Interview with JUDE COLE, manager for Lifehouse (US platinum) - Aug 3, 2004
"Artists should be completely baked and ready to go."Based in Los Angeles, Jude Cole manages rock band Lifehouse (US multi-platinum) and with Kiefer Sutherland owns and operates Ironworks, a studio and production company.
Here he tells us how they plan to develop Ironworks, what aspiring artists should be aware of, what major labels have dropped from their agendas, and more.
How did you get started in the music business and how did you become a manager?
Iíve always been in the music business. I played guitar and I performed in schools, bars and clubs from the age of eleven. When I turned eighteen, I moved to California and joined Moon Martin & The Ravens (click on artist or song names to listen to Real Audio files Ė Ed.) on Capitol, then The Records, one of Richard Bransonís first acts on Virgin. We toured endlessly: Europe three times a year, North America twice a yearwe spent our lives on the road.
After that, I became a solo artist and I signed to Warner, who released my first three albums between 1987 and 1992. How that led to managementÖ I laugh about that, because youíre not given a manual or an exit as a solo artist. You donít have an instruction booklet that says that, at some point, if youíre not Eric Clapton, you might want to think about doing something else with your life!
I had a nice run for the most part, but it wasnít enough to sustain me for the rest of my life and I dreaded the thought of going around in my forties playing a couple of my radio hits. I had been asked to manage younger artists several times but I had always turned them down, until Jason Wade from Lifehouse approached me.
I saw their potential and thought that if ever there was a good time it was then. I shopped them to Dreamworks, they got signed, and I still manage them today.
What services do you offer your artists as a manager?
I offer them a trusting relationship. Having been an artist and having had managers, I know that artists are so focused on the creative part that the business end can be a big haze. What you want is somebody to represent you and handle all that stuff without you having to think about it, but itís really important that you trust them and know that under no circumstances will they, without your knowledge, make deals that might put your career in jeopardy.
A good manager tries to represent artists the way they would represent themselves if they could. You need to look out for artists, because a lot of them are not experienced in dealing with the business. Iíve made a lot of mistakes in my twenty-five years in the music industry and I try to prevent my artists from going down the same road.
What is Ironworks?
Ironworks is a studio, a production company and soon a small independent label too. Kiefer Sutherland and I, who own it, have been friends for many years and we talked about owning a studio together for a long time before we finally started one.
What are your plans for Ironworks?
Weíre looking for acts to develop and weíre going to make quality records. Weíve noticed that a great music scene generally starts from a place, and thatís why weíve created an environment that artists love to hang out in. Itís a really beautiful room with pretty much everything under the sun to record with and itís a place to create your music the way it was meant to be created, without a label breathing down your back saying that it doesnít sound like a single.
We understand that the commercial part is very important and we donít dream about our acts going straight to pop radio without some sort of major label relationship. Right now though, we just want to create music that makes people excited and, generally speaking, the artists do that best themselves. They have good instincts about where they want to go and we just help them get there.
What kind of artists are you looking for?
Thatís not really set, although obviously artists who have a great look, a great sound, and are of an age group that appeals to the record-buying public.
Will you release independently or in cooperation with a major label?
We will begin this journey by making the records and releasing them independently. Whenever itís time to change that direction, weíll obviously begin to look at whatever is available to us, but the main thing is getting the music to the people and weíll do that in whatever way we think is best.
How do you view the prospect of starting a new independent label in the current music business climate?
Itís an exciting time as there are so many avenues available now, such as downloading services, which have been really successful. Major labels focus on multi-platinum acts and that leaves a lot of room for small companies to focus on acts that sell hundreds of thousands. If you donít have the overheads that a major does, hundreds of thousands are worth millions of dollars, which means a lot to a production company like ours.
We plan to get our acts on the road, really work them at the grassroots level, get the word out, and get them to where they are selling a hundred thousand or even fifty thousand records. That would be a win for us and when you start low, as we do, you can only win.
What bands do you work with?
The first artist weíre releasing is Rocco de Luca. His music really speaks for itself and there are a lot of great avenues for him that we plan to pursue. Ry Cuming is a great singer/songwriter from Australia, and we also have a band called Softcore, who are two girls from Norway and two guys from the Northwest. Apart from them, I also manage Lifehouse, of course.
We also represent the acts we take on and I like working with them at every level of their careers; Iím not just in it to manage them. Development is probably what I do best, which involves working with artists in the studio and beginning to shape and format their body of work so that it speaks for them; thatís one of the things I love the most.
How did you first learn about Lifehouse?
Jason and his producer, Ron Aniello, whom Iíd been friends with for years, approached me with their music and I flipped out. I immediately took the tape to Michael Ostin at Dreamworks and he practically signed them on the spot.
What distinguished them from other bands?
Jasonís voice, which is a real gift. He just has that tone, which was evident in their first single, ďHanging by a MomentĒ.
What was instrumental in breaking them?
