What’s the role of a record label in an era when musicians can manage their careers with platforms like Kickstarter and Soundcloud? According to industry executive Dick Wingate, a good label matters more than ever before, if for no other reason than to help artists break through the cluttered music landscape those digital platforms have ironically helped create. Wingate has a perspective largely unmatched in the music business. He collaborated with musical giants such as Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello and Pink Floyd as those artists exploded to superstardom in the 1970s.
Dick Wingate and Bruce Springsteen at the printing press inspecting the cover of Darkness on the Edge of Town
He held executive positions for labels such as Epic, PolyGram and Arista during a golden era for the music industry, signing and having hits with Eddy Grant and Aimee Mann (‘Til Tuesday), among others. He worked for technology pioneers such as Liquid Audio long before his industry peers were waking up to the disruptive power of digital. And now his storied career is coming full circle with the launch of BHi Music Group, a label he founded in November 2013.
Wingate recently discussed with me why he returned to the label side of the music industry and his excitement about emerging artists on his roster, such as Jon and the Jones and AM Aesthetic. As he explains in the following Q&A, musicians today face a paradox: on the one hand, it’s never been easier for an artist to break into music thanks to do-it-yourself recording and distribution tools such as Tunecore. But as he points out, the flip side to having fewer barriers of entry to the music industry is that “there is so much music available it is almost white noise to the average consumer.” Consequently, not only must an artist’s music be great, but also the artist needs to work harder on marketing and touring to cut through the clutter. And rising above the noise is but one function that someone like Dick Wingate can play for an artist working with BHi Music Group.
Read on for more wide-ranging insights into issues facing artists today, ranging from the impact of streaming services to the very future of music.
Congratulations on the launch of BHi Music Group. Why did you return to the label side of the business?
It wasn’t planned. I was on the board of startup Big House Music Publishing and as I became closer to the founders, Christian Cedras and Krista Retto, we found our musical instincts very much aligned. When a great singer/songwriter (Jon Moodie) came in with literally dozens of great songs, a unique voice and a great look we decided to record him with a band, which we put together as Jon and the Jones. After that we fell in love with AM Aesthetic and suddenly we had the two acts with which to launch the label.
How would you describe BHi Music Group in one sentence? What sets you apart?
We are very hands on with our artists, meeting regularly to review songs, arrangements and stage presentation. So we are focused on artist development above and beyond everything else. Not every act wants that much input from their label.
The BHi Music Group Facebook page says BHi Music Group bridges the gap between DIY and majors. How do you do that?
DIY usually implies that a band records and releases and does a little bit of social marketing to the extent they can afford it. We provide a great deal of hands-on management and artist development, as well as putting our collective decades of connections and experience to work to create partnerships, get sync licenses, create videos and bring the right tastemakers to see or hear our artists.
What type of artists are a good fit for you?
The genre is pretty open but the artist must be willing to take a lot of direction (if needed) from BHi on songs, performance, staging and appearance. In order to do this we are very focused on the New York City region as we want our artists to be available for regular meetings, showcases, etc.
Tell me more about Jon and the Jones and AM Aesthetic. How did you find each other? What do you like about them?
As I mentioned Jon came in as a solo artist. He constantly writes so many songs there is really a fantastic wealth of material. His attitude towards collaboration with the label and bandmates couldn’t have been better. Most importantly he has worked hard to improve his performance on stage and his songs have become bigger in scale and arrangement, taking advantage of the (now) four piece band. It’s a heady combination of rock, blues and alternative, and doesn’t fit into any defined category.
With AM Aesthetic, the material is consistently compelling. They are a dynamic, loud three-piece band that lights up the room with their melodic alt/rock combination. We see them as playing festivals in the near future, with college kids and young adults as the core audience. They also work very closely with us on songwriting, arrangements and staging and are wonderfully open to suggestion.