Steve Hussey hopes to strike a chord with independent record label
PARKERSBURG — Steve Hussey sat in his basement in August and looked around his sound insulated room/studio which was filled with microphones and instruments. About eight guitars sat in a row outside the room. He said he collects guitars like some people collect stamps.
Hussey has moved those guitars, the recording equipment, the microphones into a new home; a recording studio for Merf Records, which he owns. No more of the basement recording studio. Music coming from the basement is from rehearsal or songwriting sessions these days.
“To start a record label now a man has to a bit crazy,” he said. “It’s never going to be like in the 1970s and 1980s when you had 40 people to make and promote an album for, oh say, Elton John.
“Today’s technology, for as great as it is, destroyed the industry,” he said, “but makes it possible for the independents like me to get their music out there.”
Hussey said yesterday’s music “was more like the wild, wild west in the ’50s. When in its infancy if you wanted to sell records, you had to get songs on the radio.”
Today’s music, however, comes from “those who figured out how to navigate the waters, are the people who survived,” Hussey said. “They can be successful without the help of the big labels.”
Hussey points to Jason Isbell’s album, “Country Americana,” as an example.
“He’s an independent; the album had no radio airplay and was number one on the country charts, number four overall of all genres of music, without the help of a major label.
“We’re building the brand on a grassroot movement where there are no rules,” he continued, “where the silos are broken … and what I mean by ‘silos are broken’ is where someone at the top controls what comes out at the bottom to the people.
“This is what we’re trying to do here. We make our music and here it is,” Hussey said. “It’s hard enough to be an artist. You are the media team. You are doing the publicity, getting airplay, radio promotion and booking. That’s four separate jobs. We have a publicist and a radio promoter. It’s a grand experiment to see if in Washington, W.Va., we can get taken seriously.
“We want to use West Virginia talent,” he said. “We want to use the state to be known as a hot spot for talent.”
Hussey has made inroads into the recording industry as he was accepted into The Recording Academy. He has returned his first ballot for the 2018 Grammy Awards. He’s one of 13,000 people worldwide who have earned that privilege.
“I nominate work for the awards and submit work for nomination. I am also allowed to go to the award show. I won’t be able to go this year but next year I will attend,” he said.
To be approved Hussey had to “submit work, links,” he continued. “It felt like it took about five hours to fill out the application.”
“I was able to vote in 15 categories,” he said. “I voted in country, Americana, rock and bluegrass genres mostly. There are several awards in each category. It was a pretty cool experience and I need to get more involved with some of the things they have a hand in; like a music advisory board for artists and keeping music in school.”
What that means for Hussey and Merf Records is “it puts me on a level with all the major labels. It gives one major credibility,” Hussey said. “It puts me on a level with the major stars. We have hope to attract people to the new studio.”
The new studio is tucked away on a small dead end road in the Washington area.
“I want it to establish Washington, W.Va., as a place to record. It’s a small place but there will be no one around to bother the artist, no distractions. The artist is there to record, so record. We’re in a double-wide at the end of a gravel road. You won’t be able to judge the interior by the exterior. It’s going to be filled with modern day equipment.”
“The days of the huge sound boards are past,” Hussey said. “Ninety percent of music today is recorded on digital hard drive. If you know what you are doing, you can make it sound 90 percent like you could if you were in a studio. A lot of the historic studios in Nashville are getting knocked down. It’s not viable anymore.
“We’ve come up with a good process to get people out there in the genre of Americana,” said Hussey. “We’ve had early success, but not great success. It takes time for people to latch on to it but people are.”
Jeff Ray’s project “Our Little Town” features the song “Somebody’s Cryin'” which is a song written by one of Ray’s friends about suicide. The author of the song later committed suicide. The song was a tribute as was the video which accompanied the song. It has experienced success beyond what was expected.
“It’s had over 140,000 views through all of social media,” said Hussey. “It was in over 80 U.S. stations, we’ve had airplay on five continents and has been reviewed in six languages.
“If we continuously put out quality products, then when something Merf Records comes across their desk,” said Hussey, “they know it’s a quality product.”
There are four artists primarily with Merf Records; Hussey, Jeff Ray, Jake Eddy and Tracy Allen. Allen’s new release, “The Story of My Life” is the latest Merf production.
Before anyone says “where are the female voices?” Hussey said the search is on those female voices.
“It doesn’t have to be of one genre or another,” he said, “we’re just looking for some talented voices.”
Hussey said the last piece of the puzzle is booking artists into venues.
“Booking is getting to know the people who can get an artist booked into a place where they pay you to play.
“Booking is the building of the fan base,” Hussey said. “It’s why Jason Isbell sold 50,000 copies on the first day. He built the fan base over 10 years on the road.”
Hussey said the studio will allow “Merf Records to be a professional project at a competitive level here. I think networking with the academy gets a musical hero to come here to do an album. That is instant credibility for Merf Records. I’m 41 and I refuse to give up.”
He added the latest royalties check from airplay in England totalled several thousand dollars. Instant cash to help with the construction of the studio.
“We have some low overhead with the studio and a great space that is not in my basement so my house doesn’t get invaded nearly as much as it used to,” he said. “My wife really likes that part of it.”
Hussey said the base rate for studio time can be as low as $35 an hour and a person/band/group could record a demo disc for as little as $150 a song “as long as I don’t have to hire a group of musicians to do the tracks and provide backing.”
He added “almost all the musicians I know, here and Nashville, who play music for a living, have a day job as well.
“It’s only when you get with the big acts, which can be like a traveling circus when it comes into town because you have so many people behind the scenes working when you only see a few out front playing music, that you get an idea of how music can be different.
“I saw a picture of the people required to put on a show like Keith Urban, whom Brian Nutter from down in Jackson County, plays for,” he continued, “250 people to put up the stage, rig lights, sound and light people who have it all choreographed to the second, people working merchandise … it’s pretty amazing.
“Meanwhile, we’re setting up and taking down for ourselves whenever we do a show, but it’s what you do when you love music.”
“We have big dreams at Merf Records,” Hussey said. “We put out great music. We’re very proud of that. We’re doing great things with great people at Merf Records
“We’re really proud of what we have done,” Hussey said. “Welcome to Merf Records. We’re a little crazy here … and in a good way.”