Singer Ed Hale and Transcendence Sign New Worldwide Distribution Deal
The atmosphere in the Dying Van Gogh Record’s office in downtown New York is infectiously joyous and celebratory this afternoon. The label is home to music artists Ed Hale, Transcendence, Ex Norwegian, Dreaming In Stereo, and Andy Pratt among a few others, and just minutes ago, finalized the signing of a new distribution agreement – with Burnside Distribution Corporation – that will put the label’s new releases – as well as prior-released back-catalogue titles – in thousands of retail stores worldwide as well as make the music available for sale on over 250 digital music stores and music portals online including Amazon.com, iTunes, and Rhapsody.
For new bands to the label’s roster such as the indie-rock sensations Ex Norwegian or Dreaming in Stereo, this was great news. For singer Ed Hale and band Transcendence this was a much needed turn around from a dark period when they were unable to release any new music for almost two years. Though the band has had three new albums recorded and ready for release since early 2007, they were unable to release them due to the alleged bankruptcy of their record label’s former distributor Synergy Distribution. Synergy, a Colorado company owned by Michael Fitts and managed by Paul Schulman, had hundreds of independent labels signed to its roster at one time, but in early 2006 stopped paying the labels for sales of CDs and digital downloads, claiming that the closing of record store giant Tower Records created such a negative impact on the company financially that they were unable to pay the labels whose music they were selling. If the labels weren’t being paid then neither were the artists. This of course put the band Transcendence in a tough spot.
Their current albums were still selling in stores nationwide and being downloaded on digital music stores such as iTunes and Rhapsody on a daily basis, but the band was not being paid for the sales since April of 2006. [For the record, Transcendence is not the only band not to be paid by Synergy Distribution or its sister company Artist1stop. See here.] Estimates by the band’s label place the balance owed on back sales by Synergy at roughly $30,000. The band had wrapped up recording their long awaited new All Your Heroes Become Villains album in late ’06 and was excited to see its release, but to do so through a label and distributor who was not paying them for past or current sales and offered no guarantees they could do so on future sales meant that the band in essence had no choice but to postpone the release of the new disc. When they heard the news, they were in the process of finishing a second new album, the much-hyped garage rocker The Great Mistake, and mastering a third release, the rarities collection entitled The City of Lost Children. Synergy General Manager Paul Schulman told the band’s label at the time, TMG Records “We know what we’re doing is wrong, using other people’s money to keep our own doors open, but we don’t feel we have a choice at this time.” Evidently Transcendence wasn’t the only band being affected by this unfortuntaely all too common occurence as of late in the embattled music business. Angry rants and posts by disgruntled Synergy clients abound in music forums on the internet.
The band was obviously discouraged and justifiably so. Coming off of their most critically acclaimed album to date, 2005’s Nothing Is Cohesive, the All Your Heroes Become Villains album was meant to be the album that pushed the band over the edge commercially. It was recorded and produced by Dungeon Recording Studio’s Fred Freeman (New Found Glory, Dashboard Confessional) who had produced the band’s second and most commercially successful album Sleep With You, took almost two years to record, and featured yet again a fresh new sound for the band – this time focusing on short, punctual, powerful and super-tight, harder-edged alt-rock and active rock, but also featured several lush radio-friendly Britpop ballads as well. Envisioned as a sort of modern-day rock opera, all of the songs had been stitched together and offers the listener one very exciting and impactful hour of emotional and politically charged music.
Eagerly anticipated by fans, reaction to the songs when they were first leaked online was promising and exciting. The only problem was that if the band were to succeed in finally crafting an album that made them the arena-rock-venue filling household name they had worked so hard to attain, they were almost guaranteed not to see a penny of the album’s sales revenues. Singer Hale commented “I can’t tell you what it’s like to meet someone at a party or get an email from a fan telling you that they just bought your last album and talk about how much they’re loving it, but then be thinking in the back of your head ‘we’re not seeing an effing penny from these sales.’ So the feeling is sort of bitter-sweet. On the one hand we’re happy that people are digging our music. On the other hand we’re kind of wishing people would stop buying our albums because we aren’t getting paid a freaking dime for it. The biggest problem we faced was the Paul Schulman kept telling us to ‘stay on board’ because it was only a matter of time before Synergy would be back in black… so we stayed with them and let them keep selling our music. It was not the smart move to make looking back was it?” the singer asks rhetorically sounding a lot like the Gary Cooper character in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Eventually the band and its label decided to hold back and postpone the release of the new albums and start shopping for a new distributor.
