After years of thoroughly saturating the local circuit, Donovan Lyman of Blue Meridian knows the stories all too well. Virtually all of the polished purveyors of the "Orlando sound" -- that strummy, polite, guitar-driven singer-songwriter brand of nice-guy rock -- have inked deals with a major label. Everyone, that is, except for Blue Meridian. But that's about to change -- sort of.
Lyman, the band's forthright frontman/songwriter/manager, just signed a deal -- two albums or three years, whichever comes first -- with upstart local indie Phurst Degree Records. Blue Meridian is the label's second signing -- the first was Orlando-based Triple Deep, pop-rap tough guys whose curiously mustached mugs will be aimed at the Tiger Beat set.
The curiosity is that after six years of single-minded focus to land a recording contract, Lyman deliberately has bypassed the majors. "The only thing I'm giving up by going with Phurst Degree is the whole glamour of signing with a major," says Lyman. He rightfully believes that glamour doesn't necessarily take a band where it wants to go.
An avid follower of the local music scene, Lyman has lived through the high and lows of other Orlando-born and -bred bands that have made the quantum leap to the major labels -- matchbox twenty, Seven Mary Three, My Friend Steve and virginwool. At this point in time, Lyman better identifies with the growing number of success stories within the ranks of indie labels: Wind-Up (Creed), Trauma (Bush, No Doubt), Epitaph (The Offspring). Plus, Lyman feels that with Phurst Degree, Blue Meridian will be a priority act, something that's not guaranteed on a major. He cites the demise of My Friend Steve and virginwool, both of which became lost boys at Mammoth and Breaking/Atlantic, respectively.
Lyman also says that through dogged negotiations, he fashioned a more favorable contract than he would have been able to with a major, which will mean more money in his pocket if he sells records. Lyman also has final say over such prickly artist issues as packaging, merchandise and material. Anyone who knows Lyman understands how critical the control issue could be. Therein lies the potential weakness of his new strategy, which will only be in evidence after a new album is nationally released, the publicity push is in full gear and the rigorous touring begins.
Blue Meridian's flaw is that Lyman's constantly rotating band of hired guns is far from professional quality, as witnessed last week at a disastrous headlining gig at House of Blues. (He actually replaced the guitarist just days after the fiasco.) So the pressure is on for the high-profile opening spot for The Wallflowers this week at Hard Rock Live.
While the band's recorded versions are clean and pro-sounding, Lyman needs to clean house and hire cats who can really play consistently night after night and can lock down a serious groove. His songs, which range from artfully sublime to alternative drivel, will be all the better for it. Deep down, Lyman must know this -- he's the only band member that signed on the bottom line. Unlike the tumultuous signings by Tabitha's Secret and My Friend Steve, in which several founding members of each outfit were axed, everyone involved with Blue Meridian apparently knows the score. This is Donovan Lyman's vehicle. It always has been.
Every bit of Blue Meridian's success can be traced to Lyman's sheer enthusiasm. He's a tireless promoter and industry geek who has a "Rain Man"-like knowledge of his band's stats and mounting accomplishments. He can tell you exactly how many times he's played at each of the area's venues, and has held together a faithful fan following via his personal e-mails. In fact, Blue Meridian was one of the first local bands to work the web, with a stimulating site that he also maintains. He's also quick to mention that his band's been on the cover of every music mag in town and topped the charts on Real Radio 104.1-FM's "Real Music Weekends." ("Sideways Silverjet" spent 44 weeks on the charts, five at No. 1.)
Indeed, Lyman has squeezed every ounce of publicity-generating juice out of Orlando's ripening scene -- his enshrined guitar and pants hang in the Hard Rock Cafe, for godsakes! Still, it has been a long, sometimes fruitful, sometimes frustrating journey for Lyman and his commercially ready songs about love and relationships. Not even handfuls of industry accolades (including two trophies from the 2000 Orlando Music Awards) and a long-distance phone bill that reads like a recording industry A&R directory have been able to penetrate the barrier. It is time for Blue Meridian to bust a move of some type to save it from a static fate in its own backyard. Will this route work?
Lyman's staking his career on the promise that Phurst Degree, a still unproven entity in the marketplace (Triple Deep's "Version 1.0" hits stores sometime in May), will take Blue Meridian's music to the ears of national listeners and buyers, two areas that major labels have a stranglehold on, thanks to consolidation in the distribution networks and long-standing relationships with band-breaking broadcasters like FM-radio and MTV.
Lyman has been working so long and hard for this, now's not the time to blow it.