Persistence & DIY Pays Off: Hanson’s Story of Self-Made Success
IMA staffer Joelle caught up with 9th IMA Judges Hanson on tour and spoke to them about their sucess as post-major label artists.
Isaac, Taylor and Zac Hanson are best known as the brothers from Tulsa, Oklahoma who MMMBoped their way to three Grammy nominations (Record of the Year, Best New Artist, and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal) with their debut album, Middle of Nowhere. But what the casual music fan may not know is that all of the success the band has seen since is the direct effect of the Hanson’s taking the reins both artistically and as entrepreneurs of their career.
After deciding it was done playing the major label game, the band formed its own label, 3CG Records. Hanson’s first post-major label release, Underneath (2004), debuted at #1 on Billboard Top Independent Albums chart and #25 on the Billboard 200 album chart. It remains one of the most successful self-released albums of all time.
Through distribution deals with Alternative Distribution Alliance in the United States, Cooking Vinyl in Europe and Sony BMG in Asia, Hanson continues to prove that there is not only life, but thriving existence when a band relies on no one but it’s own members. Bono called Hanson’s music “genius” and story supporting the band’s 2007 release, The Walk, is evidence that legions of followers agree.
Below, the band tells the story of its Indie move and how it improved its career.
Zac (drums/vocals): “A few years back, we decided to form our own label and do everything independently. This (The Walk) is our second record we’re doing independently. It’s definitely been a struggle, but for us, it was the only way to go. We were originally signed to a company called Mercury. We had a great partnership with them, but we were involved with one of the largest music mergers in history on our second record and all of a sudden, we were on a rap label (Island Def Jam) and it was like ‘This is not where we want to be, this is not who it makes sense for us to partner with.’ What we also started to see, was the fact that industry was more minded to quarters, where, if it’s not happening in three months, then it’s over. It’s this sort of stock market, short term process, which is not how those companies started. Island was started by a crazy guy who loved Bob Marley, right? And that’s how that label became and grew from that.
Isaac (guitar/vocals): “And signed U2.”
Zac: “We want to be in the place where nothing’s ever gonna get in the way of our music. We’ve always put ourselves in that place. As soon as it became a place where we thought something was going to get in the way, we needed to move and do something different. And also, we want to be in a place where we can at least attempt to be on the forefront of the industry, saying ‘What’s different? What’s changed? How do we do this better? How do we find better ways to sell music? How do we find better ways to connect with fans?
Isaac: “And it is true it’s a struggle.”
Zac: “It is a struggle, we’re proud of doing what we do and I think, much like the walks (see more info at the end of this article), we will be doing it this way for as long as it seems like the best way to release music.”
The band is currently free from not only major label restraints, but management, as well.
Isaac: “We did have managers for a while.”
Zac: “We recently separated with our managers. Like everything, we wish everyone the best. But you gotta find the right partners- the right people who really have the same thought process about music. The same thought process and sensibilities about where you want to go with your music. When you find that you no longer connect in that way with people, you need to find a new relationship. That’s kinda what we’ve done with everything in our careers, whether it’s labels, managers, agents, attorneys –
Isaac: “Or musical things.”
Zac: “Once you start feeling that tension that’s affecting your music or your art in a negative way, you’ve gotta find something different. Sometimes struggle can improve you. But there’s a fine line.”
Taylor (vocals/piano): “Well, you don’t need struggle to improve you when you’re in a band with your brothers for fifteen years. You have so much struggle, you don’t need anyone else to be a factor. You struggle constantly. You’ll never be able to just be in peace.”
Isaac: “Exactly. By the time an idea comes to fruition…”
Taylor: “You realize this already went through six committee’s, right? And they’re like, ‘Well, I want to have an opinion.’ The other thing about being an independent band today is that there’s a lot more tools to use. Being indie today- just because you have MySpace doesn’t mean you’re going to have a hit. But you can do a lot of direct licensing to labels; you can get licenses to TV shows… The traditional black box of signing to a record label is not what it used to be. It does take more leg work, but I think bands just have to be more entrepreneurs. They just have to act like it’s their deal and get out there. If you’re really great, people will attach to it and you’ll get fans and build a team.”
Isaac: “Don’t be afraid of the leg work. Don’t think that you’ve got some big red button somewhere that you’ve gotta press.”
Taylor: “When we got signed originally, it was the last few years before the whole thing started to go upside down. Even at that time, we got turned down by everybody- every record label in the business practically. Every major label.”
Zac: “We got turned down three times by the label that signed us.”
Taylor: “Three times; three different people within the label. Sometimes it’s just about the right person.”
Isaac: “Persistence pays off.”
Taylor: “Sometimes even being annoying pays off.”
Hanson made headlines when the album The Walk was released in 2007. It was inspired by the band’s visit to an African orphanage. Not only do two African children’s choirs sing on the album, but the band of brothers launched an ongoing campaign to raise AIDS awareness and donations to benefit African children battling the disease. Before each show, the band organizes 1-mile barefoot walks with fans. For each fan that walks, Hanson generously donates $1 to the cause. Tom’s Shoes has also jumped on board. The band has documented this journey in a coffee-table book, “Take the Walk.” Information is available at www.takethewalk.net.
Taylor: “The whole spirit of the record is about going forward steadily. It’s not called The Run, The Skip or The Jump. It’s called The Walk.”
They’ve been making music together for 15 years and now that they’re running their own label, Isaac, Taylor and Zac would love to help other bands make their mark.
Zac: “I think that’s something we all have aspirations to do-working with other bands and helping them to find their sound.”
Taylor: “We honestly have had to resist our urges, in the last five years since we started the label, to not sing bands that we really liked and try to do stuff with them behind-the-scenes from the writing/producing point of view. We love that stuff. It’s really fun to get outside yourself and just write with complete abandon and say ‘I don’t think we could ever do this song, but it’s a really cool song’ and producing is the same way. No question, in time, we’ll work with other bands. The thing about Hanson is, when we walk out on stage- we’ve been playing together since we were kids, we’ve been singing together since we were kids. You couldn’t possibly get into this bubble that exists between the three of us.”
Isaac: “You wouldn’t want to!”
Taylor: “There’s a certain understanding and that’s always going to exist. Nobody can quite understand you-of course because we’re brothers, but also because we’ve been playing together forever.”
Zac: “When we first started out, people would ask us ‘What are you going to do after this?’ And we’re like, ‘What do you mean? You mean after this interview? ‘I think it’s hard for people to realize. I was 11 when we started. Even at that point, it was this was the job that always have wanted, this is the job I’m gonna have my whole life. And even if the band failed miserably, I would still be in the garage or at the coffee shop down the road playing every Thursday or whatever. For us, until the arthritis gets so bad that we can’t even walk, we’re gonna be here.”
Hanson recently announced a spring release, Strong Enough to Break. The package will include 15 demos recorded during the making of Underneath. These demos include neverbefore released songs, as well as original versions that made the Underneath album. Extra content on the DVD will also include commentary from Isaac, Taylor and Zac.
TAKE THE WALK AND CHECK OUT THE TUNES:
www.hanson.net, www.myspace.com/takethewalknet, www.myspace.com/hansonmusic
Joelle Batelli spends her days at Music Resource Group editing for The Musician’s Atlas and coordinating sponsorships for The Independent Music Awards. As music naturally consumes her life, she spends her “downtime” producing/hosting a Web-TV show, On the Verge, launching soon on Ambush.tv. You can watch her interview with Hanson there. Details at www.planetverge.com.