Moderated by Michael Laskow

Michael Laskow, the moderator, introduces panel:
Tony Ferguson, A&R, A&M Records
Marshall Altman, A&R Consultant, Columbia Records
Larry Willoughby, Vice-President of A&R, Capitol Records Nashville
Autumn House, Director of A&R, Capitol Records Nashville
Louis Posen, Founder and President of Hopeless Records and Sub-City Records
Steve Smith, Vice-President of A&R, Aware Records; Manager, A-Squared

ML: I often hear artists say, "I don't want to get signed by a major label." How many people have you ever seen who actually reject offers from major labels?

TF: Maybe one act in 16 years.

Why do you think that unsigned artists and writers in general, think that major label A&R guys are nothing but a bunch of punks with an attitude that don't want to hear them, and don't give a damn? Why do you guys have such a bad reputation when obviously you are all incredibly wonderful people?

TF: It's just a façade. We're actually really assholes, but we get paid well to be assholes. No, there's a lot of responsibility being an A&R person, especially in today's market. You've got to really understand every aspect of the business. You have to understand everybody else's job within the label. Plus the competitiveness and the short life span of A&R people at labels requires that you're on 10 all the time, so when you keep being badgered with phone calls and people, it becomes over-the-top sometimes. So consequently, sometimes you come off like an asshole.

But meanwhile, you're nice enough to give up your Saturdays to come out and do the A&R panels here.

TF: You feed me.

Even though they get paid a lot, they'll do anything for free food.

Altman, what percentage of artists who get signed do so without touring and without having a story? Every A&R panel that I go to, every one that I moderate around the country, it's all about the story. You've got to have a following; you've got to have a story.

MA: Look, if you've got hit songs, you don't need a fan base and you don't need to sell any of your own records. Hit songs—that's a currency that we all want all the time, to varying degrees. As far as percentages go, I would say it's on the lower end of the scale—maybe 15 to 20 percent of artists get signed. But they're pop artists. Rock bands don't get signed if they don't look like stars. You know, if they can't play... Well, that's not necessarily true. [laughter]

If you have hit songs, you're gonna get signed. It comes down to that. Obviously, it's a subjective business. What I think is a hit, Tony might not think is a hit. So it helps if you can build a career for yourself that is independent of a major label. It always makes it easier for a major label to say, "Wow, that's validated. There are 25,000 people that have bought that record." It's easier to hear a hit when you know 25,000 people have bought a record and that this band is grossing $750,000 a year.

Autumn, could you sing us a song, too?

AH: Are you crazy?

Nashville is definitely a song town, and it's more likely that you guys will sign a pretty face, I'm guessing, and worry about finding hit songs later. Or has it become more desirable for country labels to find artists who also write their own material?

AH: It's safe to say that Capitol relies pretty heavily on singer-songwriters. That's kind of our claim to fame. We actually gravitate more heavily toward songwriters that are also artists, but you know, it's a songwriter town, so we're more that happy to listen to all the songs in the city to see if a song is a hit to give to our artist and make that artist successful.

MA: As an outsider looking at Nashville, I think it's a very pure town. If you're an artist and you don't have the song, you can go get the song. There's no shame in that in Nashville, as opposed to New York and Los Angeles, where if you're in a rock band, "Ooh, we're not gonna co-write with anybody. We don't want any help writing. You either take it the way it is or you leave it."

Tony Ferguson, A&R, A&M Records

Is that because they want the publishing on the record, or is that because of ego?

MA: You know, 100 percent of nothing is nothing. I don't know if it's a question of ego or misunderstanding, whatever, but...

LW: It's both. It's ego and publishing because, once you get down to the publishing splits with some of these artists, they really, really get touchy because all of a sudden they're in uncharted territory, and they go, "Wow, I've got to give up 15, 20, 30 percent of this song because somebody was in the room and suggested a couple of words." They start nitpicking, and they start arguing about the splits. And what really splits some bands up is arguing within the band members of what the splits are going to be on the publishing. It can be really ugly.

