Interview - Jul 7, 2003
"When you find great talent you can't waste any time worrying about radio, formats or where the artist might "fit" within the current music scene."Diana Meltzer is the head of A&R at Wind-up Records, an independent label based in New York. She is responsible for signing Creed (US diamond, i.e. ten-times platinum), Evanescence (US double platinum), Drowning Pool (US platinum) and Seether, among others. Here she tells us how she discovered and worked with Evanescence, what Wind-up’s philosophy is, and more.
How did you get started in the music business and how did you become an A&R?
I owned an indie record shop in Ridgefield, CT in the late 80s. I began to get involved with listening to the music submitted to Wind-up Records not long after it was established in early 1997. I never planned on an A&R career and had actually never visited a major record label in my life. Then, on 14 May, I heard Creed’s “My Own Prison”, which was circulating around the industry. For me, there was no doubt that they would emerge as an arena band. On 17 May, I flew from New York down to Tallahassee, Florida with the Wind-up President, Steve Lerner, and my husband, the Wind-up CEO Alan Meltzer.
We contacted Joel Mark, who was in Chicago at the time, and told him to meet us in Tallahassee, as I had found a new band that I wanted to sign to Wind-up. Joel was employed by Wind-up at that time as our “inside” A&R rep. The Wind-up A&R function was divided between signing artists and maintaining artist relations, and studio and producer relationships. Joel’s main responsibility was to visit our bands in the studio and ensure that everything was running smoothly. He did not sign Creed as he has claimed nor was he responsible for mixing “My Own Prison” or “Human Clay” and, when the band recently learned of his claim to have signed them, they took out a full-page ad in Hits Magazine acknowledging that I had signed them and thanking me for bringing them to Wind-up. Just recently, on reading an earlier HitQuarters interview with Joel, they became aware of his statements regarding the mixing of their records. To say that they were infuriated is an understatement!
Getting back to our trip to Tallahassee, the band already had a large local following, and seeing the energy in the room when Scott Stapp stepped up to the mike, and hearing his powerful voice fill the room, alongside Mark Tremonti’s now legendary guitar riffs and that big Creed anthemic rock sound, was all that I needed. I flew the band up to New York and they signed to Wind-up that week. It was my first signing.
What experiences have helped develop your A&R skills?
Keeping in touch with the street and feeling what the public wants to hear. I listen to music all day and night, signed and unsigned, and not just intellectually, but emotionally and instinctively. I have the best of both worlds: I get to listen to all kinds of music that I love and I am continually learning from what hundreds of talented artists are creating. It also keeps me up on what the competition is doing.
How was Wind-up established?
My husband Alan founded CD One Stop in 1985, which three years later had grown to become the largest independent distributor in the country. He was a founding partner in one of the largest music companies in Japan, Avex DD, and also financed and helped launch CDNow. In 1993, he merged CD One Stop with several competitors to form Alliance Entertainment. As Alliance quickly grew to become a 700-million-dollar company, he became disenchanted with the music business: he felt it was all about business and had little to do with the music. He set out to establish a self-financed independent label that would be capable of competing with the majors. The Wind-up trademark is “Developing Career Artists” and that was what Wind-up became—a community, a family of artists.
What differentiates Wind-up from other labels, especially major labels?
We keep the roster tight and focus on every Wind-up release as an equal priority. Wind-up has become well known for its resourcefulness and relentlessness. We simply do not give up on one artist as another comes rolling down the “pipeline”, which has often been the major label model. We instituted medical coverage for all Wind-up artists. When Drowning Pool’s vocalist Dave Williams tragically died, Wind-up gave $250,000 to the Williams family, in order to build the house that Dave had always talked about building for his parents before his life was cut short. We had another band member who, prior to initiating the medical-coverage scheme, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. We paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to ensure that he got the best medical care possible.
I never got into the business to make money. It has always been and always will be the love for music and the artists that drives me. The bands are in and out of my house regularly and have become part of my extended family. At the end of the day, they are all big kids and I am someone that they can trust and believe in, because they know I would never do anything to hurt them or damage their careers. They know I love them and their music and that is something you can’t communicate in words alone.
From an A&R standpoint, I am a leader sign, an Aries. I often act instinctively and have been told that I have a unique ability to make people feel at ease and content.
What acts are you currently working on?
I am personally responsible for every band on the roster. Seether was a particularly challenging project. They are from South Africa and had no base or visibility here in the U.S.; however, we’ve been able to take them from relative obscurity to a No.1 single on Modern Rock radio with Fine Again”, their debut release. They are now closing in on gold-record status: their current single “Driven Under” is making waves on both Active and Modern Rock radio.
I am heading down to Orlando at the end of June to spend a week with Creed’s Mark Tremonti; we plan to go over some material he’s been working on. The band plan to get together in late August to map out a new release for late 2004. Obviously, Evanescence is a huge project and it's my responsibility to ensure the credibility and longevity of the artists. I not only speak with Amy Lee and Ben Moody regularly; I’ve also developed a close relationship with Amy’s family. To America, Amy Lee might be a sexy, young rising star, but to her parents she’s still their “little girl”. They know I care about their daughter and her welfare and I think they truly appreciate my participation in Amy’s life.
How did you first learn about Evanescence?
