Records: Simple philosophy + great artists = big success
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New York City-based Octone Records is not your
typical indie record label by today’s standards. Launched a little over four
years ago, Octone is an independent company that is best known for signing and
breaking Maroon 5, one of the hottest acts on the pop charts today.
Maroon 5 is still supporting its debut release, Songs About Jane, and
adhering to the label’s philosophy of building a fan base through touring, which
they have been doing for five years straight. The band has also been embraced by
radio. All of this has resulted in a debut that has gone quadruple platinum
nationally, and sold nine million copies worldwide.
And while Octone is a privately funded label, it has a joint venture with the
RCA Music Group that can help launch an artist to levels Octone cannot reach
with its own marketing efforts. RCA assists with pop radio, video, and
international distribution. This kind of arrangement helps the label to compete
with the majors.
The biggest key to Octone’s success, however, is general manager David Boxenbaum,
who has been with the label since its inception in 2000. Boxenbaum spoke with
Bullz-Eye about how important it is to have an initial investment.
“You need to have enough working capital to survive until you start selling
records,” he says. “Too many indie labels are undercapitalized, so they don’t
have the money to realize the full potential of their label or artists. Or even
worse, they go broke, not because they have bad artists or are running the label
poorly, but because they ran out of money before they can start to generate
positive cash flow.”
With nine million records sold, Maroon 5 has given Octone a significant head
start on those returns. But that won’t change the way the label or its artists
operate. Like any successfully run business, Octone will continue to send its
artists on the road and market them the same way.
But how, then, does Octone follow up such a massive inaugural signing and move
forward? Basically, it follows the same core principles, and tries to build on
them. The label signed Michael Tolcher, another road warrior who is gaining new
fans on a daily basis through rigorous touring and a debut release called I
Am. Tolcher is charting on Hot AC radio nationwide, tours with pop icon
Gavin DeGraw, and has been exposed to national television audiences on shows
such as “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and “Last Call with Carson Daly.”
And over the past year, Octone has signed three more artists—clever pop/rock
band As Fas As, from Portland, Maine, whose singer Spencer Albee says “sounds
like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich tastes”; Flyleaf, an intense and
heartfelt alternative band based in Dallas; and Minneapolis based piano-driven
rockers Dropping Daylight. All of them have two common denominators—strong
songs, and an affinity for the road.
Boxenbaum says that a band’s live show is the most important aspect. “Touring
and live shows are the only way you build a core fan base,” he says. “Radio
sells records but isn’t a good medium to find dedicated music fans that stick by
And while many labels are looking for the next Pearl Jam or Radiohead, Octone is
just looking for an artist that has something compelling to offer musically. Of
course, that music also has to be something that will work on radio. “Without
radio or MTV,” says Boxenbaum, “you usually have a limited sales ceiling.”
The label also prides itself on signing fewer artists than other labels, but
being able to “super serve” those artists one at a time, as Boxenbaum claims.
This, along with the other beliefs of the label, has made Octone an easy choice
for artists looking for representation. “After talking to many labels, Octone’s
ideas about how to break a band are fantastic,” says Sebastian Davin of Dropping
Daylight. “They made us feel assured we would be given all the efforts they had
Lacey Mosley of Flyleaf agrees. “All they had to say was everything we could
ever want in a label,” she says. Not surprisingly, she concurs that the next
step for Flyleaf is “lots of touring and lots of fans, more touring and more
fans.” The touring aspect is not something Octone had to sell to any of its
Still, the climate of today’s music industry is extremely volatile. Many of the
major labels are merging with each other, and there is an urgency like never
before to have immediate gratification. So labels are signing artists based on
hit song potential, and if they fail out of the gate, they wind up on the street
and out of their contracts faster than ever before. Not so at Octone.
“We need to feel very strongly about an artist,” says Boxenbaum. “We can’t say,
‘Well, I don’t know if this artist is the real deal, but this song could be a
hit so let’s give it a shot.’ That approach doesn’t work for us.”
That approach suits the label’s roster just fine. When asked where they see
themselves in five years, each artist had a similar response, which involved
releasing multiple albums and touring in support of them. Both Albee and Davin
used the term “touring our asses off,” but Tolcher probably summed it up best,
envisioning himself “on a tour bus, heading to the next show.”
That’s music to Octone’s ears.
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