Heart Music Group throws a party, eagerly waits to sell out
Tonight, Joshua Fisher, founder of the artist-management company Heart Music Group, is throwing a party featuring acts from his stable and like-minded purveyors of woozy, beat-centric pop. But there might also be a whiff of a funeral in the air.
“I just don’t believe in record sales anymore,” Fisher said. “They’re not coming back. The future is in branding -- everyone loves music and wants to align themselves with it, and companies are the only places left that are willing to throw money at bands.”
Somewhere, Ian MacKaye just bolted out of bed in a cold sweat. But Fisher might be on to something. Since founding Heart Music Group in October 2008, he’s assembled a small but bustling local roster featuring the gauzy laptop wrangler Baths, the deadpan outsider-pop combo Fol Chen and the electro-acoustic composer Kárin Tatoyan, along with a new smattering of intriguing, weirdo electronica acts such as Wise Blood and Coolrunnings.
Fisher’s been making the management rounds on the Eastside for years (if you’ve played a residency at Spaceland or the Echo since 2005, odds are you’ve met him). His initial foray into formal management, with the prickly punk trio the Happy Hollows, ended in a months-long bout of depression and significant personal debt -- and the lesson to “never work for your close friends,” he said.
But this year, he’s caught some major promotional and managerial momentum. His artists are omnipresent on the ever-more-crucial Pitchfork, playing high-profile tours and earning them forays into wider national and international attention.
That, however, is where Fisher sees Heart Music Group diverging form the traditional roles of both artist management and record labels. In the absence of career-sustaining album sales for the vast majority of both major and indie-label artists, Fisher views his role as something of an oil wildcatter for his bands’ income streams -- tilling unlikely avenues and alliances off the typical label-touring-licensing grid. It’s a job that’s part publicist, part A&R, part licensing rep and a lot of coffee for a one-man outfit based in his apartment in the shadow of the 101 in Hollywood.
“The advent of 360 deals are really scary, especially when major labels will only advance like $30,000 to a new artist, and then they own everything you do,” Fisher said. “But then someone like Levi's will spend over a million dollars on promotion at South by Southwest, and Mountain Dew has its own record label. Brands will spend money to align themselves with artists, because that’s the one thing an artist can deliver them -- a built-in audience.”
For his firm’s upcoming CMJ showcase, Fisher is handling hundreds of thousands of dollars of corporate tie-ins for a set that amounts to a party with his bands playing at an urban farm in New York. “Selling Out” isn’t just anathema anymore -- it’s the point of the enterprise. The one thing that the decimation of record labels hasn’t taken with it is the weird, undefinable cachet of being in a good band. And if an artist can leverage that difficult quantity into a career, well, is taking a check from Levi's less valid than one from Capitol/EMI, which is owned by a private equity group with stakes in land development, telecommunications and aerospace?
“It’s really all up to the artist,” Fisher said. “What I do is create opportunities. Most of our artists are really young and all very open to these things."
-- August Brown
Baths, Teen Daze, Light Pollution and many other artists play Heart Music Group’s showcase tonight at 816 S. Santa Fe Ave. in downtown Los Angeles. 7:30 p.m. $10. 18+.