Interview with JOHN JANICK, A&R for Fueled By Ramen - Sep 18, 2006
"Working with majors on succsessful bands like Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco, we've maintained creative control and marketing"
... goes John Janick's tip on successful collaboration of indie and major labels.
Currently No.10 on HitQuarters' A&R Chart, Janick acknowledges the long way he travelled, from starting his label while still in school, to signing and breaking US Top 10 acts like Fall Out Boy.
He talked to HitQuarters about building bands up from scratch, and taking the long haul with his acts as opposed to seeking a quick buck.
What experiences have been important to you in developing your A&R skills?
I got involved in running a record label because I love music and I always felt I wanted to be involved in music. I play some guitar and did some high school things, but nothing where I got a lot of experience playing different musical instruments.
I started Fueled By Ramen Records in 1996 together with Vinnie Fiorello, when I was 17 years old. I’ve been doing it for over ten years now. I just learnt pretty much as I went along. I’ve gained in a lot of different styles of music by doing trial and error and making mistakes and learning from them.
What were the reasons for starting Fueled By Ramen?
Because I love music. And I just wanted to be involved. I loved going to shows. I loved dealing with bands. I thought it was the best thing to do. I was much better in running a record label than being in a band.
How would you define the label?
We try to be a place where we work with bands and develop them into acts that are going to be around for a long period of time. A lot of people used to look more to find an act and just try and make money off of it quickly. There are some acts that we have that have gotten big quickly and some have been a long haul.
We want to be a place where everybody is very passionate about the music, where we’re in it for the long haul with artists. As long as they’re working then we’re working very hard trying to develop them and make a career where it’s going to be beyond just a few years.
Where they’re going to do well in selling records, in touring, and with their merchandise. Where they’re an artist that’s very well-rounded, and they’re developing into a brand themselves.
Where did you get the name from?
We were living in a college town and not having much money. We started off running a record label putting all of our money into making records. We invested everything we had in into it. Ramen noodles were pretty much all we could afford to really eat.
What’s your direction, musically?
We’re not limited in any way. I would classify our music as alternative or alternative rock for the most part, but a lot of our stuff has crossed over into the pop world. I just sign stuff that I like. I like stuff that’s catchy, that has meaning to it, good lyrics.
What were the crucial factors in establishing FBR?
We built from the ground up over a ten-year period. We wanted to do it very organically and build a strong foundation for the label. It’s the same thing we do with bands. You have fans that are going to be with you for the long haul, but when doing the label it took us a few years to really get going. We didn’t grow rapidly. It took a while.
In the beginning it was hard because we didn’t have a ton of resources. We scraped by and did whatever we could to keep everything going. I chose to do this full time, but also going to school at the same time because I felt it was important to get an education.
It was pretty much non-stop work. Working fifty, sixty hours a week while I was in school. It was definitely very wearing, but when you’re young and you’re excited about music you just do what you’ve got to do.
How many people work at FBR?
We have our label and we also have our merchandise company, which are all integrated. In all we have about 16 people.
How do you explain the huge response from fans and the high sales in 1998?
We put the Jimmy Eat World EP out and had a great response to that. There have been a bunch of releases over the period where we were developing bands, and people catch on and they sell a good amount of copies. With bigger bands like Jimmy Eat World it caught on quickly and we sold a lot of copies.
Where did you learn the business side of things?
Some people are born entrepreneurs. From a young age I was always doing things to get involved in business. I was always trying things and learning and picking up things by myself. I went to graduate school for business.
The schooling gave me a perspective on things, learning how to do things that most people would have just picked up very easily, like reading financial statements. It definitely helped but I probably didn’t need to go to school because I probably would have learned a lot by actually running a label. That’s where I learned everything. Like I said, trial and error.
Would you ever consider teaming up with a major?
We have some projects with majors. Sometimes we partner up with them because we always want to make sure that we are able to take our bands where they want to go, as big as they want to be. But we still run the show. Everything goes through us. We head up everything and we just have an extension in our partners that helps us in developing artists.
What is your view on majors?
When it comes to indies and majors working together everybody has these preconceived notions going into it. And it’s hard to match because everybody thinks that they know how to do it right. But in our situation people have given us the leverage to do what we need to do.
You always have to be careful because you’re dealing with big corporations and politics, but for the most part we’ve had great experiences. We’ve worked with majors with very successful bands like Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco. We’ve maintained creative control and marketing.
The people that we’ve worked with, they hand their staff over to us and we partner with them. We get to work with great people and we get to beef things up a bit more than if we were doing it ourselves. It’s good for the band, good for the label and everyone involved.
Who do you have a distribution deal with?
Alternative Distribution Alliance (ADA), which is an independent.
What bands are you currently working with?
We have about ten active artists. Panic! At The Disco, who are just getting to a point where everything is starting to explode. Cute Is What We Aim For, Gym Class Heroes, The Academy Is…, The Hush Sound. Those are bands that have just had records come out recently.
