St. Augustine, Florida native Craig Hand grew up singing country music and a few years ago was the first new artist signed to Category 5 Records in Nashville. While he would go on to release the catchy single “Direct Connect” to country radio and his “A Long Way From Town” album to iTunes, the record label ended up folding earlier this year. Undeterred, Craig soon was approached by another new label, Bling-a-Billy Records and has since released the single “Satisfy You.” In a candid interview, Craig discusses being an independent artist, the changes happening in the music business and about his recent appearance as the ‘cover model’ for Playgirl magazine’s county music issue.
MB: When did you know when you wanted to be a singer?
CH: Pretty young. My mom always sang. I pretty much always knew I wanted to do it
MB: What are your influences?
CH: I’ve got so many, as a kid I had a broad range of stuff I listened to. Everything from Led Zeppelin to George Jones. Hank Jr, is a big influence musically, Ronnie Dunn, Ken Mellons, Shawn Camp. I like traditional country music.
MB: How would you describe your sound then, since it’s changed a bit from your start?
CH: It has changed from the album we had on Category 5 Reocrds, it’s different in the sense that I think we’ve brought more rock into the arrangement side but the lyrics have stayed the same. We’re just trying to freshen up the sound a bit, to go with the current trends in the industry. We’re trying to introduce a new flavor to it that I didn’t have on my previous stuff.
MB: How do you go about writing your songs?
CH: I used to write stuff that was made up, fictional stuff. I’ve found that as I’ve gotten older I am writing more from how I feel and things that are going on in my life, it’s a little easier to do it that way. I like the way I’m writing now better than I did five years ago. It’s a part of life, you know, growing up.
MB: How did it feel to sign that first deal and what did you learn?
CH: It was a great experience. I’m sorry that it didn’t work out but I learned a lot. It was an achievement there, anytime you sign a deal with a company, you’re signing on with a company because they want to help you with your music.
MB: Any thoughts on the label closure?
CH: I have thoughts on it but things happen for a reason. I don’t know exactly why it didn’t work, and whatever but it was a new label, you know. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for them but it’s worked for other labels. The business is evolving and changing so rapidly. We’re in the middle of the way the business used to be done and the way it’s going to have to be done. I don’t think there’s an industry standard. It’s a hard time in this business right now but we just have to work together to figure out what’s gonna work and what isn’t. There are a lot of veteran label people out there working.
MB: Just look at Big Machine Records and what they’ve done.
CH: Exactly, Scott and them. They’ve got a good program going.
MB: So how did Bling-a-Billy Records deal come about?
CH: A fellow by the name of George Blind apporoached me about it and had some interesting thoughts about the business. They are kind of letting me do what I want to do. It seemed right at the time. They’re behind my product and we’ll see how it works between us
MB: It’s an interesting record label name…
CH: Bling-a-Billy Records, yeah. I don’t know, kind of country with some flair, I guess.
MB: You’d have thought John Rich would’ve come up with that name…
CH: Yeah. Right, Exactly.
MB: Do you have a favorite type of venue to play in?
CH: I like doing acoustic gigs because that’s what I grew up doing, being up close to the water of Florida, St. Augustine. But I like playing full band gigs too.
MB: So I read that you were on a recent cover of Playgirl Magazine?
CH: Yeah, I guess I can add cover model to my resume I guess (laughing). But I figure if people think I’m good looking enough at 30 to be in it, the country music edition, why not, let’s do it (laughing).
It was cool. It was promotion.
MB: So being an indepdent artist can be challenging at times, what does it mean to be indepdendent?
CH: Yeah, it is. It can be tough, there’s two sides to it. It is a catch-22 at times. There are pros and cons to it. There’s still a stigma there at radio with independent labels. But some are making it work. We’re in the middle of the change and evolution to a new business model so some radio stations are on board and some are not. It’s all about getting your name out there, developing a product and creating a brand.
MB: …The rules haven’t change but the way to play the game has.
CH: Exactly, just the way to capitalize on it has.
MB: How does it feel to have the freedom to create the record you want to create?
CH: It is a lot easier, there’s no doubt about that, creative freedom. As an artist, you hold your own stuff closer to your heart and don’t like it when people critique your stuff negatively but at the same time there are people who’ve been here doing it and you’ve have pay attention to them because of that history. You just got to make a way to stay true to yourself.
MB: What are your thoughts on the internet and it’s relation to music?
CH: It’s a great tool for music. I just think that a lot of the internet companies are gonna have to work with the industry and learn from each other, just the way that CRS works. It’s a great tool for marketing but then there is the Limewire stuff. Is it hurting sales, yeah, but at the same time it is promotion, free advertising. Then you have those people who say, well if they download it they weren’t gonna pay for it anyway. There are a million different ideas about it. I like talking to fans about this stuff. I want to know why they get stuff from there. And a lot of reasons are because places like Limewire are the place they can get it from first.
CH: You know what I mean? I think if the internet, radio and the industry could come together and figure out what was best for everybody. Times are hard on everybody but if we could get everything to work together, it would be better for the future.
MB: You’d think that they would figure out things like this?
CH: Yeah, they should figure out a way to marry together on this. They’re starting to realize that radio is still the #1 way to introduce new music but the internet is a valuable tool.
MB: What would like to say to people reading this feature?
CH: I’d like to invite people to come by my MySpace site and check it out and then come see us at a show.