Music Blogs

Do You Know The Enemy?

  • By Trev@circlestudios
  • 12 July 2014

This week our resident record producer from Circle Recording Studios in Birmingham provides tips on what to watch out for when everything finally comes together and you are offered your first recording contract.
So over the last year I've mainly been trying to get across to you quite how hard it is to break into the music industry, to build your fan-base, to protect your brand, to stay on the upward path once you do 'make it', to stay 'fresh' and, generally, to keep your record label happy.  What I haven't yet talked about of course is the flip side of that coin.  As your record label will have invested a significant sum of money in your ass, they own a substantial piece of it (from their perspective anyhow). And that effectively gives them the right to tell you what to say, how to look, and indeed, how to sound. And sometimes, that can be quite a painful experience. Because,  even if your label actually wants you to flourish, occasionally they might just get all these things wrong.  And if the requirements they impose on you result in your fanbase diminishing and, ultimately, they drop you as a result... that ain't gonna feel very good.
Now the longer you manage to maintain your position at the top, the more slack your label is likely to give you (not least because the more successful you become, the more leverage you have over your position). Indeed, and this is a bit of an aside, this increasing leverage leads regularly to what I have previously termed 'third album syndrome': where a band who have had a successful run decide, for example, that they don't need the support of a professional production team and decide to produce their own record. Unfortunately the third record very often then flops as a result.
But as mentioned above there are also bands whose labels have given them a bum steer, or who just feel so tired of the constraints placed upon them in respect of what they say, what they do, how they look and sound, that they decide to go their own way anyway.
And that brings me neatly to the subject of  Coventry band, The Enemy.
If you haven't come across them before, go check them out. The Enemy hit the scene hard in 2007 with their Debut Album: "We'll Live and Die in These Towns", their gritty real-life lyrics and raw-feel striking a real chord with their audience.  As did their outspoken lead singer Tom who had quickly gained a reputation as being a bit of a spokesman for a disaffected generation. The combination of the exposure that gave them, their exceptionally good musicianship and the collection of pure unadulterated rock 'n roll songs they put together ensured that their debut album rocketed to number one and their careers took off in a whirlwind of activity.
Their second album followed quickly, peaking at number two.  But perhaps it had come too quickly. I have it on good authority that the band had lots of ideas for new songs and wanted to work them through before deciding which were their best material.  The label, by contrast, wanted to cash in quickly on the wave of success the band were riding and get that second album out as quickly as possible.  And of course the label wanted to both maintain and enhance the elements that they thought had given the band such success in the first place. So they pushed for an even more political record and an even more outspoken Tom.  It's reported that it was a combination of that, the pain of being pushed in a direction they weren't entirely happy with and the punishing touring schedule which the label then imposed which took its toll.  Ultimately the band decided to take a break. Luckily, when they asked the label to release them, they didn't get any pushback.  Hold that thought for a moment.
By their third album they had a new label: Cooking Vinyl. And while that record sold over 30,000 units, excellent by third album standards and in comparison to their contemporaries at the time, and charted in the top ten, they also parted with that label shortly afterwards.  Even though Cooking Vinyl had given them a lot of slack on the making of the third album, they felt that they really wanted to go their own way and do things differently for the next one.
To that end, the band are currently writing their fourth album.  They've just finished a sell-out UK tour, have supported The Libertines in front of 65,000 people at Hyde Park, and this week released their new singles.  But this time there ain't no record label involved.  Fundamentally, they're an unsigned band again!  Interestingly the new singles: "Magic" and "Melody" (the latter of which, for my money, will be a stadium-pleaser for years to come), have been funded by a kickstarter-style campaign over on PledgeMusic and are now available on iTunes. But if you want a lesson in the type of audience engagement we have talked about on previous Machiavelli's Guides, you should go check it out their Pledge campaign here: http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/theenemy
But the key differences between these guys and the one we talked about here: http://www.supajam.com/blog/article/Where-thieves-and-pimps-run-free are that they have a strong, well connected and supportive management team, a loyal and growing fan base, and exposure. And fundamentally, if you can pull that together, and you have some rockin' tunes like these guys do, there's not a reason in hell you can't be playing Hyde Park too.  And of course the upside of being independent is that they don't have to pay 80% of their income to a record label!  But don't ever forget the lessons these guys learned before you.  Because if they hadn't managed to agree a walk away deal with the label they were signed to, what would have happened then?
So the moral of this week's tale?  When you are offered a deal, pay just as much attention to the get-out clauses as you do to the advance. Understand what you might have to pay back if you haven't recouped your advance at the point you walk away.  Then next time you are asked the question "Do you know The Enemy?" You'll know them very well indeed.
Trev is a recording engineer and record producer based in Circle Recording Studios in Birmingham.  Check him out on http://www.circlestudios.co.uk  or follow @circlestudios on twitter. A big thanks this month goes to The Enemy and their management team for providing an insight into their own journey to help you ensure that yours is as comfortable as it can be and Iain at Individstudios.com for the artwork!