CD Baby CEO Tracy Maddux Knows What it Means to Do It Yourself
When Tracy Maddux—a passionate fan of live music—joined CD Baby, he decided he needed to see a show by each of the new employees he worked with. Nearly everyone at CD Baby plays music. It meant ...
Alex Winston and Max Hershenow (one half of MS MR) didn’t want to make hits. The old friends just wanted to make some songs together. They went back to music-writing basics, hanging out, and letting tracks unfold. The result was Post Precious, a surprise project that the duo decided to keep independent, eschewing the label route and working with a small team and CD Baby to bring their dark-tinged, perfectly crafted pop to the world.
Winston had a long, trying track record with labels. The classically trained singer and self-taught instrumentalist and songwriter was dubbed the next Kate Bush by The Guardian after an early EP. The praise led to major label deals with the likes of Island, then to getting burned as her creative vision was throttled by slow moving corporate machines with divergent visions of what the young female artist should be. Her full-length album, though raved about by American critics at Pitchfork and Spin, faced what one Noisey writer called “a perfect storm of bad timing, poor management, and shit luck.”
“I thought I was signed for who I was, but they wanted me to be something completely different. I felt trapped,” Winston recalls. “You want to make those investing in you to be happy, but it wasn’t creatively fulfilling.”
Creative fulfillment sprang up elsewhere over the years, including in her work with friends like Hershenow. As they jammed together, revelling in the music and feelings that came from collaborating, they decided they needed to put out Post Precious themselves.
“Working independently, it feels much easier to pivot. When you work with a large label, it can take a lot of energy to push the project through, to get the support you need to run with certain ideas,” Hershenow explains. “Often when you write, the biggest impediment is the anxiety that comes when you focus on external factors. But with Post Precious Alex and I let the work lead us on any journey it needed to. We were free.”
“I was so burned out trying to chase what I was supposed to be,” reflects Winston. “This project came together because we were having a good time writing. We were making music for fun and it was so refreshing. It made sense that we’d work on all the other aspect ourselves, outside the label system.”
They knew they could drive it but not do it all themselves. So they turned to The SoundClub, a one-stop boutique label services and artist development shop run by Kelli Fannon (who worked at Rdio) and Sarah Manha (who’s worked in radio and artist relations). Building a nimble but dedicated team, Post Precious decided to use CD Baby as their distribution homebase.
“This kind of project is a case study of the new model of artist development: working with a small team, whether a manager or label services type situation, while retaining ownership & control of the music and creative vision and being scrappy with the approach to traditional tent-poles like PR, radio, and videos,” notes Ben Hubbird of CD Baby. “This is a chosen path for many artists who have lots of ties to the label system, but want to make music and promote it their way.
Winston and Fannon had worked together before, putting out a single Winston recorded between label deals. “At some point, I said, ‘Screw it, let’s do it ourselves.’ That track, ‘101 Vultures’ ended up being our most successful single. They really embraced it at Spotify and it got on a couple key playlists,” says Fannon. “We’re playing a label role, working on marketing as well as project management. We do press. We’re doing videos on the cheap. We’re touching everything and keeping it as DIY and scrappy as we can.”
This scrappy approach comes naturally to Hershenow and Winston. Post Precious reinforced the importance of creating in community, of finding support and inspiration from friends. “I live with amazing friends, incredible musicians, in LA. There’s a great music community around us in Beachwood Canyon, giving feedback and support. It feels like we’re part of an era,” muses Hershenow. “In a future when we don’t know what’s happening with the music, being part of a community of friends and other talented people who have our backs, whom we respect and support, feels like the real spine of a long-term career.”
“You don’t have to spend a million dollars on things for them to click, for them to do the job,” says Winston. “Frankly, I was never really attuned to what was being spent. I was the creative person and I left the business to someone else. This is teaching me to become a businessperson. I’ve learned to be accountable for every dollar we’re spending.”
About CD Baby
CD Baby is one of the largest distributors of independent music on the planet, home to almost 650,000 artists and more than 7 million tracks, getting independent music to more than 100 digital services and platforms around the globe and allowing artists to monetize their presence on YouTube. Artists using the CD Baby platform have earned more than $500 million since its founding and its Publishing Administration service, CD Baby Pro, allows over 100,000 songwriters/artists to collect all of their publishing royalties.
CD Baby has become the go-to partner for many icons in the new music industry. Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, Twenty One Pilots, and Macklemore had their start on CD Baby, while others like Ingrid Michaelson and Gregory Alan Isakov have maintained independent and highly successful careers. Artists like Rooney are among the musicians who’ve dropped the old label system and turned to CD Baby to strike out on their own.