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Kenny Love Best Article

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by Kenny Love

Note to ALL INDIE Artists and Labels: The following article is, perhaps, one of the most important articles for ALL independent and unsigned musicians, singers, and recording artists. It is one that these artists, in particular, should read, re-read, then heed.
Mr. Scott McCormick, Editor of the Fast Forward Newsletter, published by Disc Makers, authored this. It originally appeared in the Spring 1999 issue. For a FREE subscription to this eye- opening newsletter, you can call 1-800-468-9353, or visit the web site at

Black 47 Revisited

by Scott McCormick

Reprinted by Permission

When Black 47 graced the cover of our first Fast Forward, they had just gotten signed to EMI. "Getting signed is not the be-all and end-all," warns Larry Kirwan, leader of the New York-based Irish rock outfit Black 47. "Thats when the problems start."
After forming as a bar band in 1989 and covering the Irish pub circuit in support of their first self-produced release, appropriately titled Independence, Black 47 captured the attention of the record industry and signed to EMI. The band put out three albums with EMI before moving to Mercury for 1997s Green Suede Shoes. They worked with such luminaries as the Cars Ric Ocasek and Talking Head Jerry Harrison in the process, all the while courting a devoted international fan base and widespread critical acclaim. To most struggling musicians, that story does indeed sound like the be-all and end-all. So whats the problem?

Frustrated by a lack of consistent support from what Kirwan called "an incredibly stupid and shortsighted music industry," Black 47 split Mercury just before "the debacle" and moved to lesser-known indie Gadfly Records for the release of their first live album, Live in NYC, in February of this year. But Black 47 is not the band that fell to earth so much as the band that jumped ship. As Kirwan tells it, going indie again was a vital career move.

"One of the problems we had with the major companies was that they put records out in the States alright, but when we would negotiate with other companies overseas which of course they would never do it was almost impossible to get the rights back from them," he said. "Its killed us, because the band is popular overseas." While Mercury refused to even stand aside and let Black 47 market their own material internationally, the band was left twiddling their thumbs an activity this 200-gig-a-year group was unaccustomed to.

Enter Mitch Cantor, head of Gadfly and an interested acquaintance of Kirwan, who offered a deal to Black 47 that would allow them to retain the rights to their music, yet market it under the Gadfly label. Under the circumstances, it was "a great opportunity," said Kirwan. So rather than remain at the mercy of corporate immovability, Kirwan and his bandmates decided to take on the added responsibilities that come with being an indie band.

For the first time in years, Black 47 is faced with financing and manufacturing their releases themselves. They have to give away a lot of CDs at their own expense, and cashflow is a persistent problem. "That's one thing you dont have to worry about with a major record company," said Kirwan. "Luckily, there are credit cards." The payoff for all the extra work and investment, explained Kirwan, is control, especially of the business side of being a working band. "Youve got to do more work, but the major record companies wont do the work for you anyway," Kirwan protested. "With a record company, you get a month or two when Soundscan comes in and thats basically the end of it."

Kirwan reasoned there are no great mysteries to having a successful record: you get it into the stores and you get publicity for it. With Gadfly, Black 47 has distribution through DNA, which keeps the CD on the shelf, and the band gets publicity because they are already well known. Ultimately, the Black 47 ethos comes down to quality and originality.

For bands without helpful friends or an established reputation, the first step is to make an interesting record, Kirwan advised. "If youre not original you have a lot going against you anyway," he said. "If you are still writing about the moon in June, God help the critics. Theyve got hundreds of records a year to listen to, and huge amounts of [garbage]."

Radio is a different story, however. Kirwan reckons a band has much the same chance of getting airplay through an indie as through a major. There is simply no great desire among program directors to play new records. And while a company like EMI or Mercury may have considerable marketing muscle, they have so many bands to promote that they really can't put very much behind any of them for very long. A low profile indie, at least, will be seriously invested in the success of its bands because of razor-thin margins.

There are ways around the paradoxes and compromises of the music industry though, Kirwan insists. Black 47 has always survived by playing out and satisfying its core audience. And there are alternatives to radio and record stores. PBS broadcasted a show in March featuring a performance by Black 47 and the Trinity Irish Dancers, whom the band met at a gig in Milwaukee after inviting audience members onstage for a few numbers. Live in NYC is out now on Gadfly Records. A new Black 47 studio album is slated to be out soon as well.

Editors Note: A man who could not have said it better himself, Kenny Love is also a Booking Agent, National Record Promoter, and National Press Publicist. Get complete information regarding his services by sending an Email request to




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