Dragon’s Den is a TV show where inventors pitch their idea (or business-plan) to 5 multi-millionaire entrepreneurs (the dragons) in an attempt to convince them to invest in their projects. The dragons, with their wads of cash laying next to them, listen intently to the aspiring inventors’ arguments as they rub their chins, scratch their heads, and in most cases proceed to rip the ideas (as well as the inventor’s hopes, dreams and asshole) to shreds.
On July 21st, a band called Hamfatter came on the show seeking investment for their next album. The Cambridge band released their first album in 2004, and were enjoying moderate success as an indie pop band. The second album came out in 2006 and their third a year later with a single hitting the charts. The band, seeking to boost their career appeared on the show in the hope of securing some funding, and getting some good PR out of the whole thing.
The band turned the den into a concert hall and performed their hit single “Sziget (We Get Wrecked)” for the five judges. After the performance, the band’s manager broke out the terms: a 75K pound advance in exchange for 20% of ALL all the band’s future royalties . The dragons rubbed, scratched and frowned, and negotiated another offer. In the end, it was Peter Jones, the renowned English businessman who made a fortune mingling with mobile telecommunications, television, media, leisure and property, who convinced the band to partner-up, securing them 75k pounds for the recording of their next album, in exchange for 30% of all future revenue.
Although this remains a television show with all the formatting and artistic direction that goes with it, the video is interesting, breaking down a real negotiation scenario between a band and a angel investor.
So, what to make out of all of this? An indie band struggling through the traditional trenches of the music industry decided to take a chance, and engaged in a non-traditional promotional and financial deal to boost their career – and for the moment it’s working. Sure they got some bad press and the haters will frown and say it’s undeserved promotion, too easy or whatever (read this article from The Guardian that ridicules Hamfatter’s move).
Within one hour after the band’s appearance on the Dragon’s Den, 500 copies of “The Girl I love” single were bought via download from the Play.com portal and an extra 1000 sold later on in the night. Shortly after, they re-released their 2007 album “What Part of Hamfatter Do You Not Understand?” – 6000 units were sold in pre-sales alone. They hit the indie charts in the beginning of September at #3 and are now still remaining in the top 10 at #9. The band is currently on a UK tour and is planning on using Peter’s money for the next album to be released next year.
For me the question isn’t if Hamfatter’s success will be long or short term, nor is it a question of what a band should or should not do in order to get deserved exposure: they are not a product devised by a record company nor are they a sell-out band. They are simply a pop band who played an unexpected card at the right time and in the right place.
The real question is why 5 knowledgeable business people who regularly turn down much more “concrete” business plans on the basis that they won’t get a suitable ROI, would decide to put that much money into a band after hearing only half a song? The dragons’ decision reflects Zappa’s views on the old cigar-chompin’ executives from the 60’s who just said “well I took a chance, it went out, and we sold a couple million units. Who knows what it is?” – and prove that “the person who’s in the executive chair may not be the final arbiter of taste for the entire population”. We already posted this interview a while ago, but just the sake of Zappa’s wry wit, here it is again. Miaou!