Industry Insider: Mike Judy and Kevin Gales of Easy Killer

posted by Laura Baker-Finch on July 17, 2013

I'm not announcing anything new by stating the traditional music industry is in flux, in decline. Streaming services and Internet downloads shake up stagnant models of music discovery but take away from album sales, hurting both artists and their labels. The former have responded by ditching the labels all together, the latter have reacted by tying their rosters down with 360° deals, and both have focused more on touring. The industry won't shut down all together, but it definitely cannot continue in its current form, which is why traditional companies and new entrants alike are working to reshape the model. Until they do, it doesn't seem to be the best environment for a new label.

Yet from the embers came Easy Killer Records & Apparel - the new venture of industry vets Mike Judy and Kevin Gales. Rather than taking a step back until the industry fixes itself or taking the route of the Big Three (Sony, Universal, Warner) and taking on too many roles with less resources, the Easy Killer team have dedicated themselves to their small roster of previously unsigned acts. Their launching roster was chosen based foremost on whether Mike and Kevin truly believed in them and actually listened to them, not just whether they were something "gimmicky that would be guaranteed to sell."

There are no guarantees, but Mike and Kevin's combined expertise and experience in different facets of the industry paired with the lifestyle brand component of their business model (not to mention a killer launching roster including Night Verses, Farewell Fighter, Wilson, and The Company We Keep) give Easy Killer an advantage and an insight that we hope will set new standards.

How did you both first get involved in the industry?
Kevin Gales: I was a guitar player. Played for Sarah Machlachlan, Bob Segar, Dixie Chicks, Kid Rock, Courtney Love....a bunch. Since then I've had 4 record labels distributed through a major.
Mike Judy: I started playing in bands, and began booking all of our shows. Met people locally, started booking their bands. Met national booking agents, started booking the bands they repped. Met the bands they repped, started signing a few of them. That's the basic timeline here for me, ha.

How did the two of you pair up for Easy Killer?
Kevin: We were friends. We were talking about maybe doing a few different projects together. Once we started talking about the label idea, it really took hold.
Mike: Kevin moved down to St. Louis from Canada a few years ago, and our paths crossed. More specifically, he shot a music video for a band I was in at the time. Just by speaking with each other a handful of times, we knew that we had to eventually do something together in this industry. We just complimented each other's strengths so well. Last year we started meeting up more regularly, and began developing a plan for what we now know as Easy Killer.

Do you think your different industry backgrounds make your pairing unique? How do your individual talents combine for Easy Killer?
Kevin: Great question. We come at a band or an artist looking at them in very different ways. Mike is all about if they can draw. The first questions I ask all have to do with sales history. There's one bottom line we have that makes this thing work so well, is that every decision we make is something we've totally agreed on. We'll push each other back and forth for hours, but whatever decisions are made, we make together and we BOTH are fully satisfied with the decision.
Mike: Oh yeah, totally. We both specialized in specific facets of the industry coming into this venture, and we've been able to educate one another a great deal. Over the past few months especially, our combined strengths in specific knowledges have had much less separation as we continue to feed off each other. We're able to assume additional roles and cover for the other guy if he's busy working on something else.

What were the factors that went into forming Easy Killer's launching roster?
Kevin: We wanted to come out strong. Bottom line. Mike can likely expand on that. But that was the biggest challenge, but also our number one goal when launching.
Mike: We really wanted diversity, and we really wanted tremendous musicianship across the board. We didn't necessarily want to pigeonhole ourselves into being a relatively genre-specific label, and we weren't out to solely find anything gimmicky that would be guaranteed to sell, regardless of the amount of integrity behind it. We wanted artists that we would enjoy listening to on a regular basis, and guys that we truly believed in. Someone is going to ask me for my Top 10 year-end list at the end of 2013, and all 10 albums will be from Easy Killer (well, I may have to squeeze that Wonder Years album in there somehow). We're just genuine fans of our entire roster.

Are you currently seeking new acts to sign or plan on focusing on your current artists?
Kevin: Yes. Always.
Mike: Always looking, yes absolutely. Our release schedule is set for 2013, but we're already looking for new guys to put out in '14!

