“Oh. Well, that’s the answer, anyway. To fuck hot chicks.”
I looked at her. “O-kaaaay… moving on. What’s the best part of being a rock star?”
“Fucking hot chicks.” She acted like she had confused herself – then clarified. “I mean fucking chicks that’re hot. Not chicks who are fuckin’ hot. I mean, I want ‘em fuckin’ hot, but if you don’t get to fuck ‘em, what’s the fuckin’ point, right?”
I glared at her.
I knew she was messing with me.
But she was really, really good at hiding it.
“Cut it out,” I said.
“Cut what out?”
“The stupid answers.”
“It’s not stupid, it’s the truth.”
“Let’s move on,” I suggested.
But to paraphrase Riley, what was the fuckin’ point?
Every answer was ‘to fuck hot chicks.’ Or ‘fucking hot chicks.’ Or ‘hot chicks fucking.’
I finally lost my temper and shut off the recorder. “Never mind.”
She looked shocked – shocked! – that I wasn’t happy. “Never mind what?”
“If you don’t want to do a serious interview, just say so,” I snapped.
She put her hand on my knee and leaned in conspiratorially. “Y’know, Blondie… if you want better answers… we could go in the back… there’s a bed back there…”
I took her hand off my knee and set it back on her leg. “Thanks, but I think I’ve got everything I need.”
“Blondie, I got everything you need!” she laughed as I stood up and walked away. “You just don’t know it yet!”
I sighed and walked over to Ryan, who was fiddling around on a laptop.
He looked up at me and smiled. “Not having such good luck with the other members of the band, huh?”
“Not really, no. What are you doing?”
“Updating our Facebook page… Twitter… Instagram… the blog… basically all the social media.”
“You do that?” I asked, surprised.
Which made me think of all those Facebook pictures of hot girls hanging off of Derek back in their cover band days.
Which made me automatically irritated with Ryan for posting them.
But I had a job to do, so I pushed that all out of my mind.
“But you’re rich and famous now.”
He looked up at me like Aaaand…?
“Don’t most bands at your level have somebody else to do that for them?”
“These are our fans. I’ve spent years building up the rapport we have with them. I don’t want somebody else – somebody I don’t trust implicitly – doing anything on behalf of the band. Too much potential for them to turn it into some kind of corporate money grab.”
“Oh… well, can you spare a couple of minutes?”
“For you? Sure.”
We retreated to a booth set into the side of the bus. I sat across the table from him. Somewhere in the background, Riley was listening to death metal on headphones, and the plinking sound of Killian’s guitar wafted through the air along with his marijuana smoke.
The interview wasn’t very interesting at first, mostly because my questions were pretty dull. What’s the toughest part about touring, what’s the worst part, what do you like best about being a rock star, where do you get your ideas for music.
Ryan was very polite, though, and answered every question with a lot more thoroughness than my questions probably deserved.
There was one interesting bit, though.
“There’s something I always heard about with other bands, but I never see at your shows,” I said.
“I always hear about record company people. Like A&R guys. But I don’t think I’ve seen a single record company executive yet.”
“That’s because there aren’t any.”
I frowned. “What? But you put your stuff out through a record label, right?”
“Not exactly. Remember when Macklemore and Ryan Lewis got huge a while back with ‘Thrift Shop’? Then ‘Can’t Hold Us’ and ‘One Love’ right after that?”
“They didn’t have a big record company behind them, either. They put out all their own stuff on iTunes, which is how we started. They’re completely independent, and so are we.”
“But how did you guys get on the radio, then? I thought you needed record companies to get on the radio.”
“You do. Macklemore and Lewis got courted by a ton of people, but they wanted complete control over everything, so they stayed unattached. Even though they weren’t on a label, they had a distribution company named ADA – Alternative Distribution… something. They were behind acts like Nirvana and The Arcade Fire before they got picked up by major labels. ADA was doing all their CD sales and stuff, plus they were working ‘Thrift Shop’ to college radio stations. And it was getting rotation, mostly because The Heist spent four days at number one on iTunes and tons of college kids knew about it. Then L.A. Reid – the guy behind everybody from Outkast to Pink to Mariah Carey to Justin Bieber – flew in to one of their shows and made them an offer to work ‘Thrift Shop’ to national radio stations for free, IF Macklemore would go with L.A.’s record label for their next album. He and Ryan Lewis talked about it – ”
“Who’s Ryan Lewis?”
“He’s basically Macklemore’s music producer, DJ, business partner, and best friend. They’re so tight, Macklemore insists on giving him equal billing on every song.”
“So, anyway, they talked it over, but said ‘Thanks but no thanks’ to L.A. Primarily because they wanted 100% control. And then they realized that maybe ADA’s parent company, Warner Bros. Records, might agree to a deal: promotion to Top 40, R&B, rap, and rock stations across the country, for a flat percentage – and no strings attached. Their manager worked out the deal, Warners finally agreed… and Macklemore hit Number 1 on Billboard twice in the next six months. The rest was history: two guys from Seattle, nationally unknown a year before and completely independent, with no record label behind them… and they were arguably the biggest musical act of 2013. Not to mention they won a couple of Grammys.”
“Wow,” I said, truly impressed. “So is that what you guys did?”
“That’s exactly what we did. Well – minus the Grammys. We actually talked with them and their manager Zach at one point. Awesome guys. Really cool. They told us everything we needed to know, and we followed their blueprint to a ‘t.’ If you check the liner notes on both our albums, you’ll see we thanked all of them. Basically, there’s no way we could’ve done this without them paving the way.”
“Why’s it so important that you guys stay independent?”
“Because,” a voice behind me said, “we don’t want anybody fucking with our music.”
Derek walked up and sat beside me in the booth.
My heart did a little thump in my chest as his leg bumped against mine.
“Rock ‘n roll is littered with thousands of bands who got fucked by record companies,” Derek continued, then took a sip of scotch from the glass in his hand. He was still wearing his sunglasses, even in the bus. “Tens of thousands.”
“Not Warner Bros.,” Ryan said cautiously.
“Ha,” Derek said, knowing Ryan was being diplomatic in case I quoted him in the article. He played along. “Not with the deal they gave us, no. But almost everybody out there has gotten fucked in one way or another. Courtney Love had a great quote where she made you start out thinking she was talking about piracy. Went something like, ‘There are absolutely people out there who steal music and stiff artists for millions of dollars. They’re called record companies.’”
Okay, that was pretty funny. But…
“Is it really that bad?” I asked. “I mean, Katy Perry and Metallica seem to be doing alright.”
“If you’ve sold 100 million records, of course you’re doing alright. Because you’ve got leverage. You can threaten to go to somebody else who’ll give you a better deal. But guys who sell a million copies? Not so much. They’re lucky to break even five years after the album’s out. Now imagine the little guys who only sell 100,000 copies, or worse, 20,000 copies. They’re fucked.”
“You’re joking,” I said. “…right?”
“Most record company contracts aren’t much better than slavery.”
“‘Indentured servitude,’” Ryan wryly corrected him. “You don’t get paid anything if you’re a slave.”
“Okay, whatever the fuck, but it’s terrible,” Derek said. “Every expense a record company has, from marketing and advertising to the costs of shooting the video to whatever payoffs they make to get your song on the radio, they charge back against the band’s advance and royalties. After you pay your manager, the lawyers, the record producer, the studio fees, and whatever the record company has run up in their giant tab, you could get a one million dollar advance and still be in the hole. Not to mention the record company owns everything you did, from now until the end of time.”