Interview with independent singer-songwriter JOSH ROUSE - Nov 30, 2009
ďI make a record, I pay for it, I record it and then Nettwerk manufactures and markets the record in house.Ē
The evolution of the record label and the different business models now available in releasing your music comes under the spotlight as HitQuarters speaks to acclaimed U.S. singer-songwriter Josh Rouse (Top 40 U.S. Independent, Top 10 U.S Heatseekers).
The Spanish-based artist talks about his experiences in releasing music both through his management company Nettwerk and via his own website subscription service. He also offers advice on what means new up-and-coming artists should be using to get their own music out there.
Youíve been on a traditional record label in Rykodisc and then you started releasing music on your own label through your management company Nettwerk - whatís your situation at the moment?
Itís an interesting time right now. At the moment itís just my manager and me.
I had a deal with Rykodisc at the beginning of my career - I did five records with them and then I signed to Nettwerk (read our interview with Nettwerk CEO Terry McBride here) because my manager started to work for them.
They started this new imprint model. I make a record, I pay for it, I record it and then Nettwerk manufactures and markets the record in house. They work with different distributors in all the territories.
Do they function like a normal record company?
No, not really. The deal is just record-by-record and I own my masters. But yes, in a certain way they are like a record label, but imagine that my manager or I are the head of the label Ö
We had to look into how much money we had to spend and they fronted that money. Their staff works the record in house. They have one sales guy, an online marketing person and a publicist. I think every imprint was assigned to different people in the team.
They collect all the money and take their percentage off my managerís percentage because my manager works for them.
Like a 360į deal?
Exactly. But they quit doing it. It didnít work out for them. They had to beef up their staff too much and the overheads were too big. They were only splitting whatever the manager gets. It was great for me and the other artists doing it. We kept basically 85% of what the record made.
So are either you or your manager still connected with Nettwerk?
No, I wonít be working with them anymore and my manager doesnít work for them either. They are closing the Nashville office.
Like any record label in the music business right now, records are just not selling enough. They started out as a management company and if you lose some bigger artist then you have to cut back. They stopped doing the whole imprint thing. They basically looked at their books and said, ďWe canít afford this anymore.Ē
What are your plans now?
I have a record coming out digitally in the second week of February and I still use my own label for that. But in terms of physical distribution we have to find another production and distribution deal for Europe. We are talking to ADA global. They work with Warner and they have my earlier catalogue.
For the States, Iím not sure yet. The physical [CD] distribution world is really up in the air at the moment in America. For someone like me who sells their records in indie shops, itís hard. All the remaining major music stores basically just carry big titles and thatís slowly resolving. I will do physical but I imagine Iíd just not print up as many copies. 90% of the sales of my music are digital. There are only a few physical copies sold every week.
Is it worth doing a production and distribution deal with another company that want part of the digital? Iím sure in a few years everything will be streamed or bought on iTunes.
When you look at your revenue streams, what is the most important thing?
Performance rights royalties are the main thing because I have a lot of songs in the system. I have seven records and three or four EPs that are out in the world and make a little bit of money here and there.
Then there is digital royalties and playing live. Iíd love to bring a band, have a soundman and a tour manager but everyone I know is cutting back so I have to play on my own to make some money. Even the promoters have to do double their work for half the money.
Do you have someone that is trying to sync the songs to advertising or TV/film?
Nettwerk had people to do that. A lot of the times itís just a music supervisor being a fan. I donít know if it was necessarily worked to them. I have a lot of fans in that world.
If they like something they contact me and because I own the masters and the publishing I usually say yes. I donít own the masters of some songs from my old catalogue.
I have actually spoken to music supervisors that tried to get my song cleared to get in a TV series and they couldnít get a call back from the label, so they just put something else in.
You set up a model where people subscribe, pay a fee and get unreleased material each month. How did that work out for you?
It was an experiment. I have fans that signed up for it and I put different things on each month - b-sides or stuff that Iím working on, demos or old concerts. I think we are going to keep that but I donít think I will continue with the subscription model.
If someone wants a song or an album they just want to go and get it somewhere. The subscription model was for serious fans. It ended up being a lot of work for me. If Iím working on a new record I donít have the time to put new things up there all the time. It takes a bit of the surprise out of it.
Receiving stuff every month will get to saturation. The company we were working with are called Topspin. It does actually work as a kind of online store. Fans can go there and buy your special package. I cannot see the subscription model working for an upcoming artist.
If you compare your time spent with Rykodisc and that with Nettwerk, what do you see as the main differences?
When I first started it was really hard to make any money. I worked a day job while my first two records were out. Then I finally got enough from a publishing advance to not work for a while and from there I luckily had enough records on the system and earned enough money from performance royalties to get by.
From the business side it was a traditional record deal. I still donít really make any money from those records because I donít own the masters. It was a kind of a deal where I earn a small percentage of the record after everything theyíve spent.
I still owe them money and Iíve been out of the deal for five years. So when I was done with that I said, ďIím definitely going to own my masters.Ē
With Nettwerk they pretty much let me make the records I want to make. It was a lot of freedom and felt great particularly when the first record did very well. They didnít have any problem with me, especially with the last records, because they were pop records. I had control over the artwork and most of the music.
Early on with Rykodisc I got some pressure. It was the late 90s and they tried to get me on the radio so I got pressured to write something that could work on radio.
The down point of the Nettwerk thing was we never really hired a publicist and there was hardly any marketing money spent because they did everything in house. I donít know if that has the same effect as spending a bunch of money on someone that is really good.
The whole new business model Nettwerk had had been aimed at people like me that already had five records in the system.
Itís hard to compare because I was just starting out with Rykodisc. The company completely changed and went through four or five different presidents during the time I was there. Whatís more people were still buying a lot of CDs back then. Nettwerk was always kind of the same thing because it mainly went through my manager.
