Roadrunner veteran Dave Rath's vision behind new rock label Blue Grape Music

Roadrunner veteran Dave Rath's vision behind new rock label Blue Grape Music

In 2022, an exciting new player emerged in the world of heavy music. 

Founded by Roadrunner Records veterans David Rath and Cees Wessels, Blue Grape Music is a new international rock/metal label, with distribution from The Orchard.

And Rath and Wessels certainly have an impeccable track record in this scene. In their highly-decorated past, Wessels (the founder of Roadrunner) and Rath (the label’s former head of A&R) enjoyed an enormously successful stint working with bands including Nickelback, Slipknot, Type O Negative, Killswitch Engage, Fear Factory, Sepultura and Turnstile.

Headquartered in NYC, with its European operation in Amsterdam, Blue Grape’s inaugural signing is the two-time grammy nominated band Code Orange – who were first signed to Roadrunner by Rath. Blue Grape’s current staff also includes Roadrunner alumni Suzi Akyuz (SVP of marketing) and Paolo D’Alessandro (EVP international).

But what does the label have in store? And what is it looking to do differently? Here, co-founder Rath reveals all to Music Week… 

What is the specific vision behind Blue Grape Music? 
“We launched Blue Grape Music as an opportunity for developing rock artists who may require more resources than a very small indie label can provide, but who are not quite ready to step up to a major. Those resources, first and foremost, include a team of people with experience and vision – people who have had success specifically in the rock world on a global level. The specific vision of the label is centered around A&R. All labels are built on A&R, but the art of proving long-term development and A&R vision is an area in the rock world that has not been prioritised in recent years. We’d like to bring that back.”

Is there anything you can do with BGM you haven't been able to do prior? 
“One of the fundamental differences between BGM and many of the rock and metal labels out there is our initial focus on the global picture. The team at Blue Grape worked and grew together at a label that understood the concept of rock and metal being a global genre and therefore requiring a label that exists as one single entity around the world. There are many great rock, metal and hardcore labels doing amazing things in their territories. Understandably, many of these labels limit their focus to the territory they were founded in. European labels tend to primarily focus on Europe, and US-centric labels tend to primarily focus on the US, etc. Our set up, with offices and staff in both New York City and Amsterdam, immediately provide us a unique foundation and perspective compared to our competitors. International is in our DNA. Why do we think this is important? Because rock, metal and hardcore music is the only true form of global-world music. The genre travels like no other. When one thinks of the top performing metal acts in every country across the world, it is always the same acts everywhere you go. That is not the same for any other genre. There may be hip-hop in other countries, or pop, or country music, or EDM, but the artists often vary depending on the local market. If we expect to specialise and support artists in the rock/metal/hardcore genre, then we should be set up to do so with this in mind.” 

Upon forming BGM, you said you're striving "to empower artists with the support and tools needed to create the kind of music and art that inspires the culture and propels it forward". Within that sentiment is there a feeling from you that, perhaps, artists aren't being empowered and given those tools elsewhere? 
“This isn’t a zero-sum game. Just because we think we can do things in our own way for the artists on our roster, that doesn’t mean we believe other labels are not doing the right things for the artists on their roster. One hopes that labels sign acts they think fit their label’s model for success. We are no different in that concept. The question becomes, 'What is our philosophy and what sort of artists do we think fit the model for us?' We believe a significant portion of rock music is quite often supported and developed through a surrounding culture. Whether it be the 1970s NYC punk scene, the 1990s Seattle grunge explosion or the late '90s New York Hardcore world, these local scenes generated talent that inspired individuals within those communities to grow and push beyond the limits of the culture. The artists pushing outside of their genres are the ones we are looking for. Without the resources of labels and other music business entities investing in the artists at the critical moments, the scenes may have easily died out or been limited, thereby snuffing out true talent before it had a chance to be heard by a larger audience.

The art of proving long-term development and A&R vision is an area in the rock world that has not been prioritised in recent years. We’d like to bring that back

Dave Rath, Blue Grape Music

One of our hopes is to provide resources and opportunities in the form of staff and financial support for emerging artists in a way that not only helps them succeed, but also elevates the music community around such artists, and hopefully bringing forth new avenues for the artists to take their creative vision. One of the most critical resources we expect to provide is in the form of A&R – this means having the scouting ability to not only identify the artists right for Blue Grape, but also knowing how to help the signed acts record their music in the way they envision. Sometimes A&R means drilling down with the artist on every piece of music they wish to record. Other times it can mean getting out of the way completely and having little, if any, involvement in the recording process. Having the experience to know what to do can make all the difference for an act you are supporting. Most importantly, what A&R can do for an act is to help an artist understand the trajectory of their career and show them the purpose of every recording. Is A&R unique to Blue Grape? No. Of course not. But we believe our experience in this area stands out amongst other rock and metal labels.” 

