There was an error in this gadget

Monday, January 31, 2011

It ain't easy being green.

I should back up just a bit.  The label we signed with after being let go from "Galaxy" records, (we'll call it "Export" Records) was an idea that was being thrown around before we even recorded the album in Seattle.  The "demo" record that we recorded, had all the artwork done and was ready for retail sale before we signed the single deal with "Galaxy."  It was really never meant to be distributed as an actual album, it was only for shopping to major label purposes.  Once we were dropped from "Galaxy", turning "Export" Records into a reality went into full effect.  We were pretty much tainted property at that point and getting another major label to bite was going to be hard.  Our band was literally in no man's land.  Our managers and boss didn't want the album to go to waste so they quickly printed up a contract.

I remember I was at "Lonnie's" (one of our guitar players) apartement when "Mickey" showed up with the "Export" contract.  This was about 4 or 5 in the afternoon on a friday.  We gave it a quick look over and decided that we wanted our lawyer to look at it first before we signed anything since we can't read "legaleze."  "Mickey" called the manager of Export Records (we will call her "Jessica" and she was also the wife of "Four Floors Up" bass player "Ted") and told her that we wanted to look at it over the weekend and turn it in on monday.  This is the exact moment in life when you make a life changing decision for the worst.  She told us that we had until 7 p.m. to sign it and give it back to her or we could kiss the contract goodbye.  My blood ran cold.

Every piece of my being was screaming to not sign it.  I knew in the pit of my soul that being forced into signing a contract is the worst thing we could ever do, but I was outnumbered.  They are our friends and friends don't screw each other over right?  They've been where we are at and know how much we want this, so it can't be bad right?  Wrong.  We were the donkeys pulling the cart with the carrot being dangled by a stick in front of our faces.  If there has ever been a number one rule in life it is this:  There are no such thing as friends in business.  Uneasy alliances at best.  So we will make that rule number one on the Musician's Survival List.

Rule #1:  There are no such things as friends when big money is involved.

It was a few months later when we started to realize what a bad contract we signed.

To be continued....

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Marathon Drumming and Seattle's Best.

The evening we arrived in Seattle, we ate and then went straight to the studio.  After the weight of it finally sank in, our engineer and I began to set up the drums and spent about 3 hours fine tuning and getting the mic's just right.  For those of you who are drummers know just how physically gruelling it can be to sit behind a drumset for a few hours every weekend giving it your all, feeling like someone is digging a screwdriver into your lower vertebrae.  That weekend I sat behind a drumset for around 6 hours the first night, 15 hours the next day and then another 14 hours the third day.  We were quite well prepared before we ever set foot into the studio and I nailed every song.  I completed the drumtracks for the entire album in one weekend.

Ever since I was a kid I have been a movie lover and proud sci fi "geek."  I was a member of a movie discussion website at the time and met a girl on the site who happened to live in Seattle.  As soon as I was done with my time at the studio I got to meet her in person and she gave me the tour of Seattle.  I got to see parts of Seattle my bandmates didn't get to see.  We went to Pike's Place Market, where the guys throw fish at one another.  I got to sample some of the Seattle nightlife.  Many a good time was had in Seattle and I will never forget it, especially when I went to the restaurant that was in the lobby of our hotel.  The first day I was there I was ecstatic to learn that they served "biscuits and gravy."  Being the good southern boy that I am, I ordered a plate.  It was definitely not my grandmother's biscuits or gravy.  I took it upon myself to school them on how to make it correctly, but I don't think they took my knowledge for good use.

The whole point for recording the entire cd was not for commercial release.  It was merely meant to be a full-length demo to shop around to major labels.  The major label that actually wanted to sign us (we'll call them Galaxy Records) gave us a pretty strange deal.  They signed us to a "single song" deal with the stipulation that we change the name of the band, citing that our original name would "alienate" a female fanbase.  If the single did well, then they were going to sign us to a full recording contract.

We signed the deal with "Galaxy"and re-recorded the single, and they released it with no marketing and absolutely no money behind it.  It reached #42 on the Billboard rock charts and we thought that it was all but certain that we were going to get a full record deal.   Over a month goes by and we hear nothing from "Galaxy."  Phone call after phone call, they finally tell us that we are not what the label is looking for and released the rights to the song back to us with a good luck pat on the head.  Now here we were with no record deal and a name that no one knows us by.  What to do next....

To be continued....

Thursday, January 20, 2011

In The Beginning cont'd...

I don't want people to think that all I play music for is to make money, that isn't it at all.  I love music.  I love creating and playing music.  I was surrounded by music when I was growing up.  My father and older brother were both guitar players and they both introduced me to music that still affects me to this day.  My dad loves all kinds of music; jazz, blues, "good" country (Willie, Waylon, Williams) and he loves 60's rock.  He is the biggest Beatles fan in the world.  My brother introduced me to Van Halen, Metallica and Led Zeppelin.  Even though they were both guitar players, I knew my path lay elsewhere.  I was a drummer long before I even owned a drumset.  Drums are just primal.  Not to mention that Animal was my favorite muppet.

