Brendan Benson was signed to a major in the 90’s. His first album, the beloved One Mississippi was released in 1996, with executives hoping he would be the “next Beck.” 16 years later, Brendan is now in the position to build a business around his own creative output, instead of releasing music only to have it marketed under the image of an entirely different artist.
Since that debut, Brendan has released music on indies, sub-majors and of course with Jack White, Patrick Keeler and Jack Lawrence as The Raconteurs. As a solo artist prior to this year, Brendan had released four solo albums on as many labels. There has been little consistency in the writer, producer, and recording artist’s career, but in the modern music industry, Brendan can do exactly the opposite: consistently release music as it is completed, in whatever format or length he wants.
The years 2000-2010 will of course be remembered for the widespread digitising of music for fans and retail. But another game changing factor for the industry was the widespread availability of world-class home recording set-ups. Although all of Brendan’s recent musical output has been recorded via analogue, the playing field has been levelled for artists of all ages and budgets to have access to recording themselves, or have friends and/or colleagues who more often than not have their own set up.
This is why when it came time for Brendan to begin work on his 5th solo album, I told him to just get in the studio. He had a wonderful collection of songs, and was inspired to record with recent tourmates Ken Stringfellow, Jon Auer (The Posies / Big Star) and Brad Pemberton (of Ryan Adams’ Cardinals). Brendan got to work and the result is his critically acclaimed and genre-bending recent release, What Kind of World. While Brendan was recording the album, I was contacted by various labels, and of course took all meetings as we’re always looking for partners to help to spread our artists’ music as far and wide as possible. However, every few months I’d get a call from eager traditional partners urging me, for Brendan’s sake, to find a home elsewhere. As has frequently been the case over the past decade, staffs would re-shuffle and companies shut down.
Simultaneously, Brendan had begun producing Young Hines, an artist he heard housepainters listening to that immediately piqued his interest. Brendan covered one of the Georgia native’s tracks, emailed it to Young Stryker Hines (his real name after his parents hadn’t gotten around to naming their 7th child and the nurses wrote Young on his birth certificate), who apparently fell out of his chair after receiving the song attachment from one of his musical heroes. A few months later, I was in the studio visiting Brendan where he and Young were creating what would be Readymade’s debut, Give Me My Change. I sat in the studio setting up Young’s Twitter account and showing his girlfriend Fanbridge. I witnessed Sam Farrar (Phantom Planet) tweet out videos of the musicians assembled from Nashville’s various scenes. I went back to my hotel and realised that Brendan had created his own scene and dare I say brand, both as a musician and as a producer. I also realised that we could do more for the artists that Brendan was working with by offering them a sustainable distribution and marketing platform, rather than attempting to shop these releases out to multiple homes, should those homes remain intact throughout the campaign.
Within 12 months, Brendan had produced 6 albums in addition to his own: Cory Chisel & The Wandering Sons, Ireland’s Lost Brothers, the aforementioned Young Hines, Nashville’s Howling Brothers as well as a major label act whose masters are AMAZING (I happened to be listening to them as I write this) but are still tied up in the legalities of the label that paid for them, as their staff was laid off shortly after the session. Not only did I want to be able to offer these artists a platform to properly release their music, should they want or need one, but I was sick of seeing great music get held up by things that have nothing to do with music. What fun is that for the fans or artists?
In January of this year, we formerly announced Readymade Records & Publishing, which was an imprint name that Brendan added to an EP in the 90’s around the same time as his virgin release. After years in the industry, Brendan now had the name to be able to launch Readymade properly. With the help of technology and the modern music industry, there are now ways for Brendan to write, record, produce and distribute music in a sustainable manner for the rest of his life.
Brendan is at a point in his career where he was able to invest in recording, but it was hard for me to justify investing more money for promotion afterwards. We have worked very hard to organise communication with Brendan’s fan-base over the past few years using free fan engagement tools on social networks, his site, and e-mail list; all while tracking where the fans are coming from with Facebook Insights and Google Analytics. However, it’s still important to get Brendan’s music on mainstream press and radio for fans or potential fans who may not be able to spend time on Twitter for one reason or another.
I’ve seen various models over the past decades that involve investors as individuals or companies to dump money into a promotional team. However, many of these companies or investors have gone under, as it is not sustainable to build a company based on projections steeped in risk. To remedy this, we structured the promo teams around Young and Brendan’s albums to be paid via a commission on sales as well as film/TV/licensing sync revenue. From our distributors, to label services team (Thirty Tigers), to publicists, to radio promo, to digital marketing via Toolshed, we have been able to build a team that is here first for the music, and that is willing to put in the work necessary to reap larger benefits larger than the usual monthly fee, should the projects run successfully.
This model is not for everyone, but with Brendan’s strong sync history and reputation for creating quality music, it has allowed us to create Readymade.
Building businesses around artists shouldn’t prompt us to ask “Why Readymade?” Instead, we should ask “Why not Readymade?”
Not only does creating and distributing one’s music with a plan allow for consistency in an artist’s output, but it also frees up creative barriers. Brendan and I do not have to seek approval on concepts and instead, are able to shoot our own music videos, launch digital and vinyl clubs and start Readymade Films; all ideas based on talented folks who have contacted us about what we are building and want to contribute.
But at its core, Readymade is all about the music. Readymade will have 5 full length releases this year as well as an EP produced for a (TBA) legend, along with an indie band very close to Brendan’s heart. The artists are having a blast on tour together, sitting in on each others sets, encouraging performances of songs from eras long past, and helping each other grow and move forward on both individual and collective musical journeys. It’s a pleasure to watch and facilitate. Planning the future of one’s career is setting the foundation now of great music, connecting with fans, and continuing to grow as technology continues to enhance and influence work on both the music and business sides of what we do.
Photo © Reid Rolls