Early last year, upon hearing this then-unsigned-and-unknown act’s demo disc, we immediately sensed something special and featured the band of brothers (Dylan, Jesse, Johnny and Danny) in “Music Connection’s Top 25 New Music Critiques of 2013.” Soon after our initial review, Kongos gained serious interest from labels and signed with L.A. Reid at Epic Records.
It was all the result of a consistent DIY effort by the Phoenix-based quartet of brothers, who sent their music everywhere they could: not only to local DJs but stations in South Africa, where the brothers had grown up. The band’s sudden popularity there led to a KONGOS’ headlining gig at the popular Oppikoppi rock festival that caught the attention of U.K. booking agent Sean Goulding. That connection led to The MGMT Company in L.A., which set up showcases for the band throughout 2013, including South By Southwest. At the same time, armed with their infectious, accordion and slide guitar driven song “Come With Me Now,” the Kongos brothers, through their management, started sending singles out to radio and scored modern rock airplay in Chicago and Denver, and a spot at Riot Fest in Colorado. All before Epic signed them.
“The resulting spike in our iTunes sales put us on the radar of various major labels and we started fielding offers,” says Jesse Kongos. “[Epic] were really enthusiastic about the music, not just the numbers.”
It’s easy to see why labels were clamoring for this act as “Come With Me Now,” off the band’s debut album, Lunatic, would go on to hold the No. 1 slot on the Alternative Singles chart for five weeks on its way to Platinum status and TV placement ubiquity.
In January 2015, Kongos will launch into its first North American headlining tour.
Label: RH Music
Publicity: Judi Kerr PR, 310-477-8191, firstname.lastname@example.org
A&R: Laura Reid
Be patient. Be picky. Be prepared. Don’t just jump on the first label offer. That’s the lesson offered by Atlanta-based sister act Larkin Poe (distantly related to famed poet Edgar Allan Poe) who formed in 2010. They’ve since self-released five EPs, collaborated with other artists and toured for three years before signing with RH Music, the relatively new venture of the Restoration Hardware chain.
Says younger sister Rebecca Lovell, “We’d been approached by labels in the past, but we’d always decided that we wanted to do it ourselves because we were able to move quickly and make ourselves sustainable. We weren’t making big bucks, but we were in control.
“At first, we were apprehensive [at the RH offer] because we were so independent,” Rebecca continues. “But they latched on to the idea of working with us; they were persistent. They courted us for a long time and were patient. We give them credit for that.”
“You need to know what you stand for before you get into a situation,” elder sister Megan adds. “Even though we may look back at earlier projects with twinges of regret or embarrassment, it’s important to put your mistakes out there. That’s the only way you’re going to learn. Because once you’re in a position where you have opportunities, you’re then prepared for them.”
Label: Def Jam
Publicity: Brianne Pins - Cashmere Agency/Courtni Asbury - Island Def Jam
Keenon Jackson, aka “YG,” began making a rep for himself while in high school in Paramount, CA. “People at school were singing my songs and my homies were coming out to support,” says YG (Young Gangsta). Constant, effective self-promotion ensued. He recalls burning mixtapes and hitting the streets to pass out CDs. Shows were now a vital link to new fans and the combination proved instrumental in connecting him to Def Jam. Label reps would later observe an entire club, in Hollywood, singing along as YG performed.
“That’s how I got my buzz,” he says. “I was really out there on my independent grind.”
When YG found himself in New York, with Def Jam, it was surreal, he recalls, as he identifies as a West Coast artist. But he also values the uniqueness in being on an East Coast label: “Everybody there understands, and if I can get an East Coast label to know what I am doing, then maybe I can get the whole worl`d to understand.”
My Krazy Life, featuring collabs with Drake and DJ Mustard among others, debuted on March 18.
Label: Warner Bros.
Publicity: Tree Paine, Tree.Paine@wmg.com
Country singer/songwriter Cole Swindell is living the ultimate Nashville success story and has some words of advice for those who would follow in his footsteps. The Georgia native came to Nashville peddling songs and landed a publishing deal for three years. He got on at Sony ATV and wrote for himself while penning for the likes of Thomas Rhett, Florida Georgia Line and Chris Young as well as cuts for touring buddy Luke Bryan’s Spring Break EPs.
And then a year ago, Swindell wrote “Chillin’ It.” The initial single off his eponymous debut, “Chillin’ It” became the first single in all genres to receive Gold certification in 2014. The song sold over 600,000 copies, rendering it the highest selling debut single last year from a solo male country artist. The track was the catalyst for label options, and he signed with Warner Bros. Nashville.
“We thought we had something big that had to go now,” Swindell says. “Warner just worked out; they had a slot for me.”
If you’re trying to get a deal, Swindell, explains, “You have to play and get in front of people. If you’re in Nashville, you don’t have to write songs, but that’s a good way to get in. And trying to network. Getting to know people. That’s how Nashville works.”