Hot Seat: Jack Flanagan – Co-owner Weathermaker Music
Jack Flanagan isn’t a fair-weather guy. Having faced repeated issues with various majors and independent labels, Flanagan and the U.S. rock band he manages, Clutch, figured they’d bring on the fight, take all the risk and move it all in-house. In 2008, they jointly-launched Weathermaker Music to release the group’s recordings. The company is now a one-stop shop, selling music and merch from its website, via international distribution partners, and operating its own warehouse. Flanagan continues to wrest control of the band’s catalogue. Weathermaker is also the label home to Clutch’s side project, psychedelic jazz-rockers The Bakerton Group, and acts The Company Band and The Mob. Weathermaker has distribution agreements with Sony/Red in North America, and international partnerships with Soulfood Music in Europe, Essential Music in the U.K. and MGM Distribution in Australia, which will release Clutch’s 10th studio album Earth Rocker on March 22.
How bloody has the battle been to get control of Clutch’s copyrights?
Trying to get a catalogue piece from a major label that was under a different lawyer or a different manager’s regime can be sometimes arduous. It’s a big task, it’s time-consuming and if certain people–the lawyers and label guys–have moved on in a new regime, or no longer represent you, it’s sometimes difficult to even get to the right person. You’re basically saying, “can you help me get my music back so you don’t make any money?” I’d say 75% of the time people working at the label have no desire to go back and do that work. You’ve got to remember, 15 years ago all filing was paper. But it’s not impossible. It’s a slow burn and you have to be very patient. Once it does start rolling, people do go out of their way to help you, so you have to be respectful and thankful. If it’s a contract that you currently hold, it’s pretty easy to just do the maths and have your lawyer look at it. Everything that was put out from 2003, we’ve either reclaimed ownership or we have outright ownership.
Clutch has finally made the leap into the digital world. What drove you to do that?
It was out of necessity. If you don’t keep up with the times and don’t adjust to what’s happening in the world, you’re not optimising your potential as a business entity. You’ll get left behind. We ramped it up so the “Earth Rocker” site allows you to hear songs earlier, hear quotes, get into the studio, see photos and the album-making process. We were able to Tweet what they were doing in the studio. Interaction is important. We’re also looking into how to maintain an Internet- based street team, using ads on Google and Facebook. It seems more and more handing out a flyer just means it ends up on the floor; that’s the way of the world.
You started Weathermaker five years ago. What’s changed in that time?
A lot of retailers have gone out of business. With HMV in administration, it’s directly affected our initial physical orders on the new record in the U.K. Physical product orders are down by 2,000 pieces. Thankfully our team has a plan; there has to be a business reaction. On this record, we’re expecting 30% of sales to be digital. That said, we still print up as many records as we did. We don’t want to run into a situation where we have to reprint, or have a delay in re-stocking distros… that’s the worst case scenario you can have when a record is selling. We’ve recently leased a huge warehouse space which means we can track all our records in the one spot. So we’ve become not only more in control of our music business in general, but also our back catalogue, we’re getting our masters back, we’re able to release them, and we’re holding onto it in our own confines. It’s a big undertaking now. We’re had to learn about international shipping and what a palate mover was. But we’re trying to cut out the middle man here.
You’ve a new label partnership with MGM Distribution? How did that come about?
It was a natural fit. I know I can get Seb Chase on the phone if there’s something I want to discuss. And he knows the same for me. If you don’t have that, then there’s no business, there’s no future. There’s no way to make things better. Seb and I understand the spirit of the deal. Once we were cool, it was a quick signing. Communication has always been how business, societies, have grown and bettered themselves. One of the most important things is to have that communication line open with another independent.