Razor & Tie Vice President, Marketing Executive John Franck Talks Shop
Since starting in 1990, the New York City-based label has scored both Platinum sales and Grammy awards. In 2010, Razor & Tie also entered into a joint venture with Artery Recordings, that has yielded popular releases from the likes of Chelsea Grin and Vanna.
Along with its stellar publicity, marketing, radio and sales staff, Razor & Tie's John Franck (Vice President, Marketing) and Pete Giberga (Vice President, A&R) have been proving that you don't have to be a major label to strike success in this downtrodden music market. Noisecreep recently caught up with Franck (he's on the left, Giberga on the right, in the above photo) and got his thoughts on Razor & Tie's history, current status and future.
Prior to joining Razor & Tie last year, you spent a decade at eOne Music in a similar role. What was it about Razor & Tie that attracted you to come over in the first place?
Franck: What initially excited me about R&T was the opportunity to work in an environment that felt both fresh and entrepreneurial. Razor & Tie has a rich, 20+ year history that spans many different genres. My initial conversations with Razor & Tie's co-owners Cliff Chenfeld and Craig Balsam were very much about marketing but also about where the label wanted to go and its potential growth areas. The idea of investing in hard rock and metal felt like a natural evolution for a label that already had an incredible band like All That Remains to anchor its roster and also the Artery Recordings imprint firmly in place. From these 2 points of entry alone, I felt like we had a great platform to build from.
I joined R&T in March of 2011, and by summertime, we'd hired Pete Giberga as our new head of A&R. As far as hard rock goes, I grew up on Maiden, Motorhead, the Bay Area Thrash scene etc. and Pete grew up on NYHC. We both traveled down different paths to get here, but 18 months in, we feel like we're headed in the right direction. Lastly, one of the other things that excited me about Razor & Tie was the opportunity to work with a staff I'd heard a lot of great things about-- those expectations were met from the first day I joined the label. The label is staffed with an exceptional, forward-thinking team.
Razor & Tie's roster has a nice balance of veteran acts (P.O.D., Shadows Fall) and newer artists (Chelsea Grin, Defiler). Has that balance been something that the label has purposely aimed for?
No question. For us, we feel it's important to strike a balance and have artists of all shapes and sizes-baby developing acts, semi established acts and well established bands. As far as our developing roster goes, we're looking for bands that have the ability to create opportunities for themselves and grow over time-and bands that have the potential to write great songs. And while this all may sound obvious, a lot of times it isn't. A band like Such Gold (who is a pop-punk, hardcore act) is a great example of this. They've been able to tour around the world on their own and create a nice buzz for themselves through sheer hustle and hard work. As excited as I am about our current album (Misadventures), I can't wait to hear what their second, third and fourth albums will sound like-- and that all takes time. And patience. We also place significant stock on who manages each act we can potentially sign. Smart, experienced, managers can add tremendous value and we don't take that lightly.
As far as veteran, established artists go, it's a little more complicated. But ultimately, without over stating the obvious, it comes down to the record(s) and where the band's base is. The material needs to be there. We'll ask a lot of questions. Can the band still make a great record? Are the songs there, or can they get there? And is the band open to working with our A&R department, and/or working with a suggested producer, mixer, outside song writer(s) as opposed to just "delivering" a record. If there's an opportunity to take something to commercial radio, and the band has had previous success there, we like to try and work with them to give them the best possible opportunity to win. At times, this can be an immensely challenging dialogue, especially with a band or artist that has had a significant sales history. We look at each opportunity and try to make balanced decisions. In the last year, we've also passed on several established artists whose records were already recorded because we didn't feel the songs were there or the opportunity to help them get there in a way that could provide meaningful results for the label.
The label has signed a few artists (Shadows Fall, P.O.D.) that were formerly on major labels. Have you come across any situations where a management team has pushed back, still expecting major label kind of money/muscle behind their acts?
The business has drastically changed over the past decade. The retail account base has dramatically diminished; the way music is consumed and monetized is still constantly evolving. Every signing is different, but the fundamental need to have a healthy/transparent relationship with artist/manager remains the same. As a business, we have to stay rooted in reality. There has to be transparency from the on-set of the relationship, and if everyone's expectations are clearly defined and re-defined throughout the course of the project it helps move things along. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but I've always viewed the relationship between label and manager as a balancing act. That will never change. As I mentioned earlier, Razor & Tie wants to be in business with smart, reality based managers with a real panoramic understanding of the label (and the touring business) as it sits in 2012. These are the types partnerships we're looking for. And smart managers ask a lot of questions BEFORE the band signs the deal. We're also fortunate to work with several managers that we've had long-standing relationships with and welcome the opportunity to be in business with them and work with their artists.
A lot of music critics and artists complain that the art of A&R and overall artist development is a lost art. What's your take on that?