When I first joined FAW, I was only supposed to be temporary until they found a permanent drummer as I was in another band at the time.  But something happened that first practice.  That rare instance when musicians play together and instantly have a connection, I knew I needed to be in this band.  Everything just clicked and two weeks later we had our first gig opening up for 12 Stones at the House of Blues in New Orleans.  It was a sold out crowd and I felt like a real rock star.  The crowd loved us, we had our own dressing room full of partiers and the booze was flowing.  The night was epic and I will never forget it as long as I live.

After a few months of quickly building a following along the gulf coast, we started to get some real attention.  Our future boss (we will call him 'Ted Hammond') married a good friend of our bass player "Mickey."  She was a fan of the band and wanted to do what she could to help us land a record deal.  "Ted" and "Carl" a guitar player from his band decided that they wanted to be producers and help us hone our songs and produce a full album demo which we could shop to major labels.  After a few months of pre-production we were sent to London Bridge Studios in Seattle Washington.  For those of you who don't know, London Bridge was where the "grunge" sound was pretty much born.  Alice In Chains "Dirt", Pearl Jam "Ten", and Soundgarden "Badmotorfinger" were all recorded there.  I was still in high school when those albums came out and if I could have gone back in time to tell my teenage self that I would be recording in the studio where those albums were made, I would have had a massive heart attack on the spot.

After arriving in Seattle, we immediately went to the closest pizza parlor we could find and gorged ourselves after being starved nearly to death over our ten hour flight on Southwest Airlines, whose idea of an inflight meal is a bag of gummy bears and a quarter can of Sam's Choice cola.  We left the pizzaria and arrived at London Bridge Studios.  You would never have known it was even there.  It just looked like a warehouse behind an office building.  As I walked inside and stood in the huge open room that I would spend pretty much the next 36 hours behind a drumset almost nonstop, I felt the weight of it all.  It was the feeling I had when I kissed a girl for the first time.  The world absolutely stopped for about 30 seconds and I knew I had done something that thousands of others dream of.  I walked into the lounge area and saw gold and platinum records all over the walls, drumheads with the signatures of all the members of those great Seattle bands.  It was amazing.  Next comes the marathon drum session.

To be Continued...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

In The Beginning

The whole reason I am writing this is to not only serve as a warning to up and coming musicians, but to also drive out some of the demons that have been lurking in my skull for the past few years.  I feel the overwhelming urge to tell my story.  Even if no one reads this and no one cares, I will still get it off my chest and it will be out there in the world for someone to find and hopefully avoid the pitfalls that some of us have fallen into.  

Ever since I was a kid and saw the video for Motley Crue's "Wild Side" and saw Tommy Lee playing his drums upside down in a cage over the audience, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.  No one believed I could pull it off.  "Its a one in a million shot."  "You need to think about college." "You need to think about the future."  Those are the usual sayings you hear when you tell your family that you want to play music for a living.  I had thoughts that being a musician was glamorous, with beautiful girls on both arms and more money than I knew what to do with.  The day I signed an actual record contract with a major label (I will change names and omit certain things to protect the not-so-innocent) I thought that reality was closer than I ever imagined.  I thought that as soon as I signed a record contract that Hugh Hefner would call me personally to invite me to the Playboy Mansion and would have a Viper sitting in my driveway when I got home.  Boy was I wrong.

First off, the music company is made up of two different types of people: Musicians and the leeches who make all the money.  Unless your name is Jay-Z or 50 Cent, you're pretty much signing a contract to live a life of poverty.  When you sign a record contract, you are signing away your basic human rights.   You officially become an indentured servant.  They see you as nothing more than a walking pile of money or they don't see you at all.  Most of the time you don't even register as a carbon based life form, much less a human being.  The only reason that musicians are still part of the music industry is because the soulless leeches haven't yet figured out a way to do it without us.

What people don't understand is is that most of the musicians they like, especially rock groups are dirt poor.  Unless you sell millions of albums, you have nothing.  When my band was signed and on the road, we were scraping by on $15 dollars a day per diem, driving across the country in a second hand church van with no a/c half the time, a trailer for our equipment that had a rusty axle and tires that liked to fly off in the middle of the night (we'll get into that later on) playing on third hand equipment held together with duct tape and spit.   At the time, we had a single out on the major label, signed a contract with a smaller label whose owner was the bass player for one of the biggest rock bands in the world at the time (lets call them "Four Floors Up").  We had nothing but that crappy van and ourselves, travelling across the country playing every shit-hole dive bar, singing for our supper, all the while our record company people and our boss sitting on the hill in their castles made of gold bricks telling us how much money we owed them while we were coasting into the next town on fumes eating what was left of the lunchmeat tray we ganked from a bar two nights before.

That is all for today, my tale will continue.....