While Hale flew around the country meeting with record labels and distributors, bassist Roger Houdaille tried to figure out a way of reclaiming the inventory of the band’s catalogue so they could sell it themselves through through websites like CDBaby and Amazon.com. The quandary inherent in a situation like this – one that many artists have faced in recent years since the devastating blow the music business has taken — is that the artists’ music is still for sale on hundreds of online music stores like iTunes and hundreds more. And the revenue from the sales of these digital downloads is still being sent to the artists’ old distributors instead of the artists themselves. The addition of this new business model, the open architecture aspect of it, where once a song is released digitally it’s almost like it becomes instantly part of the public domain, makes it nearly impossible for an artist to keep track of or control how many songs or albums they are selling and to reclaim ownership of it.
At one point Hale reportedly called Synergy Distribution vice president and General Manager Paul Schulman – who lives just twenty blocks from the singer in Manhattan – and asked him “Paul can you pay your rent? You can? Cool. I’ m happy for you. But I can’t. And neither can the rest of the band. You’ve been telling us that Synergy and Fitts are going to pay us for sales for almost two years now and yet you haven’t and our albums are still in stores and selling and our songs are still being downloaded and selling everyday. So just pay us.” “I was at that point where we were just going to go sit in front of his apartment and hang out and ask him for a few hundred dollars everyday. After a few years they’d be caught up and that would be that. I thought that perhaps appealing to him from a human level might get through… that record labels and bands are owned by real people… ”
What was really shocking though was Schulman’s response. In a nutshell Schulman claimed that “Synergy is basically bankrupt. We didn’t have to file bankruptcy because instead our debt was bought out. But they sold us our distribution division back for nothing. So we’re really under no obligation to pay you Eddie, or any of the other labels.” Say what you will about the wonders of capitalism, but every now and then there is that fine crossed that turns it into downright corporate corruption. The music business of course has been infamous for these sort of shenanigans since the first record company signed the first recording artist way back in the 1920’s.
Since 2006 the music business had been caught in a downward spiral financially that made for near daily news in the mainstream press and had much of the world questioning whether or not there would even be a “music business” in the traditional sense within another year or two, circumstances that made shopping for a new distribution deal challenging at best. The band met with several major labels interested in releasing one or both of the band’s new albums including Universal, EMI, and the smaller Canadian based Attack Records. None of which panned out in the signing phase. (EMI let go of 40% of its staff just before Christmas 2008 – weeks after the band thought the deal was in the bag.)
“We were really near our wits’ end,” Hale says. “Three brand-new Transcendence albums we were unable to release, and three of us had new solo albums ready to go. Besides that, we had also signed a few more artsts of incredible talent and had a few more we were talking to such as Latin Grammy Award winning Jorge Moreno and 70’s rock legend Andy Pratt. And by this time we had teamed up to create the new Dying Van Gogh label.” [Hale and Houdaille formed the label together in 2008 as a new venture.] “We had everything set to create a very powerful winning formula except for major label distribution, which was ironic since that was something that we had since 2000, so we really took it for granted there for a while. Until we didn’t have it anymore. We knew that was the only missing peice”
But all that has changed now, both for the band Transcendence, and for thier fledgling new label. Their new distribution deal with Burnside puts them back in the major leagues once again. “Yeah, Ed really showed what perserverance is all about with that. He kept going long after anyone else would have quit,” Houdaille commented amongst the joyous ruckus at Dying Van Gogh headquarters. “Dude you just have to hear the music… that’s what it’s all about. That’s what keeps you going,” Hale shouted, referring to the ten new albums the record label will release in 2009. For fans it will certainly be a year to celebrate when they discover not one, but three new Transcendence albums, AND three different solo albums by the individual members of the band. Perhaps the band’s optimistic and esoteric name offers a bit of luck to the mix, or perhaps it was merely due to ‘perserverance’ as Houdaille stated. Perhaps a bit of both. But all agree that it is certainly an odd but happy ending to what might have turned into just another side-note in the over-crowded music business obituary column.
by Charles Rainier, March 2nd 2009Share: