The Tour Manager’s Guide: How The F#ck Do You Get A Record Deal?

Chris Swanson

Atwood Magazine is excited to announce a new partnership series, The Tour Manager’s Guide, a podcast by Danny Carissimi featuring various musicians and industry professionals as they talk about their life and career. The second of this series features Chris Swanson, co-founder and owner of Secretly Canadian.

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This week’s episode was with co-founder and owner of the Secretly Group, Chris Swanson. I’ve never wanted my podcast to be about the music industry. However, I do get asked a decent amount for clarification on how a band gets signed or if a band should even pursue a record deal and I decided it was time to go to the source. I needed someone with good taste, commercial success, but also an inspiring story… Swanson! Chris started the label with his brother and friends in a college dorm room at Indiana University. I knew the story from the outside and knew they were ambitious young dudes, but I took for granted how hard they had to grind to start paying themselves from their label.

Also, if you consume anything I make, you know that my opinion of label folk is… low. I find it to be an industry filled with incompetence and buttholes. Once you have a beer with these people it’s fine, the way it is with anyone, but because you majored in PR and like music doesn’t mean you should be working with bands.

Chris Swanson

All of the best people in music, that have the best career, that sign meaningful bands and help make meaningful contributions to the artistic lexicon, they came from the ground up. They started their own company, ran basement shows, drove overnight from Indiana to NYC to sign a band, worked on the ground at festivals, and understand the dynamics of a band. They also understand that this is not the best way to make money. It is inefficient and if you want to actually make more money there are better ways to do it. Chris touched on this during our podcast, and I admire his label because they’ve sold millions of records with Bon Iver, the War on Drugs, Jens Lekman, Major Lazer and more. None of those bands except maybe Major Lazer scream “record sales,” but they identified the talent and worked the records properly.

What I also liked about Chris’ episode is that he doesn’t give any answer other than to have a good story and make good music. Success in art is subjective and out of our control. People overcomplicate the process. He says, “you are being signed for your recordings, so make the best recordings and get it to someone at the label, it’s really that simple.”

He then went on to say that, “these days, just good, isn’t good enough.” While these two points seem contradictory on the surface, they aren’t. He’s describing the need for story. Bon Iver’s story sets you up for the voice. A man in the woods suffering from heart ache is interesting but also unintentional. You can’t plan for that. What you can plan for is the decisions you make after that initial success.

There is no A + B = tour bus. But I do think that if you’re in pursuit of that tour bus this episode will speak to you. I also think that if you’re just generally interested in entrepreneurship or a damn good underdog story, this episode is for you.

Enjoy. Next week, my guest is Australia’s Allday. We don’t know who he is here, but he’s a phenomenon down under and a very interesting young dude.

If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to my podcast on iTunes. I have so many awesome people coming up, and if you like it, you’re going to love it.

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Access the full episode here / Listen on Stitcher
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