Cartel On Getting The Music Out And Label Releases vs. Independent Releases

Atlanta-based band Cartel has had experience with both sides of the music industry.  The band, made up of musicians Will Pugh (vocals), Joseph Pepper (lead guitar), Nic Hudson (rhythm guitar), and Kevin Sanders (drums), has worked with several labels but are now releasing their music independently. With their new, independently released single “Lessons In Love” on iTunes and an EP in the works for September, Cartel is finding success by doing things their way.

Without using the words “alternative,” “pop,” or “rock,” describe your sound.
I would say we draw from a lot of different influences both current and past to arrive at our “blend” of genres. It can vary from Southern Americana to unabashed Pop Punk. From time to time we tend to delve into our “prog” side too but that has a certain tact necessitated to be able to pull it off.

You have over 260,000 facebook friends! To what do you attribute to your large social fan base?
We’ve always been very keen on the fact that the demographic we’re associated with is always “connected” to various social media outlets. With that observation, we committed ourselves at the very onset of the band to maintaining and grooming our fan base in a viral sense. In this day and age, you really have to be constantly updating your profile and notices so that fans and others don’t forget that you’re around. It’s a very ADD generation simply because of the amount of stimulus that kids are exposed to on a daily basis. So if you’re not bombarding them with the status of your band then you’re probably being somewhat forgotten. On the contrary, if you keep blowing up their media feed with updates you might very well lose interest in the same way. Social savvy is an interesting skill that every band needs to have permeate their marketing landscape.

You’ve had several releases through labels, and are now self-producing your albums. Why did you decide to release the last single independently?
We’ve been around the block a few times with labels and each experience has been different. It always sounds bad that a band has been with so many labels but I think it’s a new reality that people must accept. If you’re successful with one label then you’ll get upstreamed and tossed around until you find a home. After all the different situations we’ve been through, the most important thing we’ve learned is what not to do. Not saying that anyone in particular has screwed the pooch but we aren’t naive to the fact that we would have done a few things differently, if at all, had the choice been completely up to us. Now we don’t have to worry about any of that. We have a dedicated, albeit modest, fan base that can completely support our endeavors as long as they’re activated and motivated to support (purchase) our music. We feel that the best way to do that is to connect them with the band directly via an individual “responsibility” we’ve placed on the fan to dictate our future. If nothing else, we can say that we did it EXACTLY how we wanted to within our budget; and we won’t ever begrudge ourselves that opportunity again.

What kind of adjustments have you made since switching to independent releases?
Well, budgets are obviously a lot smaller. When we have to come out of pocket for every little facet of the production it can get a little hairy. So we’ve made adjustments to our expectations. We knew we’d have to do most of the work ourselves as far as the recording goes. I have a modest recording rig that gets the job done on everything but drum tracking. We enlisted the services of Matt Malpass and his studio to track drums then took the sessions back to my house to finish out. With all the advents in technology over the last decade, all it takes is a little know-how and a love of waveforms to get it sounding great. Mixing and Mastering of the record took the priority in our budget since the only knowledge shortfall was in those arenas. We’re paying seasoned professionals to smooth out whatever mistakes we make and ultimately arrive at a competitive product. I think we’ve done very well for our first attempt and we’ll only get better at it in the future.

How do you continue to grow your fan base?
It’s tougher now than it’s ever been. Especially now since we’re getting up there in the age department. I think consistency is the only way we can grow what we already have. We have to invigorate our fans and get them involved in our band so that they feel a sense of ownership of the whole thing. We’ll do that through our continued dedication to quality music and presentation as well as getting on the road and out in front of people. We’d like to help the fans of our genre remember that underground music is only successful if people will come to shows and participate. That’s what it’s all about. Every show is a one time event that only the attendees can witness. It’s a special thing that I’ve been a part of that really can’t be expressed without the firsthand experience.

What kind of management and publicity team do you have now?
We’re working with Ozone management and have been for the past couple of years. With clout like that, we don’t need a label publicist banging down doors for opportunities and exposure. Of course, some of that will be necessary but we’re hoping that a few things fall in our lap because of it as well. On top of that, they’re great people who are fun to work with and really make the whole business side of music a much more pleasurable experience.

You’ve had a great early response from the release of your latest single “Lessons In Love.”  You must have gotten a lot of press! Did you have a marketing plan in place for its release?
Believe it or not, we didn’t really have a lot of press and we really don’t care. Our goal is to make sure our fans know that we have music available and to make sure that they promote it on their own a little. We’ll have a full scale marketing plan for the release of our EP later this year. The beauty of the way “Lessons In Love” was released is that it shows precisely why we are self-releasing our material. I had an interview with “The Gunz Show” on idobi radio and he aired the song for the first time. Once that stream hit the internet, people were going to rip it and download it. As a reactive measure, we bumped up our release plan to accommodate that fact. We uploaded the song on Saturday for a Tuesday release and I think that efficiency helped in making the release a success. It’s awesome to know we can just put something out that quickly without having a label say “wait a few weeks until we can get some ads up on various sites.” I think that mentality has attributed to the current stagnant status of release cycles. There’s absolutely no reason it should take 2 years between releases or for a few 100 ads to hit media outlets before it’s “ok” to put something out. It’s borderline ridiculous.

How do you replicate the marketing/publicity/exposure/opportunities you got when under a label, now that you’re releasing independently?
It’s about going with what you know works. We’re all fans of music and purchase things as consumers. There’s a little intuitive knowledge of marketing just by being in that position and examining it logically. Our budget would never compare to a traditional label’s marketing plan, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be effective.

What projects are in the works for Cartel?
We’ll be releasing our EP in late September after which we’ll do some touring. I {Pugh} will also be working on a solo project after the release as well. Our plan is to keep generating releases as quickly as possible to keep our fanbase excited and ready for new materi

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