A Non-Traditional Route to Music
TD: You were born in Germany
M Stack: Yes I was.
TD: ...and quite a story to come out here.
M Stack: It’s crazy. I told my parents when I was three months old that I wanted to move to America. So that’s how we got to America.
TD: You were so precocious.
M Stack: (laughs)Yes
TD: Do you like it out here?
M Stack: I love it out here. I love California. I love LA.
TD: So you started in the business world before coming to music.
M Stack: Yes, I have a non-traditional route that I have taken to come to the music industry. I started as a stockbroker with Smith Barney and ended up in software sales for many years.
Then along this journey found my way to starting a marketing agency with no marketing experience in the early 2000s, closed a big account and staffed up with a number of employees and ran that for nearly ten years. About four years ago just one thing led to another and the call of music pulled me up to LA to start a record label.
I’m that guy that everyone told not to do this. Everybody I talked to in the industry is like, “What the fuck are you doing? Do not start a label.” And I’m like, “No. Follow your heart. Live a meaningful life. Go for it.” And here we are.
I spent the last four years up here in Hollywood getting plugged into the Sunset strip. Seen over 600 live shows. It’s allowed me to kind of understand how the industry works, develop relationships, build out my team, get a clear vision for my label and we launched two months ago with our first artist.
The Beginning of G4L Records
M Stack: That’s right. I started the label, I’m the Founder and CEO and Kevin Martin, a multi-platinum selling artist still out there successfully touring, he heads up my A&R. We just really click well.
He’s a very talented individual just so passionate about giving back to artists. He’s had some terrible label experiences. He’s got so much talent and so much history and understanding coming up as one of Seattle’s greatest rock bands, I mean it’s legendary. He’s got a lot of character and ethics as well.
TD: Do you think that by having Kevin on board with the label you have some of the elements of an artist imprint label?
M Stack: Yeah, it’s truly great. My vision and Kevin’s vision really align in trying to build a truly artist-centric record label. You know, find the right artists that fit up with what we are trying to do beyond musically: personality types, work ethic, character, things of that nature, and empower them.
Develop them. Develop their music. Leverage that with my business/marketing/advertising background put [in] some capital, put them on the road, properly market them, promote them through radio, pr, digital, social media.
It’s all about best practices and empowering the artists and starting from that standpoint. We wouldn’t have an industry if it wasn’t for the artists. It’s all about the artists. It’s about generating synergies versus adversarial relationships.
TD: I want to hear about your first artist that you signed, a metal artist, how you found them and where they were in their personal development of their own doing prior to you finding them.
M Stack: That’s a great question. So our first artist is called To Whom It May. They’re a three piece out of Galveston, TX and Kevin Martin found them. He got referred to this artist and they just blew him away. He’s like, “Markus I think I got our first artist for us.” He played it for me and I’m like “This is great. This is good.”
The funny story there is that Kevin’s like, “Hey, let’s go fly out there.” And I’m like, “I’ve got to be lean startup Kevin. I’ve got to be careful how I manage the books here at the label.”
So what did Kevin do? He ended up setting up a tour with these artists in Texas.
So I’m like “Ok, Kevin you’re smart. I’m going to go. You got me out there.” I saw them and they blew me away.
They play to multiple genres, which we like. They play metal but they’re not necessarily purely metal they’re hard rock and progressive as well, so they play to both audiences. The vocals just have an amazing quality. They play heavy, the can play to the commercial side. The lyrics are very deep and intense too.
TD: They had done some self-releases?
M Stack: Actually they had not. That’s a great question. They had a lot of songs that we just loved and decided to roll out with 'as is' for our first album. It’s called “The Great Filter” by To Whom It May. A true testament to the band’s talent, and the producer Dean Dichoso did an amazing job with them, and Jonathan [Jourdan] who’s the primary songwriter just nailed it.
M Stack: We had some amazing tea. Where was that from, by the way?
TD: That was an English Breakfast from Harrods in London.
M Stack: That is awesome. That was my first time having tea from Harrods.
TD: Cool. I did make it a bit strong. I was thinking “He can handle a strong tea.” I got that impression from you.
M Stack: It was ballsy.
TD: It was ballsy! (laughing) You used my favorite word when I’m talking about a strong black tea - ballsy!
Did you grow up drinking tea? Is the German culture in your opinion a heavy tea culture?
M Stack: I started drinking Jack Daniels at the age of five. (laughs) I’m just kidding. I did grow up drinking a lot of tea in the household.
TD: Was it predominantly black tea?
