Hard Rock International, titans of the restaurant, cafe and hotel industries and holders of the world’s largest collection of music memorabilia, have set both label and artist communities abuzz with the official launch of their newest venture earlier this week:  Hard Rock Records.

Uniquely billed as an independent music label created to find, develop, and promote up-and-coming artists, Hard Rock Records promise undiscovereds an unparalleled opportunity: assistance with recording, production, marketing, promotion, distribution, and touring in exchange for a one-year commitment to the label. At the end of that year, artists walk away with ownership of their recordings as well as all the profits from their release, while Hard Rock forgoes the typical demand of remuneration of  expenditures.

James Buell, co-head of Artist Development for Hard Rock Records, elaborates on the new label’s uncommon if not totally innovative approach to the label/artist relationship and provides the back story of their very first signing: Mississippi 7-piece,  Rosco Bandana.

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Music memorabilia, cafes, hotels, casinos…why now Hard Rock Records?
This is the natural progression for our brand.  Hard Rock has always been about music. This just plugs us into another phase of it. And this allows us to give back to the music community in a different way…an exciting way.

Let’s get this straight: You’ll fully develop, finance and promote artists for a period of one year but let them walk away with all the profits?
Our artists keep ownership of any recordings as well as all the profits from their release. We support them from the day they sign with Hard Rock Records until one year from the release date of their album. This isn’t about profits and losses for us.  It’s about finding passionate people who need an opportunity. And it’s our goal to give them that outlet.

Why is it important for you that the artist maintain ownership of their recordings?
Hard Rock Records is in the business of promoting the spirit and love of music. We don’t want to commoditize our artists. We want them to have the creative freedom to explore their passion and to reap the rewards of their hard work.

Is what you offer ‘better’?
It’s really for the individual artist to decide what’s in their own best interest. Hard Rock Records operates a little differently than the standard record label. For some that’s a great thing and for others, maybe it isn’t. The main differences are we expect no recoupment of expenditures, we don’t seek ownership of any recordings, and we don’t take any profits from their release. All the money earned by the artist stays with the artist. We think this is a unique opportunity and something that’s attractive to artists.

So what exactly is in it for you?
It’s about giving back. It’s about enriching the lives of bands and the people they touch. Hopefully that resonates with people and they’re drawn to the bands we work with.

What criteria are you looking for in prospective Hard Rock artists?
It really gets back to wanting to work with passionate people who make great music and need to be given the opportunity. That’s the common denominator. Outside of that, there’s no set sound or look.

How many do you hope to sign per year?
Ideally we’ll sign 3 to 4 artists a year. That’s a comfortable number for us to effectively manage and support.

How  do you plan to handle the insane influx of submissions you’ll receive?
That’s certainly a topical question. To be honest, we did not anticipate the number of artists who would reach out to us after the announcement of the label. It’s been great though. It reaffirms to me that what we’re doing has the potential to be really special. And that really excites me. Outside of our annual Hard Rock Rising contest, the best (and only) way for artists to be considered is to submit their demo and contact information to:  Hard Rock Records, 6100 Old Park Lane, Orlando, FL 32835.

Tell me why Rosco Bandana became your first-ever signing?
They have that “it” quality.  That intangible wow factor that gives you goose bumps and makes you want to hit repeat on every track. The band entered our 2011 Hard Rock Rising battle of the bands contest and my co-worker, Keely Wade, manages that program. So when Rosco Bandana’s submission for the contest came in from our Biloxi Cafe, she called me over to her desk and said, “Listen to this…”.  And the song blew me away. At that time, Hard Rock Records wasn’t a fully formed idea. But that’s when the seed was planted. We scouted the band over the next few months and the more we became drawn to them and pushed ourselves for ways to help them take the next step in the evolution of their career, the more what Hard Rock Records should be about – and could be about – came into focus.

What band out there – if they weren’t already signed/established – would you sign in a heartbeat?
Frightened Rabbit from Scotland. That’s a band I think should be 1000% more appreciated than they currently are. They possess the same, undeniable “it” quality that Rosco Bandana has. And it’s evident the first time you see them perform. Their songwriting is honest and their songs are anthemic. It’s only a matter of time before America catches onto them. If you haven’t listened to their latest effort – The Winter of Mixed Drinks – do yourself a favor and buy it (buy all their stuff, actually).  The track, The Loneliness and the Scream, is the kind of song that when you see the band perform it live…it inspires you, and makes you realize for those few minutes just how powerful music can be. And that’s my ultimate wish for every band we sign to Hard Rock Records. I want them to be to someone else what Frightened Rabbit is to me.  If I can help make that happen in some small way…that’s the true measure of success for me.

pixel Hard Rock Records: A Q&A with Artist Development Co Head, James Buell