Without good A&R (and the ability to make smart deals,) at a certain point, you're going to hit a brick wall. A&R is a major part of what we do and I view us as an A&R driven company. I say this a lot, we work in a business that released 75,000+ albums last year; there's never been MORE of a need for A&R than there is now. There needs to be a filter -- preferably, several filters. As it relates to Razor & Tie specifically, in the last year, we've made significant efforts to make A&R a more inclusionary process and an ongoing discussion with key department within the label. Making great records has never been more important than it is now. In the past year, Pete Giberga and I have had countless conversations with artists to reinforce just how important the song writing and record-making process is. Inevitably, bands are judged days, weeks and sometimes months out from album release when their records either leak or are premiered online. It's on us to make sure we're available to help in every facet of the record making process. Given the size of our roster, this isn't always possible, but there are certainly examples we can point to where we feel the A&R process added a lot and our artists came out with better records because of it.
All That Remains
To answer the second part of your question, we place significant importance on artist development if/when the elements are in place to enable that process to happen. As far as the artist development process, we have baby acts that are blossoming like Chelsea Grin, whose first album we shipped 2,000 units on in February 2010. Two and half years later, we've quietly sold over 65,000 combined albums and feel like the band has only hinted at what they're capable of. For Today is another act we feel great about, where we'll continue to work hard to expand the band's reach over the next 18 months. Lastly, and this is important to mention, we're also proud of the job we've done with All That Remains, who while certainly not a new band by any means, we've taken Top 10 at Active Rock 4 times in a row and whose social awareness has quintupled in the last calendar year.
Have you ever signed an artist off an unsolicited demo/MP3 submission? If not, how does Razor & Tie usually find newer, unsigned talent?
Our A&R meetings are set up in such a way that anyone joining them from within our team can play unsigned talent. That being said, to date, we have yet to sign an artist off either an unsolicited demo or an MP3 submission, but it's not to say that couldn't happen someday.
I think working out the deal you did with The Artery Foundation was really smart. Can you see the label working out a similar deal with another company like that? Say a clothing company or energy drink.
Our relationship with the Artery Foundation/Artery Recordings is a great one and one that will continue to grow with time. The genesis of the deal pre-dates me and the credit goes to Dylan Chenfeld and Eric Rushing who saw the potential to create something together. We've quietly sold over 180,000 albums together and I feel like our relationship is just hitting its stride. Will we try to create similar partnerships down the road? Time will tell.
Has Razor & Tie's rock/metal division had any big disappointments over the last year or so? If so, do you take it personally? I imagine you and the staff invest a lot of blood, sweat and tears into these album campaigns.
The most obvious benchmark for success is still the number of records you sell/don't sell. If you have a radio band, selling a meaningful number of digital tracks is also critical to what we do. That being said, these are the most obvious/transparent aspects of quantifiable success, even though the perception of that success at times operates in a vacuum since fans aren't privy to the costs of A. signing an artist and B. the cost of marketing that said artist. Defining what makes a project successful will continue to change as consumer consumption habits continue to evolve over time and music is monetized in different ways. We look to all areas of our business (publishing, licensing, merchandising etc.) to help contribute to the success of our projects. Of course we would love all our artists to succeed, but realistically, every label has its disappointments. To a degree, I think I'd be lying if there wasn't a small part of each of us at the label that didn't take our wins and losses personally, but that's also what makes this business what it is-- there's still a serious intangibility factor to what we do day in/day out.
What's on the plate for the label in the next six months or so?
We recently released For Today's new album Immortal and also a new Chelsea Grin EP, Evolve. Both bands were on this summer's Warped Tour and we'll be working both projects for some time to come. Our new P.O.D. album just came out and we're in the trenches on our first single "Lost In Forever" which is closing in on Top 5 at Active Rock Radio. The release schedule through the end of the year includes three new summer releases from Artery Recordings (For the Fallen Dreams, A Bullet For Pretty Boy and Close toHome), the debut album from Such Gold which is just came out and the debut album from I Am War (a collaborative effort between Alex Varkatzas from Atreyu and Brandan Schieppati from Bleeding Through). Going into the fall, we'll have new studio albums from The Sword, Nonpoint, the debut album from Defiler and All That Remains' new album, A War You Cannot Win. As far as 2013 goes, we're scheduling albums into next summer and we'll have a bunch of bands in the studio top of the year including Norma Jean.
Name one Razor & Tie album that should be in every metalhead's music collection.
It's a cliché' to say that the best is yet to come, but we feel like our new All That Remains and The Sword albums are shaping up to be really special. We couldn't be more excited about how they've turned out. The ATR album picks up where For We Are Many left off, but it's heavier, more anthemic and more politically charged in scope. The production and mix are explosive.
Name one Razor & Tie album that flew under the radar but should be rediscovered by our readers.
I'm going to pick a non-obvious one because even though we just recently released it, our new Shadows Fall record is still flying under the radar for the mere fact that fans are still discovering it. It's a really good record front to back. It's a dense, complex album that gets better with each listen.
Head over to www.RazorandTie.com for information on the label and its diverse roster.