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The Deal Blaggers

Record Deals

And how they are got. We talk to five recent getters of the said deals, and relay advice and tactics


A Play In One Act
By
Somebody Who Knows Someone Who Worked For Harold Pinter


DRAMATIS PERSONAE
KEVIN MILLS: Bassist and manager of Flesh For Lulu
BARRY FLYNN: Lead person with The Big Supreme
CAROL HITCHCOCK: An Australian chanteuse, immediately distinguishable by her complete baldness
LAURENCE CARRINGTON-WINDO: Singer with new Ten Records/MDM signing Apple Mosaic
RICK RICHARDS: Guitarist with the Georgia Satellites
THE AUTHOR: Some old bozo
THE BARMAN: In leather trousers and waistcoat; looks a lot like an old Jim Morrison - could it be?


SCENE: A niterie known as The Wang Bar, popular amongst musicians. A large round table stage centre is covered with glasses, and surrounded by a motley collection of humanity - the cast. In the background, the barman polishes glasses, and whistles 'Alabama Song' unobtrusively. From time to time he comes to the table with another tray of drinks, or to collect the empties.

AUTHOR (looking disconsolate, and shaking head) Turned down again, I just don't believe it. So how on earth did Apple Mosaic get signed then, Laurence?

LAURENCE We spent most of our time gigging around Gloucester. Then a mate got us a gig at Alice In Wonderland, up in London, they liked us, and asked us back, and a publisher happened to be there. He asked for a tape, then he rang me up and said he liked it. It was him who eventually clinched the deal with MDM.

AUTHOR Bloody lucky.

LAURENCE Well, we had been together five years, playing and rehearsing. Anyway, you make your own luck, I reckon.

CAROL (vehemently) That's true — I don't believe in luck at all. You have to be totally committed to the idea of being successful — not just to the music, but to the idea of being successful.

BARRY I meet a lot of people who are half-hearted about it.

CAROL You have to totally believe what you're doing is good, and if that's what you want to do, you do it no matter what.

RICK In the end you just have to get up there and do what you wanna do. Just stick to your guns because you can always trust yourself and if you think what you're doing is right, then stick with it.

AUTHOR Yeah, yeah, I believe in my music and all that, but it's not much help in getting me a recording contract.

KEVIN No, they're right — the best way of going about procuring the deal you want is to get clear in your own mind what you want to do. If you want to be an overnight sensation, it can be done, if they can find the right Malcolm McLaren-type Svengali.

AUTHOR (unconsciously adopting tortured artist whine) But it's all so degrading...

BARRY I got my first deal the hard way. I came down to London with my bad quality demo tapes as I thought people could tell how good I was just by my singing and playing acoustic. It's not like that at all — I don't think A&R people are that imaginative. So I did van driving, menial jobs, and paid for my own 8-track demos. I got my deal just off those demo cassettes.

AUTHOR So you think I should concentrate on demos?

LAURENCE I think it was the demo that did it for us, as far as the record company was concerned. It was the publisher that picked up on us live.

CAROL In Australia, getting a recording deal is virtually impossible unless you play live. Over here, you don't even have to have a demo, as long as someone likes the way you look. Playing live — dues paying — is very important for maintaining high standards, as it teaches you a lot, like how to entertain an audience. That's probably why Australian bands are getting more and more popular, because they've had that experience.

AUTHOR But if we're going to do another demo, should we save up and do it on 24-track?

KEVIN The last tape that we gave to Beggars Banquet was a home four track. We would have spent a bit more money if we'd had it, but only on eight track or so.

LAURENCE Our present manager runs a 16-track studio in Gloucester, and he had faith in us, and helped us with the demos — cheap time. We ended up asking him to manage us.

BARRY Just sending tapes off to record companies I think everyone will acknowledge is pretty futile — the only band I can think of who got signed like that is Tears For Fears — you've got to get to know someone, find a good go-between, someone who's interested in what you've got. Unless you're an actor...

AUTHOR (groans)

KEVIN Come on, it's not that bad — the Lulus got dumped by Polydor, but were we downhearted? (Laughter around the table) Well, obviously we were a little discouraged, but we took a positive view. Going to an indie was a step down, but at least we were going to get chart placings. We get a better profile through that route. And Beggars Banquet have the attitude and enthusiasm — they wanted to get the whole thing moving, and doing it fast.

