For some of you reading these words, maybe you’re like me and possess little to no musical skills – but you love music so much that you’d marry it if it could cook and clean. When that’s the case you become a behind the scenes nerd, and you’re the person who knows people who run labels, manage tours and book bands; sometimes a little more than the actual bands themselves. So if that’s you, you’re going to love this interview. Even if it’s not you, you’re going to love the following because Mike Judy and Kevin Gales of Easy Killer Records give so much insight to running a label, you’ll think you could do it. Don’t forget it’s a shit ton of work though.
Mike and Kevin have both spent years upon years putting time into the music industry. They each have their strengths and manage to balance one another out. There was never one moment in time where the two sat down and said, hey…let’s do this. It was in the back of their minds as a large project between the two was discussed and finally Easy Killer was born in St. Louis, MI. For those wondering if Missouri has its upsides, well Kevin says the low overhead is both a blessing and a curse, while Mike would like to be close to California since that’s where several of their artists are, but for now it’s nice to call St. Louis home.
Continue reading on for Mike and Kevin’s advice, their label shout outs and more.
Mike Judy: Absolutely! We didn’t want to pigeonhole ourselves into focusing on a few specific genres. That would’ve taken the fun out of it, because then we’d have to say “no” to bands that we were in love with just because they didn’t fit a specific mold. The only mold we want someone to fit is the ability to possess a high level of badassery within their musical craft, whatever that may be.
Kevin Gales: Yes. It was Mike’s suggestion at the beginning, but I caught the vision for that right away. Good people, who are good artists, making good music.
Kendra: Do you have a quota for how many acts you’d like to sign a month, a year? That’s something I’ve always wondered about any label.
Mike: Nope. I know at this point we’re looking towards 2014 for our next releases, but we didn’t come in with a specific amount of bands we planned on signing for 2013.
Kevin: No, nothing like that. There are roughly 20 dates in the year we can release on through a major distributor. I suppose I’d like our company calendar to be full. Having a full calendar is not a highly provocative reason for signing acts though! You’d hope our inspiration for signing acts has much more to do with how much we love; loved them and their music. So far so good!
Kendra: What current label to you respect the most, like they’re doing it right and you can’t help but admire them?
Mike: I really dig No Sleep Records; love every single band on their roster.
Kevin: Four that come readily to mind.
Victory-I get that Victory has gone through some things, and people have had questions about the label. I can say for sure that if the person I worked closest with, in this case Mike, went public with everything email or text I sent him that was slightly screwy, I’m sure people would have major questions about me too. Tony has survived, and good bands continue to sign with Victory. Bottom line, EVERYONE knows when a Victory record is coming out.
Fearless-Bob is just hands down one of the greats for having an eye and ear for talent. If I can be half as cool for half as long, I’ll be pleased.
Facedown-Jason has stayed the course. Between Brandon (Ebel) and Jason Dunn, hard Christian music became a commercially viable genre, and, a completely amazing person.
No Sleep-On damn ass fire right now! What a great label.
Kendra: Streaker Records is another label that has a clothing line attached. Why did you guys want to have apparel as well?
Mike: It’s just such a great way to develop a brand. Cross-promotion with artists, cross-promotion with apparel, extending our reach, just so many different ways to benefit from us.
Kevin: Well, let’s be clear…we want EVERYTHING! I think additional revenue streams really allow the label to be a label; resourcing bands to create music they want to be making, and getting that music to their audience. We have other ways to make money than just the bands money.
Kendra: What’s the whole “lifestyle brand” as a label actually mean to you?
Mike: It’s really about encompassing many different aspects into one idea. We want everything about our band to be classy, sleek, passionate, and honest. We feel strongly that each of our artists possess these traits, and once the apparel is debuts we hope you’ll feel the same way about it as well.
Kevin: We have a lifestyle brand that right now includes two components; a record label, and an apparel company. We hope that people who like our music, largely non gimmicky, not trendy, will like our apparel as well, largely non gimmicky, not trendy. We’re hoping people will co-relate these things, and Easy Killer will become their brand…not just for music, but for shirts, and runners, and backpacks….etc.
Kendra: With you both having excess amounts of music business experience, it’s time to get some advice. For Kevin, what are three tips you’d give to bands that’d help them get their act together so that when they approached a label, they’d have a better chance?
Kevin: Don’t EVER think that anyone owes you anything. Get used to being humble. This doesn’t mean to suggest that you can’t think you and your band are Jesus. You should feel great about what you’re doing. Just don’t feel entitled. Lots of bands are in the same boat as you. If you’re that good, we’ll find you.
Fix things in your songs that are wrong. For real. Don’t be lazy. If you listen to another band and think, geez I wish our songs soared like that, or I wish our we had great melodies like that or I wish we had a cool intro like that….my god dude….fix it! Now…if you can’t….be honest, admit you can’t, and find a producer to help you. But your songs are your lifeblood.
Sleep is for suckers. This more about work ethic than it is about sleep, but that line is one I like to use. Very, very, few things you can control here. But one, that is in full control of each band member, is how much you’re going to commit to this. You are fully able to say I will sleep on a floor, I will eat turkey on white, and I will drink water, and do nothing but rehearse and play shows with my bros, for months, for a year, to make this work.
This last thought I just have to include. If you get a manager, realize you are hiring them for their opinion, and allow yourselves to be led. If you don’t trust your manager, fire him and find another. If you think you know best, manage yourselves. Don’t turn your manager into your bitch. Get over yourself, realize you need the guide of trusted professional, get one, and then enjoy life!
Kendra: Then Mike, what’s the number one mistake a band can make when trying to book their own band?
Mike: Oh geez, there are so many. I’d say that as soon as you can find an agent you can trust, go for it. The DIY mentality can work in plenty of instances, but not necessarily when you want to have guaranteed money on the road and play anywhere besides a basement or VFW hall.
Kendra: If you were to make a mixtape with songs that best represented Easy-Killer, what five would definitely be on it?
Mike: Hmm, let me try to show some diversity here.
- “Time Erases Time (Strung Out)” Night Verses; catchy track that also shows how they can seamlessly blend in technical, heavy parts. Very diverse in itself, and a great representation of Easy Killer as a whole)…
- “1984 Rookie Card” Brian Marquis; strips plenty down to a roots level and shows nothing but passionate melodies are lyrics from an honest guy.
- “I Saw The Devil” Darkhorse; technicality, brilliantly catchy vocal melodies in the chorus, and a bit of edge. Really combines a lot of elements.
- “Growing Pains” Farewell Fighter; fantastic, genuine, well-crafted pop-punk.
- “Snake Eyes” Wilson; heavy, in-your-face, shredtastic party rock. Impossible to not have fun when listening to this.
- There’s a Darkhorse song that hasn’t been released yet, but that one for sure! So, so, good.
- “Second and Sebring” cover Mandolyn Mae; it’s really amazing, and incredibly serene.
- “College Gangbang” Wilson; mazing, and not the least bit serene.
- “Time Erases Time” Night Verses; the bridge of the songs is a total trip. In parts during the breakdown, Aric keeps pounding the crap out of this tiny little splash. You can almost hear that little cymbal shrieking as it’s dying! Just awesome.
- “Desire” Tidewater; intricate soaring songs. Drums by Kenny Aronoff (Avril, Chickenfoot, John Mellencamp, Gavin Degraw, etc.). Brett’s huge vocals are gorgeous.