A growing number of successful bands and packed shows in Orange County all have one name in common: Wright Records.
Building a local launch pad for artists worthy of success has become a mission for Nathan Wright, founder of the Lake Forest-based record label and California Sound Studios, a recording and rehearsal space that doubles as the label's headquarters. "If an artist has great music and can get out there and perform and entertain, this is the platform to be recognized through," Wright says. "We want the best artists around to know that, so they can let us know they're here and we can sign them."
Founded in 2003, Wright Records arrived just as the 20th-century version of the music industry was shuffling out. "We came in at a time when Tower Records was going out of business and the Internet was becoming mainstream," Wright says. "We had an initial deal for in-store distribution, but all of that kind of went the way of the dinosaur."
Instead of going extinct with the old business model, Wright and his team, most of them musicians themselves, started searching Southern California and the Web for artists who could become the Next Big Thing. "It's the new A&R formula for the industry," Wright says. "Going out to shows, scouting on the Internet for new talent, getting familiar with who's making good songs and what they're doing."
The inspiration to start the label came from Wright's father, Frank D. Wright, a producer, engineer and musician who worked with multiple major record labels. "One of the fundamentals of business is using the tools at your disposal," Wright says. "My dad was a guitar player, and he played for the band Chicago, [as well as] Sonny and Cher, and he had a lot of resources and contacts."
Today, Frank produces Wright Records' rock artists, and Warren G (of "Regulate" fame) produces most of the hip-hop and R&B artists.
Nathan Wright invites bands that make an impression to perform at California Sound Studios and finds out what makes them tick before adding them to the label. "It boils down to marketability and lyrical content, but [artists] go through the filtering process," Wright says. "Not only who has good music, but who has good working relationships, communication skills, a work ethic and all the things that go into being successful."
Today, as a subsidiary of Sony Music Entertainment, Wright Records can offer artists a worldwide distribution network; streaming radio; and placement in commercials, TV shows and movies. Of the 40 or so artists currently in the Wright Records stable, the most successful are producing what Wright calls "the new world music," a rock/reggae stomp that Southern California perfected back in Sublime's heyday.
"We work a lot with people like No Doubt, Steel Pulse, Snoop, Warren G and artists who have come up through Long Beach and Orange County–they're really helping us," Wright says. "We've got quite the roster building up in that genre, and it's snowballing into a huge fan base for our bands."
Wright and his label have thrived by keeping things simple and putting in the day-in, day-out grunt work that includes booking and promoting live shows, seeking out commercial placement for songs, and developing artists who have the potential to reach a higher level. "If you can stay consistent, making music and performing good shows and building your name up," Wright says, "you almost win by default because no one else can do that."