Is there a story behind the tag line "We are defined in life by how we respond to defeat?"
Mike: I think that's a quote that we can all draw personal stories from. We're all going to have our struggles at times in our lives, and most of the time they're completely unavoidable, unfair events that put us in those situations. What's important is that you pick yourself up and bounce back. Those truly are the moments that define us.
Kevin: It's very easy to be a good person or a good man when things are going well. It’s when we have our deepest dialogue with hurt and with failure that we are truly defined and measured. There really is no specific story, but I'll share some personal background. Without going into huge details, I had a son who died when he was nine months old. Our middle child Hannah was born about a year later, and Hannah has Downs Syndrome. Of course our son dying wasn't a defeat, but it surely had the feeling of acute and throbbing loss. Hannah's amazing and an incredible part of our family, but there was a ton of confusion around the time she was born; it definitely didn't go according to our plan and preparation. I'll also say that the way I dealt with it all during the first few days of her life was an epic fail, and I really let Hannah down in a number of different ways.

With all that said, this is life, and these moments will test us. I think it's our response, and how we move that's critical. Deep breaths....keep going...keep moving....easy killer, just keeping going.

Easy Killer plans on launching an apparel component to the brand. Does having a full line of clothing act as advertising or is there a deeper reason for its incorporation?
Kevin: This is a foundational aspect of the company. Lots of detail here. I'll just say that it does go far beyond just advertising. This is fully integrating music, clothing, accessories, lifestyle, and fashion together.
Mike: It really is all about pushing the overall Easy Killer brand. I think the word "advertising" can sometimes become intangible, in a sense that increasing brand awareness in itself is great promotion, whether it's an ad in a magazine/website or not. You could make the same argument that each time someone buys a cd from an Easy Killer artist, we're helping advertise the apparel brand. It's really about cross-promoting the multiple aspects of our company, but still having them stand alone as their own respected entities.

What's the advantage of being a "lifestyle brand" as opposed to just a record label?
Kevin: SO many more things we can be involved in. And the weight of the world isn't on what Night Verses or Mandolyn Mae sell in their first week of release.
Mike: I think I touched on that in the last question when mentioning the great benefits of cross-promotion. We'll absolutely be doing things like throwing in EK music samplers along with clothing purchases, and having our own artists model apparel in photo shoots. We want everything to feed off each other.

From a label standpoint, what are the advantages and/or disadvantages of your artists booking festivals as compared to one-off shows or tours?
Kevin: For me the timing, and how early each festival wants us to engage them. Mike will have more on that I'm sure.
Mike: I really see no disadvantages to booking festivals, as long as our guys are compensated well enough to cover their travel. Usually artists get paid a good deal more at festivals, so they're pretty win/win. Tours are great because of course you get to introduce/reinforce yourself to multiple markets, and as long as routing is proper, you should get paid well enough to cover travel expenses. Just need to make sure you don't have a dummy booking the tour for ya!

How has the industry changed and grown since you've been working in it?
Kevin: I've been around for a while. When I first started, the iPod and iTunes didn't exist yet, let alone the iPhone. Where do I start!
Mike: Too many things to list and go in-depth with. As far as live concerts go, I know that people are buying tickets online more than ever. Back in the day we would just have to kind of guess based on word of mouth how a show was going to turn out. Now with constant ticket counts, we're able to better gauge what attendance will be before going in.

Advances in recording equipment has made it easier for some dweeb bands to half-ass their way through tracking a song while having it come out perfectly.

Streaming sites, while great ways for people to discover great music, have cut down a great on artist sales. I do think that model can ultimately work, but it's far from perfect as it stands today.

What do you think is lacking in the industry that Easy Killer can provide?
Kevin: I wouldn't say anything's lacking necessarily. Bands still need resourcing and we're gonna continue to do that; continue writing fair contracts for good bands.
Mike: Great deals for our artists, cross-branding with our apparel, massive diversity on the roster, and a bunch of other random stuff that may not stick out by itself, but when combined with everything else, puts us in pretty solid standing.

Find out more about Easy Killer artists and their tours on the official Easy-Killer website, and stay tuned for the apparel component coming soon.

Easy Killer Records and Apparel Intro from Easy Killer Records and Apparel on Vimeo.

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See Also:

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On the Scene: Beware of Darkness at the Studio of Webster Hall
Industry Insider: Tom Silverman of New Music Seminar