Octone Records doing it the right way

New York City-based Octone Records is not your typical indie record label by today’s standards. Launched a little over four years ago, Octone is an independent company that is best known for signing and breaking Maroon 5, one of the hottest acts on the pop charts today.

Maroon 5 is still supporting its debut release, Songs About Jane, and adhering to the label’s philosophy of building a fan base through touring, which they have been doing for five years straight. The band has also been embraced by radio. All of this has resulted in a debut that has gone quadruple platinum nationally, and sold nine million copies worldwide.

And while Octone is a privately funded label, it has a joint venture with the RCA Music Group that can help launch an artist to levels Octone cannot reach with its own marketing efforts. RCA assists with pop radio, video, and international distribution. This kind of arrangement helps the label to compete with the majors.

The biggest key to Octone’s success, however, is general manager David Boxenbaum, who has been with the label since its inception in 2000. Boxenbaum spoke with Bullz-Eye.com about how important it is to have an initial investment.

“You need to have enough working capital to survive until you start selling records,” he says. “Too many indie labels are undercapitalized, so they don’t have the money to realize the full potential of their label or artists. Or even worse, they go broke, not because they have bad artists or are running the label poorly, but because they ran out of money before they can start to generate positive cash flow.”

With nine million records sold, Maroon 5 has given Octone a significant head start on those returns. But that won’t change the way the label or its artists operate. Like any successfully run business, Octone will continue to send its artists on the road and market them the same way.

But how, then, does Octone follow up such a massive inaugural signing and move forward? Basically, it follows the same core principles, and tries to build on them. The label signed Michael Tolcher, another road warrior who is gaining new fans on a daily basis through rigorous touring and a debut release called I Am. Tolcher is charting on Hot AC radio nationwide, tours with pop icon Gavin DeGraw, and has been exposed to national television audiences on shows such as “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and “Last Call with Carson Daly.”

And over the past year, Octone has signed three more artists—clever pop/rock band As Fas As, from Portland, Maine, whose singer Spencer Albee says “sounds like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich tastes”; Flyleaf, an intense and heartfelt alternative band based in Dallas; and Minneapolis based piano-driven rockers Dropping Daylight. All of them have two common denominators—strong songs, and an affinity for the road.

Boxenbaum says that a band’s live show is the most important aspect. “Touring and live shows are the only way you build a core fan base,” he says. “Radio sells records but isn’t a good medium to find dedicated music fans that stick by an artist.”

And while many labels are looking for the next Pearl Jam or Radiohead, Octone is just looking for an artist that has something compelling to offer musically. Of course, that music also has to be something that will work on radio. “Without radio or MTV,” says Boxenbaum, “you usually have a limited sales ceiling.”

The label also prides itself on signing fewer artists than other labels, but being able to “super serve” those artists one at a time, as Boxenbaum claims. This, along with the other beliefs of the label, has made Octone an easy choice for artists looking for representation. “After talking to many labels, Octone’s ideas about how to break a band are fantastic,” says Sebastian Davin of Dropping Daylight. “They made us feel assured we would be given all the efforts they had to give.”

Lacey Mosley of Flyleaf agrees. “All they had to say was everything we could ever want in a label,” she says. Not surprisingly, she concurs that the next step for Flyleaf is “lots of touring and lots of fans, more touring and more fans.” The touring aspect is not something Octone had to sell to any of its artists.

Still, the climate of today’s music industry is extremely volatile. Many of the major labels are merging with each other, and there is an urgency like never before to have immediate gratification. So labels are signing artists based on hit song potential, and if they fail out of the gate, they wind up on the street and out of their contracts faster than ever before. Not so at Octone.

“We need to feel very strongly about an artist,” says Boxenbaum. “We can’t say, ‘Well, I don’t know if this artist is the real deal, but this song could be a hit so let’s give it a shot.’ That approach doesn’t work for us.”

That approach suits the label’s roster just fine. When asked where they see themselves in five years, each artist had a similar response, which involved releasing multiple albums and touring in support of them. Both Albee and Davin used the term “touring our asses off,” but Tolcher probably summed it up best, envisioning himself “on a tour bus, heading to the next show.”

That’s music to Octone’s ears.


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