Rosco Bandana, Hard Rock Records' first signing.
Hard Rock International is launching Hard Rock Records, an in-house record label for the cafe, hotel and casino chain. Its first signing, Mississippi-based rock band Rosco Bandana, will issue its debut album in September and perform at a kickoff party for the label June 19 at Hard Rock Cafe Nashville.
Like similar branded labels from Mountain Dew (Green Label Sound) and Converse's long-running "Three Artists. One Song" program, Hard Rock Records is not a revenue play for the company.
"We're not trying to earn money on this, we want to help emerging artists," says John Galloway, Hard Rock's VP and chief marketing officer. "Our belief and goal is that if artists ascend to the greatest stage in life that they'll remember Hard Rock. It's an equity play, a giving back to the community play."
The idea for Hard Rock Records was an evolution of the company's long history of music events -- in 2011 Hard Rock venues hosted more than 17,000 concerts in 174 different venues. One particular event, a battle of the bands called Hard Rock Rising, draws more than 12,000 unsigned acts and could be a potential talent pool for Hard Rock Records acts in the future. Rosco Bandana, for example, was discovered through 2011's competition. The label's sound isn't limited to rock, either -- it could include hip-hop, blues, or even electronic.
"It's music that makes you feel good and adds some spice to your day," Galloway says.
Rosco Bandana's album will be released primarily through digital distributors like iTunes and Amazon, though Hard Rock is currently in talks with partners for a limited physical pressing. Galloway sees the company's global network of video on-demand screens in 53 countries and music-themed guest programs like Sound of Your Stay as additional marketing vehicles for a band unparalleled in the hospitality marketplace.
"Everything is on the table," Galloway says. "We're looking at every asset we have."
The label's staff is currently just three executives, but may expand as the roster grows. In addition to Galloway, two other Hard Rock employees have dual roles at the label -- co-heads of A&R Blake Smith and James Buell, both music industry vets. Additionally, Rick Patrick, a former creative exec at Def Jam, has been with Hard Rock since 2005 to lead design and creative services.
"The best thing that could happen for us is for another label to say we really like this band and to sign them and further their career after we help get them started," Buell said in a statement.
There is recent precedent for indie acts to get a big break from branded exposure. Red Bull Records, a for-profit division of energy-drink giant Red Bull, recently saw its act Awolnation achieve platinum status for single "Sail" on the strength of heavy touring and alternative-rock radio promotion, despite peaking at No. 81 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Label founder Greg Hammer recently told Billboard that Red Bull Records is "not in the business of selling cans," but nevertheless shares a similar marketing approach to its parent company. "The brand does a lot of sampling, and that's our goal as well. We want to put the music in a position where it's going to get listened to again and given the right shot," he said.