Arts & Entertainment and Small Business & Startups

West Michigan record label gaining buzz

Smaller outfits have some advantages over big boys.

October 20, 2012
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West Michigan record label gaining buzz
Scott Erickson, founder of Diligent Music, hopes West Michigan will become a launching pad for successful musicians from this side of the state. Photo by Johnny Quirin

(As seen on WZZM 13 TV) Scott Erickson says that he is not trying to create an empire, but with his involvement in so many entertainment projects in West Michigan, that might be a bit difficult to believe.

Erickson was the executive producer behind the “Grand Rapids Lip Dub,” which gained national attention and was called “the greatest music video ever made” by Roger Ebert. He also has been involved in Rock the Rapids, both behind the scenes and as an opener for rap artists Ludacris and T-Pain, Grand Rapids Film Festival, Tommy Fitzgerald’s highly successful Juice Ball for Kids’ Food Basket, and a long list of other projects.

In 2011, he founded record label Diligent Music with the hope of making West Michigan a launching ground for several successful musicians.

“Diligent Music started as a loose-knit artist collective that began in April of 2011, shortly before we started rehearsals and preproduction on the Lip Dub,” Erickson said. “I had been making friends with Rob (Bliss) and his band, with Jeff Barrett, who was a partner at Status Creative — his music along with my own and a couple of other artists that became friends of mine, and we said, ‘Hey let’s call ourselves something and help each other out wherever we can,’ and Diligent Music was born.”

Today, Diligent Music is a full-fledged label and artist management company operating out of Grand Rapids with three signed artists, one of them being Erickson. The label has put out two albums and is working hard to help its musicians succeed in an ever-changing industry landscape, one that has become oversaturated due to technology and sites like YouTube.

Music labels operate much differently than in the past, when their primary role was getting an album played on radio and promoting the music through organizing concert tours. Now, music labels are charged with managing far more revenue streams for an artist, including endorsement deals, sponsorships and licensing deals, and often the music is given away for free.

“It’s pennies,” Erickson said. “You are only working with pennies. You have to have a huge bucket and you have to get every single penny that falls.”

To date, Diligent Music has made less than $1,000 selling actual music.

“The record label’s real purpose is no longer just to release your record,” Erickson noted. “It’s to be your manager, your agent, your brand manager, your administrator, your lawyer. It’s everything, and that is why small record labels with small rosters can find success in this economy.”

Erickson believes that the large record labels are at a disadvantage due to the many approvals and departments involved in making decisions and taking action. He points to the fact that there are really only three large labels left, all with a bunch of smaller labels that fall under their umbrella. He said the large labels cannot operate at the pace required of today’s digital music industry, which values swift maneuvering and the ability to adapt quickly.

“Quality entertainment content and the production of that content has become democratized with technology,” Erickson said. “You have kids making music that competes on a national stage, like Odd Future, Frank Ocean and Earl Sweatshirt. Justin Bieber is a great example, of course, but there are so many more. They are able to produce, and it’s going to be the small companies that represent real talent that can grow and diversify and get traction and have real sustainable success. It’s just that part of the cycle.

“I don’t know how a big, juggernaut record label with that amount of infrastructure spread so wide can keep up with trends as they move so quickly.”

While technology and the Internet have allowed for many “do it yourself” musicians — some of them quite successful, Erickson said that it also makes it more difficult to gain attention from listeners and to broker the many necessary deals involved in being a successful band or artist. That’s why artists can still benefit from being signed to a record label. He points to several examples of underground bands that have put out multiple albums and gained some attention but, inevitably, have turned to a small label.

In addition to managing all the different avenues where money can be made, it is still important to be connected to the larger industry hubs: Detroit, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta.

“The industry is very small when it comes to people that actually make big things happen,” Erickson said. “But, the opportunity there is that if you start to innovate and you make a lot of noise and a large splash, that small community takes notice very quickly, so that is an advantage. We saw that with the ‘Grand Rapids Lip Dub’ video. Our company secured representation from an agent in L.A. within four months of releasing the lip dub.”

One example of how Diligent Music is competing is its work with signed artist Biff Tannen.

“Biff Tannen, who is an electronic dance music producer, is opening for Paper Diamond at the Intersection,” Erickson said. “We’re collaborating with some locally based, nationally represented and nationally recognized people in the electronic music space, as well as developing some stuff for him. We are developing different tours. We are working with some start-up brands, apparel brands, product brands.”

Diligent Music is starting to build buzz, a sign that Erickson said indicates success in the business. The label has gone from receiving one or two inquiries from artists in a year to three or four a month.

Erickson hopes to move the label into incubation-phase funding by the first quarter or second quarter of next year.

“That’s going to be for the basics: salary, benefits, insurance, normal stuff.”

He also expects the label to be in the black midway through 2016. He is in the process of hiring a CEO. He couldn’t say who yet, but said that the individual is a native of Grand Rapids, currently living and working in Atlanta.

If he has it his way, West Michigan will be known for its artists as much as the east side of the state is known for Motown, Madonna, Eminem, Kid Rock, Jack White and the many other artists who have come out of the region and made it big.

“All of the talent and all of the people that I have gotten to know over the past three or four years, being active in the community, all that talent is really inspiring,” he said. “To see where it can go and help give it a little bit of direction or insight and also learn from the talent at the same time is the first, main inspiration.”

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