You’ve worked with some international acts. Will you continue to do that?
We like doing it, but it’s just a matter of making sure that we can set up the right touring in the right territories. If we find something that we really love of course we’re going to work with them.
When do you see the artists perform live?
Every couple of weeks. Sometimes it’s more. It depends on what’s coming through town.
How do you find new talent?
Mostly word-of-mouth, appearing from other people online. You hear a band or about a band online. You hear kids talking about it, see that there’s a buzz building and you check it out. Sometimes our bands have suggestions.
Do you accept unsolicited material?
We get a lot of unsolicited demos. It’s hard to get through everything, but we try to.
Is it a necessity for you that artists have released independent albums and developed themselves to a certain point?
No, because that’s really what we do. It’s important for us that they’re willing to work hard and they want to go on the road. And that they’re not just looking to make a quick buck - you have to grind it out and develop it the right way.
We always try to find young artists that may not necessarily have already sold a bunch of records but are willing to work hard and develop. We find bands that are already playing shows and pretty much build them from scratch.
What do you look for in an artist?
We want people who have personalities, people who we want to talk to every day, which we want to work with and who want to be a part of our label.
What input do you have on the productions?
Every band is different. Sometimes we’ll have songs that are all ready to go. Most bands that we work with are very open and want our input. Like we get pre-production songs and then we get mixes every day and maybe we make comments.
But for the most part it’s a team. We sign a lot of our bands because they write good music, so we let them do their thing. We help them find a producer that matches them. Myself and whoever else at the label, the producer and the band, we work together to make sure we’re going to make the best record possible.
What is discussed in the first meetings with a new band?
It’s more than just getting songs together. A lot of our bands are younger, so it’s making sure that they’re not scared and they’re pulling everything out of themselves as possible to make the best record possible. We go over things like the lyrics.
Sometimes it’s like, ‘what type of record do you want to make?’ Some bands already have everything together.
How much patience do you have with a project?
A lot. When you get submerged in something you get excited about it. When I’m working on a project with a band, I can’t wait to hear new music every day. It’s almost like Christmas. When I was working on the Cute Is What We Aim For record, I was getting a song a day. Every day, small tweaks to it.
Because they lay down drums and bass, and then they put the guitars down, I get their songs every day with everything happening to it. Obviously, not mixed or anything but with the guitars, and then they start laying down vocals, and I get the songs every day, and we talk about them. It’s an exciting process. I’m usually very patient, just making sure that the record turns out great.
When things go wrong there’s always a solution. We work with people that are excited to be involved with us, and we’re excited to be involved with them. You can always work things out. We surround ourselves with good bands and good producers where everybody is able to work together and solve whatever problem might there be.
How do you come up with creative marketing and sales plans?
We try to see what’s new and what’s going on and what people are paying attention to. In this day and age, online and street promotions are very important in developing bands. That’s what we put a lot of focus on to start off. We pay attention to what kids and people are doing and come up with new ways to market things all the time.
Do you put in money in tour support for your artists?
Yes. We try to be smart about it. We help out bands but we try not to overspend or do anything stupid.
What advice would you give unsigned acts on how to build a career on an independent level?
They need to work hard and go out and play shows and develop a following. Getting people out to come see them. And there are so many ways to get your music out to people now all across the world just by posting stuff online and pushing your band.
How should they prepare for success?
From day one you have to be concerned about what your mission is and what you’re getting into musically. And you have to make sure that you’re willing to build a base of fans that are going to be there to support you day in day out through many records.
As long as you pay attention to detail, everything from the music to your live shows to how you market online, then those little things add up, and it’s important for the long run of the band.
How easy or difficult is it to get played on radio?
It’s not easy at all. We usually don’t rely as much on radio. We’ve had a lot of success lately. People were actually paying attention, but it’s very difficult to get plays on radio.
How much does it cost to record an album and then market and promote it?
It can cost $15,000, it can cost hundreds of thousands. We tend to make good records for a good price.
What is the current music business climate for indies?
Most indies are doing well. We’ve been growing every year. As long as you’re paying attention to what you’re doing in presenting the music to people in a way that they understand what the band is about and what the music is about, then you can do really well.
Obviously, there’s piracy, which has caused lots of problems, but as an independent we’ve done very well over the years.
If you could dramatically change some aspect of the music industry, what would you do?
Radio only pays attention to mostly stuff that comes through majors. It’s not easy because there are so many records that come out. It’s hard to get a balance of everything.
What has been the greatest moment of your music career?
The last couple of years in general. Having a couple of bands that have gone platinum or multi-platinum. All the hard work paying off. Working ten years and actually now having people pay attention to what we’re doing. Everything coming together and becoming more popular has been an amazing experience.
What do you see yourself doing in 5-10 years?
Growing every year hopefully. I love A&Ring, but I also like being involved in the marketing process. I like to see projects from the beginning stages, from when you try to sign a band all the way up to when you actually sell records. I like to be involved in every process.
Interview by Kimbel Bouwman
Read On ...
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