By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
Each week, record companies of all shapes and sizes release an avalanche of product, and doing so isn't cheap. The cost of servicing hundreds or even thousands of retailers, writers, Web-page entrepreneurs and the like with promotional items is a staggering cash drain that's caused firms to look for less expensive ways to break new artists. Boulder's Lee Nestor is involved in one such scheme, and if things go as she hopes, she may eventually find herself on a major-label roster.
The agreement between Nestor and Polygram Records calls for her to record five or six songs for a maxi-CD. Once she's done, Polygram will master and press approximately 2,000 discs that will be used to boost Nestor and her band (bassist Wes Heilman, drummer Beau Dacius and guitarist Jamie Polisher) in the Denver area. In other words, she'll be test-marketed à la the latest brand of soda pop or potato chips fried in olestra. But if her music catches on, Polygram will sign her to a standard contract and issue a long-player nationwide.
Like most people, Nestor was unfamiliar with this concept until it was presented to her. "I didn't know anything about it," she says. "But I guess it's been around for a while. I was talking to someone who used to be a general manager at a retail store three years ago, and he got the same kind of maxi-CD from Sheryl Crow before she was famous. So I guess it's a way for companies to get an idea of what market an artist will fit into. It gives them a little more confidence in the project."
Nestor isn't a Colorado native. She was born in Switzerland (her father was an international banker) before moving to Los Angeles as a child. When her parents' marriage broke up, she and her mother moved to Manhattan, where she came of age. As a senior in high school, she and a girlfriend spent an extended stretch in Paris, where Nestor first became serious about music. "I started writing songs and playing on the streets of Paris and in little clubs," she recalls. "Paris is a great place to find your art form." Upon returning to New York City, she developed the tunesmithing skills that are showcased on her debut full-length, 1996's Stronger Than This. The disc touches upon rock and acoustic music in a resolutely commercial manner, as does a three-song EP she put out the following year. But just as she seemed on the cusp of greater things, the unexpected happened: As she puts it, "I fell in love with somebody who grew up in Boulder."
Given the choice between continuing to push her career in one of the world's media capitals or seeking personal happiness, she chose the latter--and Nestor thinks the decision was a good one. "On the one hand," she says, "it was crazy to leave an epicenter like New York and go to Boulder. But it's allowed me to really create my own thing in a better place."
Fortunately, Nestor didn't completely cut all her ties in the City That Never Sleeps. Her New York-based lawyer originally put her in touch with Polygram and is overseeing the pact between the company and Nestor. At present, Nestor is planning to play one last gig--she opens for Mother Hips at the Fox Theatre on Wednesday, April 1--before entering Kerr-Macy Studio. She'll be joined there by producer Tom Wassinger, a veteran of several projects with the new-agey Silver Wave imprint who sees the maxi-CD as a way to get back to his rock roots. Polygram offered Nestor free studio time at the conglomerate's Edison, New Jersey, facility, but Nestor turned it down, largely because of her faith in Wassinger. "I think he's a great guy with great ears," she says, "and he's got a collection of unusual instruments that will really add a lot. I'm really psyched."
The songs Nestor has set aside for the maxi-CD should be ready for mixing by the end of April, and she's hoping that the disc will be ready by mid-summer. At that point, Nestor says, "Polygram is going to put a big push behind it, and I'll be doing my own promotion and publicity on the side to see if we can spark a flame." If no fire starts, Nestor won't be in bad shape financially; because of the contract's structure, she says, she'll be left with virtually no debt--a rarity when it comes to relationships with majors. But she's optimistic that the Polygram deal will lead to bigger and better things. "It's been sweet so far," she declares. "And I think it's going to get sweeter."
In a question-and-answer session with promoter Barry Fey that ran in our twentieth-anniversary issue, which appeared on January 29, I noted that Fey had become "such a frequent caller to radio talk programs that the average listener can be forgiven for believing that he's got a show of his own." I then followed that line with this one: "Perhaps someday he will--because Fey has no shortage of opinions, about everything from rock and roll to the Colorado way of life."