A hit record changes everything. Fact!
Have you ever heard of something negative coming as a result of having a hit record?
Exactly! I haven’t either, because quite frankly; it is always a very welcome byproduct of ones work, determination and love for the art form.
Musicians don’t always get in to this game to have hits, fame and financial rewards; but it’s very rare that a musician will rebuke the adulation or financial rewards that come from having a record that appeals to the wider populace (unless we are talking about the likes of Kurt Cobain, Nick Drake, Syd Barret and their ilk).
But a record label is an altogether beast. The good folks that make the idiotic move to start a record label have a hard path laid out for them. The best that a small record company can really hope for in these days and times is to be able to tread financial waters between releases.
In NZ, we have such a small consumer base available to us, and were it not for Government funding, international exploitation and TV, film & advertising placements, it would be a kamikaze mission. And even with all of that, it still is a minefield.
And then there's the state of the industry and the effects of the new digital playing field. Oh, and let's not forget the recession. But i refuse to dwell on those points, because thats all people seem to talk about these days; and i'm sick to fucking death of it.
Historically in NZ, label owners haven’t made money, let alone a living from the work that they put into their companies. It's not uncommon to find out that NZ label owners earn their living elsewhere. It literally is a labor of love that is performed with nary a complaint from any of the people involved. When do you ever hear the likes of Murray Cammick, Roger Shepherd, Simon Grigg, Callum August, Andy Murnane, Trevor Reekie, Cyphanetik or Stinky Jim complain about their chosen vocations? It doesn’t happen (at least publicly) because we all love assisting and furthering the many talents of our fair country.
But we have more in common than just being suckers for punishment and a love of music. It's important to state that most of us have never seen one red cent from our efforts toiling away in the NZ music industry.
But I’m not writing this to blow my own trumpet, nor am I attempting to blow up the people that I admire in NZ. I am merely trying to explain the reality of trying to run a label in 2009. You see, running a label in NZ is akin to playing Super Mario (yes I have a 5 year old son). You run around in circles trying to figure shit out without getting stomped out by oncoming threats and by the time you have it sussed, you are out of power/energy and you have to then find a mushroom to eat to power up again.
The mushrooms in our world are hit records. You see, without hits, you lose power and eventually run out of steam.
Move The Crowd was almost out for the count. No shit! Late last year we were in a position where we could literally see the “game over” screen starting to come down in front of us.
But before we get there, let’s explain the history…
MTC signed a deal with Universal Australia four years ago. At the time, we had already signed Juse and Tyree to Universal Australia directly (as artists) and both projects were staring to roll out.
But being the wiley character that I am, and knowing that there's more allure in the unknown than that of the known, i wanted to shop a deal for the rest of the roster before our other projects started hitting. I knew that we could get a deal for the remaining projects on the roster off the back of what had happened with Scribe and Savage over there and started shopping a label deal for MTC. I had demos for Ethical, Young Sid and Smashproof and took them to Sony Australia looking for a third deal. I had been careful to ensure that Tyree was only signed to Universal as a solo act, so I was free to take Smashproof wherever I wanted without having to get clearance for him to participate in any of our other projects. Sony were down, but the good folks at Universal weren’t having it. The Managing Director of Universal Australia, George Ash; insisted that we bring the MTC deal in to them and made us an offer that we couldn't refuse; and the rest is history.
But as our projects started rolling out the vibe within the company changed. Tyree’s album didn’t do very well and they had spent a lot of money marketing him in Australia. We (MTC) never demanded a huge spend, but I guess that people got excited in the wake of the success of Savage and Scribe and he was launched at their level. The album failed to ignite and we were on our own.
It was at that time that we at MTC decided to regroup and double down on our efforts in NZ. We literally forgot that Australia even existed and set out to build our stock in NZ with the forthcoming releases from Young Sid and Ethical. Our efforts paid off with the release of Young Sid’s debut album. But despite his growing media profile and healthy album sales in NZ, he didn’t get his just due in Australia because Sid wasn’t commercial enough and his music was ruled out for being too gangsta for the Australian market.
Things were starting look really tenuous. The business and legal affairs people at Universal Australia started slowing down communication and it became increasingly difficult to get answers or updates on all fronts. We had received a front-end financial commitment from them for the Smashproof project, which was good, but we started getting stalled in respect to our annual overhead and budgets for forthcoming projects (Young Sid and Tyrees second solo albums, and the Kidz in Space E.P).
Another issue, was that MTC is contractually supposed to deliver 3 albums per year (not including albums from Juse & Tyree). And in 2008, we only delivered one album with Ethical’s debut. Fair point? Not really. You see, in 2007 their marketing and A&R folks told us to slow down our release schedule, because there is only so many NZ Hip Hop albums that they can deal with at any one time. So after delivering Eth's project, we went to ground and really focused on making sure that the Smashproof release was right.
Fun times! But I have to add that we would have continued without Universal if they had decided to cut us loose. We knew that we had an ace with Sid being on the roster and we felt strongly about our forthcoming release schedule. It just would have been under altogether different circumstances. We considered going independent and just releasing our projects digitally, but all of that became moot with what followed.
Our only real shot to make this work with Universal was to smack the Smashproof album out the ballpark. We were low on energy with no re-ups in sight and it felt like we had a long way to go to complete the latest chapter of the game.
It was December, and Sid was in NY recording his album with Emile and we had no idea where the money was coming from to fund it. We knew we would figure it out, but at the same time we weren't getting any answers from Universal in respect to Sids budget. But luckily we received a NZ On Air grant early this year to cover most of our initial costs to start the album. We had a Smashproof album in hand and that’s all we could really rely on at the time.
For those of you who are regular readers of this blog, you will recall that my first post of the year merely stated… “Let's get this party started right! Welcome to 2009!” I wrote that because i wanted to come out swinging and I knew it was our last shot, and we all refused to go out like suckers.
You know the rest of the story; “Brother” hit hard and the boys are packing out rooms across the country. The Australians are gearing up to give the single and album a good push, and we have significant interest for the boys in Europe and beyond. All thanks to one hit record.
And finally, you will be happy to know that we now have approved album budgets opened up for our other projects. So we all move to the next chapter and start over. But as all of my Super Mario fiends know, the big problem is, the chapters always seem to get trickier the further progress through the game.
Wish us luck!