Just over a year ago, Mickey Jack Cones teamed with ONErpm founder/CEO Emmanuel Zunz to relaunch Zunz’s Verge Records, bringing a Nashville label presence to the multi-faceted production, distribution, publishing administration, and marketing company that represents more than 300,000 artists, labels and video creators, from the DIY level to those seeking more highly customized, hands-on solutions.
Cones, a longtime producer/engineer for Trace Adkins, signed the superstar singer to the label earlier this year. The multi-genre label also represents Nashville pop duo Kid Politics, as well as singer-songwriter Jay Allen and Scott Stevens. Cones says he was impressed with the company’s digital-first strategy and multi-genre approach.
“There’s so many artists that record such great music, and producers go in there and they bust their tails, but they get into the normal system and it takes them sometimes so long to be recognized and to have that success,” Cones says.
“With partnering with ONErpm and relaunching Verge, our mission was to give artists another opportunity, a forward-thinking opportunity, and another option to immediately get their music out and almost use the public as a focus group. You’re putting the music out to let them know what’s working and if it’s working, then you go to radio. And so it’s just kind of a 180-degree turn on the mindset of what I grew up with in town for 25 years, and the system that put me on the map as a producer and a manager and a publisher.”
For Cones, Zunz and the Verge Records and ONErpm team, the focus is broader than gaining radio traction for artists.
“It’s not just about trying to get a number one on the chart. It’s about growing their socials. It’s about growing their YouTube subscribers,” Cones says. “We’re truly trying to give an artist every option they could get at a major, but treat the rollout differently. We have radio metrics set up in our structure. When we release a song, if the song has a certain number of non-playlisted streams, playlisted streams, or YouTube views within a certain number of weeks, we will kick in radio.
“With Trace, we grew his YouTube subscriber base 33% within three months. And I’m not saying that’s all because of us, because it Is Trace Adkins, but it’s just a great combination and we’ve proven we’re a great fit together.”
Cones has produced, published, engineered and written for artists including Adkins, Dustin Lynch, Joe Nichols, Jason Aldean, George Strait, Eric Church, Thomas Rhett, Luke Combs, and more. He has also gained experience as a manager and publisher through launching companies including COR Music Publishing, COR Artist Services, and COR Audio Productions.
Verge Records serves as the Nashville label outpost for ONErpm, which celebrates a decade in business this year. ONErpm has 22 offices around the globe, and boasts more than 1,000 artists per day signing up for distribution through the ONErpm platform, and label services such as Verge allow them to offer additional services with certain artists.
Originally founded in 2006, Verge began as a social enterprise that won a grant from New York University’s Stern School of Business ‘Maximum Exposure Business Plan Competition’ to sign artists from impoverished areas, and reinvest profits from those releases in the artists’ communities to fund music education programs. The newly re-emerged Verge Records also contributes a portion of its annual profits to charitable organizations.
“The idea when I started Verge was to find artists within impoverished neighborhoods or marginalized neighborhoods and then use a portion of the profits to invest in music education programs in those same neighborhoods, to create this cycle of artist development,” says Zunz.
Zunz shifted his focus to ONErpm, but says he “always had the passion make Verge work. It was my first love.”
ONErpm also operates a multi-channel network on YouTube, with more than 5,000 YouTube channels, and distributes music to all major platforms, including Spotify, Apple, Tidal, Pandora and more.
Cones met Zunz in 2015, while he was working with Jordan Walker and Johnny McGuire through his COR Entertainment company, and he was managing Donica Knight and American Idol’s Taylor Hicks.
Cones says, “I was releasing all this music and kind of acting as a label and ONErpm was our distribution company at the time. So when we started with Walker McGuire, we got them over 10 million streams in three months, between myself and Emmanuel, and that helped land them a label deal at Broken Bow. Of course, it was a great artist, a great song. A few years later, when he said he wanted to bring Verge Records back, I knew I wanted to partner with him. He’s got his way of thinking about the world, because he’s so global. And I’m in the Nashville scene, so I’ve got my mind wrapped around things here. So we kind of got to balance each other out in a great way and it made the most sense.”
Verge’s musically-diverse roster also takes advantage of Nashville’s strong pop and rock scene, with the signing of Kid Politics. Cones was introduced to the band’s music when he happened upon one of their shows at Nashville venue The Sutler.
“From the first note—and they played for like 45 minutes—I thought they were so impressive. My shoulder was so tired because I was videoing every song. I don’t ever do that. People were commenting after the show, ‘That’s the best music I’ve heard in Nashville in forever.’ They’ve got arena style pop hits that are just radio ear candy. They write and produce everything that they’re cutting.”
The group will release a single, “Cool With It,” later this month, along with a new video.
“Everybody is so visual and everyone has all this data and content at their fingertips. So we feel like that’s a strong branding core for all of our artists,” Cones says. “A lot of places will wait until a single gets to the Top 20 or so before they put a video out. But, we want to put the best foot forward and we’re releasing content more frequently. We’re trying to do official videos with every release, especially with these newer artists, because it gives fans a lot more insight to the artist, much more quickly, and gain traction much more quickly. That’s one of the reasons we set it up to be digital-first this way, because we want to make sure the artist is making money on their music. Traditionally, artists will tell you the last place they make money is on their music. It’s always touring or if they write the song.”
The company’s digital-first operations and steady stream of content has become essential as tours have been postponed or canceled for artists at every level due to COVID-19.
“With Kid Politics, [lead singer] Kelby and the rest of the group were self-producing, but they felt like it needed more polishing. I said, ‘Well, I’ll put you together with a producer and we’ll make this work.’ Of course that was all prior to COVID. But once that hit, they were like, ‘Well, we don’t want to just sit and not put music out.’ So they ended up sending me their files, and I ended up working on the projects with them just to get it out to the people. But also, when the studios were shut down, musicians couldn’t even get in the same room. You could maybe get somebody to mix a file and deliver it via Dropbox, but being able to camp out and close mixes together and do all that, people just weren’t doing it.
“Now that sessions are starting to open up a little bit, people are putting out more music. But that was a little obstacle because the same thing happened with Jay Allen. Luckily the Scott Stevens tracks were already finished prior to COVID, so we’ve had those in the cans. The whole creation and writing process, it’s slowed it down a little bit, so you just have to figure out how to bob and weave.”
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