MA: But even through all of that, there is no shame in having a co-writer help you with your material. If you deal with the headaches of a split, so what? You deal with that in the normal, day-to-day business world. If you're in business, your employees are always going to want more than you'll be willing to pay them. That's just business. With the business of songwriting and of making records, that's the price you pay for trying to get the quality of material that you need to be a success. I think it's a small price to pay. I encourage all my artists to do co-writing.

Larry, do you kick back in your easy chair listening to music all day while trying to come up with new ways to pass on artists, or is the public perception of A&R people all wrong? I've spent enough time there to know that every single one of you guys seems to know everybody else. If you don't listen to somebody's stuff, are you liable to run into them at a restaurant three days after it hit your desk?

LW: I think with the Nashville community—especially the publishers—they come in knowing that their song is going to be passed on. It's just a matter of volume and the number of artists that we have looking for songs, that we take meetings all day long, Autumn and I, that we're only going to find one or two songs in the course of maybe a week that you feel may work for one of your artists. They all understand that, so they don't get pissed off about things like that; they don't take it personally. But in my case, I find it difficult when a songwriter comes in to play me a song. It's a touchy situation because their songs are their babies, and I certainly don't want to tell them their baby's ugly. So I just tell them that it doesn't work for the artist that we're looking for right now. It may later on. There have been songs that we've passed on for particular artists that are right then recording an album, then later on, may work for another artist.

Hey, Louis, how does finding and signing artists at your label different from the process than it's done at a major?

LP: Well, not having worked at a major, but from what Marshall is saying, we're not looking for the hit. We're looking for a band who wants a career, who wants to tour 11 or more months out of the year and has so much passion about what they do that they're not going to quit when an obstacle comes in their way. [applause]

MA: And as I pull myself out from under the bus that Louis has just thrown me under... You know, obviously Columbia is in the business of career artist, but we have a different paradigm to work within. We cannot afford to have a label full of artists that are developing. We do have a significant number of artists that are developing, but hits drive Columbia Records. Hits keep the lights on. The catalog keeps the lights on, but hits drive the label. So we are lucky enough that there are some bands that we have on the label that we are developing. And we also have quite a few relationships with independent labels—we'd love to have a relationship with Louis' label, but we don't. They sort of do the development work, and when the bands reach critical mass, they'll cross over to Columbia. That's something that's really taking place actively in the record business.

LP: Also, I didn't mean that as a putdown, Marshall. It is a different paradigm, and I'm not saying the major label way is the wrong way, the hit way. It's just not the way our label works.

Let's talk about numbers for a minute. How many units do you sell, Louis, on a big band hit for your label versus how many units would be a big hit on a major?

LP: Right now our biggest band is Avenge Sevenfold. In the U.S., they now SoundScan 128,000 records, and they're selling between1,500 and 2,000 records a week. That's a big record for us, but for these guys I'm sure it would be a band they'd drop. [laughter]

Louis Posen, Founder and President of Hopeless Records and Sub-City Records

But it's also a huge number for an indie. A lot of indie labels are just thrilled when they just sell 30,000 units; 128 grand on an indie label is a big damn deal.

LP: We're ecstatic, and we're spending accordingly so that it's profitable to the company and we can reinvest in other artists.

MA: And, by the way, this is a great label—we're friends and he knows I have a lot of respect for him—but if you guys don't know about what his label's doing, it's really worth going to their Web site and checking it out. It's a lot of great, great music, and they have a fantastic model. It's not like they're getting lucky; they do the work. Their bands do the work, and every single person at his company does the work. It's worth checking out for a different perspective. Everybody wants to look at Columbia Records or Interscope, but you should check his label out.

OK, you do get to actually moderate a panel this afternoon, all right?

