Many muse that the cold, cruel death of the music industry is imminent—that the business will crumble under its own devices after too many years of uninspired records, derivative marketing schemes, and the deconstruction of rock stardom itself.
But Jude Cole, a renowned singer-songwriter, producer and manager that has spent the last 25 years enjoying marked success in the aforementioned business, refuses to bear such a dismal outlook. He and partner Kiefer Sutherland (lauded actor and 20-year veteran of the entertainment business), feel so strongly in fact that it is simply the approach to the business that needs to change, they’ve gone ahead and built their own.
“I think there’s a lot of opportunity there instead of demise,” says Cole. “We plan to look at it optimistically—Music is never going to go away, so let’s be a part of the new way.”
In the early stages of “the new way,” Cole and Sutherland opened Silverlake studio Ironworks as an artist-driven recording space (housing Sutherland’s massive museum-worthy collection of guitars). “We would invite musicians that we liked down to start recording and get creative, and it’s actually something that just organically turned into a label,” recalls Cole. “It was more of a natural progression, not really one that we premeditated.”
Today, Ironworks is many things—recording studio, record label, publishing company, hangout, community. Cole refers to it as a family—“Anything that we’re a part of is part of the family. It doesn’t matter if you’re signed to us or not.” Therefore, Rocco DeLuca, the label’s first signed artist and Ron Sexsmith, its second, plus Billy Boy on Poison and honeyhoney are part of the family; so is Lifehouse—not signed to Ironworks—the multi platinum-selling band that Cole manages.
But why would two of entertainment’s most notably successful men (Cole chartered hits for two decades as both a solo artist and studio musician before segueing into management, production, composition, and television appearances; Sutherland has been nominated for multiple Emmy, Golden Globes, and SAG awards during his tenure in television and film) take a gamble on a budding music family? “I think we’ve both had multiple experiences where we had a project that we were so passionate about, and maybe didn’t have the control to follow it through when someone else dropped the ball,” says Cole. “We were both anxious to be in the position where we could find things to remain passionate about and let the inspiration lead the way. We really want to keep it on the level at which there is a reason that we release each record that we release.”
And so with good reason they submitted to the world DeLuca’s debut Album, I Trust You To Kill Me, unleashing Ironworks Records as a viable force in the fragmented music world. In many ways, DeLuca is the poster child for Ironworks—a diamond in the rough, a slow-burning career artist not focused on breaking out with a one-hit record.
“There are a lot of credible artists that aren’t even being thought about,” says Cole. “They aren’t being discussed in A&R meetings because they’re a year or two too old, or they don’t have that Top 40 sound.” But for Ironworks, such elements aren’t the driving force. “It’s not about finding eclectic acts or pop hit acts, It’s about finding acts that believe in themselves.”
Currently courting and developing new artists, Ironworks and its family is clearly in the game for the long haul.
“I often think about those stories of [Rolling Stone founder] Jann Wenner in his little apartment in San Francisco, working on his dream. Rolling Stone was a leaflet when it began. It was just somebody’s dream,” says Cole. “I don’t think the business model has changed that drastically.”
“We’re doing things that we love… trying to incorporate that lust for music to make inspired pieces of work, and just hope that over time Ironworks develops a name that represents that—inspired work.”