RICK How about lookin' overseas? We was splittin' up, when we sent some tapes to companies over here, Makin' Waves, God rest their souls, pressed up the tape and put it out as an EP — and it was the press reaction in England that got us back together. That kinda rattled the American labels' cages and made them stand up and take notice... I mean, we couldn't get arrested before then, nobody was interested. We reformed because of the British press, then got picked up by Elektra in the States.

AUTHOR John Peel once sent a tape of ours back saying 'Have you thought of making your own record?'...

BARMAN (to author, while placing drinks tray on table) He does that with lots of the tapes he rejects — it's politer than saying your music is crap'.

AUTHOR (obliviously) ...but that's just like doing an expensive demo if you're really after a major deal.

LAURENCE It all helps. Like a good live review, it'll raise your profile, help you build a following, and it can attract A&R interest.

CAROL You should talk to people, tell them who you are, what you do. If you're a singer, a musician, just take it on, and tell people that's what you do — you never know who you're talking to, who might be listening. This business is not about modesty. Be totally confident about what you're doing, what you want. Once you believe it, things start happening.

KEVIN What is important is to have something strong to supply the record company...

AUTHOR A press pack?

KEVIN (nodding)... like a good photograph, a good demo tape, a good press release — something that looks smart, looks slick, and looks like you really mean business. Not just a tacky photocopied sheet with scribble on it, and a couple of really obscure photos. It's worth spending money on these things. And when you do a press release, utter lies are better than just waffling on and on about boring nonsense.

BARRY If I had to go through it all again, I'd make up a package, show the image — most bands do it that way now, sometimes even with videos. Basically, you've got to make it blindingly obvious that you're worth investing in, 'cos that's what it's all about. (Others nod in agreement) If you're a good songwriter or performer, you've got to showcase it, and do it properly. Get money from somewhere, beg, steal or borrow, make good tapes, or if you've got a live format spend a bit of time rehearsing, do showcase gigs. You've really got to make it look better than anyone else.

BARMAN (collecting glasses, and quizzical looks) If you can't get your act together, then you probably can't get your act together.

AUTHOR But what about managers, getting someone else to do the leg work for you?

BARRY A good manager is important. You need someone, or you wouldn't have time to do anything else.

KEVIN Bad management is one of the first traps you fall into. A lot of managers aren't worth their salt... they don't have a vested interest in the band. Since I started managing Flesh For Lulu, we've become quite a self-contained unit, with our own company run by ourselves — Get Flesh Ltd — and directed by ourselves, with the backing of a record company, a good agent, and of course, lawyers.

LAURENCE It depends on how you get on with the manager.

BARRY My manager's a mate of mine. We're basically contemporaries.

LAURENCE In Apple Mosaic's case we developed with him rather than getting one off the shelf. Though initially we'd asked a friend who had connections in London, and thought he could do the job. He couldn't. We'd actually signed something, which we then had to get out of.

KEVIN There seems to be this contradiction between business and music — a lot of bands just want to play, and not soil their hands. That's not good enough anymore. At least one person has got to know what's going on, just to protect their own interests. Not all managers are bad, but finding a good one is a process of trial and error, and you can't afford too many errors in that department if you're tied to someone for five years.

AUTHOR So what you're all saying is that to get record companies interested, we've got to have total commitment to our music and our own talent, a professional looking press pack which clearly shows our image, and an organisational genius either in or close to the band...

BARMAN You didn't mention the songs. You need killer material.

AUTHOR Well, that goes without saying...

KEVIN My main advice to anyone looking to sign a deal is get a good music lawyer.

LAURENCE Right.

KEVIN You can find one by word of mouth. Some are more prominent than others — people like Brian Carr who did Sigue Sigue Sputnik... ours was Nick Lom and Paul Lambeth, of Shilling & Lom, who are young lawyers, specifically music lawyers. (Pauses to sip drink) Concluding a contract can take a long time — if you're prepared to be patient, you can reap the benefits. If you're impatient, and do it the wrong way, there's a strong possibility you could be stitched up. We spent a long time negotiating to make the points right for us. But it's more than just money — the situation and terms must be right.

RICK The great thing about Elektra signing us was they gave us carte blanche, they didn't want to change our sound, and that's unusual. Normally somebody wants to put their two cents in to cover their ass.

LAURENCE My advice would be to get a good lawyer, don't employ your friends, be aware of what you're doing on all levels (music and business), and be objective about your aims.

KEVIN That's right — getting a record deal is just the first step, the first major hurdle.

LAURENCE Then you've got to decide what new gear you spend the advance on...

BARMAN Time, gentlemen and musos, please.


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