MA: You know what? I'm just saying what should be said, Laskow. If you want to get into it with me, go ahead. [laughs]

Let's take it outside. [laughter]

All right, Steve, we are now finally getting to you. What are the odds of an unsigned artist getting heavy rotation on top radio in a major market without a major label behind him?

SS: I get the radio question?

Yeah you do, because you're like Mister Flexible. You know everything about everything.

SS: That I do.

If you could help my putting from outside of 10 feet, you can fix anything.

A lot of people on the street think that somehow they're going to get their stuff on a big, contemporary, hit radio station in a major market like L.A., New York, Chicago. What are the odds of an unsigned artist getting heavy rotation on top radio in a major market without a major label behind them?

SS: I won't say it's impossible. If that's your goal to get a song on your local radio station and do it that way, I think you're going about things wrong. That's not the way to build your career. It'll definitely get attention, but I don't think it's the perfect solution.

The reason it doesn't happen is that radio has changed so much in the years that local radio stations don't support local music the way they used to, by any means. It's not a priority. They are programmed nationally in a lot of situations and the focus has gone away from that. But it's not impossible. There's a band in Colorado that we just picked up as management and Epic is signing that has a top five hit at their local alternative station because the program director there heard the band, fell in love with it and wanted to champion it. That's so rare these days; there are so few stations that actually do that anymore.

Give them an idea how rare that is.

SS: Maybe twice a year, maybe three times, that happens.

MA: Sorry, Laskow, but I've got to jump in here. That didn't happen 25 years ago. Programmers might have played local stuff because their bros were in the band. But if you have a hit song, somebody's going to find it and they're going to play it—whether it gets played 50 times at your local and that's it, and it's a hit in your home town. It didn't happen a lot a long time ago. The changing face of radio sucks for all of us, but this is the way it's been. There's a local music show on every single radio in the country, just about. Local stuff doesn't blow up that often.

SS: It's definitely not the A&R resource that people assume it would be. We'll find that story once or twice a year and maybe look at something, but it's not the way we prefer to find bands.

MA: Because it's expensive too. Everybody finds out about them and then you have to bid...

SS: Again, if that's your goal, to go out and try to get radio play, I think you're going about things wrong. That's not what we necessarily want to hear. Aside from the fact that we want hits, I want to know that you're out touring, that you're out working hard and not trying to achieve the not necessarily unattainable, but going for the maximum reach instantly, isn't necessarily what we want to hear.

As a label and as a management company, we fall somewhere between Louis and the major labels. We're one of the in between guys. I think we look for the same qualities that Louis does in a band, but at the same time we also want to go out and try to sell three million records if we can. And that's where Columbia can get involved with us and take things to the next level.

But you guy weren't originally connected to Columbia. Aware started out as a completely independent and then made the deal with Columbia. So artists graduate kind of from Aware. Is there a pre-set benchmark that if you sell a half million units you automatically jump over to Columbia.

SS: Wow. If we sold a half million units without Columbia, I would not be here right now. [laughter] No, not at all. We actually treat every record individually. That's kind of the beauty of our arrangement is that we can—with a band like Five for Fighting—we didn't do the touring thing. We did go just to radio with that one and it worked fairly well. And then, like with John Mayer, we took our time. We sold close to 40,000 records on our own before we bumped it up and got Columbia involved. When we did that, though, we would get individual pieces involved with Columbia as we needed them. We didn't just bump it and do the whole Columbia full-force machine.

All right, Altman, it's your turn. You and I were on a panel last week at USC, and you said to the people in the room, "Be true to yourself, and if you're any good, I'll hear about or somebody at one of the other labels will hear about you." What if the music of that "true" artist who's being true to himself is making isn't jiving with what the market wants. Will their shelf life run out, or do they get an all-ages pass?

MA: What I was saying—to clarify for the room—is if you're artists, this is what you do. If you're writers, this is what you do. Now, whether you make money or not, those two sometimes don't intersect. But when artists are legitimate—meaning if you're in a rock band and you kill it live and you have great songs, if you're a singer, and you're an unbelievable singer, we will find you. And if it turns out that you're 60 and you have 10 grandchildren, well, obviously, it's not going to work out for you on the major label side.

