In the late ‘90s a band called Midtown was founded in New Jersey. The band consisted of four members. Rob Hitt played drums. Tyler Rann played guitar and did backup vocals. Gabe Saporta played bass and was the lead singer. Finally, Heath Saraceno played guitar and also did backup vocals. Their catalogue includes 3 full length records, an EP and two split EPs. As far as labels are concerned, Midtown has been on both big and small labels. Their fist two full lengths were on Drive-Thru Records; however, during the second record the band was up-streamed by MCA Records (now Geffen Records). After a rather ugly dispute, the band was released and put out their final record on Columbia Records. Their splits and debut EP all came out on rather small labels that were more distribution deals only.
The style of Midtown can best be described as pop punk with influences of punk, hardcore, and pop rock. They were a part of the early rise to fame of Drive-Thru records with bands like Something Corporate and New Found Glory. Drive-Thru back then was the equivalent of what Fueled by Ramen is today. Many fans of the upcoming punk scene really grabbed a hold of the first full length record, Save the World, Loose the Girl in 2000 on Drive-Thru. This was the release that got them on the map in the underground scene. However, their follow up in 2002, Living Well is the Best Revenge was the record that leads to them being up-streamed by MCA and was also pretty successful in its own right. Their time on MCA was short-lived as their third and final record, Forget What You Know would come out Columbia Records.
Interesting part of Drive-Thru and how they operated back then was that they essentially had their hands tied to an extent by then major label MCA records. What would happen is that once a band reached a certain level of success (usually by record sales) they were liable to be up-streamed to MCA if they saw fit. What this meant was that MCA could start distributing either the current or upcoming album. For a short time the band would be on two labels until MCA became the only label. If the band was still under contract, Drive-Thru could still put their sticker on the back of the record or negotiate with the band to let them out of their current contract and go to MCA. And this happened to several Drive-Thru bands: NFG, SoCo, Senses Fail, Midtown, and others. In theory this was a really good option for all parties. Bands get more exposure, bigger budgets spent on them and all of those things that could break a band out in the mainstream. Drive-Thru meanwhile, could really pitch their track record for bands getting to the next level and had a major behind them. This proved to be a powerful tool as well. And MCA essentially had an inside track of what the next big band was and a minor league affiliate in Drive-Thru (for lack of a better term) working for them.
However, the reality was that MCA was a label going through quite a bit of change, most notably with management. Therefore, a lot of the bands that were being up-streamed by one group of employees were in most cases dealing with a whole new management team for their major label debut. Often times this lead to bands not getting the attention and resources they thought they were going to receive and thus, their album did poorly in the label’s eyes and would be dropped. The public opinion this had was that of a washed up band when that really was not the whole story.
There was also a residual effect on Drive-Thru as they saw all of their bands that had any success being taken from them. These frustrations often lead to bands and Drive-Thru getting into contract disputes and having a relationship grow sour. This was most definitely the case with Midtown as they were up-streamed during the Living Well record and wanted off Drive-Thru. Drive-Thru, having been down this road wanted to keep their band that was successfully on the rise. What ultimately happened was a long, drawn out and drama filled dispute. By the time Midtown made it to MCA new management had taken over and promotion for Living Well and help on tours had pretty much ceased. Before they knew it, they were back to looking for another label amidst the touring they had to do on their own to supplement what the label should have been doing for them.
Columbia Records picked them up and they released what would be their final record, Forget What You Know in the summer of 2004. Ultimately, this record did not perform as anticipated by the label. For one, the record was a more mature sound than their past releases. Within the devoted fans of the group there was a bit of a like it or hate it mentality. Really, the record is pretty darn good. Definitely more of straight forward rock sound. Secondly, between all of the label limbo, Midtown had lost a lot of the initial buzz that made them get noticed in the first place. Another factor was that the band was getting frustrated and the urge to go in different directions was slowly becoming apparent. The band performed on the Rock against Bush Tour through the fall and winter of 2004. In early 2005 the band officially disbanded.
That is really where the first half of their careers end and the second half began. Shortly after disbanding, Heath joined the band Senses Fail as one of their guitarist and also did backup vocals. He also assisted in the writing process quite a bit on two of their records. He has since left the band after the two albums with the band. Tyler Rann decided to take a step out of the spotlight and joined a band called, Band of Thieves doing guitar and vocals. However, within the underground scene they have a good following. Tyler also does some recording. Rob Hitt joined what is now in the music scene a very successful management company in Crush Management. On top of that he started a label with a friend called, I-Surrender Records. Notable bands on the label include Four Year Strong and Valencia. Four Year Strong is also on Decaydance Records (an off-shoot of Fueled by Ramen) now along with I-Surrender. Gabe Saporta started the pop-rock-dance act, Cobra Starship in 2005. The first song the group put out was the feature song for the movie, Snakes on a Plane. The group has put out 3 albums and has been a very popular act among teens and college kids alike. Cobra Starship has endured more popular recognition with every release as their latest album, Hot Mess reached number 4 in the U.S.
So what was the whole point to all of this? Well for me, personally I think it is important to always remember the bands that were important to you at certain point in your life. Therefore, for nostalgia purposes I wanted to reflect on a highly underrated and often forgotten band. Secondly, I wanted to shed some light on the label-band relationship and the Drive-Thru/MCA situation is a very interesting one. It is even more so when you think about all of the bands that had their careers altered by this situation. Most of which are bands that were once very popular and have since had to rebuild their brand. So for the music business element, I believe the Midtown story was a very relevant and interesting one. Finally, I wanted to show some of the younger music enthusiasts out there that grow up on more current bands how what they are listening to came about. I believe it is important to dive into the history of bands and see where they came from and checkout the bands that influenced them.
For a band some would say had little impact, I would argue the opposite. I don’t think most people realize the road Gabe and the other guys took to get to where they are today. While Cobra Starship is a far cry to what I would listen to, I am happy to see him finally have success. And Rob really has made a big impact on a lot of up and coming bands from a behind the scenes standpoint. Heath helped progress a band that coming up was often criticized, but it is now very much respected in Senses Fail. Therefore, if you haven’t taken time to dive into the history and influences of the bands/artists you listen to, do it.