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Hidden Gems: Meet Mark Skoda of Iron Gate Records

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mark Skoda.

Hi Mark, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself. Our story begins with my son, Matthew, a drummer who has been playing since he was four years old. We had recently moved to Franklin, TN fr

om Memphis where he had been taking lessons and playing with our church and at the School of Rock. His first gig was at the Hard Rock Café on Beale Street on his ninth birthday.

Having left his school and friends behind, Matthew was looking to establish new relationships including a band.

There didn’t appear to be as much activity here locally, so just before Christmas of 2016, Matthew asked me if I could help him form a band. Our neighborhood uses the micro-site social media app, Nextdoor. So, knowing that we wanted to reach out to local families with musicians, we put up a request for anyone wishing to form a band with young kids 10 to 14. We would focus on Rock and Southern Rock genres playing covers of familiar songs.

And here is where the power and serendipity of Nextdoor were remarkable. After speaking on the phone, we decided to hold some one-on-one meetings at our home. It turns out that we had all crossed paths in some form during the brief time we were in Nashville, either through church or work!

So, after introducing the boys and everyone getting a chance to meet and jam a bit, the band was formed and launched in January of 2017. As we began to think about the name, we decided that Next Door Boys would be a good play on words and the app while also telling the story of the formation of the band!

It was at that time that I began managing the band and working with the other parents to develop their classic rock set list and start gigging. They were young but good musicians and we soon landed gigs around Nashville including the Mellow Mushroom stage on Broadway.

The band continued to develop and so I established the associated band partnership agreements, contracts, and a publishing company all of which were to benefit the band on an equal basis. The inspiration was some of the early rock bands of the ’70s. And of course, I had to manage these young performers and help them grow.

As the band matured we changed the name to NDB and when an opportunity presented itself, we signed with an independent record label. The rationale was driven by ensuring the band owned their songs and masters. And of course, offered them direction and help in building their sound and connections.

It was at that time that the band was rebranded SKODA when a consultant offered the idea as the name was “pop” sounding and also reflected the founder of the band and the drummer, Matt Skoda.

After a few months, we decided to terminate the contract and I subsequently wrote a business plan for an independent record label with SKODA as the first artist to be signed by the new label, Iron Gate Records. With a strong technology focus, given my background, I shared the plan with Greg Upchurch of 3 Doors Down who was also Matt’s drum coach and mentor. We both agreed to form Iron Gate Records as co-founders and we were off.

Our vision is to provide a business and technology framework for bands and artists to express themselves and deliver their music to the market efficiently. We deliver a broad array of services for our artists in a programmatic fashion while allowing them to be creative without losing control of their music!

And while music is largely delivered through the streaming and radio world, Iron Gate Records looks to work with performing musicians who are ready to get out to live audiences. In the end, Iron Gate Records harkens back to the days when artist development meant giving time to those same artists to build their chops and hone their craft as they pursue their careers in music.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way? The road to perdition is paved with good intentions. However, given our transparent approach to pricing and services and the focus on a technology orientation, we have had good success in attracting artists and helping them in their careers. In fact, five of our artists were nominated for a total of nine-time for the Josie Music Awards which will be presented in October of this year.

Building the brand for the record label is not without its challenges. Mostly those revolve around the artist interaction and developing gigs for those same artists post COVID. It’s an aggressive market with many artists having been sidelined during the pandemic now outplaying.

So talent and presence are critical to the artists in getting gigs and earning a living.

As you know, we’re big fans of Iron Gate Records. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about the brand? We have established a virtual organization of talented individuals and key technology company relationships that differentiate Iron Gate Records from our competitors. We don’t try to be all things to all people but we are really focused on the artist and the quality of their work. We don’t just take on board anybody and our A&R people along with myself assess the fit and talents of a potential artist to add to the label.

Brand-wise, I am most proud of our transparency in dealing with our artists, even providing a 30-day out clause in our artist agreements. And of course, given my own technology orientation, our services are tightly integrated into the platforms we use in delivering those services to our artists.

Our services, pricing, and agreements are all on our website and fully transparent to our artists or potential artists. And we continue to add services as we expand those relationships. In fact, we will soon be launching an online radio station to broadcast our artists’’ music. It’s just another element to promote those artists.

What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned along your journey? Clearly, the music business is tough.

However, you can make a living if you focus, develop great songs, work hard to promote yourself as a brand and manage that brand and treat your career like a business. In addition, as an independent record label, I have come to realize that there is more talent than opportunities and so many artists are seeking a fair deal with a label that actually cares about them and their artistry.

Finally, having grown up in Cleveland, Ohio where there was a band on every corner and the city was the home of rock & roll, I have seen the realities of the industry and the lack of artists development for bands. Of course, this will change over time as the business has changed. But the days of a label “discovering” a band and sticking with them seem to have moved to the singular artists backed by “hired guns”.

One thing is for sure, this will change just as we went from vinyl to 8-track to cassette to streaming. What’s next I don’t know, however, being prepared by leveraging technology will allow us to jump to the next “big thing” when that inevitably happens. In the end, being prepared for that eventuality is critical for the label and our artists. But most of all, it is all about treating our artists with respect and building friendships in this business that will hopefully last a lifetime.

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