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Align The Planets
By Chris Standring

I have just signed my 4th record deal in 10 years. An independent company called Trippin' In Rhythm Records who run their label through V2 records in order to get major (Virgin Records) distribution and marketing clout. In an age where I'm literally watching record labels go under by the week, I am actually quite surprised I landed a new deal at all to be honest. I am watching contemporaries of mine set up their own record labels, some successfully, others not, and I was all set to do the same and set up shop as plan B if I couldn't get this new album signed. Running a label is a huge commitment and frankly I don't know how I could do it the way I would want to without seeking funding and going into partnership with three other experts. Selling a few copies of my latest album on the internet is not my style....

So why did I manage to get signed again? Well I have thought about this and I've come up with a few answers, not to toot my own horn but to try to explain to you what might be necessary in order for YOU to get to where you are trying to get to.

For years I have heard from successful people that "the planets must be aligned!". Well, this might be another way of saying "Good luck!" In order for the planets to be aligned, our lives must therefore be completely out of our control, yes? Our success must be in the lap of the Gods. Well, I have never been one to sit and wait for the grass to grow around my feet, there is simply too much to do. And I never wanted to believe that success would happen arbitrarily. I've never ever just waited for the phone to ring. So I have always believed that if I am to be successful dammit, it is up to me to align the planets! And I have never adopted this principle more so than leading up to my latest project.

I decided in January 2005 that I would spend the whole year recording a new album and doing everything I had to, in order to get my ducks in a row so the new album could be released. I planned on a 1st quarter 2006 release. I spoke to labels throughout the year and explained to them that, were they to take on this new record, it was of paramount importance to me that the record be released 1st quarter 2006. Why? because if you release a record at any other time of the year as far as I am concerned, it can be disasterous. Firstly, if a record goes to radio Jan/Feb let's say, you have the whole year to promote it, and the industry is excited to get going again after the holiday. What is more, whatever radio action you get, you can parlay into concert performances. In my genre, all of the big music festivals happen in the summer, so a 1st quarter release can gear you up perfectly to jump on these shows. Furthermore, radio takes a painfully long time to react now where a new single can take 6 months to get any chart action, so releasing a record later in the year doesn't make sense for promotional purposes. And releasing records later in the year will put you in massive competition with major label artists, and fighting for shelf space at record stores is not pretty! There is simply less competition at the beginning of the year. It makes sense.

So after shopping around, I finally ended up with two labels fairly keen and agreeing to my release schedule. Trippin' In Thythm came through where the other label ended up being just a lot of hot air. So why did the one label come through? I mean after all, I was being somewhat demanding! A number of reasons...

At the beginning of last year I spent several months experimenting with new music. Kind of dissapeared up my own ass if you will. Very proud of my self indulgence, I whisked this music off to labels. "All very well Chris but give us something we can market!" was the grim reply. Disheartened, I spent some time thinking about what I should do. After some thought I decided to personally hire Paul Brown, the most successful jazz record producer currently working, who I happen to know quite well. I said "Paul, I need a hit song!" So he dug deep into his treasure chest and after a couple of weeks we came up with something really strong for radio. That and his name on the production was enough to get one or two heads turning and I was back on the radar again. This was an extremely expensive investment on my part but clearly it was the right move. I had aligned a planet...

Package tours are all the rage now in the music biz, certainly in the urban/soul jazz format. Rather than wait for a management company to call me up and offer me a slot on a package tour I decided to put one together. So I contacted a few folks and pitched a tour together featuring a very well known R&B diva (can't mention her name just yet - negotiations still underway) and more heads turned. When I put this idea to the record labels, they thought it was an amazing idea. I had aligned another planet...

Now I'm thinking, "It's about time I had a new manager!" I called up a friend who I have known for a while and put the idea to him, telling him about the potential tour, record label and radio single. "Great let's do it!" he said. Why this particular manager? Because not only is he completely connected but he is also a concert promoter and even though he can go to an established agent and pitch this tour, out of the box he can set up 10 shows on his own. One more planet aligned....

And once everyone involved got wind of what was going on, they all cemented themselves inthe machine further. They are all now on board because the planets are aligned. Because I aligned them.

Now, this scenario may be much larger (or smaller) than the game you are presently in, but it doesn't matter. You do what you can with what you've got. In simple terms. Put a plan together. Positive things will result out of positive action and before you know it you are one step of the ladder further up than you were before. I didn't always have the connections I now have but I always managed to make things happen out of thin air because I set little goals and would not stop until they all came to fruition.

Now, I should also mention on a realistic note, that even though I have put my plan into action, have my machine around me, everything could go horribly wrong. Radio could be unresponsive, promoters could balk at my package tour idea, my record could stiff at retail. Yes it could all go horribly wrong. But I have lessened the odds of disaster by aligning my little planets. Should I have chosen not to plan, not to organize ahead of time, I probably wouldn't have a deal, a single, a finished record or any buzz about my project right now. It's pretty much a given that the project would have failed.

I'm not in the business of failing...are you?

  Chris Standring is the CEO and founder of A&R Online (www.aandronline.com). He is also a contemporary jazz guitarist presently signed to Ultimate Vibe Recordings. For more info on Chris' recording career go to his personal website at www.chrisstandring.com
 


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