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Radney Foster: ready for the big show!

By Clarissa Sansone, July 2001

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Not bad, for his first independent project. "I have complete artistic freedom to do exactly what I want to do," says Foster. He refers not only to Big Show, but also any upcoming projects on his newly created label, PureSpunk.com.

"I've never been on an independent label in my life until now," says the singer, who went straight to the majors when RCA signed him and Bill Lloyd in 1986. "We scared the bejeezus out of those guys," Foster says of the record executives he and Lloyd played for. Country music, he explained, "was in the tank at the time," so labels were taking chances and signing unconventional acts.

Foster recognizes that major labels - in his case, RCA and later Arista - "helped promote my career enough to help me do what I'm doing now," but once he considered the effort he was putting into projects and the profits they were getting out of them, "it got to a point where I said, 'Wait a minute: I have enough of an audience'" to go it alone. "They make more than 99 percent of the money," Foster says, without exaggeration, of major record labels. He uses Del Rio, TX 1959 as an example: the album sold 450,000 copies, and had "gross receipts of over $4 million," but less than one percent of that went to Foster. "When you look at it that way, that's not a fair deal," he concludes.

Foster was approached by a label he did not name - "they look like an independent, but it's all Sony's money" (can anyone say Lucky Dog?) - to cut a deal for "Big Show," but he wasn't interested in the standard contract.

DualTone, the independent label that ended up promoting and marketing the new album, also approached Foster with a record deal originally, but Foster wanted an arrangement where he had control over his work and owned his songs.

Foster had the label and the studio knowhow to produce an album; he did not, however, have the wherewithal to promote it, nor the funds to hire an outside promoter, so he offered DualTone a deal of his own: that he keep the rights to the album, but they market it for a share of the profits. They agreed. "I had known those guys from when they were at Arista and had seen them be hamstrung by the powers that be," Foster says of the former Arista employees Scott Robinson and Dan Herrington, who formed DualTone. "It was nuts, and it really hurt those guys ability to do things."

The symbiotic relationship that resulted seems ideal for Foster, who thinks DualTone's owners "really get it" when it comes to producing and marketing music. Foster also has his own label going.

As the label name (PureSpunk.com) suggests, Foster and his wife, music journalist Cyndi Hoelzle, have created a website that "is integral to the record company." PureSpunk.com has "only been up since February," Foster says, but it's had "over a half million hits." The website "is a way to give something back to the fans," he explains, as well as a way to generate profit for his new record company. The site-part webzine, part store-features columns like "Coolest Gigs in America" and "10 Questions," an artist interview. There are also features on roots and alt. country musicians (not coincidentally, a story on Nickel Creek is currently featured), and album reviews. The site is funded in part by Amazon.com, where the reader can purchase reviewed albums. The Song of the Month Club highlights a new recording by Foster to download each month.

"I think there's a niche of a lot of Americana, triple A, and alt.-country" listeners, says Foster, a "like-minded circle of roots musicians" that is being underserved, in his opinion. "The mainstream media is not paying a lot of attention to (that kind of music)," he says, and he hopes PureSpunk.com will serve the audience for it."

And the trend toward artist autonomy is apparent. "I think it's a direction all music's headed in," says Foster, who points to Aimee Mann, the Cowboy Junkies and John Prine as artists who are masters of their own projects. "All of a sudden, the artist has control and much more profitability."

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