Dropcards speaks with Anthem Entertainment - Director of A&R Andy Curran
[As part of our continuing client spotlight series, we are exploring the opinions, advice, and experiences of some of the brightest minds in the entertainment industry. Please feel free to be part of the conversation by emailing us firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Anthem Records, based in Toronto, has been the stable of Rush and a host of other Canadian artists for nearly three decades. It is one of the most successful record labels in Canada; part of an entertainment group which includes the record label (Anthem Records Inc.) and the Anthem Group of companies (Anthem Entertainment Group) as well as SRO Management. SRO’s roster of artists include Rush, Ian Thornley (Big Wreck/Thornley), Brody Dalle (The Distillers/Spinnerette), Steven Page,
The Reason, Rikers, and The Tea Party. Additionally, SRO has managed internationally known artists such as Van Halen, Extreme, Queensryche, King’s X, Max Webster and Coney Hatch to name a few.
Andy Curran is the Director of A&R for Anthem. Prior to his role at Anthem, he was the bassist/frontman for Coney Hatch, as well as a solo artist which won him a Juno Award in 1991. He’s also a mad Chicago Blackhawks fan, and in full disclosure, a friend of our own Dropcards VP Steve Ceragno.
Dropcards VP Steve Ceragno sits with Andy Curran, Director of A&R at Anthem Records.
DROPCARDS: Let’s start with a little about yourself. You have an extensive musical body of work with your band Coney Hatch in the 80’s as well as your solo records, I imagine this gives you tremendous insight setting up for your career as an A&R rep? What do you bring to an A&R roll that may be different from a traditional A&R guy?
ANDY CURRAN: Yes, it really has and I think that is probably what Ray Danniels and Pegi Cecconi at Anthem recognized when they brought me in to Anthem. I think having spent so many years in the studio and on the road I can talk the talk with musicians easily and I have an inherent radar for projects that will either fly or not fly with artists, based on my own experiences. On the management side I’m faced with daily scenarios that I’ve either experienced or seen, kinda like “oh God..I’ve seen this movie..or I’ve been IN this movie, different town different band! ” so I can weigh in based on my experiences. Helping with road crews, producers, mixers, graphic artists and photographers. I’ve been through it all before, so it really helped get me settled in this job -8 years later! I’m still a musician first, that’s in my DNA forever.
DROPCARDS: From your perspective, what do you see as the current role of a record label in today’s music industry?
ANDY CURRAN: To me the role hasn’t changed that much in terms of becoming one of the best ways to take a young artist or band from obscurity to the masses. The ability to be able to mass market an act through press and publicity and traditional radio streams is still what some major labels do best. Where its changed is in the distribution area. With the growth of digital markets primarily Itunes and the decline of outlets to buy physical CDs etc, it has really taken that part out of the equation. In the past you needed a label to sell your music to the public, not the case anymore. It’s no longer a monopoly. Its almost like you can get away with doing a digital release only and have physical product at your live shows and that is it. Its very sad to see, I still get a pang in my heart when I walk by the old Tower Records on Sunset Blvd or where Sam The Record Man was on Yonge Street in Toronto. Nice to see the resurgence of vinyl though!
DROPCARDS: As a young musician in a band, I was always focused on understanding how the business side of music worked. What do you think most bands are lacking in understanding of how the music business works?
ANDY CURRAN: The biggest thing I see with the young bands and artists is when they sign a record deal they think they’ve arrived. In reality , the REAL work actually starts there and making the record is almost the easiest part. After that, the touring & promoting and unique ways of marketing or presenting yourself live and online etc is where the tough job begins. Staying alive, paying the bills, finding other places to get music placed like television shows or movie sound tracks or video games …THOSE are challenging goals. Just getting your head above the pack.
DROPCARDS: What mistakes have you made that initially didn’t seem like a mistake when you decided to pursue it?
ANDY CURRAN: That’s an easy question! Quitting my first really good paying job as a ramp rat at the Toronto International airport was one. My dad thought I was crazy..”You’re quitting to play rock n roll?” I crossed my fingers & put Coney Hatch together..looked back a few times in the early days but that was a big fork in road. Another was deciding to disband Coney Hatch and go it on my own in the late 80s . It was scary, but after winning a JUNO award as a solo artist and them getting US deals with Geffen for Caramel and Artist Direct for my band Leisureworld..I guess it was the right move looking back that could have been mistakes had things played out differently. I’ve always trusted my gut and have been very lucky.
DROPCARDS: Conversely, What is the biggest mistake you see bands make in developing their own careers?
ANDY CURRAN: The single biggest mistake is bands and artists handing over the car keys after being signed and thinking they can go into cruise control. The misconception that the label and management will change things overnight is not reality. The best artists still remain very hands on and have a clear vision of what they want and where they want to be. The label, the manager and the agents just help that vision come to fruition. The artist HAS to pay attention and drive the ship. I get really annoyed when artists look at their peers or other bands and say “How come they can do that or why can’t we do what they’re doing?” I think its VERY important to tend your own garden, put the blinders on and worry about yourself, not the competition. It’s fine to observe, but I have very little time for sour grapes.
DROPCARDS: What does the process of developing a new artist often involve?
