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Overseas Deals No Guarantee of Smooth Sailing in U.S.

Exude isn’t the only Orange County pop act trying to launch itself by signing with an overseas record label.

While the Anaheim band’s Australian record deal sprouted from sheer serendipity, Michael Mikulka, who heads the Gopher Baroque music production company in Westminster, has been courting foreign interest for his clients in a far more calculated way.

Vocalworks, a jazz vocal quartet co-produced by Mikulka, is scheduled to release its first album, “Juke-Box Saturday Night,” in July on Four Leaf Records, a Swedish label. Mikulka says he also is negotiating an overseas deal for Gina Hudson-Harlan, a singer from Los Alamitos who has drawn interest from labels in England, Germany, Sweden and Australia.

In both cases, Mikulka said, the negotiations sprang from interest generated by shopping the performers’ tapes at MIDEM, an international record industry convention held annually in Cannes, France.

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It is unlikely that either Vocalworks or Hudson-Harlan will have their careers made overseas, Mikulka said. But he is hoping that success in foreign markets will make talent scouts for the U.S. labels take note.

Exude, turned down over the years by virtually all the American labels, is thinking along the same lines.

There is a track record of American bands taking the indirect route to getting signed in the United States. The Georgia Satellites, whose first release was on a British label, is the most prominent example in recent years. Other major label newcomers who had success in Britain before landing U.S. deals are New England rockers Throwing Muses, now on Sire, and Texas folk-rocker Michelle Shocked, on PolyGram.

But in most cases, several American music business figures said, the value of a foreign credential is limited.

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“It certainly wouldn’t impress me,” said Anna Statman, a Geffen Records talent scout. “Markets are so separate, so different (from country to country), it wouldn’t influence my decision on a band.”

Wesley Hein, president of Enigma Records, one of the leading U.S. independent labels, said he “might take a little more notice” of an American band that has released records overseas. “It depends what label it is,” he added, citing England’s 4AD and Australia’s Mushroom as foreign independent labels that carry some clout. “If it’s a dinky little heavy metal label in Germany or Holland, that’s not going to impress me.”

Will America’s unsigned, yet aspiring, musicians form a guitar-wielding foreign legion? Hein doubts there is a trend toward more export signings. “We’ve seen it for years,” he said. “It comes and goes and never really goes away. It’s never so prevalent that I’d describe it as common.”

Colin Seeger, the PolyGram Records executive in Sydney who agreed to distribute Exude’s Australian releases on the fledgling Ultra Media label, said it is “certainly not typical” to see an Australian label give an American band its first record deal.

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Kent Pickering, the record business newcomer who signed Exude as the first act on Ultra Media, planned from the start to look outside of Australia for talent because his more established competitors had cornered the market on Australian bands, he said.

“The easiest thing is for me to just go for American and British bands,” he said. “Los Angeles is just like a smorgasbord.”


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