ATO By Wei Xu

by Wei Xu

“I think we’ll keep trying to find music that we think we can be helpful with. There’s no point in signing people whose careers we can’t further. As much as we can be a stepping stone for great people, we’re more than happy to help out. It’s all about the music.”  – Dave Matthews (interview by Musicheadquarter)

 In early 2000, Dave Mattews, a member of Dave Mattews Band, along with his manager Coran Capshaw, and two associates Chris Tetzeli and Michael McDonald, co-founded According To Our Records(ATO Records) – a New York City based independent label. It is currently distributed by RED Distribution.

It is also from the year 2000 that global recording sale market started declining: CD sales dropped from 800 million units in 2000 to 361 million units in 2008, and the trend was still declining down to 13% in 2010. However, by 2008, ATO not only had signed many famous artists, such as David Grey, Ben Kweller and Radiohead; but also had released a total of 54 albums, EPs, videos, and scanning an average of 137,000 units per release in the United States. In August 2007, ATO even bought back their parent company RCA’s share for $5 million and set up TBD – a sub-label to house Radiohead and release their new album In Rainbows at the end of 2008.

After successfully running ATO Records for ten years,Dave Matthews was interviewed by the editor of Musicheadquarter. According to the interview, Mattews still insisted his belief as it primary appeared in the label’s mission statement:  “committed to artist and building their career.” Along with his piercing ears and using of  the word of mouth, Dave and ATO reached their success.

The very first artist released by ATO was David Gray, a British musician who had a breakthrough album, White Ladder, in UK 1998. The album was #1 on the UK Album Chart for two years and five months after its original release.

Actually, ATO was not founded until the founders met David’s publicist Ambrosia Healy. Dave and his co-founders who are huge fans of David, were “forced” to start a label which they had been thinking for two years, in order to release David’s new album. Meanwhile, Ambrosia considered that because ATO was brand new, it would undoubtedly offer David an excellent starting point in his quest to conquer the U.S.

Dave decided to release a more valuable packaging in the U.S than in UK. He put two extra tracks, Nightblindness and Babylon II, as well as 12 minutes of concert footage and interview into the package. The album is certainly worth buying even if people have the CD which was prior released in UK, especially for the concert footage alone. They were filmed at the concert at the Point Depot, Dublin. The concert footage features Please Forgive Me, one of the best songs of the night.

When the enhanced CD packaging was ready, Dave partnered with RCA to get the album more exposure, more radio and video play. “We are getting blanket coverage for the first time ever.” Dave said to Billboard, “It’s like RCA has stepped up with a bigger bat to hit people with over the head,” he adds with a laugh. With the album constantly played in radio, David’s album were spread by word of mouth.

Finally released in May 2000, the 11 tracks enhanced album peaked at #35 on the Billboard 200 and stayed in the chart for one year. The album also earned Gray a nomination at 44th Grammy Awards for Best New Artist. David Gray’s “White Ladder” cracked the multi-platinum milestone, with 2.5 million units sold in the United States by 2008.

In 2001, a young singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist named Ben Kweller, caught the ear of Dave. At that time, Ben was invited to tour with Evan Dando, Jeff Tweedy, Guster and others.

“From Jeff Tweedy to Juliana Hatfield, I opened for a bunch of great artists,” Ben said, “On a Sunday night at the VIllage Underground I was approached by Michael Mcdonald, who at the time was starting an indie label with Dave Matthews called ATO. Their focus on originality and integrity was very appealing to me. The career that Dave was building as an artist whose music has always been left of center and straight from the heart was something I had tons of respect for.”

Later, Ben signed a multi-albums deal with ATO and released his first solo studio LP sha sha which includes different genres such as pop, folk and punk. The album grew in popularity with a grassroots effort based on his website and word-of-mouth advertising. The singleWasted & Ready” is also a radio friendly and popular single which reached #29 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart. In 2009, Ben introduced Changing Horses to the market and was available to stream exclusively on

Dave’s piercing eyes and the use of world-of-mouth helped his new clients as well as ATO to become successful immediately. However, it is only a start.

First of all, Dave’s piercing eyes and ears still kept catching talent and music after his early success.

Dave“caught” Michael Doughty, a former member from Soul Coughing at the Bonnaroo music festival in 2004, and persuaded him to sign ATO. Soon, Michael released an album and his single “Looking at the World from the Bottom of a Well” hit the chart and received heavy airplay in 2005.

Dave was also inspired by Vusi Mahlsala, an South African artist whose songs are full of hope and forgiveness. Vusi Mahlasela has just released a brand new album, SAY AFRICA, on ATO Records. The anticipated new recording from South Africa’s ‘The Voice,’ was recorded Charlottesville, VA at Dave Matthews Band’s studio and produced by legendary bluesman TAJ MAHAL. These songs of hope connect Apartheid-scarred South Africa with its promise for a better future.

What’s more, at ATO, Dave is not the only person that can hear real music. ATO’s A&R person Bruce Flohr who said, “There are no job titles at ATO. Everyone does A&R. Everyone does marketing. There’s no delegation of jobs. We’re all in one big soup, and we all do it together.”

In 2003, Bruce Flohr heard the voice of Jem, who is a Welsh singer-songwriter and sings pop rock, fold and new wave. Bruce wooed her to sign ATO and released her first EP “It All Starts Here.” Soon, the hit TV show The OC  noticed of Jem’s music immediately, and used many tracks of hers. In March 2004, ‘Finally Woken’ was released in the US and worldwide in 2005. With RCA’s promotion support, Jem had sold over 500,000 records in the UK and over 300,000 records in the US. “RCA has been involved in helping us take that to the next level.”

Secondly, even though ATO was supported by RCA in promotion, Dave and his colleges were still trying hard to extend their marketing. In August 2009, ATO marketing director Jon Salter concluded that, “ATO’s marketing campaign a multifaceted one that ‘includes everything’: local, reginal and national press; late-night TV; email messaging; and blog exclusives.”Meanwhile, Dave also likes to create bonus CD and special packaging to grab fans’ attention and give fans a reason to buy.

In 2008, Dave signed Liz Phair to ATO and reissued her album Exile in Guyville on June 24, 2008 on CD, vinyl and in digital format. The special reissued package includes three songs which had never been released; and Phair has also finished a new documentary DVD, “Guyville Redux” which features Dave.

In 2009, Dave signed, Danny Barnes, a banjo pioneer, and released album Pizza Box as online pre-order. Fans who pre-order the album will also receive an exclusice bonus CD featuring Barnes and Dave Matthews Band performing songs from Pizza Box.and Danny’s during the band’s recent three-night stand at The Gorge in George, WA over Labor Day weekend, along with two bonus songs from the album recording sessions. The bonus CD will be available only through the pre-order. Ten copies will be autographed by Danny Barnes and Dave Matthews and will be randomly distributed among all pre-orders.

The constant success in ATO proofed Bruce’s thoughts in his interview, “We grew naturally and organically. The more success we had, the more we added prominent pieces to the puzzle, little by little. We’ve maintained it to the point where everyone is working at full capacity. Every artist feels like they’re the only artist on the label.”

When ATO beat out major labels Warner Bros., Columbia and Starbuck’s Hear Music and successfully got the U.S release rights of Radiohead’s In Rainbows, they probably won because of  the following reasons: they can always see the right direction in the complicated industry; they are dedicating to the industry, never stops; they are not selling out; and their loose and less stringent contract between the label and the band. According to The ARTISTdirect Staff, “Radiohead will own all of their own music and will license the label the rights to distribute their songs for a set amount of time.”  Fans could set their own price for the download.

For more information, go to

References ) (interview)

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