ANDY CURRAN: When you asked about being a label, to me at Anthem one of the things we still do is try and develop artists, that too is gone in most cases. I guess maybe I am old school but when we look at doing a record on Anthem. I go through a demo process first (except RUSH of course). Once we have the songs, we then talk about producers. After that studio, artwork , photos, videos, website etc its all development. If we find an artist that isn’t ready yet we will take a shot on doing some development and making sure they show all the signs of an act worthy of investing time & money on. I’m not sure there are alot of places like Anthem that would consider doing that in this day and age. It seems like alot of managers and labels are looking for all that work to be done first…by someone else.
DROPCARDS: You’ve recently set up one of the more unique ways to use a Dropcard. For the band Big Wreck, you setup a partnership with clothing line Nobis, where for a limited time, with the purchase of any Nobis product, Nobis customers will receive a Dropcard to download a free live unreleased version of “All Is Fair” by Big Wreck. I imagine this will expose new fans to the band. What are some other creative ideas you can share for bands in building a larger fan base?
ANDY CURRAN: The Nobis -Dropcards ventures was about a few things. Firstly bringing Big Wreck into a non traditional outlet; specifically a retail presence where the customer walks in looking for first class outwear ,which is Nobis all the way. Exposing the band to a new demographic and using the Dropcard as a point of purchase redeem is great way to get some new exposure in a non music outlet. The people at Nobis love Big Wreck and the band and our label feel the same about their product. We also brought them into our radio promotions, so it was about us being in their world and vice versa. The Dropcard was a perfect and convenient way to give the customer something exclusive that they can’t get at a music outlet. We’ve used Dropcards with some of our other acts and in the age of downloads its perfect. We’ve also branched out into doing co ventures with Fender, Gibson, DW drums, Jammit, Rocksmith, Itunes & Apple. In my view, they’re all our partners, so why limit an artists exposure to one outlet, we’re up for maximum exposure if the fit is right. I wouldn’t advocate whoring out any artists but if it’s a mutual natural fit…then why not?
DROPCARDS: Besides your work Big Wreck, you also oversee A&R for RUSH, what are some of your day to day operations in working with RUSH?
ANDY CURRAN: All of the Rush recording projects are something I oversee in conjunction with Pegi Cecconi and Ray Danniels and the band. Any kind of re issue or re release like the 2112 5.1 project will fall on my lap. I work closely with the guys on choosing producers, engineers etc. On The Clockwork Angels record they really brought me in closer and asked me to be at the mixing. I was honoured to be there and I get along very well with people in that environment from my days of playing and recording. I assist with all the endorsement communications , so Fender, Gibson, DW drums, Sabian chats are all close to my office. I can talk that talk. With Big Wreck, Ian and I spend alot of time and care making sure everything he and his band do is first class. He’s a perfectionist and a musicians’ musician, so it has to be real or he’s not interested. We’ve been working for over a year on his next record and what he’ll do post Big Wreck Albatross cycle. It’s going to be great!
DROPCARDS: We had a chance to hang out when you were with RUSH in New Jersey, and whenever I email you, you are constantly off touring the world and while that sounds awesome, we all know the logistics of international touring, does it ever become a grind for you?
ANDY CURRAN: It becomes very challenging to keep your eyes on all the balls while on the road. Even with emails, Blackberry, Skype there is still nothing that can replace being in the office doing business hands on in the same time zone, so when Rush or lets say Big Wreck are touring, there are still other projects going on back home that demand your full attention. On the flip side when you’re literally on the road with a band or an artist they kind of expect your full attention too, so it’s constantly a balancing act. Then on the personal side I have a wife and two daughters that I leave behind too. That’s a tough one for sure. Not to mention my chow chow Lola who is waiting for a long walk every night. I still love to see different places & cities but the shine wears off a bit the longer you do it, especially when you’re on your own and the family is back home.
DROPCARDS: Who would win a foot race? You or Geddy Lee?
ANDY CURRAN: Geddy & I first became real friends on the tennis court. We’ve had some great battles and he’s so steady and consistent, it drives me nutty!! I can’t tell you who is going to win the next one, we still battle it out to this day and I think its pretty even with a slight edge to him, only because he plays more tennis than I do! On the ice with a hockey stick foot race, no contest, that’s me hands down! On a bass guitar foot race, no contest, that’s Geddy…duh.
DROPCARDS: Lastly, being a big hockey nerd, I’ve got to close with “Best Blackhawks hockey line ever? “The Clydesdale Line”—Chicago Blackhawks (1984–1987)—Curt Fraser, Troy Murray, and Ed Olczyk; or The Party Line”—Chicago Black Hawks (1980s)—Denis Savard, Al Secord, and Steve Larmer?
ANDY CURRAN: Hockey & Rock n Roll are also my 2 passions. The Party Line for sure. I was lucky enough to meet Steve Larmer and become friends with him, so I’m biased. However, seeing alot of recent HAWKS games with the line up that won the Stanley Cup in 2010 there were several killer lines. Toews-Kane-Hossa were amazing. Toews- Kane- Sharp again a lethal combo too , Although you forgot my 2nd favorite line..The MPHline !! Martin, Pappin, Hull. OK, I better stop now.