MC's Favorite Signings of the Year

Miss Willie Brown
Label: A&M/Octone Records
Contact: [email protected]
A&R: Jim Berkman

Two enthusiastic girls working at a restaurant in Los Angeles, CA, end up writing songs together and performing in clubs. Sounds like a pitch for a sitcom, but three years ago it was reality for Kasey Buckley and Amanda Watkins. “We recruited musicians, some from Music Connection ads and from Musicians Institute, and worked every single shift to pay the band.” Music Connection so admired Buckley and Watkins’ unique, edgy take on country music that we placed them in our coveted Top 25 New Music Critiques of 2011. Spotted by a TV talent booker, they were the first unsigned act to appear on the Jimmy Kimmel Live show. When Jon Leshay came aboard as manager, he arranged showcases and Miss Willie Brown’s impressed a scout for A&M Records. The label offered to fly them to New York for a meeting, but the duo refused to go unless they could do a private showcase. “We couldn’t afford to leave our jobs for an office meeting!” Watson says. The showcase was arranged and the band was quickly signed as A&M/Octone’s first country act. “A&M is one of the last labels that actually develop artists,” says Watkins, “which was a big factor in signing with them.”


Photo by: Piper Ferguson

The Dunwells
Label: Playing In Traffic Records
Contact: [email protected]
A&R: Kevin Wommack, [email protected]

For indie-rock sensation the Dunwells, the key to a label deal was sheer persistence (once playing 40 gigs within 20 days during October 2010), which paid off with a key gig opportunity at The Bedford in London. But, as if the rock & roll gods were testing them, the band’s van broke down outside of the city. “We said, ‘fuck it,’ and we spent the 80 pounds [on a cab] to get from where we were to London, which is probably one of the best moves we ever made because we met Tony, a promoter there.” Tony Moore championed the band in London, and then booked the group at the International Folk Alliance Conference in Memphis, TN, for February 2011. It was there that the band met Kevin Wommack, who signed the group to Playing In Traffic Records a few months later. The Dunwells signed a three album deal, with distribution through Sony in the US and Universal in England. Their acclaimed Blind Sighted Faith was released February 2012.

Photo by: Michael Mihail

Tito Lopez
Label: Capitol Records
Contact: [email protected]
A&R: Steve Prudholme

When you think Capitol Records, home to Katy Perry and Coldplay, rap music probably isn’t what comes to mind. Southern-born Tito Lopez is changing that. In 2009, the Gulfport, MS, native (who released DIY mixtapes since high school) was discovered by manager Keith Watts. Watts introduced Lopez to Def Jam Cypher, which led to Capitol. Signing to the major label was something Lopez was prepared and yet unprepared for. “You’re never totally prepared, because as soon as you sign that contract, the workload increases. It’s like signing to the NBA––once you’re in the league, you’ve got to win some games. You’ve got to keep working, now on a bigger scale,” he says. Lopez’s Capitol debut, recorded with producers including DJ Troomp and Organized Noize, is set for an early 2013 release.


Mr. Little Jeans
Label: Sony Music
Contact: Heathcliff Berru
A&R: Drew McFadden / Will Larnach-Jones

When it comes to signing her label deal, Norwegian electro-pop artist Mr. Little Jeans, aka Monica Birkenes, credits the Myspace craze from a few years ago. According to the songstress, Sony Australia contacted her via the site after checking out her profile. Birkenes and her manager, Drew McFadden (who she also met through Myspace), didn’t take the interest seriously until Sony A&R rep Will Larnach-Jones flew out to her then-residence, Stockholm, Sweden for her first gig as Mr. Little Jeans. Birkenes adds, “A few dinners, Skype and phone calls later and I was on my way to being signed.” What MC likes most about this Signing Story is the songstress’ emphasis on signing a deal only when ready. Before the signing, she says, “I was concentrating more on developing myself as a writer, finding a sound that I wanted and hopefully getting great songs together along the way. The plan was always to have most things in place before signing with anyone.”

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