Interview:Fisher - Signed, Sealed and Delivered*
Interviewed by Kenny Kerner
Those of you who were at TAXI's Road Rally last year are likely to remember the incredible performance by Fisher. We thought it would be especially nice for you to learn how they built up their fanbase on the Internet, so when TAXI got them on the right desk, it was easy for the label to give them the nod. That's what it's all about folks, making it easy for the label to say "yes."--ML
Is Fisher just you and Ron Wasserman, or are there more people in the band?
KF: We're the core members. There are three other members that we hire. Ron and I make the main decisions and do all the work.
So are there new members every time you play?
KF: We've been sticking with the same guys for about nine months now, which we're very happy about. Certainly it's not fun rotating people.
How did you and Ron get together?
KF: We were introduced by a mutual friend, who said, "You write, he writes. Why don't you guys see what happens?" So he hooked us up. When we first started writing together, we only averaged about a song a month, because I worked days and Ron worked nights Then, we got incredibly serious about two years ago. I think up until that point, we just thought that our demo would speak for itself and a major label would just come and hand us our lives.
That's what so many bands think.
KF: We thought that way for a while. We thought we weren't going to do an independent album because we're better than that. So we waited and waited. Plus, at the time, we didn't see any good way to market it other than getting in the car, and we weren't into that. Oh great, there's just the two of us. You mean we're going to go across the country and do piano ballads? I don't think so.
What was the first bit of professional success that you guys had together?
KF: It was the Great Expectations soundtrack. Like I said, we got serious about two years ago, because prior to that, we had about a year where another producer kind of came and pushed the project in a weird direction--more like the band Garbage. However, my forte is ballads. And he said, "Well, maybe on your first album you won't have a ballad." So I spent almost a whole year writing stuff I didn't like. We got really miserable and said, "you know what, let's either fail as ourselves or not do this." We were defeating ourselves. So we scrapped everything and did some demos in our living room. That demo ended up in the hands of Darren Higman, who is head of Atlantic Soundtracks. A friend of ours was working for a management firm at the time, and we asked her to submit it for us. When he saw the envelope with the return address, he said, "Oh I know that firm," and listened. He thought the song "Breakable" was actually written for the movie because he felt it was so perfect for it. It was too late to get it in the film, but he was looking for one last song for the soundtrack. That led us to do a showcase for Atlantic. Unfortunately, here's where the year before hurt us. They wanted to hear more of our material, and we had a whole year's worth of material that wasn't us. So they said, "Ok, we really want this song. Let's do a contract for this song, and let's do an option deal on you." The song was sixth in line to be released as a radio single. Basically, if they ended up releasing it, and it hit, they'd own us and they could sign us. If it didn't, it didn't. The movie didn't do so well. The soundtrack did well. It went gold. But then, because the movie lost its momentum, the soundtrack lost its momentum, and they stopped releasing singles. We didn't get released, and they didn't pick up our option. So there we were. We had a new fanbase from the Great Expectations soundtrack, which we started getting over the Internet. Great Expectations had an Internet site that was also linked to a Tori Amos site. We had our modest beginnings of a site linked to that. We started getting all of these Tori fans saying, "Hey I bought Great Expectations for Tori, but I really like your stuff too. Where is your CD?" So we thought, let's just give the people what they're asking for. Let's go ahead and do it. Let's not wait for permission. Plus, we saw that the Internet was finally a marketing tool we could live with. We didn't have to get in a van anymore. We thought it was perfect. We'll market it on the Internet!
The Internet is so puzzling. It is so huge. It's infinite. It's very difficult to target audiences, because you could put something up on a site, and someone from Yugoslavia will answer you. How do you know how to choose the sites that you put your music on?
KF: What Ron would do, actually, is spend about 12 to 16 hours a day on the computer after he finished producing and mixing the album. He does all the crap work. I do all the glamour work. Basically, what he would do is sit there at the computer all day and type in "free music," or "mp3," and he would find all of these sites. He would go to the sites, and he'd see how easy or difficult they were to navigate, how quickly they downloaded or didn't download. The ones that he thought looked good, he would upload our music there. It is a grassroots thing on the Internet--you start at the little sites. You get recognition there. They do front page features on artists. A lot of the sites kind of keep an eye on each other and pick up bands from one another. So we'd get a feature on a smaller site, and then maybe a little bit bigger site would pick it up, and then they'd do a feature.
So how much time did it take to get this whole marketing strategy together?
KF: Ron started in April of 1999, and to date, we've had over a million downloads on the Internet. Basically, it just snowballed once we got it started. Then we started doing online interviews. We got in at MP3.com just at the right time. When we submitted our stuff there, I think there we about 60,000 selections. Now there are probably a billion or something! The pond was a lot smaller when we started out there. It was easier to rise to the top there then.
Where did you find time to squeeze in a day job?
KF: Ron dedicated 24 hours a day to the project, because he had royalty money coming in from some children's television projects that he had scored. I worked a day job until June, 1999, and then I finally quit to help assist him in all of the day to day things--like going to the post office and mailing out CDs to customers, Amazon, CD Street and doing all of that. I also supplement my income by singing jingles.
So there was some industry work coming in to help you tread water.
KF: Yes, Ron dedicated every minute to the project. What would I do without a Ron Wasserman? It's a really symbiotic relationship.
It's so much better to make some money singing a jingle than making a Big Mac. It makes you feel like you're really succeeding in the industry.
KF: Yes, and I enjoy it. People sometimes say, "Oh, but it's just jingles." But I'm respected in the houses that I work in. They let me give input because they know I'm an artist. I say, "Well I really think this should build this way," or "I really think we should double the vocal with an octave up." And they listen to me. I get a lot of gratification out of it, and then when the residuals come, I get a lot of gratification out of it! And it gave me the freedom to not have to take a bad record deal.
