music morsels
February 2008

MUSIC CAREER MANEUVERS - Featuring Matthew Walin - Owner/Producer - Bitemark Records
Strategies to maneuver your career path from the people with the know-how
by Mark E. Waterbury

Matthew Walin
Matthew James Walin was bitten by the “music and rock and roll bug” when his band played for his eighth grade graduation. He continued in bands throughout high school, primarily playing guitar and singing. Born and raised in Orange County, California, he carried his musical interest into college, enrolling in a recording arts program. While in college, he opened his first recording studio, getting hands on experience actually working with bands as he learned more about producing through his schooling. In the early 90’s, Matthew traveled for two years as a recording artist, primarily in Ireland. Upon his return to southern California, he returned to working in his studio and decided to open a new label titled Bitemark Records. Bitemark Records has been around for twelve years now, with Matthew producing most of the bands who he brings into the Bitemark fold, while aiming them in the right direction with their music careers, and marketing and distributing their finished product. Bitemark’s roster currently features several blooming regional bands including award winning recording artists Bayadera as well as Matthew’s own band, Walin.

MM: So you are a person who has done both sides; the recording and performing side along with the business side of the music industry?

MJW: I’ve always been sort of a multi-tasker and wanted to be in control of it all. I think it came mostly from being an artist with the perception that my medium is making recordings and being a recording artist, not so much being an entertainer.  So I always was able to articulate on a recording vision or emotion about a song within the context of a stereofile. The recording process had always been my medium and it is until this day. Developing my chops as a producer was the primary reason I started a label; to market and promote the recordings that I am a producer of as well.

MM: Do you feel that because you have also recorded and performed with bands that this helps you have a better relationship with the artists on your label, especially those you worked with basically from infancy by recording their music?

MJW: I think it helps the business relationship. The music business is really a business about passion and a business about heart. I have other businesses and they are more about making money. I do think there is a sector of the music business that is like that as well, but the vast ocean of people in the business make little to no money, but it is their passion and they love it. Out of that ocean of artists come people who happen to resonate for a period of time and find their audience, who do make money. Bands like the Rolling Stones or U2 are few and far between. The majority of people are passionate artists who have one song or one record, or ideally two or three records that finally result in them actually making some money, at least enough to recover their costs and live some sort of minimal lifestyle. I think that requires heart, passion, and an unwavering faith and belief that it is going to work - part of me being there from the beginning in recording and even in some cases being involved in the creative processes, and then being able to capture the artists in the studio at their peak. Being a part of that maturation is almost like being a father and watching them being born; there is this sense of dedication and commitment and doing whatever it takes to make this recording have life. With people who are in it just for the business and the money and are not really a part of it, I think there is example after example of great records and great artists who make a business commitment with a huge company where the minute it isn’t profitable any more, they cut them off. I’m much less likely to do that. That may be my brutal perception of the bigger purely financially driven companies who don’t have as much heart and devotion behind it.

MM: Do you think that some bands have this idea that they want to become rich and famous “rock stars” and as a result, they lose track of what they are really doing music for?

MJW: I have some sort of ability to quickly identify those who approach music from a place that is not necessarily their heart. For lack of a more eloquent way of saying it, I call it “cock rock.” (laughs) These people are doing it for their ego, or even for greed. The reason that I or the people who I work with want to make money doing music is purely to afford to be able to do the art as much as possible - to be creative and expressive and still fulfill the vision and purpose they have in their life. It’s not about sex, drugs, Lamborghinis and pools. One of the biggest problems that artists have is if they have that shallow perception of what they want to be, then they are not going to be successful in the long run. Your perception and values change as you go through life. There are other businesses that are more set up for that greedy and shallow approach. The music business is more like winning in Vegas; it is not set up like you are guaranteed to win. As an artist, you make a record and you think it is the bomb, and the best thing you’ve ever made. You have this expectation and hope that you are going to be the next Coldplay or The Killers, but you don’t spend the time nurturing your own audience. I can almost guarantee if you made it from the heart, believe in what you do and are doing it to be expressive from an artist's perception, that there is an audience for it somewhere. But you have to work to find that audience, and that is what most bands don’t do. They expect that because it is the greatest thing they have ever made that they are going to be The Killers or whoever. You have to work really hard to find your audience. Play shows, get on the internet, live your lifestyle finding and nurturing your audience.

MM: Do you think that bands not only have work ethic problems, but have problems with their perception of work, not realizing that if it is something that helps you reach your goals and that you are passionate about it, then you shouldn’t really consider it work anyway, even when you are busting your butt to get out there?

MJW: There is a serious amount of actual work in making the creation. My passion is in nurturing and developing new artists. What I find in most of their perceptions is that they just want to make a record. It is almost too overwhelming for them to think about what they need to do after that. Sure, they want to play and tour and hear it on the radio, but they don’t necessarily know what it takes to make all that happen. The primary focus initially for a new artist always seems to be just making that record, and then they think the rest will come. Obviously, it is a requirement initially to get that recording made. But it’s like they want to create, but then they don’t necessarily want to go through the whole promotion and marketing part of it. From a record label’s perspective, I need bands who want the whole picture, because there is no way I am going to recoup if they are not out performing and not actively marketing who they are. This is the only way they are going to make the money to keep going in and making more records and being creative.