Radio was immediate. We went to No. 1 on the alternative charts with ďHanging by a MomentĒ and by the time their debut album ďNo Name FaceĒ came out, we had gone to No. 2 on the pop charts. Radio was instrumental in breaking the band.
How do you find new talent?
We get lots of CDs from artists and bands and most of them arenít ready yet. We try to find a tactful way of telling people to keep working, or to try to find something else to do with their lives! Iím just joking; we never discourage anybody. As soon as people find out that you have a studio most of it comes to you.
What sources do you find most effective?
None that I can think of. It ranges from young artists coming into the office playing their guitar to seeing them sing at a club. Itís always different.
Do you accept unsolicited material?
We donít seek unsolicited material, but we receive maybe fifty songs from unsigned acts per week. I try to listen to all of them, but as you can probably imagine I donít spend my days listening to every song on the CDs. You can usually hear if an artist has something in the first few bars, or by the end of the first song for sure.
An artist that I recently heard had a great first song and then the rest of her material didnít add up, so itís a lot about pushing them and saying that itís really close and that they should write some more.
I got signed to Warner Brothers with a boom-box demo. I did my tape on a condenser mic and that was the way a lot of demos used to go. Now things have become pretty refined, many people have Pro Tools systems in their homes and demos today generally sound pretty damn good. Itís easy sometimes to be fooled because things are tuned and fixed, when in fact the artist isnít quite ready to make a record or to perform on stage yet.
How important are local independent sales, local airplay, live performance experience and a solid fan base when you consider a new artist?
We donít expect any of that, but, obviously, if theyíre playing around and do have a fan base, that tells us that there might be an opportunity to create that in other markets tooóit could be a good sign. But we donít assume that they have laid down the groundwork, because when you sign artists itís about their talent and their love of music.
Do you build strategies to raise public and media awareness of your artists?
Weíre just getting off the ground here; this is an upstart company and weíve just made a couple of records that weíll be releasing soon. As far as finding distribution and getting the artists on whatever radio stations are possible, thatís obviously going to be the hardest part.
Radio is a tough game when youíre not one of the majors, but there are opportunities in the Triple A format that we can explore, and touring will also play a major part.
Do you expect your artistsí record labels to help out with tour support?
I would be reluctant to say that. Thereís nothing on the table right now as far as anything like that goes, but it does cost money for an opening act to get on a good tour these days.
Should labels who offer tour support get a return from the touring income?
I think that the label does have a right to a percentage, although a small one, in certain circumstances where a band has been completely broken by a label endorsing them on radio. It could cost a label a million dollars to break a record on pop radio and that translates into ticket sales, so I can see an argument there.
What do aspiring artists need to be aware of, if they are to stand a better chance of building their careers?
They need to be realistic about their goals and how to achieve them. The goal used to be to get a record deal and have the label whisk you away into superstardom. That can still happen, but itís certainly few and far between now.
Artists need to take more of a pragmatic, grassroots approach, and their attitude must be one of ďI am my own business and I hope a record label can help me but, if not, Iím going forward anywayĒ.
Artists need to take it into their own hands to get up and play; they must not take no for an answer; and they must create awareness, operate their website, and take a real part in promoting themselves, because thatís really working for artists now more than never.
They love to sell records, and see big checks, but they donít like to get involved in websites too much and they donít like to get involved in some of the things that really matter to the fans.
How ready-to-go must artists be before they are presented to major labels?
They should be completely baked and ready to go. Thereís no room left for artist development in these companies anymore. Theyíre looking for IT. When I first got into the business in the late í70s, early í80s, it was about developing an artist that you thought had real talent.
That development spanned the course of one or two albums, but those days are long gone. Now itís about developing your talent in your own home studio and performing at clubs as much as you can.
If you could change any aspect of the music industry, what would it be?
Iím a little reluctant to talk negatively about any aspect of it, because I think that there are two sides to all this. However, short-term thinking is really what has caused me and Kiefer to say, ďFuck it! Letís just make the music we love.Ē
Music used to be about discovery, it used to be about finding something that all of your friends were talking about, and getting home, unwrapping a record and listening to it from beginning to end. Watching an act develop until you felt you were growing up with them to some degree. That was a great time for music. Now itís a hit single and then what? The year after theyíre dropped? Thatís kind of aggravating.
What has been the greatest moment of your music career?
Lifehouseís rush to the top of the charts. It was wonderful to be in control of that situation at the time and to see how quickly things can catch on when you have a hit on your hands. A similar thing happened to a song I released as a solo artist many years ago, ďBaby, Itís Tonight Ē. It didnít see the same amount of sales but it was a pretty big radio hit.
Iíve had some luck with radio and Iíve had some luck with finding great talents. Iíve always loved music and Iíve had a great time with all of it. Also, getting to know and work with Paul McCartney, who sang on a Warner Bros record I produced in 2001.
Interviewed by Jean-FranÁois Mťan
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