Larry Willoughby, Vice-President of A&R, Capitol Records Nashville

Maybe it's not so obvious. Why not?

MA: OK, here's why. You won't look good in a video. It's tough to sell your music when you don't fit the expectation of what the audience is looking for. And the people that buy pop music... I'm talking pop records, rock records. I mean popular. Not necessarily Britney Spears, but I mean Hoobastank or Josh Groban. Those are popular records; they reach a lot of people.

Now, of course, record companies are supposed to drive the audience. They are supposed to tell people what they want to hear. That's the truth. But artists tell record companies what artists want to do, record companies then try and expose them to as many people as possible. If you're 40 years old and you don't look the part, and you have a smoking band, you might consider getting a younger singer and writing the songs and being the MD and putting the project together that way. That's just the truth. Or you might consider putting a record out on your own, figuring out a way to make a living that way. Or you might just want to create for the sake of creating.

You know, I consider myself an artist. We're all artists in this room. You guys wouldn't be here if you weren't artists in one form or another. When you're an artist, you kind of get paid to wait. You would sing for free, right? Who's a singer in this room? You'd sing for free, right? So when you're getting paid, you're actually getting paid to wait. You sing for free. That's really the mentality that you have to take. The best artists that we've all ever worked with would do it if it paid minimum wage. That's sort of the point I was getting at. If you love what you do, and it is truly great, we will find you. It's a simple axiom; it's really not that complicated. I know, I just spent 10 minutes sayin' it...

I was gonna thank you for keeping it so short.

MA: Don't get me started. I will never give up the mike. You know that.

This is why people hire me to do A&R panels all over the country because they know I'm the only guy who can control you. [laughter] He loves the microphone, but he's really good. He used to be a teacher.

People always ask me why TAXI doesn't forward material that's pretty good and you guys decide if it's a hit or not. Why don't you sign acts that are pretty good and let the public decide?

TF: OK. I'll put my neck out. Because the public haven't got a clue, and here's the reason why. It's like the Internet. When the Internet came along, they said record companies will be out of business within three years because the Internet will provide all aspects of music and the public will decide what's good and what's bad. Well, you know what? What a shambles that was, because there's so much music out there. When you consider that each year there are about 26 to 30,000 releases of records in every genre of music in a given year—classical, jazz, gospel singing, every aspect—how do you disseminate what's good and what's bad?

The idea of the major labels, whether you like it or not, is to funnel what they consider is good and what's bad. When an artist has a certain amount of merit, and quite frankly, over the years when you consider the success rate of some of these artists, we do put out OK records and pretty mediocre stuff. That's been the complaint over the years, particularly through the '80s and the early '90s. The record labels were putting too much crap out there, filling up the shelves of retail with nondescript records of artists that people don't really care about. And now that we have a bad economy and we have Internet interfering with sales of records and the record companies are hurting, they're signing less and are much more diligent and conscientious about the kind of records we put out, because the cost of business is so high and we can't afford to put that many records out. But we're still getting slammed because we're not putting enough out. It's a lose-lose situation for the record companies.

Whether you like them or not, they're around. Columbia's going to be around in some form; BMG is going to be around; Warner Bros. is going to be around; MCA Universal's going to be around. It's the distribution of those labels that control the industry because, whether you're Aware Records or some independent label, if you have an artist that starts blowing up, you have to come to the major labels at this point in time to use the distribution networks that are set up internationally with the major labels to get your record out there. Otherwise, you're down to—like our friend over here—100,000 records is probably the most they can sell.

Autumn House, Director of A&R, Capitol Records Nashville

I've got to say that I think the filtering that the labels do is highly important, because look at they have 265,000 artists out there. How many people found it pleasant to go to and look for new artists? Was that as easy as going to the record store or going to iTunes?

