Independent record companies are a strange animal. One day they have just enough money to press a record (or a CD) and the next…they’re swimming in cash from an unexpected million seller. And so it was with an outfit called EMERGENCY RECORDS. “LET THE MUSIC PLAY,” a record sung by an accountant paid somewhere around $100 for her lead vocal, became a top ten hit – and the owner was told by his accountant to start reinvesting money to offset the huge windfall.
As a result, the number 2 man at the firm shoved a big cardboard box of what must have been 100 cassettes in my face…wrote me a check for a hundred bucks (apparently the going rate for lead vocals and freelance A&R duties) and told me to listen to everything and bring the best songs to his attention.
Each tape got what I assumed was the usual treatment: Impress me in 16 bars or you get the hook. Wanting to perform my task dutifully, I actually listened to every tape. Some of the demos sounded more like ready-to-release finished studio recordings – while others were about as raw and unfinished as they could be. But that shouldn’t matter to an astute publisher. The musical production is like all the clothing and makeup a woman wears to seduce a guy. It helps…but a beautiful woman (and song) doesn’t need all that. Her beauty will shine through even if she’s buck naked and without eyeliner. I draw this comparison for a reason.
While some of the well-produced songs were pretty good, I got my fiercest hard-on for a rough-sounding and poorly-recorded piano voice demo at the bottom of the box. An untrained ear would have passed over the tape. But I heard through the noise to recognize the best song in the entire collection.
When the time came to sit with the boss and his #1 man, I saved the best for last. After going through everything I thought was worthy enough to play for the duo, I at last whipped out the crappy piano-voice demo with the disclaimer “you might not hear this because it’s so rough…but this is the best song in the box.”
Two seconds in a big smile broke over #2’s face: “I put that in there as a test to see if you’d find it. We loved it, too…and it’s on Shannon’s upcoming album. Congratulations! You passed the test!”
It should have been a defining moment in my relationship with the record company. But Sergio (the owner) was cheap and after thoroughly jerking off a good songwriter and me (the songwriter more as he had the guy rewrite a song that didn’t need rewriting 3 times), he finked out on the project and it was over.
Now some 30 years later, that doesn’t matter. I only remember passing a test that I figured very few other people would have. Pride in a job well done. As for Sergio? He had one more hit and then faded away to become a “has been” – as opposed to my status as a “never was.”
P.S. Eventually, Sergio did put out a record I produced – but only after I’d pressed it as an independent record company and got it started in “the street.” Alas, he only took it to fulfill contractual obligations (after his two big hits, foreign countries advanced him monies in exchange for a number of releases to be supplied at a later date. And getting those releases cheap was paramount) and the record went nowhere. In truth, it was a piece of crap I hated anyway and I’d profited from my own release of it so anything more I got from Emergency was gravy. Whatever…here it is: God! The rapper is awful!