Carrying the likes of the soulful and jammy Soulive, power-funk explosion Lettuce, electronic hip-hop monsters Break Science, and the man with the golden pipes, Nigel Hall, Royal Family Records is a force to be reckoned with. Regulars on the legendary Jam Cruise, you can catch the Royal Family boys headlining festies across the country like Catskill Chill Festival and on the lineup for Summer Camp 2013, not to mention packing out some of the best clubs in the universe, notably Brooklyn Bowl in NYC, Toad’s Place in New Haven, CT, and Paradise Rock Club in Boston, MA.
Sure, you don’t hear these bands on the radio, but this music is not designed for the radio. This music is designed to be experienced…live! Now that’s not to say that their records aren’t worth listening to, like some jam-type bands we won’t mention. In fact it’s quite the opposite. Tracks from Lettuce’s 2008 LP Rage have held their own in my “ Top 25 Most Played Songs” playlist for years, most notably: “Blast Off,’ ‘Speak E.Z.,’ and especially ‘Mr. Yancey,” a tribute to Pete Rock contemporary and fallen hip-hop Renaissance Man J Dilla aka James Yancey aka Jay Dee. For anybody interested in creative reworkings of The Beatles’ catalogue, Soulive’s Rubber Soulive is a must have (As well as [unrelated to Royal Family but seriously worth checking out] Danger Mouse’s mashup of Jay-Z’s The Black Album and The Beatles’ The White Album called The Grey Album).
Who’s Who, What’s What…
The Royal Family tops the list of must see acts around the country and even on the freakin’ ocean. Their music is infectious and guaranteed to get your body movin’, but how did they get to where they are now? What sets them apart from other bands making a living touring festivals and awesome clubs, even apart from their peers on Jam Cruise? These dudes are unparalleled in talent and incredibly smart.
Graduates of Berklee and other prestigious music schools, the Royal Family musicians don’t just do their funky jammy thing for festival goers. These guys are also virtuoso producers, session, and touring musicians for some of the biggest acts in the world. To give you an idea, here’s a bit about only two members of the Royal Family. Grammy-nominated drummer Adam Deitch is a founding member of both Lettuce and Break Science, furthermore he’s shared the stage with Wyclef Jean, Slick Rick, and John Medeski to name a few. Deitch has produced tracks for MF Doom and 50 Cent among others. One of his projects, Break Science, is the only act signed on both Royal Family Records and Pretty Lights Music.
As if that’s not impressive enough, Deitch’s been a session drummer for everyone from Justin Timberlake to Black Rob. Now mind-boggling Bassist Erick “Jesus” Coomes is a tornado. By far and away one of the most wild bassists on the scene, he brings more force to his performance than most metal heads can muster. Coomes is a successful touring and session bassist for both rap giant The Game and Britney Spears.
Every musician on this label dives in and seamlessly crosses everything from funk to jazz to soul to hip hop and manage keep every show new, particularly in the case of Soulive and Lettuce. When both bands, comprised mainly of the same members, each play a show at the same festival, per se, there’s lots of room for improvisation. Soulive’s sets are better known, so they mix it up but keep it tight, then let it fly with Lettuce, playing all sorts of wild and intriguing reprises of their already impressive catalogue. Any musician worth his salt will give it up to everyone on the label for musicianship and creativity, but what’s more is that any modern businessperson would give it up tenfold for strategy.
Breaking onto the scene on Velour Music Group, a label/management firm, both Soulive and Lettuce gained much success. After close to a decade and a half of good vibes, it’s unclear, yet improbable, that any serious issues with Velour’s label drove the Royal Family boys to create their own label, since many of the major Royal Family bands are still managed by Velour. What is clear is that since Royal Family Records’ launch in 2008, the boys have been getting paid. Now in complete control of all their own music, the Royal Family catalogue is available on iTunes and Amazon, as well as Spotify. Pirate copies of their earlier albums, mainly from the Velour years, are readily available on torrent sites, as well as a plethora of live sets. Yet what’s most intriguing is the surprising lack of pirate copies of their latest releases…
Pirates Love That Funk, but Can’t Find That Funk
It is almost impossible to find a legitimate copy of Lettuce’s 2012 LP Fly! anywhere online for free. Since the (please God let it be temporary) demise of torrent titan Demonoid, the number of up to date Soulive, Lettuce, Alan Evans Trio, etc… studio album torrents available has plummeted to basically zero. Some may argue that the lack of Royal Family torrents is a result of low demand, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth, especially considering the wide availability and sustained seeding of Royal Family studio music during their 16 year tenure on Velour. Others may suggest that the multitude of live sets that are available is sufficient, but the number of such torrents is so massive that it’s near impossible to find a good recording of a solid set in a worthwhile venue on a good, or even average night for the bands. Especially with these sets spread out across multiple sites of varying reliability and users, so you can’t even tell if it’s a good show recording by the seed/leech ratio, because they’re never above something asinine like 1/5, or 0/34.
What’s all that mean? Basically it seems that Royal Family Records has to be taking some sort of action against piracy of their music, and who can blame them? Nobody wants to lose money. It’s unsure exactly what sorts of preventative measures they’re taking, if any, but the only places to listen to Royal Family music for free is in previews on their websites, or on Spotify, which is a fantastic resource. The recording artists and the rights holders, who are almost always different people with bombastically different royalty dues, get paid every time users listen on Spotify. So do the Royal Family guys get paid twice when you listen to them on Spotify? It is clear that the Royal Family is adamant about getting paid for every listen, whether you pay up front for the whole album, or listen at your convenience on Spotify, they still get money. It’s not a bad thing, it’s called it the music business for a reason. Though to some, it seems a bit out of line when you consider how many musicians on the same level simply give their music away as a loss-leader, or something you give away to incentivize people to buy something else.
In an Ideal World…
One newer, yet tried and true method of success involves bands dishing out name-your-own-price, or even free downloads in hopes that their music will reach the most potential fans as possible. Those fans, in turn, buy tickets to shows. In actuality, 99% of musicians make the vast majority of their income from playing shows. Album sales, merchandise sales, fan club revenue, these are all mere fractions of the income generated from touring. For some musicians and labels to pay copyright lawyers to hound people day and night over, at best, 15% of a band’s total revenue for products that would be better allocated as loss leaders is kind of ridiculous. Regardless, these guys are on their hustle. Daily. Despite standing in the way of today’s cutting edge digital freedom, Royal Family Records is on top of their game. These days, it’s a fine line between cashing in on every listen and shooting yourself in the foot. And Royal Family walks that line with grace and style.
So What Does All This Mean?
Why doesn’t Royal Family Records take a more futuristic approach to branding themselves and giving away music? They’re not a futuristic label. They’re a harmonious balance of old school and new school labels, with one foot in the past and one foot in the present. They’re new school because it’s somewhat of a music collective, as the founders of the label are the members of the bands. They’re somewhat old school because they, by no press release or quotation (They’re no Metallica, the guys aren’t dicks about it…), insist on being paid either for every album or for every time someone listens to their songs. And to reiterate, there’s nothing wrong with that. Professional musicians are entitled to compensation for use of their intellectual property. But only if you see art as “intellectual property.” These guys clearly do, and that’s just dandy, it’s working out great for them.
The bottom line is that every act signed on Royal Family Records tears it up, both live and on recording. These guys are no joke. They’ve got their business handled, and their music is primo. There’s really not a lot you can complain about when it comes to Royal Family. In fact, it’s one of the only labels out there about whom you can say “Every band on this label puts a smile on my face.”