MM: What other mistakes do you see bands make that make you shake your head and say, wow, don’t do that?

MJW: One of the biggest mistakes is if a band gets caught up in a certain lifestyle where they no longer have the capacity to be creative and be a band. It’s like you quit your job because you feel that you are just going to make it. Sometimes it does take that leap of faith, but I’ve seen it more often that you come out to Hollywood, you are on the streets and you may have been safer to stay in the incubation of comfort where you are in a situation where you can stay creative, afford to sit and play your guitar, buy guitar strings, and get rehearsal space where you can afford to develop and nurture your craft and band. Some people get to this level of desperation, and once in a while it pays off. Mostly, it becomes destructive, where you may sign a deal out of desperation; you lose all control and nothing ever happens. Or you absolutely don’t have any capability to afford to be creative or do anything. It is not true for all cases. Some people do make it with a leap of faith.

MM: Of course that is very rare. Most people have to bust their butts, and the roll of the dice people are few and far between.

MJW: That is true. What one of the biggest mistakes is you make a record. You get out there. You play some shows maybe for ten or fifteen people. Then you get to your tenth show with mostly your friends and your mom there, and you start thinking, I’m failing, and you give up. You think you are going to have The Killers success right off the top.

MM: So, you need to have patience.

MJW: Yeah, you have to remain consistent in your progress and your approach. You are also going to become more of a master of your craft while you do this, and that is the prime payoff of persistence, but it takes time. It is that way in a lot of businesses, but especially in the entertainment business, because there is extremely high competition. It is a very brutal business, so you have to be more persistent then most people do.

MM: Do you think it is better for a band to stay indie and not try to get a major label deal?

MJW: If the major label deal is right for you and fits right, go for it. All the major artists either have a major label deal or at least a deal with major label distribution. It takes so much money and effort to market a record that, I think, being in a major label would be great if the fit is right. What my focus is that I want an artist to be an artist, and if you have a major label deal, you are obligated to do what it takes to make a profit for this company. It is a lot of pressure, and if they signed you because you represented yourself, know yourself as an artist, have the power to continue to stay focused, remind them that this is why they signed you and you will continue to do it this way, then the major label deal is the way to go. More often than not, once you get a major label deal, you lose your power and ability to be creative, and be an artist in any sort of commercial way. You may not be able to record them in a way you want or is important to you, and there is no guarantee that you are going to be rich off of it either. I know of a number of bands who tour around, do what they want, and they make a good living off it without being on a major. When you are an independent or an indie, you are much more likely to have more control over your career. You can make four to six dollars off each record and be your own person, while on a major you can make maybe a dollar and not have the control. You have probably a six hundred percent chance in the long term of making the same money and being in control if you stay indie. If the fit is right, take it, but I am a big proponent of people being in control of their art. You need to decide what you want to do in a way that sticks to your ethics and core beliefs and your desires of what you want to do with your career and your life.

MM: What other advice do you have for bands and musicians?

MJW: Well, persistence is the key. From my perspective dealing with indie pop bands, it is persistence and pursuit. Knowing, finding and almost exploiting your own unique voice in the art. Everyone has something unique in what they do, and that is the necessary voice that needs to be heard by the world. You also have to really focus on the songwriting. All of the stars can line up when you have that sort of song that captures a unique perception on life or the world or your soul that will get people to resonate with you and get what you are talking about. So if you have songs like that, can articulate them with skill, and be persistent about it, that sets you up with the best chance of being a successful artist. For me, it is more important that people be a better artist. You can be this incredible guitar player, but I would rather that you write and sing songs in a connective way that is intriguing, provocative or engaging somehow.

MM: What would be your advice for someone who wants to start their own label?

MJW: Think of a really cool name, get a cool logo, go get a DBA, get a bank account for it, get Quick Books on your computer, get a second mortgage on your home, and get ready to make a decision on whether or not it would be more fun to sit in a living room, light dollar bills on fire and watch them burn one by one, or to make a record for a band who you totally love and think are great, and then spend about ten grand on marketing it while hoping they stay together and don’t break up. OK, that’s a bit negative twist at the end, but you do have to start it like a business. Get an attorney that can help nurture you about the ins and outs. The music business is very complicated and there are a lot of aspects and different considerations of each aspect. There are complexities on all levels especially in the different ways that money comes in. Definitely work from a budget because you can spend a lot of money fast if you don’t watch out.

So start it up properly business wise and get a good attorney or consultant, and then search for bands who have a captivating voice who really connect with the music and are amazing songwriters, who are also able and willing to tour. They have to go out and play to create awareness and develop their fan base. You have to find the artists that can develop the niche of your label and make the overall marketing push more efficient. If you can afford it, participate in more income streams other than the masters, such as supporting them with merch and touring. You have to search for win-wins so the bands can make money, too so they are able to keep going with their art. Stay involved in all aspects of taking the potential ways of making money and focusing it with their abilities to create music and be an artist.
Division of Serge Entertainment Group