Interview with Phil Roy (continued)
PR: I'd been in the music business for a long time. By this time, I knew that I'd made a pretty good record. But I'm just another guy with another CD. And there's way too many of them now. When you and I were coming up, no one made their own album. How could you make your own album? Press the vinyl?
PM: It seemed like having your own TV show.
PR: Yeah, how could you do that? Well, now you can even do that, on the local access channel. Or you can put it on the Internet.
PM: That's coming up for Puremusic, I'm pretty sure of that.
PR: Oh yeah, I see it now. So, we both agree, there's too much music out there. Everyone has access to little $500 4 track digital recorders and CD burners. Everyone has a guitar. I think it's one of the problems with the music business right now. It's very hard for the people in decision making positions to actually know what to listen to, to listen to it, and figure out what to do about any of it, if anything.
PM: Even on the gig booking level, I'm hearing that the little club owners are just overwhelmed and getting burnt out by the volume of music hitting their desk and the relentless follow up of far too many singer songwriters. Like publishers, they just get good at saying "no."
PR: Even with my credits, which are pretty good, the doors still didn't open. You can list all the records your songs have been on, all the films they've been in, the good quotes...didn't make the difference at first. The thing that got it moving for me was when my friend David gave my record to a DJ on KCRW in Los Angeles, which is a very hard nut to crack. It's the eclectic NPR station in Los Angeles. They have every radio promoter in the world trying to get their stuff on there. Promoters are being paid lots of money to get their stuff played on KCRW. Anyhow, they started playing "Melt" on KCRW, and the phone lines lit up. Then the other DJs started playing it. Almost all the DJs at the station had a copy of "Grouchyfriendly." Then the DJ sent it to his friend in Philadelphia, at WXPN [another hard nut to crack], and David Dye at The World Cafe started playing it in heavy rotation, as did WXPN. Then WFUV in NYC [Fordham University in NJ, but the eclectic station in the metropolitan area]. And Jody Denber of KGSR in Austin, Texas added the record. The indications were that I had what could have been a very big record in the hands of a big company that was really behind it in a promotional campaign. That's where David Gray started. People started to draw possible similarities. But on the David Gray record, he had everything in place. He had Dave Matthews' label, he had a manager, he had distribution and marketing, publicity and promotion. And it takes every bit of that to really play that kind of ball. So, I was sitting there with something extraordinary happening, but without any of the infrastructure of real success in place.
PM: What kept you from rushing to get it in place at that point?
PR: It was all happening pretty fast. I'd never played NYC before, and my first show there was headlining The Bottom Line. And it was a pretty big deal. Then I got offered a few record deals that almost anyone at this conference would have been over the moon about. But since I'd been around the music industry for so long, I knew that they were just wrong. I just couldn't believe what they were offering in the folk, singer songwriter world for a record deal. Compared to what they would offer in the pop world, it was a horrible insult. Pennies in the pocket. I would give away my album for free, I've already made it, and I'm not that into money. Money is not the root of my ambition. But I'd need to see some commitment from a company to promote the records before I'd entertain the idea of signing a serious deal with them. It's about promotion. I mean, I have your CD right here. This might be the folk album of the year. But if no one knows about it, no one knows about it. So I was very adamant about certain things. Plus, there's a certain amount of respect that someone shows you by showing you how much they want to pay you for what you're bringing to the table. This is how they show how they value it. And I felt a lack of respect. Like I said, if I felt it was someone with the right intentions, I'd put up my record for free.
PM: Were any of these bigger companies miffed when you said "Thanks, but no thanks"?
PR: Well, it's a long story that we won't be able to get into here, but another big company came along. They basically said, "Phil, we love you, we love what you do, we believe in you as an artist. We're gonna distribute your music all over the world. You're gonna have everything you need to have people all over the world exposed to your music." And I waited a year for it to come about. After many promises, that division of the company literally folded. The dot com meltdown, the repercussions of September 11th, it's just business. Anyhow, it didn't happen. And I understand. But I put my eggs in that basket, and believed it was gonna lift off like a big balloon. The people were good people. And they showed their respect by what they paid me for my trouble to honor their agreement in the only way they felt they could at the time. They didn't have to do that, but they chose to do it, because they knew I was struggling by that point. This independent songwriter thing is not like having a big advance, or even a steady draw. I don't have a publishing deal right now, but I'm waiting and looking for the right one.
Anyhow, but if you look at what's happened with the record, you can see I've managed to get a lot of action. There's a Phil Roy song on 120,000 units of various compilations out right now.
PM: Did you get on one of those HearMusic deals?
PR: 40,000 copies of the HearMusic/Starbucks compilation, Volume 6. And on that record are Lucinda Williams, Ryan Adams, Charles Mingus, the Blind Boys of Alabama...I'm right where I want to be. 20,000 copies of World Cafe Volume 11, with David Gray and Dar Williams, Indigo Girls. And me. "Why Do We Make It So Hard?" got on 50,000 copies of the Paul McCartney/Garland Appeal benefit CD for breast cancer research [www.garlandappeal.com]. But mostly it's the song "Melt" that's made it onto these compilations.
Like most songwriters, when that box of 1000 copies of Grouchyfriendly showed up at my door from UPS, I had no idea what I was gonna do with them. Give some to friends...sell 'em, who's gonna wanna buy one? And now, I've had to order 8000 of them. continue