Tom Petty once said “The waiting is the hardest part”. Well, in the course of our career, we didn’t get really good at much, but we got really good at waiting. Everything we had done to this point had taken enormously more time than we predicted. Everything from making our record, negotiating our deal, signing our deal, and now getting released from our deal and putting our record out. It was Summer 2011, and we were fighting for a record that we had finished 2 years earlier.
This is the point where I give credit where it’s due. Jon Sparks, our longtime manager, went through hell for us. I’m sure I don’t even know the amount of emails he sent and phone calls he was on to get us free of our deal. We hadn’t paid him in 3 years, but he refused to give up on us or leave us stranded. When we found out in December of 2010 that Warner wasn’t going to let us have our record, he fought tooth and nail to get it back for us. I don’t know how that all went down, and I don’t know what the legal ramifications were, and I don’t know all the hoops he jumped through, but in July of 2011, we were free.
Signing release papers was so very bittersweet. I think for the other guys in the band it was more sweet. But for me, it represented some form of failure. I had to come to grips with the fact that our story wasn’t going to play out like I thought. Whatever last bit of hope for reconciliation I had was stomped out. The reality of making a living creating music that we were oh so close to realizing, started to slip away, little by little. My wife and I had a newborn and the weight of supporting a family grew heavier, as it should.
“Free” is a funny word. We were free in the sense that we now owned our record. We could do with it what we please, except use the publishing. That means that if there were any more TV placements to be had, it would have to be through Warner. This still stands today. We were free to release the record how we pleased, tour, make money from record sales. Free to try to rebuild our career on the whatever momentum was left.
But we were broke. 3 years on the label had left us with nothing. We all were working jobs and scraping by. There was no money to get CD’s pressed, get merch, and properly promote a record. The last few TV placements were airing, but whatever money we would see from that was at least a year away. Brennan’s parents loaned us a few thousand dollars for CD production. My parents and Jim’s parents pitched in for some merch and artwork. We would release in September, work our butts off, and hope for the best.
Now we needed a boost. Something to gain some cash and get the snowball rolling. Jon presented us with an opportunity. There was a big Christian music festival in Kansas City that usually drew about 10,000 people. They had a pay to play slot available between the headliners. Jon had offered to pay the fee if we could pay to get out there and play it. The idea being, we sell a couple hundred discs, recoup the fee to play, and get our music in front of ten thousand new faces. It was a couple weeks before our actual record release, but we got the discs in and would try to make back the money.
Now, playing Christian gigs was something we did only occasionally and we had never paid to play anywhere. We often joked that we weren’t Christian enough for the Christians, and too Christian for the mainstream market. We were always trying to figure out how to fit in. This was just one show though, and it was a lot of people. If we made the most of it, it would be well worth it.
We drove to KC, had some fantastic BBQ, and got to the festival. The first thing we noticed was there was less people than we were told. maybe 2500. Our rule as a band was to always expect 10% of the crowd that the promoter tells you. So, at 25% we weren’t devastated. We were playing right before Steven Curtis Chapman. We had a 20 minute set, and I thought we nailed it. Everything went off without a hitch, the crowd was into it, and we had a blast. We would head back to the merch tent and wait. A few people came back, but this was a festival. It was outdoors and dark, and leaving your spot in the middle of the set meant probably having a hard time getting back to it. SCC played, then Jeremy Camp. We were set up between their merch tables. Prime spot. We just had to wait for the show to be over then cash in.
What happened next was a microcosm of our career. About halfway through the set the wind picked up. It got drafty. Sprinkles turned to sideways rain and there was lightning. Tornado sirens in the distance. Jeremy Camp wrapped up and the crowds exited. I mean it was a mass exodus. Straight for the parking lot. People were running. Dads had their camping chairs in one hand and small children in the other. No one, I mean no one, was heading to the merch tent to support their favorite artist. There we were, sitting in the tent, watching as our bank account literally drained, and we couldn’t stop it. Helpless. Forget about paying Jon back for paying for the slot, we weren’t even going to recoup our own travel expenses. We basically drew straws for who would call Jon. I dialed, heart pounding and pit in my stomach. “How much did you make?” he asked. “About $40”.
At this point I think I blacked out, but I can assure you Jon was gracious. Now we had to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps again, and get home from KC on $40 and officially release our record.
To Be Continued