Women in Music 2019

How This Unsigned Rock Band Earned a No. 1 Hit

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Stephen J. Cohen/Getty Images
From left: Dirty Honey’s LaBelle, John Notto, Justin Smolian and Corey Coverstone.

Los Angeles’ Dirty Honey isn’t the only emerging band with a sound that harks back to the riff-driven classic rock of the 1970s and ’80s -- there’s blues-rock group Dorothy, Arizona-bred The Black Moods and the Grammy Award-nominated Greta Van Fleet. Only Dirty Honey, though, has scored a No. 1 song at radio while remaining unsigned.

The group became the first label-less act to top Billboard’s Mainstream Rock airplay chart in October with the Aerosmith-meets-Led Zeppelin track “When I’m Gone” -- it garnered 172,000 streams that same week, according to Nielsen Music. Says Red Light Management’s Mark DiDia, who started managing the band in 2018: “When I heard that song, I flipped out. I thought it could be a No. 1 rock record.”

DiDia and his handpicked team, along with UTA’s Ken Fermaglich, made sure to land Dirty Honey on festival lineups like the 2019 editions of Sonic Temple and Welcome to Rockville. Fermaglich was also instrumental in securing the band opening gigs for acts like Guns N’ Roses and Alter Bridge. Now, after topping Mainstream Rock, the bandmembers feel even more confident about waiting for the right deal to come along; frontman Marc LaBelle says the band’s growing merchandise sales at shows (he designs Dirty Honey’s shirts himself) further affirms their choice.

That’s not to say there wasn’t label interest early on, but the group feels it’s at a place where it has more control -- and the members like it. For now, DiDia says he’s “not shopping” for a deal. Adds LaBelle: “We’ve already done so much groundwork, what’s a label going to do now? Other than take some of your touring, take your merch [and] take your masters.”

Fermaglich believes that rock -- or at least the group’s vintage brand of the genre -- is “coming back, and bands like Dirty Honey are a great litmus test for that.” Adds DiDia: “Rock’n’roll has never gone out of style.”

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 16 issue of Billboard.

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