I was hanging out with a producer friend in my office. We listened to music for seven hours that day. At one point, he told me he wanted me to listen to a band he had been working with on some demos. When I heard "My Immortal", I knew it was a hit. My own philosophy is that when you find great talent you can't waste any time worrying about radio, formats or where the artist might "fit" within the current music scene. What is hot and current today can easily be old news tomorrow, and whether you like it or not that is the current reality of the business. You simply can't concern yourself with things like that—you have to trust your instincts! I knew that a ballad had little chance of being programmed on rock radio, but I felt that it was an amazing song that would show the range of the band. It seemed ideal for a soundtrack and, when we acquired the rights to the motion picture "Daredevil", the track found a home. Now that Evanescence have broken as big as they have, "My Immortal" may still emerge as a future single down the road.
What did you see in them that made you want to sign them?
The band had yet to write “Bring Me to Life” and their current single “Going Under”, but Amy had a tremendous voice. Her voice, the band's gothic sound and the lyrics were nothing less than amazing and unlike anything out there.
How ready to go were they? Were there things they needed to improve before recording the album, “Fallen”?
As soon as I heard the music I had a vision of what the band could evolve into. Amy and Ben were both 18 and I knew that given the time and opportunity they could deliver a breakthrough sound.
We relocated them from Little Rock, Arkansas to Los Angeles, enrolled them in a gym, got them a rehearsal space and an apartment, and arranged for acting, vocal and movement classes for Amy. We remained patient throughout, and after nearly two years we brought in Dave Fortman to produce the record. Before going into the studio, I remember sitting in Alan’s office listening to “Bring Me to Life” when he turned to me and suggested that as powerful as the song was, there was something that he was hearing that wasn’t there yet—a rapper. We discussed it with the band, put together a rough version with the rap inserted and the results were almost magical. The dynamic of Amy’s vocals with Paul McCoy’s rap/vocals put the song into a category of its own.
Had the band done anything themselves, such as release and promote an EP, prior to being signed by you?
The band put out a home-made album, which they sold locally at shows. It may not quite measure up to “Fallen”, but it clearly exhibited the huge talent that Amy and Ben had; I knew that, given time, they could become a powerful force in contemporary rock music.
What were the important media factors in the breaking of Evanescence?
From its inception, we have used the Internet at Wind-up to build fan bases, communicate with the music community and develop our artists. When we launched the first Creed album, we supplied fans with a pre-packed, ready-to-go web site for them to set up, including music and their own exclusive Creed photo. Meanwhile, several major labels were suing fourteen-year-olds for streaming music!
Radio obviously played a major role, despite the fact that the sound differed from what they and the consumer had become used to, and they have supported and continue to support the band.
Did you think that they would break with the first album?
I had no doubt it was destined to be a huge hit.
How do you find new talent?
Obviously lawyers and managers are very involved in the music business; however, I get most of my music from other bands, some on the roster, some not. Also, Wind-up employees and friends I’ve made along the way, from engineers to mixers.
Do you accept unsolicited material?
Unsolicited material is a problem. Unfortunately, accepting material from non-industry sources can open you up to legal claims, so that makes it tough. We always tell bands to get themselves a lawyer or manager before they submit material. To my knowledge, none of the major labels accept unsolicited material and, while we are not a major, we are equally vulnerable to those who would exploit an opportunity by making false claims.
How heavily do factors like local independent sales, local airplay, live performance experience and a solid fan base weigh in the balance when you are deciding whether to sign a band?
You can never underestimate the importance and value to a label of a band already having a significant local presence, because that becomes the foundation upon which we can build and expand into other markets.
What do you look for in an artist?
Obviously talent, something unique, personality, charisma and the intangible something that the public will react to and embrace.
How important is it that the artists you work with also write their own songs?
Virtually all of our artists write their own songs. My husband has a music background and he will occasionally step in and help deliver a song. However, he never takes any credit for anything, not even “thank yous” on the artist album package. His name never appears on our records. I guess that’s his particular idiosyncrasy. He prefers to remain anonymous.
What input do you have on the productions?
I visit the studio regularly when our bands are recording. Even prior to recording, I discuss which songs we should record, which should be the targeted singles, and other issues. I probably give the most input at the mixing stage.
Considering the cost of releasing new artists, how much of a risk are you willing to take and how sure do you need to be that they will sell?
I’ve learned that the public can be very fickle. You can never be sure of anything and if you keep that in mind you won’t be disappointed. However, once we sign a band and go to market, it’s a “take-no-prisoners” mentality. With our small roster, we have to go for it every time. The greater risk lies in NOT fully supporting the artists, regardless of what anyone else says or believes. Obviously, there may come a time when you are forced to give up but, if you look at Wind-up’s history, that is the exception rather than the rule. We have had this particular band on our roster for almost six years. They are a great band, but one who have yet to click with a big single despite modest success and, rather than throw them out onto the street, we just work harder, they keep getting better and one day it will all come together.
Have you signed bands that didn’t do as well as you expected? Was it possible to see what didn’t work?
At the end of the day, you never know why a project has failed. You can never be sure of anything in this business; there are no guarantees in the music industry or in life. You just shake your head and try to learn from whatever you might take away with you from the experience and apply it to future efforts.
What aspect of the music industry is in need of drastic change?
It’s becoming more and more difficult to expose and develop new artists and the costs continue to spiral. New artists are the lifeblood of an industry that has been suffering from terminal blood clots for more than a decade. We often discuss new approaches and new models; however, the roadblocks sometimes seem insurmountable. At least it often feels that way, and that is probably the most frustrating aspect of my job.
What has been the greatest moment of your music career?
Signing Creed and the friendship I’ve developed with the band.
What do you see yourself doing in 5-10 years’ time?
Interviewed by Stefan Sörin