Warcon Entertainment CEO Bob Chiappardi
By: Ajax Garcia
With all the changes the music industry faces on a daily basis—from technological advances to more business-savvy independent artists—what’s the fate of the traditional record label?
Where does—or should—branding stand in a label’s marketing mix? What makes the difference between time-tested, fan-pleasing promo materials and crappy, mass-designed merch sporting a “What the hell is that supposed to be?” logo that fans remember for maybe five minutes?
Twenty-five-year music industry veteran Bob Chiappardi, CEO of Warcon Entertainment, spills his thoughts on these things and more to The Napoleon Blown Aparts frontman Ajax Garcia in an exclusive interview. Chiappardi, possibly best-known as founder of premiere hard-music marketing agency Concrete Marketing, launched Warcon Entertainment with Vans Warped tour co-founder Kevin Lyman. Giving “social networking” new meaning, Warcon emphasizes building community between artists and fans, as well as a family atmosphere among bands and the record company, breaking preconceived notions of what a label should be.
Blistering: You once described the relationship among a band, their manager and their label as a family; that the band members are the children, the label serves as parent and the manager is like an uncle. I’d like to add to that analogy by introducing the independent record company as the foster home system. Many great bands have run away from home or have fallen into the foster care system. So Bob, how does a band who doesn’t get that nurturing parental kind of attention succeed at all?
Bob Chiappardi: Actually I view myself, the independent marketing company, as the uncle. My relationship with bands is usually long distance. We try to stay in contact, but I see them more around the holidays [when they are in town for their show, when their records come out, at industry events, etc.]. I come up with cool marketing ideas, and often labels can’t commit to budgets to make these things happen.
But to answer your question, yes, more often than not, there is tension between label, manager and artist. As far as nurturing goes, artists that deal with reality succeed in the long run. The label has a lot of children. Labels are not making the money they have in the past. The family is on a budget. The kids that help out, fend more for themselves and take pressure off the label will get more attention in the end.
Blistering: Do you think record labels can still break the mold? And how?
Chiappardi: There are many ways a label can break the mold. We are doing it by becoming partners with our bands. We give them a bigger part of the CD/download sales, and we help them with merch, publishing and live [bookings]. [The label and artist] share in revenues from those streams of income.
Blistering: Outside of metal and rock, what other musical genres could you see Warcon possibly working with?
Chiappardi: Our focus is post hardcore/screamo. We will branch out, but will not drift too much from our core.
Blistering: As a manager, have you ever felt responsible for the welfare of an artist?
Chiappardi: Always the professional welfare; usually [the] personal. There are times you just can’t help someone. That is true with anyone, not just artists.
Blistering: Do you feel that the music industry could create some sort of insurance package for its employees?
Chiappardi: That would be great. [But it would be] hard to do for a number of reasons. We have tried it, but insurance companies work against it. Unless people are employees, it is hard to insure them.
Blistering: Technology has allowed the product creator to build his or her own careers. Professional athletes like Terrell Owens and movie stars seem to control their industries and can work a deal around their own personal agendas. Why do you think this isn’t the case in the record industry?
Chiappardi: Without a doubt, there are plenty of artists that have control of their own destiny. Jimmy Buffett is one. The jam bands do a good job at it as well. Again, it comes back to that direct connection with the fans. If you have that bond you need little else to get to them.
Blistering: As a rule, musicians are flaky and not known for their education. I see this changing fast, and as a result feel the record labels are on shaky ground. Would you agree or disagree?
Chiappardi: If labels are on shaky ground, it is because creation and distribution of music is much less costly than it ever was. A label selling 100,000 copies of a record cannot make a living. An artist can make more money selling 100,000 by himself than selling 500,000 on a major. Economics have changed dramatically over the past 10 years . . . hell, three years!
Blistering: In today’s world, so many bands sign licensing deals with companies who plug their whole roster into one big machine churning out the very same product, only changing logos on the packaging. How important is merchandising to the relationship between a band and its fans?
Chiappardi: Very important. Bands that do a good job at merchandising and have a good handle on art [such as Tool, Metallica and Iron Maiden] have the best connection with their fans. [It is the sign] of true artists. It becomes even more important now, because music has less packaging than ever. Kids are buying music as downloads—no art at all. [That] means that to make a bond, merch has to be desirable as a standalone [and] not just connected to the physical music.