TF: I remember being on these panels for a period of three years in the late '90s when moderators like yourself would say to us, "Ladies and gentlemen, you are looking at the dinosaurs of the music industry. In three years these people are going to be out of work." Remember those conversations? We thought, "Sh*t, we're gonna be out of work."

Not on any of my panels.

TF: You know what? It never happened.

Well, you're the longest-working A&R person in the whole damn industry, anyway.

TF: Damn right. [applause]

Seriously, most A&R people hold a job for like three years, five years, maybe. Tony's been doing this longer than most of the people in this room have been alive. And he's still got a job and still keeps getting promoted.

OK, Larry, so little Debby wants to be a country star.

LW: I don't like her name. [laughter]

She sings along with her idols in her bedroom and even sings at a county fair or two. When she turns 19, Debbie records a demo, hops a bus to Nashville, thinking she's going to find stardom. What do the next five years of Little Debbie's life really look like?

LW: Do you want fries with that? [laughter]

I'll give you a short example of Little Debbie. We had a young lady come in from Georgia, Cindy Thompson. She walked into my office with a songwriter friend of hers and played us three songs—thanks to Autumn, who wasn't working at Capitol at the time, but I think that's how she got hired over there. Anyway, Cindy played us three songs, and two of them were just incredible. Her first single was three weeks on the country charts as #1. She then had to start going out on the road, meeting radio guys, and doing some show and having the radio people come back after the shows and sort of critiquing her. And within a year, she quit. She said, "I just can't do this; it's too grueling. I don't enjoy it. I don't enjoy critiquing my music. I just want to do what I do. I don't even want to tour."

That was a heartbreak for us as a label, and for me, because I just loved what she did. She was a great singer; she was a beautiful woman. But she couldn't take the grind. And it is a terrible grind in country music where you have to go to radio stations and try to make them your friend and take their bullshit. She just couldn't do it.

AH: She was young, and I think enamored with the idea of videos and a stylist. She certainly was an artist but didn't realize that she would spend a lot of time with a middle aged promotion guy in a car driving to Norman, Okla. And there's a lot of that. Most of the months are spent doing that, of course. I think that was quite a shock to her system.

TF: Hey Laskow. Before you decide to move on, we have to put an exclamation point on something that getting a record deal—for those of you who do get a record deal in this business—it will be the easiest part of your career. It has to be said that it is a very difficult life. Even being a superstar is grueling. Not being a superstar, getting from zero to a half-million records is exhausting. It's very hard and takes a tremendous amount of work, a tremendous amount of luck, a lot of timing.

So, you hear a story like that where a young artist comes in and it's as easy as possible. She moves to Nashville from Georgia, walks into Capitol Nashville's office, gets a record deal, has a #1 single, and then a year in finds it's too difficult to continue. It's a hard business.

Marshall Altman, A&R Consultant, Columbia Records

The best example I've ever seen of that, Tony turned me on to a video that he stars in called "Here Comes Huffamoose." It's amazing. It's a DVD that shows a band that just got signed to Interscope and... Tony's a little embarrassed. He called me up and said, "You've got to get my friend's video, but I said something really stupid in it." I didn't think it was that stupid, personally.

The video is so telling. Here's a band that just got signed to a major label and they're going out on the road for a year or so to try and build a following and it just shows the daily grind. By the end of it, your heart is just breaking for this band. So everybody who thinks that they want that major label deal and that you want to be a rock star, don't take another step until you see "Here Comes Huffamoose."

Autumn, the seemingly overnight success of Gretchen Wilson and Big and Rich might send a signal to some people that if you're an irreverent redneck, it's going to be easy for you to get signed right now. Is that true, or is the redneck category full?

AH: We don't want to seem as if we're chasing after that fan base, although there are apparently a lot of rednecks out there. They're buying a lot of records. We're going to just sign artists based on what we like. I don't know if we're going to look for a particular brand of artist just to follow what is successful at the moment. But, you know, if a great redneck walks in, I don't think we'll be as shy to sign them certainly now knowing that there are so many people out there that want to hear that kind of music.

