Rosco Bandana played a 20-minute set opening for Midnight Conspiracy and Chairlift.
Hard Rock Hotel's Saturday night After Party, held just blocks away from Lollapalooza at the Hard Rock in downtown Chicago, was more than just a chance to catch sets from Chairlift and Midnight Conspiracy. It also doubled as a launch party of sorts for Hard Rock Records, the nascent in-house label founded by Hard Rock International in May.
The label's first signing, seven-piece Southern rock outfit Rosco Bandana, played a rousing opening set Saturday night that channeled their hometown of Gulfport, Mississippi -- turning the Hard Rock stage into a county fair for a solid 20 minutes or so. That the packed crowd was still cheering for more should bode well for Rosco Bandana's first album, due Sept. 25, and their accompanying tour this fall. It's also hardly surprising, considering Rosco Bandana beat out some 12,000 other bands who competed in the Hard Rock Rising battle-of-the-bands competition in 2011, ultimately inspiring Hard Rock International to create its own label that could provide distribution, recording, A&R, touring and, perhaps most crucially, marketing support for developing artists.
Suddenly Hard Rock International is in a small but growing pool of brands creating labels or providing label-like services for artists, including Red Bull, Mountain Dew, Converse and Toyota's Scion. Blake Smith, the label's co-head of A&R, insists the label is not a for-profit venture for Hard Rock but instead a way for the company to give back to the artist community that plays thousands of shows at Hard Rock venues worldwide every year.
Rosco Bandana in particular seemed to embody the unique live experience Hard Rock seeks to create in its 174 locations. "As soon as you stop having to worry about money, we could pick a band we really want to sign," Smith says. "We talk to artists and they'll assume that there's a catch and there's not a catch. You keep everything the whole time, and if labels come knocking we say we hope they sign you."
Rosco Bandana and Blake Smith, co-head of A&R at Hard Rock Records (front right) pause for a picture moments before their show at Hard Rock Hotel's After Party.
Recording the album in Los Angeles in itself was a life-changing experience for Rosco Bandana, whose members had never been further west than Louisiana prior to Hard Rock's flying them out for the sessions with producer Greg Collins. "They've helped us out in every single way possible," says the band's Barry Pribyl, Jr. "Whenever we play anywhere they hook us up with hotel rooms. We were fortunate enough to work with big producers… Being the first band on the label almost feels like a responsibility. They've just been very supportive of anything we do."
Smith says the label has contracts out to two other acts, and is close to finalizing a distribution partnership with would give Rosco Bandana's album a physical retail release in addition to digital when it's out next month. A massive promotional campaign on thousands of screens across all Hard Rock venues and hotels will roll out over the next few months, featuring custom music video and concert footage content.
A musician himself and former member of "several bands who were signed to major labels but never went anywhere," Smith understands the need for labels who want to help artists develop without intruding on rights or creative control. "As an artist I would've jumped on it," he says. "There's literally no strings attached, no downside."