How much of a fanbase do you guys have now?
KF: We estimate that with over a million downloads, if you averaged that each person downloaded three songs a piece, then we have at least a 300,000 person fanbase--which isn't bad for someone who just got signed two weeks ago.
Now if you could only get each of those people to send in three dollars.
KF: [Laughs] I want to open a kissing booth for those people!
That's a great fanbase.
KF: Yeah, it really, really is. And they're great people, too. We have a really unique fanbase. We've created a bit of a family.
So you did all of this work yourselves. After building this huge fanbase online, how is it that TAXI came along and carried the ball into the end zone? What was TAXI's role?
KF: Basically, they are a piece of puzzle. We had gone to labels before, and they would say, "Oh beautiful, but we don't know who your audience would be. We don't know how we'd market it." But with the Internet, we proved who our market could be. We started a relationship with TAXI about four years ago. When they saw that we were being so proactive, they said, "How can TAXI help you take this even further?" So they offered to do whatever they could to get our CDs to the industry. At that point, we had finally built the foundation where not only were we getting the CD in there, but we had an answer for when the A&R people would say, "It's really good, but who's your audience?" We could say, "These people these million downloads." And they couldn't deny us at that point. After we did all of the ground work to make sure that the industry couldn't deny us, TAXI helped push it even further by saying, "Hey, listen to this again."
I remember when TAXI put you on their "Best of TAXI" CD in '96, and then again in '99. Being on the desks of 1,200 A&R people all at once must have been a tremendous help. I also loved your performance at TAXI's Road Rally last November.
KF: Right. It's all a team. Without our Internet campaign, though, I don't know if we would still have a deal. I've been told year after year, "You're very talented, but" The "but" was always, "We don't know who would listen to this." I'm very glad that we had TAXI to take the ball through the end zone, but I really don't think the labels still would have taken notice had we not built our fanbase first.
How did the deal come about? Didn't Tony Ferguson play your CD for Andy Schuon when Andy left Warner bros. and came over to FarmClub?
KF: It's interesting because Andy Schuon knew about us from the website. Andy's label is an Internet label, so he would surf around and listen for new artists on other sites. He knew about us when he was at Warner Bros., and he was really interested. When he was at Warner Bros. though, he didn't contact us. And Tony Ferguson [V.P. of A&R at Interscope] had heard about us.
I remember that Tony was very involved in the Universal/333 Records offer that came about through TAXI last summer.
KF: That's the thing. Andy had heard of us on his own, and Tony had heard about us. But then just that little bird reminder of TAXI saying, "By the way, remember these guys?" Andy was like, "Oh yeah, of course. I heard them two months ago. Yeah, Fisher." It puts it back in their minds. So for us, TAXI was that little bird on their shoulder going, "Don't forget Fisher!" You need a team of proactive people out there reminding the world--by the way, don't forget.
When did the deal get offered to you?
KF: Right around Christmas. I found it under the tree!
How does that work? Did someone actually call you up and say, "I'd like to sign you?"
Ron Wasserman: The actual call came from our manager, Elliot Cahn, who was called by Andy Schon. Elliot said, "They offered a deal," and that was with Farm Club/Interscope. We said, "That's nice. Let's have a meeting," because frankly, we'd heard it before. We weren't negative about it, but we said to let us know when we could meet with them. We weren't jumping up and down, that's for sure.
KF: We had gone into negotiations with another label previously, and the deal just never came to our satisfaction, so we had to call off the engagement.
RW: Yes, we had just ended eight months of negotiations with another label. So we had a meeting with Farm Club a few days later. They said "yes," they wanted to do a deal. We said "Okay, but the holidays are coming up." They said, "Well, we'll start right away." They worked Christmas Eve and gave us the first rough draft, which then only took eight weeks to negotiate.
KF: It took so long because they were just starting to get their legal department together and starting their TV show, so they had one lawyer handling all the contracts for the TV show, the artists, and everything. She was a bit in over her head. She didn't have her support staff in yet. Everything took ten times as long.
RW: We think she was probably working twenty-two hours a day.
Did you get the kind of deal that you were looking for?
RW: The major things that we were concerned with, of course, had to do with where the Internet is headed. The industry is just figuring it out. I think it's going to become a singles-driven business where people are going to go song-by-song and download singles for a buck or something. Right now, unfortunately, the big established artists are not allowed to really do much online. Their contracts don't allow it. Almost every band getting signed has either never asked for it, or now the record companies, a lot of them, are just taking all rights. They own all domain names, all web content, all control, etc. We retained full control. We have digital rights. We own all of our domain names. We control all content, even at the Farm Club site. We have approval of everything. That to us, meant everything. It's just the best thing you can get. It's thinking of the future.
But this doesn't mean that you can sell records on the Internet and keep the money.
RW: No, we would still have to give them the proper share. But we can continue to sell from sites. It's a hell of a lot of freedom and control.
Who is producing this record?
RW: I'm producing most of it. We'll probably go to an outside producer for a couple of the radio singles. We've been meeting with a couple of guys, but we haven't decided yet.
KF: It's just to get that third perspective. Plus, radio is a territory we haven't really concentrated on up to this point.
Is there a title yet?
RW: No. Because the first one was called One, we can't call this release Two, because it has songs from One. And we can't do 1.1, because Garbage did 2.0. So we don't know yet. [Laughs]
KF: I always wanted to call the first signed album, Someone Said Yes.
* Originally published by Taxi.com in April 2000.
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