LW: I think the redneck thing has always been a big factor in country music, starting back with a different side of redneck with Hank Williams and Hank Williams Jr. I just think that Gretchen had the song with "redneck" in it. She's been in Nashville forever and couldn't get a deal, and she's a great singer. I think a lot of people looked at her maybe two, three years ago where she didn't have the video look. She came up with a great song that not only fit her image, but it appealed to a lot of women, especially, out there who dug what she was saying.

I know that at Capitol we don't chase a trend because, if you do, you're following somebody. We like to go out and find things that are different, that we can hopefully get on radio. It's a roll of the dice, but if you start chasing things, you're always going to be running behind the thing that's happening next. The process takes so long—going to radio and making it a hit. It's now a year, so if you're continuing to chase things, you're going to be a year, two years behind what's happening currently. We try not to do that.

AH: It definitely has changed the idea of what we think popular artists will be for country music. Gretchen had been in town for a long time and I think her image—certainly not Faith Hill-friendly—it's definitely opened the door to look at artists that may not be very video-friendly from the get-go.

MA: Sorry, I'm going to take a tangent. It goes to a larger view. If you look at the election, there are a lot of red states in the middle—a lot of conservative people—and a lot of blue states on the outside of the country; not that many blue states, unfortunately. But if you look at the socioeconomic makeup of the country right now, it's fairly conservative—a lot of American pride. We're at war; we have a war president with a very conservative faith. That music is speaking to this country. That's why it's working. If Gretchen Wilson came out with the same record in the Clinton era, when it was this enlightened democracy, I don't think it would have worked.

I think you're going to see in the next four years a lot more aggressive rock, a lot more aggressive protest music, a lot more socially conscious music. I think Louis has a couple of bands who are actually saying something. Avenged, as hard as they are, they have a definitive point of view musically. And I think the redneck scene fits into where the country is right now. If you live outside the U.S., you're looking at this country thinkin', "Wow, everybody drives a Ford; everybody goes to church on Sunday; everybody has a can of Skull in their back pocket and likes to drink Coors Lite." That's why Gretchen's workin' right now. I think that's something for everyone to think on. When you listen to the radio and when you look at popular culture, you have to sort of think about what's going on around the world and in this country. That's what we all do.

Do you honestly think that it flipped from one administration to the next from democratically enlightened to instantly redneck with the change of one president?

MA: Yes I do.

Voice from the audience: You live in a bubble.

MA: I live in a bubble? OK, I live in a bubble up on this stage. [ooh, boo]

We're supposed to look at the world, hear music and try and see how it's going to work for the people out in the world.

SS: I think what Marshall's saying is 75 percent right. I don't think it switches with the administrations. The people in this room, people in the music business, are not typical music buyers. We can talk about what we sign and who we work with on some levels and what we listen to at home and our specific niche tastes of music. But the fact of the matter is if you get a record that goes from 500,000 to 2 or 3 million, it's because the middle part of the country is buying that record, and they get it and relate to it. That's the biggest demographic of music buyers there is. It's not the musically educated people, so to speak, it's the radio listeners. That's how they buy records; that's the only way they know about buying records in the middle of the country is to listen to the radio. They don't have the focal points that happen in New York, L.A., Chicago or the major metropolitan areas that have the diversity.

Steve Smith, Vice-President of A&R, Aware Records; Manager, A-Squared

Guess what. They do have satellite dishes and they do get MTV and CMT.

SS: That's my point. That's the exact same thing as radio. They're getting their five or six bands that they're exposed to a week, a month or a year that MTV or CMT plays. They're not getting exposed to 90 bands a week that we do in major cities. It's a huge factor in buying or selling records. They're getting very specific things thrown at them musically unless they go out and seek things.

