By Steven Denyes
Grey Garner is a musician, producer, and engineer based in Nashville, Tennessee. Having experienced both sides of the indie/major label coin, he has a unique perspective on recording and performing in today's musical environment.

Q: How did you go from an independent release to having multiple major labels interested in the band?

GG: We pretended we were already on a label and said, "Well, alright, we have to pick a single." We chose a song that we thought would have the best chance with radio and we started sending that out through our manager. We got a couple nibbles from smaller stations and college radio and we were kind of developing a region in the Southeast where we could go and play and it would be supported by radio. About three to six months after that, a big, big radio station in Atlanta called 99X picked up the song and started playing it.

During that whole period of time we were also shopping the record to smaller labels. We had gotten some nibbles there. When 99X picked it up we were climbing the ladder on the independent label front. When it hit on 99X that sort of prompted more of the major labels to give it a listen. We eventually ended up signing a deal with Capitol, really by virtue of having a song on one giant radio station and having previous independent label interest.

It was interesting because all of our really loyal support from radio was from independent radio stations and all our loyal support was from independent labels. The ironic thing about it was the guy that signed us at Capitol didn't like the radio single at all and had never seen us play. It was kind of weird that we had done all this grassroots sort of development and then got signed without any of that.

Q: So, you were signed based on the album and the radio play you were getting?

GG: Yeah. All the major labels keep pretty close tabs on what the major radio stations are doing. If there is an independent band on a major station, they want to know how it got there and why. They check it out because they think it is revenue that they should be generating and not some independent band. They really keep their feelers out for that.

Q: How was it making a record for a major label?

GG: We got signed in March and we had written some songs since we had put out our full-length independent [album] so we went into a development stage with the label. We were to write songs and demo them up and when they felt we had enough stuff to make a record, then we'd go into the studio. That lasted until September of the same year.

So we had the songs accumulated and demoed up. With the help of our A&R guy we went through the process of thinking about who would produce it, which was kind of odd because we had always been self-produced. We talked to several different producers and settled on a guy named Howard Vincent, who has had a lot of success since then. We thought he would be good and he was in L.A. and we wanted to be out in L.A. and do the rock star thing. We went in and did some pre-production and started to make the record.

The actual making of the record was about 180 degrees different than what any of us thought that it would be. It was very, very different and odd and hard to get our heads around.

It was more or less the process of making the record that was different. We had never worked with Pro Tools before and we were doing everything in Pro Tools. We never tracked anything but drums. Our amps were going through PODs and we were going direct, so we didn't sound like ourselves. We would do ten takes of a song and it would be like, "OK, next song." We never heard it, we never went to listen in the control room. What would happen was that at the end of the day the producer would go home, dump it all into his Pro Tools rig, edit all the drum tracks together and come back and say, "This is the drum track." The first time we ever heard the drum track was when we were doing bass. It just kind of threw us out of our creative flow.

The long and short of it is that we ended up making a relatively crappy record that got put on the shelf after a corporate fiasco at Capitol Records. So, we opted out of that deal. They kept the masters, which was OK because the album wasn't creatively satisfying or objectively very good. It was a product, it wasn't a moment that had been captured.

Q: Are you sworn off major labels?

GG: I think I would do it again. We made a lot of mistakes. I don't know that we could have foreseen any of the mistakes we made but we made them anyway. Now, approaching a major label deal is not "Hey, we can relax. We finally did it." It's more like, "OK, we've got an opportunity. Let's make sure that what's on paper, who's representing us, the label and their level of excitement is in the right place for us as a band." None of those things were ever taken into consideration before.

I'd sign with a major label. Mostly because they have a lot of money and it takes a lot of money to make a record fly on radio across the country and to put you on tour. It costs a lot in order to really do it and really make a run at it.




Excerpted from Gigging for a Living: Candid Conversations with Independent Working Musicians by Steve Denyes. For more information visit www.giggingforaliving.com.

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