The Year in Tastemakers

Mumford & Sons


Mumford & Sons' "Sigh No More" is the third-best-selling album of 2011. The set-which has sold 935,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan-trails releases by top-seller Adele ("21") and runner-up Lady Gaga ("Born This Way"). Not bad for a British folk-rock four-piece that recorded "Sigh No More" and released it in the United Kingdom in October 2009 on its own label, Gentleman of the Road. After sweeping England, the Mumfords started to gain traction in America after licensing the album to U.S. label Glassnote Records, whose founder Daniel Glass was mesmerized by the act during a concert at New York's Mercury Lounge. In February, "Sigh" peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 following the band's performance alongside Bob Dylan on the Feb. 13 Grammy Awards telecast. The group received Grammy nods for best new artist and best rock song ("Little Lion Man"), but didn't win either award. Next time. -Mitchell Peters

Fitz & The Tantrums


Fitz & the Tantrums may be riding high on the success of recent single "Moneygrabber," which this week is No. 15 on Billboard's Triple A chart, but the band's fortunes haven't always shined so bright. In fact, despite attracting steady praise and a couple of high-profile opening slots on tours with Maroon 5 and Flogging Molly, the Los Angeles soul band spent its early years steadily driving up more than $100,000 in debt covering its own travel expenses-and in desperate need of a break.

"We went into [South by Southwest] in 2010 as one of the shortlist of the buzz bands," says lead singer Michael "Fitz" Fitzpatrick, 39, who founded the band in 2008 with saxophonist James King. Other members include Noelle Scags (co-lead vocals), John Wicks (drums), Ethan Phillips (bass) and Jeremy Ruzumna (keyboards). "We played our show and in the back you could see every president from every record label, every A&R person, every who's who of whatever. They all watched and they all left. No one even said hello to me."

But then Los Angeles-based Dangerbird Records stepped in, and the band's fortunes changed. At that same SXSW, Dangerbird (home of Silversun Pickups), which already counted Fitz & the Tantrums as a client in its licensing division, invited the band to play its unique brand of retro soul at a benefit gig for its co-founder Jeff Castelaz's Pablove Foundation. Castelaz was floored by the band's high-energy live show and impressed by Fitzpatrick's hustle. He walked away feeling the band just needed a proper push.

"[They] had gone on a couple tours already," Castelaz recalls. "[The 2009 single "Winds of Change"] on YouTube was getting a lot of attention. But in order to scale that, you really need to have something that we call a record label, in its current configuration, to really collect and collate all of the information that one finds when they're trying to develop a band, then load it into a cannon and light it off."

In April 2010, Dangerbird signed the band to a label and publishing deal, and a month later, gave Fitz & the Tantrums' self-produced 2009 EP, "Songs for a Breakup Vol. 1," a proper release. The band's debut album, "Pickin' Up the Pieces," arrived in August on Dangerbird and by October, the group was playing on Daryl Hall's popular Internet jam-session program "Live From Daryl's House" and being name-dropped in a commercial for HTC's G2 smartphone. But what really pushed the act to the next level was something it couldn't do without being signed to a label-a single on terrestrial radio.

A label-supported, month-long cross-country promotional tour in January led triple A stations to begin playing "Moneygrabber" seemingly en masse. A slew of late-night performances on "Leno," "Letterman" and "Conan" all followed, and almost a year later, "Pickin' Up the Pieces" is selling roughly 2,000 copies per week, and has sold more than 63,000, according to Castelaz. This summer, the band will tour domestically until the end of July before a quick trip to Australia that'll wrap in time for the group to perform at Lollapalooza in August. The relentless touring schedule is necessary because while things are on the uptick, Fitz & the Tantrums understand that they're still an independent act.

"[Dangerbird is] a nimble company that is trying to survive in a recession economy," Fitzpatrick says. "So there are definitely pluses and minuses where we are still forced to do things in a very economical way. Which . . . fosters creativity and ingenuity, and ultimately is a good thing. But [money] is still a challenge." -Paul Cantor

Anthony David


Whether an artist is signed to an indie or major label, Anthony David says it all boils down to one thing: the staff.

"Look at the people working there," he says. "You can be on a major with a big budget or on an indie without deep pockets . . . it's all the same if you don't have everyone's backing. It's about being the principal artist wherever you are."

David is familiar with both sides. Back on the indie circuit after a stint with the majors, the Atlanta-based singer has returned to the R&B charts with the biggest single of his seven-year career. Midtempo groove "4evermore," featuring Algebra and Foreign Exchange member Phonte, soared to No. 2 on Billboard's Adult R&B chart and No. 18 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. It's the lead track from his third studio album and first under his Rolling Mojo imprint with Purpose Music Group/EOne.

Three years ago, David was signed to India.Arie's Universal Republic imprint Soulbird. The friends/co-writers picked up a 2009 Grammy Award nomination for their duet "Words," which peaked at No. 53 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. The song appeared on David's lone Soulbird/Universal Republic album, "Acey Duecy," which was a compilation of his two earlier indie releases on Brash Music: 2004's "3 Chords & the Truth" and 2006's "The Red Clay Chronicles."

"Brash was brand-new and had money, but didn't have a consistent network in terms of radio and other relationships," David says. "And at Universal, I didn't feel I had a team there to push me and my music forward. I asked to be released, and they did."

Signing with Purpose last year, David says he found an experienced team with stronger radio and marketing ties, not to mention the chance to establish his own imprint. "It's all about timing and the people on staff," he says. "My goal is to win-not just make noise." -Gail Mitchell