Hard Rock Records is an offshoot of the famous brand of restaurants, hotels, and casinos. It’s their first formal entry into the world of producing and sponsoring bands currently making music. We’ve been to their restaurants and we’ve seen how they can help local bands by providing a stage and well known venue to help those artists promote themselves. “The Hard Rock has put it’s name behind us for shows several times in the past, and it’s helped lend credibility to the events. Their quality reputation is a good one to be associated with,” says JD Eicher of JD Eicher and the Goodnights. Hard Rock’s website lays out their vision in 2 simple sentences: “Each artist on the label will receive assistance with recording, production, marketing, promotion, distribution, and touring in exchange for a one-year commitment to the label. At the end of that year, the artist walks away with ownership of any recordings as well as all the profits from their release. Hard Rock has no expectation for remuneration of any funds spent developing the artist.” That’s the kind of innovation that the music industry has sorely missed.

We had the chance to sit down with James Buell, the head of Artists and Repertoire  for Hard Rock Records, about what the goal of the company was and what artists can do to help themselves.

Ear to the Ground: Hard Rock is a big name and have supported lots of local artists. Now you’re jumping into producing records. Why now?

James Buell: Hard Rock Records was a natural part of Hard Rock’s evolution as a brand.  Music has always been at the core of what we’re about.  And we’ve been stewards of music history for quite some time.  Now we can take part in the creation of music and give back to artists and their fans in the process.
ETTG: What prompted the decision to do this at your own expense?
JB: The idea of starting a label isn’t new.  The idea of not attempting to recoup expenses or make money from a label is.  Our CMO, John Galloway, really empowered the process by making this about the artists and about giving back.  In order to not have the cost and sales pressures of a traditional label, we’ve structured this is as a long-term marketing spend – meaning, we’re investing in these artists at a very grass roots level with the hope it resonates with their fans, and music fans everywhere.
ETTG: What are your expectations for what this label will turn into? Are there aspirations for more than one band a year?
JB: My expectation is to work with passionate people who make great music, and provide them with an opportunity to pursue their dreams.  Outside of that, there are no sales figures or PR impressions we’re using as metrics for success.  If our bands are out there playing music and doing what they love – and we’ve been able to assist them in their pursuit – I’ll be happy.
Right now, Rosco Bandana are the only band that has been announced, but we’ve been in discussions with a few other artists and hope to announce two more additions to Hard Rock Records in 2012.  Ideally, we’ll continue that into 2013 and sign and promote three bands a year.
ETTG: How do you plan to find and choose bands that you’ll support?
JB:There are two ways:  First and foremost, bands are encouraged to enter our annual Hard Rock Rising contest.  Short of that, artists can submit their demo and contact information to:  Hard Rock Records, 6100 Old Park Lane, Orlando, FL 32835.
ETTG: Rosco Bandana was the first band you chose. What has the working relationship been like with them?
JB: Honestly, it’s been great.  They’re wide eyed and taking this whole experience in.  It’s fun to be on this ride with them.  We’ve sent them to LA to record, shot a video for their single “Time To Begin”, had a booking agency showcase in Nashville, and they head out on tour this September in support of their album.
We’ve really grown quite close through the process.  I think of them like little brothers and sisters.  Hopefully they think of me as a big brother.  But not as a dad.  Dad sounds old.
ETTG: What’s your advice to a young, up and coming band on exposure and catching ears like yours?
JB: Do what you love and find your own sound.  If what you’re doing resonates with you, ultimately that’s all that matters.
Thanks to James Buell and we’ll have more on Rosco Bandana when their debut album “Time to Begin” drops on September 25th.

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