Kirk Thurmond and the Millennials are just a month away from releasing their album People Change on Aug. 26, but it's been quite a ride to get there.
Thurmond's been playing music since 5th grade, from school band to a percussion major in college.
"Music doesn't seem like a choice to me. It's all I've ever really been good at," Thurmond said.
His singing and songwriting began when he dropped out of college. As he taught himself guitar and began playing around with different melodies, he quickly fell in love with the process.
"It's a high that you get addicted to," Kirk said.
So Kirk set up shop with a band — the Millennials — and began working on his album People Change. Without a record company, however, it was a slow process.
That's where DEFDISCO came in. The UK-based label came to Dallas two years ago, bringing along a unique business model. Rather than relying on record sales as the main source of revenue, DEFDISCO partners artists with brands.
"This system enables the brand to become associated with a fact. It cuts right through to a certain fan base that the artist appeals to. And in return, the artist gets the promotional power, the marketing, the dollar of the brand, which is far more effective than what a traditional label company would do," Co-founder and Vice President of Creative Services of DEFDISCO Cliff Simms said.
Simms believes Dallas is "overlooked by the music industry," resulting in plenty of raw talent.
"I think for whatever reason the perception of Dallas is oil and banking," Simms said. "And a great advocate of perception is reality." He called Dallas the creative industry's "best-kept secret."
For the first several months in Dallas, DEFDISCO simply observed. One of the people they noticed was Thurmond.
They essentially "stalked" Thurmond on social media— liking every photo he posted — until Thurmond noticed them back and asked for their advice. According to Simms, when they met, Thurmond said "What do I have to do to sign at DEFDISCO?"
"I chose these guys because they have a handle on where the music industry intersects with branding and sync. It's the only thing to be known about the industry right now, and they're handling it," Thurmond said. DEFDISCO was excited about Thurmond primarily because they'd seen improvement in his music.
"We felt the new material was particularly stronger than the old material," Simms said. After some more research on Kirk, DEFDISCO decided it would be "mutually beneficial" and the two signed.
DEFDISCO has a team-oriented relationship with its artists — meetings are in pubs not offices —as well as a respect for their creative license. That respect is so high they've established a Creative Freedom Clause which provides the artist with full creative control, empowering the artist to make their own decisions.
Occasionally, Simms will wish for "half a second" it would disappear, but usually believes "the benefits of it outweigh the disadvantages."
As Thurmond and the band worked on their album, he and Simms also met to discuss branding.
"Kirk's acoustic, soul, and summery, so you'd be looking at fashion. He's a trendy kind of guy, so you'd be looking at high-string retailers, and the visual aesthetic," Simms said. "He's kind of a snappy dresser, a cool kind of guy so we can use that."
Plus he's particular (about "coffee, alcohol, denim, boots, socks"), making it easier to eliminate brands.
"They have just been trying to figure out how best to connect who I already am with brands that make sense for me," Kirk said.
The finished album is about personal growth. It discusses behavior, human beings, and the balance between feeling discomfort and a moral objection.
"It's about growth and moving from one phase to another, gaining your own ideas and seeing how people respond," Thurmond said.
Thurmond's favorite part of the process is writing the songs.
"I get to turn everyday occurrences into songs with music,"he said, but his music appeals to a wide range of audiences.
"If you're a real music enthusiast, then the music is sophisticated enough to draw your ear. Then again, it's catchy enough to anybody listening. So hopefully, it's timeless," Thurmond said. "I want to make a song that I'm going to be playing 30 years from now."
Both Thurmond and Simms admitted the hardest part is simply making a living out of their careers, but their passion for music outweighs that difficulty. And they continue dreaming of even loftier goals.
Simms imagines DEFDISCO adding another office in Los Angeles at some point.
"Music is the only thing I've ever done, the only thing I've ever wanted to do," Simms said.
At his core, Thurmond is a songwriter. He dreams of others playing his songs, some of which he's started saving for just that occasion.
"When DEFDISCO gets enough time, I think they're going to prove that they're worthy of the top spot in the industry. I think we're all going up together," Thurmond said.