In your time at Roadrunner you were involved in delivering some of the most revered and commercially successful rock and metal in history. What is your take on the current rock scene from an A&R point of view? 
“The rock, metal and hardcore scenes are the best they have been in the last twenty years. The genre is not yet enjoying the mainstream success it once did, but the energy is pointed in the right direction. Just go out and see any of the new and emerging hardcore bands, many of which have wide-ranging diversity on the stages and in their audiences, and you will feel a movement more vibrant and exciting than any other genre happening right now. The pandemic reminded people that humans need shared experience and physical contact in order to feel alive. What better way to have that experience than to be in a room with people with no limits on who they are, celebrating together with music that aggressively reminds them how lucky they are to be alive and free… and not being afraid to climb all over each other? As a result, we're seeing an explosion of rock/hardcore/metal talent like I personally haven’t seen since the early ’90s. On top of that, the steaming world has opened the floodgates for kids to explore genres they might never have been exposed to in the past. That means genres are mashing together like never before. Take, for example, the increasing blending of hip-hop and hardcore, or notice metal and pop songs licensed and promoted on the same mainstream television shows."

Do you think enough risks are being taken in terms of trying to find and sign unique talent? 
"Are risks being taken? They sure are. As is often the case when a sea change occurs, it happens from the bottom up. Risks are being taken by the artists and the smaller labels right now. The risks are different than they used to be because the record deals are different. Labels are more collaborative in their relationships with artists than they used to be in the form of shorter-termed deals and split profit arrangements. This allows all participants in the process to have more at stake in the outcome. On the flip side, major label A&R is still primarily driven by data and research, with TikTok being the main A&R source. When an act starts to connect on TikTok, the major labels all know because they are all looking in the same exact place at the same exact time. A bidding war ensues. Big money is spent. And then even more big money is spent trying to replicate the initial viral moment that pinged their A&R research machine in the first place. This is an impossible game to play for anyone other than major label companies that can afford to play a numbers game. That is not at all what smaller labels such as BGM could or should do. Our bread and butter continues to be us going out into the real world and seeing who is at the shows, what band shirts they are wearing, what they are saying, and how hard they are going at it in the pit.”

We're seeing an explosion of rock, hardcore and metal talent like I personally haven’t seen since the early ’90s

Dave Rath, Blue Grape Music

The long touted 'rock is dead' statement is obviously a ridiculous one – there's abundant proof that it's not. That said, there are times where, culturally, it burns brighter than others in becoming the dominant mainstream sound. What is your take on where rock and metal is right now?  
“The rock scene feels great right now. Is this because tastes are cyclical? I think there is more to it than that. Was rock dead over the last decade? Maybe not exactly dead. Let’s just say it was napping. As we all know, the past 20 years have seen more changes in the way people record and consume music than at any other point since the advent of recorded music. Those changes came at a time when rock music was experiencing yet another metamorphosis due to the aging out of the current fan base. The late '90s/early '00s and the new dominance of digital recording and the sonic precision that it produced was the antithesis of what rock music was all about. Conversely, pop and hip-hop thrived with everything digital recording initially had to offer. Over time, rock music became predictable, derivative, repetitive and generic. Young kids were understandably bored and looked elsewhere. This all happened at the exact moment that tech became the primary delivery system for music. The young audience adapted to the technology, whereas the older remaining rock audience lagged behind. The industry at the major label level reacted to what it was seeing and stopped investing in rock music, thereby cutting off any chance it had to grow. Rock signings slowed. Metal and hardcore signings virtually ceased. It is going to take a very long time for major labels to pivot back to the rock world. Even if they wake up tomorrow and realise how far behind they are, they don’t have the staff to work the signings. All the rock people left the major labels. So, yes, while I believe we are on the precipice of a new wave of rock music, I also believe it starts with the more powerful indie rock labels who will have the ability to bring the music to the masses. That’s where we come in.”

You're being distributed by The Orchard. What was behind that partnership and what do they bring to the table in your mind? 
“Cees and I have shared history with many people at The Orchard. We trust them. But it goes beyond that. It’s simple. The Orchard gives a shit about all forms of rock music. They care about the same things we do and have the staff and structure to act on it. They provide us a unified global reach that allows us to focus on marketing and A&R rather than chasing paper, money and people all over the planet. Their offices are near ours in the city and welcome us whenever an in person meeting is more productive than a zoom or phone call.” 

Your inaugural signing is Code Orange, why did they make sense as your first signing? And what other kinds of acts are you looking to sign? 
“Code Orange represent much of what I mentioned earlier about the emerging scene in rock, hardcore and metal in that they are one of the pioneering acts in this new wave of heavy music. They were the first in this recent movement to blend genres in both recorded music and in their live touring outlook. They zig when everyone else is zagging. They never stand still and they push the genre and everyone else around them forward. They embody our philosophy of uncompromising determination. I gravitate towards heavy music – no question about that – but I am also open to signing all forms of rock music, and possibly beyond, provided it comes from a rock ethos and attitude. I'm not a metalhead, a hardcore kid or a hipster – I'm a music lover who wants to bring important music to the world. To do anything less is a waste of time. Cees has always sought out the most unique talent where he could find it and I’ve done my best to follow that path. The size of the roster depends on how we perform. We have to make money. Everyone does. I would honestly like to do that with fewer acts that have a higher rate of success. But I also believe it is important to cast a wide net, take chances and be ready to move quickly when you see something happening.”

Finally, is there a specific identity you want the label to have? 
“We want to be known for taking rock music to places it has never been before.” 

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