M Stack: Yes it was. And then I believe Earl Grey, Mr. Grey. And then of course some green tea came along.
TD: Did you have to reach a certain age before they would allow you to have tea?
M Stack: I don’t think I had to reach an age limit though. Coffee was different though. They drew the line on that.
TD: Really? They didn’t want little Markus climbing the walls too young.
M Stack: Yes. To be addicted on caffeine at that age, which I am now, yeah.
TD: You’re a coffee drinker.
M Stack: Mm hm. Too much so.
TD: Too much?
M Stack: Well, I don’t know can you?
TD: I think it’s personal. Whether it’s tea or if it’s coffee I think it’s a question of what can you handle, what feels good to you.
M Stack: Oh, I can handle it, let me tell you. (Laughs) It’s a lot of hours right now, as it should be. It’s a startup.
TD: Being that it is a startup, what is your vision for your label, G4L Records?
M Stack: My vision is to create an artist-centric label to bring music to the population that transcends the status quo. Things that are outside the box, multi-genre. Our first artist as I mentioned, To Whom It May is Metal/Hard Rock. Our second artist, that’s alt rock/indie-pop. Our projected third artist is singer-songwriter/country. We believe if that deal goes through, moves forward, we believe she could be like a female Johnny Cash.
So we’re looking for the best artists we can find, that fit our criteria. All sorts of genres, we’re open to everything. We have through Kevin Martin and other team members, access to Grammy winning/nominated songwriters and producers.
I’m looking to sign a handful of artists that really blow us away, that meet our requirements, that we feel we’re going to work with and be great partners together. I view this as a partnership between the managers, the artist and the label.
TD: Realizing that business is human. Music is human and long-term relationships that benefit everybody start with that kind of basis of mutual respect.
M Stack: Yeah, call me crazy I think people matter. I think relationships matter. I think you should treat artists like people. I think you should empower them, treat them like business owners, and talk to them appropriately. Treat them respectfully, be respectful of boundaries. I know it’s a crazy concept for some people to get their arms around, but not for me.
M Stack: Elton John, Billy Joel, The Beatles of course. I’ve grown up listening to all sorts of genres. My parents coming from Germany they were heavily into classical music, so that was played prevalently in the household. I still like to listen to that when I’m working depending on what mood I’m in.
Then I really found my groove with the Led Zeppelin’s of the world, The Who, Bad Company all those sorts of artists. Then the heavy metal bands of the world Black Sabbath, Dio, Guns N’ Roses, Motley Crue, the hair bands. Then the Seattle [bands].
Honestly, it’s very surreal in a sense that, hey, Kevin Martin and Candlebox was a big album in my life in the early 90s. I spun that CD a shit ton. About two years ago I ended up meeting him at the Viper Room. So here’s one of my idols, and we got connected to each other and a year later we’re working together. So how rad is that!
My favorite type of music is rock n roll driven, blues, hard rock, metal, pop. I like the Duran Duran’s of the world, bands like that and Depeche Mode, Muse. It all starts with the Beatles as far as my generation.
M Stack: We are going to see an artist that is kind of a Radiohead meets Lana Del Rey with kind of Interpol vibe. Alt Rock/Indie Pop. We are very excited. Again every artist that I’m going to sign is going to blow us away and hopefully it blows the market away.
We’re getting very good success with To Whom It May. We moved them up the charts. As a little boutique label we got them up to iTunes Metal chart right between two Metallica albums. I mean come on, who fucking does that? Very proud of that. We got them up to Billboard’s Heatseeker #10. They charted high on the college network stations. Then it’s just a function of keep getting them out there, keep marketing, touring them properly. And we’re going to move them upstream.
TD: We can find To Whom It May through your website and their website.
M Stack: Yeah. They have some shows locally. They have some touring dates with Drowning Pool, with Ten Years. They’ve toured a number of dates previously with Nothing More. So for that genre those are big hitters.
We are finalizing the tour for 2019 and I can’t really say who our touring partners would be. I’d love to share it right now but I can’t. We’ll throw in of course a handful of Candlebox shows. That’s a given. That’s kind of a built in advantage for G4L is every artist we sign most likely is going to get a handful of Candlebox tour dates.
TD: Not bad at all.
M Stack: Not bad at all.
TD: Pretty fantastic I’d say. Well congratulations on the launch of G4L. I wish you great success and thanks so much for taking some time to talk about it.
M Stack: Cassandra than you so much for having me on. You do an amazing job. You’re an amazing person and a very talented artist. I really had a great time here. Thank you so much.
TD: Thank you! (blushing and loving it!)
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