The process of dealing with a record label can be a very surreal thing indeed. And having a record deal with one of the larger record companies can be very good, and also very bad. On my first record “Blind To Reason”, RCA was united in its promotion of me. World Tours, tour busses, band salaries, videos, radio promotion, publicists, etc. They used their “corporate machine” and did a good job of promoting me. They actually really liked my music. And they only changed presidents twice during my four year stay there.
But when the president-changing began in 1991 (like a musical chairs game) it got more and more nonsensical. You’d deliver the batch of songs for the next record, and somebody (usually a lawyer or accountant) would say “Oh, I don’t hear the single”. So you’d go back to the drawing board (or the writing board, in my case) and give them another three or four songs that you were quite happy with. By then (two weeks) there was a new president and a new order. “I’m afraid the genre-radio-friendly element is still not a smack dab”. When you asked them to speak English, they suggested you move to Los Angeles for the Summer and “co-write” with some people. What that really means is – get that pesky “art factor” out of your songs and inject it with some really good musical cliches that’ll guarantee play on the radio and make us (the record company) money.
So, repugnant as this idea is, you agree to audition some “big name” songwriters to work with. You sit through a slew of meetings of song factory workers (all of them real “famous” and successful), and hear their glossy, soulless radio hits, your manager and record company A & R person there by your side. It all sounds the same. Awful and boring. Glimmery as Hallmark cards. You finally settle on someone who seems like a nice person and not pretentious. Their music, though very different from yours, is at least not obnoxiously adolescent. You figure you can, by writing all the lyrics, and most of the music, yes them all to death and come up with three or four songs that they will hear as “hits”. You will be seen as cooperative, yet you will still be the author of your songs.
And that is just what happened. I wrote all the lyrics, and most of the music. The other person would have a “musical idea” of four or five chords for a verse section, and that’s about it. I would take the recorded verse section home, and in seclusion (the only way to create anything) write all the words to the songs, the chorus music, the bridge music, and often change the verse music. But the other person got 50% of the publishing royalties – just because you were “co-writing”.
A very odd way of creating music, indeed, but it only happened on three songs, and I was willing to live with that. The record company was happy. “Over the moon” was their favorite expression at the time. The machine was started up again, and I was told I could go home to the east coast.
I did insist (in a shocking display of mental and moral clarity) that the credits read ‘words & music by me and additional music by – the other person’. I should add that I really have nothing against this other person. But I think they might, deep down, know what a charade the whole process was.
All of this has, of course, nothing to do with the OTHER musical chairs game which was soon to begin. Because, after this play-acting and delaying the record for a whole four months, suddenly there was ANOTHER president switch. It was like a South American country, I swear. One minute the president would be physically jumping up and down with happiness (this really happened) as you were playing them the new record in the studio – and the next minute you’d get a call from your manager telling you that jumping-up-and-down president was now guarding a lighthouse in Alaska and there was a new guy and a new order in place. All in the space of a weekend.
And they didn’t hear the single.
After tearing out your entire hair supply from your scalp, and removing your fist from the wall, you begin another six-month slew of meetings, finally settling on a record company that tells you they love you. They invite you back out to Los Angeles for a white glove-served dinner in the penthouse of their corporate palace. You sign the new contract with them with great fanfare. One of the several presidents (this one is a multi-headed machine) presses his warm sweaty hand into yours and assures you that they paid more money to buy out your contract than was paid for Elvis. Feeling perhaps a bit prematurely comforted in the presence of the King, you breath a little easier and figure now you can finally release this album. You fly back to the east coast and begin auditioning and rehearsing a new band while your album is mixed by a big name album mixer.
You are further encouraged by the request of two film directors, Ridley Scott and Jon Avnet, to use your songs from the record in their films “Thelma and Louise” and “Fried Green Tomatoes”.
Then, like a really bad thunderstorm but not smelling refreshing, these things happen: 1) The new record company releases, without consulting you, the only cover song on the record, and a ballad. You get a familiar clammy feeling down your spine. 2) After VH1 calls you and asks you to be artist of the month, the new record company pays alot of money to fly you and your band back out to L.A. to shoot a video for the single you had originally intended as first single. 3) VH1 calls your manager asking you where the video is. 4) The new record company lies to them, and you, saying they already sent it. You get a familiar clammy feeling down your spine. 5) You lose the artist of the month opportunity at VH1. 6) You and your band are sent to play one show in Jacksonville, Florida and then the band is put on retainer (on your dime of course). You get a familiar and now annoying clammy feeling down your spine. 7) You are told by the new record company to begin writing the next record. And no one even said “I cant hear the single”, which is the usual cue for the BIG DELAY. You get a familiar clammy feeling down your spine, this time extending to your head and feet. 8) You hear from your business manager (who has been busy taking your money and giving no financial advise whatsoever) “Hey just read that your A & R man was fired and all his acts were dropped too”. That’s news to you.
You feel a strange familiar sensation – something between dread and relief.
And thus, in 1994, began my eighteen year long walkabout (and walk away) from the foul-smelling, lying, cheating, big corporate machine of the music business. With some cleansing forest fires along the way like bankruptcy, addiction, dysfunctional relationships. almost dying, recovery, rebirth and reinvention.
But you know what? Ever hear that expression “everything is as it should be”? This was part of my journey. I look at this whole chapter as something I had to go through in order to know myself better. I had to learn new ways to avoid getting those familiar clammy feelings. I don’t get them – hardly ever. I control my own art, and I create it all alone, in my own way. I am happily married and not in a disastrous dysfunctional relationship. She is my best friend and biggest supporter, not to mention the best harmony singer in the world.
I shed several skins since then, and am grateful for every step, happy, miserable and inbetween that led me to now.
Oh yes. There was a video. Even though VH1 never got it in 1992. It’s for my song “Soul Cat Girl”. Here it is.
To watch the “Soul Cat Girl” video click HERE.
© 2013 by Grayson Hugh