Eric Hutchinson

For most people, it’s pretty easy to dance on the grave of the major label system. But it should be remembered that a lot of emerging artists were collateral damage in that collapse. Artists like Eric Hutchinson, who managed to turn the experience into a positive one.

Hutchinson attended Boston’s Emerson College as a film major and “kind of did music as a hobby,” but after graduating felt it would be best to concentrate on one or the other.

“I decided to give music a try, not really knowing what I was getting myself into,” Hutchinson told Pollstar.

Of course, the singer/songwriter had a genetic predisposition for the choice he made: His grandmother was a concert violinist whom he says “played with a lot of soul” and was often hired by string sections when they came through Washington, D.C., where he was born and raised.

After migrating to Los Angeles, Hutchinson began playing live as much as possible.

“I was doing probably five or six open mics a week and really just getting used to being on stage and in front of a crowd,” he said. “From there I started playing a bunch of colleges and anywhere I could go, opening up for other acts and just plying myself all over.”

Photo: Christine Solomon

One night a friend brought a rep from Capitol Records to a show. Once Capitol was interested, a small bidding war started, and Hutchinson signed with Warner Records’ Maverick imprint.

Unfortunately Maverick was shuttered soon after.

“It fell apart before I even got to make the album,” Hutchinson explained. “It was a frustrating time. At that point, I’d been doing it for four or five years, so I felt like that was the chance and I’d lost it.

“There were about six months where Warner tried to decide if they wanted to keep me or not, but they decided against it eventually.”

While Warner debated, Hutchinson decided the best course of action was to pick himself up and get back on stage.

“I hated the idea of having to wait around and let the label decide my fate, so I wanted to just go out and keep working.”

Once he recovered sufficiently from his missed opportunity, Hutchinson set to work recording and self-releasing 2007’s Sounds Like This, which he considers to be his debut despite a pair of earlier EPs.

The album quickly generated a lot of Internet buzz thanks to an unlikely ally – Perez Hilton. Hutchinson found himself and Sounds picked up by, ironically, Warner, which reissued the album in 2008.

When Hutchinson’s label deal with Maverick fell apart, so did his team. Agency for The Performing Arts’ Jaime Kelsall and W.F. Leopold Management’s Dave Morris both saw a golden opportunity to work with an artist who understood the importance of touring.

“We work with Leopold Management on other artists,” Kelsall explained to Pollstar. “I had seen Eric perform a couple of times at Hotel Café and was impressed with him.

“Just looking at the last two years, the kid has literally not spent any time at home at all. He’s a total champion. He never complains and he learns quickly. He was booking himself for quite some time. He was booking himself into colleges and doing a hell of a job at it.”

Photo: Autumn DeWilde

Morris told Pollstar he believes Hutchinson’s hard luck put him in a much better position as an artist.

“Eric is a brilliant guy,” he said. “He gets it. When we met him, he already had a music industry education. The Maverick experience helped shape that. In 12 months, he’s become a headliner in the clubs where he was support.

“His live show is incredible. He has the rare ability to be both larger than life on stage and connect one-on-one with the audience.”

For Hutchinson, that’s first and foremost what it’s always been about.

“It’s the purest part,” he said. “I mean there’s a lot of other stuff involved, lots of other things that go into being a professional musician – stuff they put on the brochure if you will. But the music and the touring is the part that I love. I love connecting with the fans.”

The singer’s profession of his feelings about being on the road is a bit of an understatement. By his own admission he “did about 150 shows last year and we’re on pace to do about 200 this year.”

Earlier this year, Hutchinson completed successful tours of Norway and Australia, where his single “Rock & Roll” was a No. 1 hit. Although he has North American dates on the books through the end of 2009, Morris says the next step in the singer’s evolution is conquering the U.K. and Europe, where Sounds is to be released this fall, as well as Japan.

And although everything turned out OK in the end, Hutchinson says if given the opportunity to speak with a younger version of himself, he would impart a couple of important lessons.

“The main thing I would say is the thing I ended up doing, just keep at it and sleep on it. And don’t take shows that don’t go so well so personally, which is kind of difficult to do when your name is on the ticket. It’s kind of like throwing a party and having no one show up, you feel very unpopular. I honestly don’t know what kept me going through it all except I just love singing.”