LP: It seems that we're talking about one single goal though which is selling millions of records where even in those red states, there are thousands of people who listen to all sort of different kinds of music. So, it really depends on what your end goal is. If your end goal is selling 100,000 or 200,000 records and you can make a career out of that, I don't know if there are more red or blue states, it's going to make a difference.

SS: I think that's a great point. I think that the best thing to walk away from this is that these panels always tend to go in the manner of selling millions of records. There's no science to what we do. There's no one way to do it right, no one way to do it wrong; there's no one story that remains consistent. Everything's different. Every band has different goals; every band's going to achieve different levels. You figure out for yourself what you're going to be happy with and what you want to achieve, and go about the best way to try to make that happen. I manage a band that sold 60,000 records; they made a sh*tload of money last year.

Which brings me to my next question for Louis, which is how do you break a punk or metal act all over the country without radio, without the major label marketing machine? Give them the process that you go through to make sure that somebody in Peoria, Illinois finds out about the acts that you've got that aren't going to break on MTV or be on a P1 station.

LP: I'm not going to pretend I know the answer. We're still always listening and learning. That's part of our philosophy of a company. But for us in our almost 11-year history, we continually try to find new outlets to find those fans who are into whatever style. We do a lot of different genres of punk and hardcore. We try to look at the artist, listen to them, listen to their music, talk to them and find out who exactly they're trying to reach, and how can we reach them with the money that we have. So we've found over the years the number-one form of marketing for us is touring. That's always going to be on the top of the list, and we work our way down through other things. We find every Web site that punk and hardcore fans look at; we find every magazine, every club, and find the kids in that town that go to that club that will hand out stickers and CDs for you outside the shows. It's all going to vary on how much time and money and resources you have—identifying those outlets and knowing which ones are more effective than others and setting a plan to execute those.

What are the actual day-to-day mechanics? Do you have two people who sit on phones all day long calling smaller radio stations across the country? Do you have five people who do touring? Give them the percentage of time that you use on each one of those different tasks.

LP: We're an eight-person company as far as fulltime staff, not counting hiring independent contractors like publicists and radio promotion companies. Of those eight people, we are split into two sides: operations and finance that deals with stuff coming in and of the office—whether it's people or things—ordering CDs or t-shirts, etc. The other half, which is three people plus interns, are doing sales and marketing, calling distributors, radio stations, writers, retail stores, Web sites setting up contests. So the percentage would change based on the artist and the release. What we try to do is identify what are sales are and adjust our time accordingly.

The reason I asked that question is that we just had a panel of experts on doing it yourself up here. Most do-it-yourself panels say, "You can do this. Here's the process. Blah, blah." Not that I don't believe in DIY, I really do. It's almost necessary to get the attention of at least the major labels on the coasts—maybe not so much in Nashville. So many people are inspired by the whole DIY thing, yet I rarely see people actually pull it off. And I look at you, Louis, it takes eight of you working your butts off to sell 128,000 units. Is it possible for just one artist, a solo artist, or a band of five guys to pull it off on their own and sell 30,000 units? How often can that be done?

SS: He's got eight people working. They're working multi-records. You take a band like O.A.R. Here's a band that's grown up, toured, and ended up signing a major label deal and it hasn't done anything for the record sales. But at the same time, they got to a point where they're selling three nights at the House of Blues in Chicago with no help from anybody. They sold like 200,000 on their own combined. They just went out and did it and they made it happen. For them, at that point in time, they knew their demographic. They were playing college shows and it worked. It does happen; it totally can be done.

Can you have a job and a house and a dog and a cat and a kid and a wife, any of that stuff, and do it?

SS: If you're willing to put the time in, sure.

What kind of time commitment are we looking at?

SS: Depends what your goals are.

I'm in a four-piece band; I want to sell 3,000 units in the next 18 months.

SS: You can figure to tour seven months out of the year at least to make it happen. You've got to be good, though. You can't suck.