As a token of his thanks, in 2014, Mark Alexander-Erber gave each member of the band Moon a small golden robot. Having been unable to find wider support for his ten-year-old son Jagger’s remarkable talent as a drummer, Alexander-Erber brought together two friends to give his son the experience of recording in a studio, and together they put together an album. Today, Alexander-Erber is president of Australia’s largest independent rock label, named after that symbol of commitment. Golden Robot Records and its various sub-labels have grown from this debut album recorded in Balmain to an international powerhouse with signings from across the world. Through dedication and a belief in what they are doing, Golden Robot Records is pushing rock music back into the mainstream.
“The ethos of the company is very simple. It’s to support our artists financially, physically, emotionally, spiritually and distribute their albums across the world. To get their albums, their music and their songs into as many hands and ears as possible,” said Alexander-Erber.
In an age where pop, hip-hop and EDM dominate the charts, Golden Robot Records is giving Australian rock bands the opportunity to tour alongside international acts. Divided into multiple labels, the Golden Robot Entertainment Group also promotes country music, under Social Family Records, alternative music, under Riot Records, and will soon branch into hip-hop with the launch of Scratches Records. However, the focus is rock, with Alexander-Erber stating his goal is to have Golden Robot Records seen as the premier rock label in the world. Despite the popularity of this genre plateauing in the 21st century, the business has flourished, giving artists the support they need to keep rocking. The commitment to the significance of the classic combination of drums, vocals and guitar, can be attributed to the two pillars of Golden Robot Records, Alexander-Erber and the man who oversees the label’s international expansion, Derek Shulman.
“[Shulman] was and is one of the most recognised and well respected record executives in America, he was President of Roadrunner, Atco, PolyGram. He discovered everyone from Slipknot to Nickelback to Pantera to Bon Jovi.”
In 2011, Alexander-Erber’s son Jagger appeared on Australia’s Got Talent. The young drum prodigy blew audiences away at only age nine, but Alexander-Erber didn’t want his son to become a novelty act like so many other young kids can become. Both father and son had a passion for rock n’ roll, and together with Steve Balbi, founding member of Noiseworks, and Mark Ward, they formed Moon. With Balbi’s experience feeding into Jagger’s passion, the newly formed Moon had produced their first album. The three-piece recorded the album at Damien Gerard Recording Studios in Balmain, but struggled to find anyone to officially release the record in Australia or America.
It would take a year from receiving the golden figurine to signing a deal with MGM Distribution, and with that infrastructure locked in place, Golden Robot Records was officially founded in 2015, with The Orbitor released on March 4, 2016. After the release, Mark Alexander-Erber began to officially sign everyone involved in the project and start creating the foundations for a larger company. This led to the signing of Balbi and his band Mi-Sex, as well as the purchase of Balbi’s 2013 album Black Rainbow from lead country label Social Family Records. This purchase would prove to be instrumental for the structure of Golden Robot Records as they would later buy out Social Family Records itself. Despite being a country label, the purchase of Social Family Records included distribution deals with Universal for physical and The Orchard for digital. With a firm structure, including a dedicated studio and offices in Ultimo, Golden Robot Records began signing artists and producing music.
“Golden Robot piggybacked off Social Family’s set up for a while. So we had [Balbi]’s album, Moon’s album, Mi-Sex’s album and then I went after some great Australian bands like the Choirboys, Rose Tattoo, Superjesus. I started signing younger bands like the Lockhearts and bands that were coming through like Steve Kilbey from the Church for his solo album. We probably started spending too much money before we were set up properly, but it grew quickly. That went for about 12 months of acquiring bands, putting out music, getting a bit of a name for ourselves and people were watching what we were doing.”
What started as a means of supporting his son’s music career had grown into a means of supporting the rock industry in Australia. While his other business ventures have been successful, nothing has grown as quickly as Golden Robot Records. Alexander-Erber himself believes it is because of his genuine love of rock music. To him, rock is still the leading genre of music because of how it makes the listener feel. The company owns a $700 000 album collection, with first printings of Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin albums and even Michael Hutchence’s original, hand-written draft of INXS’ ‘Listen Like Thieves’. According to Alexander-Erber, he might be in the business of music rather than the music business, but he genuinely believes in every signing, release and rock music as a whole.
“I’m a true music fan. I love music. So when I’m sitting infront of a band and I’m getting goosebumps explaining to them what I can do for their careers, why wouldn’t they want to be part of that. So that’s why it’s worked, I believe in it.”
The other cornerstone of Golden Robot Records is Derek Shulman, who was introduced to Alexander-Erber through Guns n’ Roses founder Tracii Gunns. In March 2017, Shulman came on board and completely reworked the company. Through Shulman’s contacts, they now have distribution deals with European distributors Believe for digital and Soulfood for physical, as well as additional offices in LA, where Mark now spends most of his time, as well as Auckland and New York. Social Family Records’ became a country sub-label for the Golden Robot Global Entertainment Group. This international expansion also includes dedicated public relations and marketing teams across the globe. Most importantly, the company began signing international acts like John Sykes, Skid Row, A New Revenge, Puddle of Mudd and Kings X and Gilby Clarke. The international expansion not only means that Australian bands can go overseas as supporting acts, but also that an international audience is watching these domestic acts when their overseas counterparts support them in their tours.
“That was directly in relation to [Shulman] coming on board because he had all the contacts. We are very comfortable for where we sit in the marketplace and we’re seen as the leading Australian independent label. We’ve got world-wide grasp, distribution partners in Japan, North America, Europe, Australia, NZ, and we really are going from strength to strength with these releases. 2019 should be our biggest year.”
Today, Golden Robot Records remains one of the few Australian record labels with the funding and international reach required to support rock bands. More importantly, Alexander-Erber and Shulman are some of the few executives who still believe in rock and its place within the music industry. From dirt, this Australian rock titan has outgrown its humble Sydney origins in just a few years. Alexander-Erber compares the take no prisoners attitude that embodied the company’s growth with their old slogan, ‘how rock and roll should make you feel’.
“We’ve changed as a company so much as we’ve evolved. We’ve learnt from every release, every signing, every mistake and we’ve learnt from every goal that we’ve kicked. I think that’s what’s making us a better company, we are evolving but still keeping old school values.”