Apr 27, 2010

Help ME Help YOU

In 1992, I wrote a 3 page letter to Tommy Victor of Prong. Turns out
my mother knew his sister through her work, and when I find this out,
being a kid in a band, and also a big Prong fan, this was an in to get
my stuff noticed. I had just started an electronic band called Secret
Army and I included our first demo (on cassette…remember those?) with
the letter, which, as I recall, was heartfelt, gushing, and polite.
As most of my letters to metal acts from the early 1990s were back then.

Footnote for those who don't know Prong: they were a working-class NY
based metal band on Epic Records (remember them??) who were regularly
featured on MTV's Headbangers Ball and whose most popular song was
called 'Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck'. Thus, they were cool.

As I remember it, my Mom passed the letter and the demo onto to
Tommy's sister and I was told that it would be passed on to him. And
- not *that* surprisingly - I never heard a peep from Tommy Victor nor
anyone else about it ever again.

Did he listen?
Did he even get it???
Did I offend him in the letter somehow?
Tommy Victor, why have you forsaken me????
I have all your goddamn albums! Even the Whose Fist Is It Anyway? EP!

In retrospect, it's very possible that he *did* listen, and hated
it. This is also understandable - the demo wasn't very good. Secret
Army sounded *nothing* like Prong, it wasn't even metal, and the first
song on the demo a little ditty entitled 'I Miss Roger Grimsby'. So I
hold no ill will - in fact, I still own all of Prong's records, and
tho they are scoffed at by many metal fans from my generation, and are
generally unknown to younger metal fans, I still enjoy their music.

And this got me thinking - Tommy Victor and I aren't that different.
I'm also in a signed band on Metal Blade that has been subject to the
same mix of respect and scoffing that all metal bands have grown
accustomed to. Scoffing is the thing most metal fans do best besides
headbanging.

So now I'm the guy getting the demos and the handwritten letters (or
the mp3 files and the Word documents). And I'm posing the question to
all you unsigned bands that have been soliciting to us:

How can I help you, even if I can't sign you?
With honest critique?
Tommy Victor probably made the smart choice of ignoring my letter
rather than writing me back and telling me what a piece of shite he
thought my demo was. But he was in a metal band on Epic and I was
some punk from Brooklyn who was playing weekday nights at The Pyramid
Club. Some demos I receive are from friends of the label, people who
have helped my own bands achieve a moderate level of success. Do I
risk losing their support if I don't share the same enthusiasm for
their music as they do mine? It's a conundrum.

When we started out, I'd receive 3-4 demos a month and knew almost
immediately, that even if the bands were good (most weren't), there
would be little I could do for them besides say, "Nice job." Now that
the label has grown in size & staff, I receive about 3-4 demos a week,
never mind the countless invites and requests on Facebook and
elsewhere. And every time I give one a listen - and I listen
(eventually) to every one I receive - I always think, "This was me."

I've been in bands, good and bad, since high school. I've gotten
rejection letters, 'we're not interested' e-mails, bad press, and my
share of non-responses. Once, I was just about booed offstage opening
up for R&B act Mya . And of course, there was Mr. Victor's non-
response. Rejection sucks, you can't soft-soap that. But I think that
ignorance sucks even more.

I read all the same DIY newsletters all of you read – I'm well versed
in The Indie Bible, CD Baby, Sonicbids, Broadjam, Disc Makers, you
name it. I work in commercial radio, I worked in college radio and in
indie promo – I am an expert on "How To Submit Music To A Label
Without Embarrassing Yourself." And I know how the 'get their
attention' game is played.

So I get it. Music is like any other piece of art - no matter how
professional a package you put together or how many fans on your
MySpace page, one man's garbage is another man's gold. That said, I
receive my fair share of garbage. And, being on both sides of the
artist vs. label fence even now, I've pledged a policy of honest and
eventual feedback for every demo I get. Even if the worst band on the
planet takes the time to send me a CD, a one-sheet, and a dream,
they've earned the right to be heard. Tommy Victor be damned.

So the question I'm posing to all of you who have submitted to music
us – or want to submit music to us is – why us? And if you have a
good reason why you'd rather be on Bald Freak Music rather than Ipecac
or Barsuk or Interscope, then how do you think we can help you? We
can only sign so many pirate metal bands, after all.

There have been a decent amount of artists who have sent me stuff that
I really like, but geographical, financial concerns, etc. have gotten
in the way of pulling the trigger on them. So my question isn't
hypothetical – how CAN I help you?

Or better yet – how can we help each other?