Mainstream media may keep trying to rehash the message that rock is dead, but veteran manager and label owner Allen Kovac refuses to get that memo.
The 10th Street Entertainment/Eleven Seven Music Group founder/CEO is backing up his staunch belief that the genre isn’t going anywhere. In February he announced the formation of Better Noise, a record label that will focus on “bands that are a little left of center,” according to Kovac.
Better Noise launched with approximately a dozen acts on its roster, including metal cellists Apocalyptica, former Hollywood Undead member Deuce, the Nickelback-esque Art of Dying and rap-rock group From Ashes to New. The label’s first album project is Apocalyptica’s Shadowmaker, which arrives April 21, and its lead single, “Cold Blood,” debuted on the Mainstream Rock chart at No. 39 this week. Billboard has exclusively learned that a documentary examining Apocalyptica’s history will be released in connection with Shadowmaker. It was shot in America and Finland, and directed by Kevin Custer.
Eleven Seven, the flagship label of Eleven Seven Music Group, houses metal/hard rock acts like Motley Crue, Sixx:A.M., Hellyeah, Drowning Pool and Papa Roach. Its latest successes include Papa Roach’s new album F.E.A.R peaking at No. 15 on the Billboard 200 in February and Motley Crue’s Final Tour, which logged more than $28.5 million by the end of 2014 in the United States (according to Billboard Boxscore) and will return in July. (The band did a leg in Japan in February and will tour Australia in May.)
“The majors have done such a wonderful job of convincing radio that rock was dead, when in fact if you look at Live Nation’s data, the fastest-growing area right now in the music business is rock. I know the guys at iHeart have referenced that research multiple times,” says Kovac.
He adds, “Rock is artists and passion, and it isn’t quarterly billing. It takes two years [to develop an act], and it’s global. It transcends borders… I think some of the acts we’re putting out have a lot of opportunity based on the majors now feeling what’s happening in Europe with rock where [BBC] Radio 1 is breaking bands.”
Better Noise happens to arrive as Century Media founder Robert Kampf has confirmed that he is in talks to sell CM to a major. The label is home to a wide roster of acts including Deicide, Arch Enemy, the Agonist and Napalm Death. The metal community has seen this movie before, and the ending wasn’t pretty. When Warner Bros. fully acquired Roadrunner in 2010 after buying a controlling share of the company three years prior, key staffers like Cees Wessels and Monte Conner eventually left Roadrunner. MetalSucks.net noted that the idea is for CM to remain an “independently operating unit within a broader system,” but time will tell how things shake out if the sale occurs.
Kovac says he created a second label instead of signing more artists to Eleven Seven because he wants to properly manage “from soup to nuts all the things that a band would need. There’s no point in us acting like a major or the kind of indie that just throws records out and follows the one that sticks. We’re an artist development company, and to do that you need to have folks that have time to be dedicated to that process.”
Sixx:A.M. singer James Michael, who also works as a songwriter/producer (his credits include Kelly Clarkson‘s “People Like Us” and Alanis Morissette‘s “Crazy”), has seen how the majors essentially stick to “a system” when it comes to selling music. “A band comes in, they get signed and then they kind of get put through the major-label filter,” he says but Kovac “sits down and looks at every single band as an individual project with its own unique identity.”
Former Linkin Park manager Rob McDermott, now guiding From Ashes to New, cites another crucial tactic that Eleven Seven has mastered: social media. “Labels think they can just spend money online and forget about the other great marketing tools you need for young acts. [Eleven Seven] understands that social marketing is half social media, half human interaction.”
Apocalyptica’s Eicca Toppinen says that trust in artistry is one reason the act signed with Better Noise. (In America, Apocalyptica was last signed to Jive, which was absorbed by RCA Music Group in 2011.) He was also impressed with Kovac’s idea to create a documentary to help promote Shadowmaker. Toppinen says Kovac’s vision was, ” ‘We have to show people who you are and where you come from, because they don’t know.'”
As far as what it will take for those beyond the hard rock community to realize the music hasn’t disappeared, Kovac says, “I think it’s like anything else: Someone brings something with such a high standard that it cuts through the clutter and people start to notice there’s a lot of these [bands]. Who that band’s going to be — it’s been a lot of bands in different eras, whether it’s Led Zeppelin, U2, Nirvana, Linkin Park — I don’t know.
“Our motivation isn’t to prove anyone wrong, but to make dreams come true and have a worldwide network of independent labels and managers and promoters that move rock back to being the foundation of our industry,” adds Kovac. “It’s not about, ‘Hey, you’re wrong because you don’t have it on your roster,’ or ‘You’re wrong because you’re not playing it.’ It’s just to fulfill something we know works and has worked for us for 30 years.”