How did Nettwerk work the online marketing?
They would put up ads here and there with internet sites like last.fm and work the blog thing. There wasnít a focus on doing a big campaign.
What would you say has an impact on digital sales?
Itís just the way people are consuming music right now. They get it for free or like my fan base in the States that are about my age, if they know Iím going to put out a record myself they buy it off iTunes or directly from me. You have links on MySpace and Facebook saying, ďBuy it now on iTunes.Ē Iím not really sure of any online marketing strategies.
Do you work your social networking sites much?
No I donít.
Are you getting involved a lot on the business side or do you spend your time focused on being creative?
I talk to my manager several times a week about whatís going on. Obviously a lot more now because we have to figure out who is going to distribute my record.
I try not to get caught up in the business side of things. Iím aware of whatís going on and how it works but thatís my managerís job. I donít get involved in marketing myself or doing the twitter things. If I spend so much time doing that, I donít have the time to be creative. I donít want to tell my fans every five minutes what Iím doing, and I donít think I have that kind of following.
If you would approach an investor now, how much money would you need to set up a whole campaign for a record to release it yourself if you would have the record ready?
Itís a tough question as there are so many variables. I really donít need tour support - I get enough money at concerts to pay for the expenses.
As far as marketing and promotion, I donít know how much an online marketer charges. A good publicist in the States is a good $4,000 Ė $5,000 a month. You hire them over 4 months and youíre talking about $20,000 and thatís just the States - it depends in which territories you want to work it. And those are just flat fees. You have to outsource a radio person or a marketing guy Ö
If I would go to a private investor I probably would say, ďGive me a $100,000 to work the record internationally.Ē
But today if you are new and make something great you donít need all of that. People will find out about it. For someone like me that has been around for about ten years now itís not that easy. People are like, ďYeah, Iíve heard of that guy, he has a couple of records out already.Ē People always want to find or discover something new.
What advice would you have for the young un-signed Josh Rouse if he was starting out now and wanting to release his own music?
I would advise him to record something really cheaply with a friend or at home. Recording equipment is very cheap now. You get your social sites going up. There is a thing called tunecore.com and they service it to all the digital music providers. I wouldnít do anything physical. If itís really good people will come to it. From there you start playing wherever you live. I would be very cautious to sign any kind of deal with anyone, but obviously it depends on what they are offering.
Do you have a booking agent?
Yeah I have two. One for the States and one for over here in Spain.
Is there a lot coming through them or do people contact you more directly?
Itís both. If I have a record coming out and I want to book a tour to support, that is probably more my agent going, ďHey, Josh has got a new record out, do you have anything available?Ē If Iím not in the record cycle I get offers from everywhere around the world.
Have you seen a change over the last few years in the fees you get paid live?
Yeah, I make more now than I used to. I do better here in Europe than I do in the States. Usually the promoter covers the hotel, local transportation Ö etc. The artist treatment here in Europe is a bit better. England is a little bit like the States, just a bit rougher.
How do people get to hear of you do you think?
People spread it around. I played in Austria for the first time this summer and there were a couple of hundred people at the show that travelled from all over and knew the songs. When I played in Brazil for the first time, without having one record out there, I sold out an eight hundred people theatre and they knew all the words of the songs. That was overwhelming.
Music is still so powerful. Even if the industry is going through some bad times the music is still the point to the whole thing. If itís good, people will tell their friends and thatís how it happens. It just can take years - at least with me it took time - it wasnít like I released a record and suddenly everyone knew who I was.
Iím not so worried about my situation right now. In a few years, if someone like me wants to put out a record you just hire publicity and marketing person for a few months and that would be it. Playing live is still a strong thing. I do interviews in the cities Iím playing.
Iíve made an album thatís very different to everything I did before and if people donít like it then I worry [Laughs]. But if they donít like it then I just keep doing it till they do like it.
What is the new material like?
Itís very niche. Iím singing in Spanish on part of it and the music is very Brazilian, almost tropical sounding. Itís orchestrated, with lots of percussion, vibraphone and strings on it. Itís not middle of the road singer-songwriter pop stuff.
Are you doing all the music yourself?
I worked with a guy that I worked with on a few of my records. We are both fans of orchestrating stuff. He is kind of my George Martin. I bring it to him and we throw ideas back and forth.
Do you know a lot about recording as well?
Yeah I have my little studio now that was just finished two or three months ago.
Would you say things are very different since you have a studio?
Not really. I always had a home studio. Now I just have more space and itís outside of my house. Itís nice to go somewhere to create. I think itís important for an artist to know how to record and capture a performance.
When did you move to Spain?
About five years ago.
How has that affected your life?
Itís a different culture. Itís been fun. Itís been a learning experience. Some days itís hard and some days there is no place I would rather be.
Is your manager there as well?
No, he is in Nashville but thatís not a problem as Iíve been working with him for over ten years.
Would you say it matters where an artist is based?
I donít think it matters. People live connected to their iPhone. If you are making music just put it up on your website. Of course it matters when it comes to playing live.
How is the situation with the music industry in Spain?
Itís not very good. Record sales here are horrible. This is one of the biggest countries for illegal downloading in the world but people do come to concerts.
Ö Even for English music?
Oh yeah, more for English music than for Spanish music. I think you just have to keep making interesting music. Even if less people buy it, you are going to find fans for what you are creating.
Itís an interesting time and Iím sure in a few years everyone will stream music. Especially for the younger demographic, the urge to own music will not be there any more. Music is going to be on a website and everyone can access it whenever they want to and wherever they want to.
Interview by Jan Blumentrath
Photo by Stephen Dowling
Next week: Interview with Lee Parsons, co-founder of innovative digital distribution company Ditto Music
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