A lot of artists sign with Eddie Crook

It seems like almost every day Eddie Crook Company signs another artist, and every time I see these announcements I’m reminded that perhaps no one in the music development business could possibly have a more unfortunate name than Eddie Crook. If fate were to look upon, say, a heart surgeon with the same displeasure shown to Crook by the Naming Gods, that surgeon would have been named something like Eddie Shaky-Hands. I think I was maybe 13 the first time I remember hearing Crook’s name, and it was in association with a sg group full of hot-headed youngun’s who got themselves into a recording contract with Crook. By the time it was said and done, they expressed their feelings about how well they considered themselves served in their dealings with Crook by leaving no double entendre in Crook’s name unexploited. Of course this is just one strain of lore associated with the Crook name. Another equally famous, if not more dominant, facet to Crook’s persona is the one about “Eddie Crook: Legend,” an idea the SN never misses a chance to reinforce with its regular talk about “the prestigious label” of ECC or “the legend” Eddie Crook (plus, SN gave its Marvin Norcross Award to Crook and his wife this year). This narrative derives in part from Crook’s early days in sg as the Goodman’s pianist, as contributing architect to the Goodman’s success, and then, later, as the talent scout responsible for helping bring several big-named groups (both in the present or the past) to prominence: among them, the McKameys, the Bishops, the Perrys, the Perrys Sisters, the Wilburns, the Isaacs, the Mid South Boys, and the latest version of the Dixie Melody Boys (it’s worth nothing that, of the groups in this list currently performing, none of them are currently with Crook except the Wilburns). How to reconcile, then, the Janus-faced nature of Crook’s reputation? It’s not really possible on any factual basis, because the dueling accounts of Crook arise from opposite ideas of sg as an industry, of conflicting notions of what music development should be and do, and even, in some ways, of opposing worldviews.

Crook aggressively promotes himself by relentlessly hyping his artists in ways that often give off strong whiffs of sideshow hyperbole and shameless hucksterism. The most recent example would be the “news” release that EDDIE CROOK INKS DEAL WITH TONY GORE. This would be a big deal if Gore were actually signing a recording contract with ECC, since ECC tends to work with unheard-ofs for the most part. But click on the headline and you find out that the extent of the deal involves Gore being hired to write liner notes for ECC projects. Liner. Notes. This is news, or even “news”? To people who think that everybody with a dream, a dollar and a demo tape ought to be given a recording contract of some kind, then Crook’s approach to artist development, recording contracts, and media relations is not just legitimate; it’s heroic … an act of sg populism … taking a chance that a nobody might be the next Somebody and so on (this is, one would assume, what Crook himself thinks, given his slogan: “History. Integrity. Leadership.”). To people who think that a dream, a dollar, and a demo tape are the perfect conditions for exploitation, manipulation, and cynical profiteering, then Crook’s methods are thought to be next to reprehensible. The most controversial of Crook’s standard operating procedures involves having ECC artists front the money for the costs of recording and producing a project, something that contradicts most other major recording companies’ practices and much of the conventional music-development wisdom. CW says if the recording company exec doesn’t think she’ll get a return on her upfront recording-cost investment from the group’s subsequent success, then the group isn’t ready for a recording contract. And this, incidentally, is one part of the explanation of why most of the big-names who started with ECC ultimately moved on to other labels - once a group has proven salability, it’s in their best financial interest to move to a label that will finance the project.

There’s no way, of course, to ever settle the debate about what to make of Crook’s methods. And to see just how persuasive and shrill both sides can be, take a look at the highly instructive comment thread that piled up behind the Tony Gore story.
One way to get out of this echo chamber is to compare ECC to two other major labels in sg (at least as much as comparison is possible with my limited knowledge): [note, some formatting from the old to new site structure didn’t translate]
ECC Daywind Spring Hill
#of artists* 52 22 27
#of employees** 6 25 11

*Approximate # of artists based on company websites
**Informal, unofficial, approximate estimations of creative or executive staff most closely associated with artist development in some way; numbers do not take into account administrative personnel (secretaries, assistants, accountants, etc)

What’s most striking about this data set is the high ratio of artists to employees at ECC (generously rounding up, it’s approximately 9:1, which assumes the staff listed on ECC’s website is responsible for major portions of artist development - something I’m not at all sure it’s safe to assume). I guess it’s possible that Spring Hill and Daywind have more employees per artist than ECC because they’re dealing with bigger names whose careers put more demands on the label. But it’s also true that new, up-and-coming, and underdeveloped artists undoubtedly require their own kind of special, time-intensive TLC, in which case it’s difficult to look at these kinds of numbers and not surmise that somebody is getting the short end of the stick somewhere. The most important number to keep your eye is that 52, since it represents a kind of flashpoint for all the issues bound up in this discussion. Put most succinctly, the question is this: how many artists can sg support as an industry? This is not just some academic inquiry after a statistical value. The answer involves real people, their ambitions, and their ability to find a sustainable career and ministry in sg … or not. I guess I’d be more sanguine about that prospects for ECC’s artists if Crook himself had enough confidence in their careers to front the cash for their next “breakout” recording project. As long as ECC is willing to sign and ask for comparatively large sums of money up front from artists who wouldn’t even turn the head of labels holding contracts with the really successful groups, and as long as there are folks with a dream, a dollar, a demo tape out there willing to play by Crook’s rules, the only person for whom this debate will be settled definitively is Eddie Crook.

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