Heavy rock business plan
Small Stone Records' Scott Hamilton's strategy for success
Published: November 28, 2012
In the early 2000s, Small Stone had a successful showcase at SXSW (it holds one annually at SXSW and at New York's CMJ Festival). One of the visiting music supervisors left a card, told Hamilton to call him and split.
"I said, 'OK,' and thought nothing of it,'" recalls Hamilton.
"Turns out he was the music supervisor for [MTV's] 'Jackass' and 'Viva La Bam.' As soon as we got on that their peers started calling us. So one card led to 10 and now there's like 100 different music supervisors every week I'm in contact with. Now they're hearing new releases before the bands do. They look to the brand because they know what they're going to get and they're dealing with a label with no bullshit."
That brand, Hamilton says, is simply, "Hard rock rooted somewhere in 1970-1991." In music nerd terms, as much Helmet and Quicks as Deep Purple and Grand Funk. And Hamilton is deadly serious about having the highest-fidelity jams.
"The rule is, I want John Bonham drums with Black Sabbath guitar."
"When I'm pitching stuff to movies, they're always like, 'Hey! We're looking for a replacement for Skynyrd or Zeppelin or Aerosmith. Something affordable. And I'm like, 'Well, I have that,'" Hamilton says. "I literally spend 80 percent of my week pitching to music supervisors and people who do that stuff. Without it there'd be no label."
"A big placement can finance a tour," he says.
"It has the same wallop that radio did. Literally, the TV shows and the movies have become that. Because what's the point of corporate radio anymore?"
"I now watch TV to see what music is being used, and I'll call and pitch the music supervisor the next day. TV's my research tool," chuckles Hamilton.
As much as multimedia exposure has become Small Stone's bread and butter, Hamilton and Small Stone's MO remains networking (hanging out, recording, talking, jamming) face-to-face. Case in point: Five Horse Johnson recorded vocals for their The Taking of Blackheart album with Detroit producer Bill Kozy, who happens to be front-of-house manager for a little band called Cheap Trick. Hamilton and Five Horse rolled into Kozy's studio one night.
Someone had the idea that it'd be cool to get Cheap Trick's Robin Zander to sing backup.
"Kozy goes, 'Hell, I'll get him to sing on a song,'" recalls Hamilton.
"Yeah, right, whatever. So the call went out and next thing you know, [Zander] had recorded his vocal in a hotel room — on the Aerosmith tour — and it's a Rod Stewart cover!"
So as Hamilton and Small Stone tip toward the 20-year mark, the label that operates quietly out of the near-north burbs is making some big noise. This year, Hamilton will continue to showcase bands around the country as he's doing this weekend in Detroit. He'll cherry pick his fave Small Stone records and release them on sweet-ass remastered vinyl.
"In the last two years, I've signed 20 new bands," says Hamilton. "And a lot of them are skinny kids from Sweden or Europe. My wife was like, 'What happened?!'"
"I'm taking charge. I want to be the No. 1 dog in the game — without being Kid Rock."
Chris Handyside is a freelance writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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