the horse, and getting back on it

Wound-licking ensued. I had spent time and energy on a band that turned out to be a dead-end for us, and I was worried about possibly having damaged a friendship with Joe that I enjoyed. To try and extend an olive branch, I went to a Wretched Soul show with Rich, and visited with the band for a while afterwards. They were cordial, so were we, so things seemed cool.

Unsure of how to proceed, I decided it would be a good time to learn a bit about the business end of the music business. Walt sent me a copy of This Business of Music by M. William Krasilovsky, which was a fascinating book that detailed a lot of the legal components of the business that I never understood. He also gave me a copy of Hit Men by Fredric Dannen, which was a look at the seedier side of record promotion. Both books had a profound impact on the way I wanted to operate the company.

Having developed a belief that record labels exist solely to bilk money from every possible source (a belief I still hold today), I began feeling that my company should be different. Rather than benchmark the big conglomerate way of doing things, I wanted to be the antithesis of that. It was much more interesting to hear stories about how Alternative Tentacles didn’t do contracts with their artists but instead chose to do everything on a handshake (don’t know if that’s true or not, but it was a good story), or how Dischord Records provided health insurance to all their bands (don’t know about that one, either). That’s the kind of label I wanted my company to be.

I started reading punk rock fanzines pretty religiously. Maximum RockNRoll and Flipside became my favorites because they were so jam-packed with information, and when I got my first copy of Book Your Own Fuckin’ Life I just about tore it to shreds from poring over it so much. I picked up my copy of East Coast Rocker every week to see what was going on locally, and we started heading into the summer.

Still, no band.

One night we were sitting around our apartment, talking about how to move things forward, and the concept of a compilation album came up. What if we were do make our first record a compilation album of New Jersey bands? We could, theoretically, have 10 or 15 bands on a CD, and each band would have a local fan base. If each band had 50 to 100 fans that would buy a copy, we could sell a thousand CDs, just by default.

Similarly, each band had its own network of contacts at various levels of the record business. If we could tap into those contacts, maybe it would help us advance the company more quickly than it would normally take. We’d also get to know 10-15 bands instead of just one, which could potentially lead to opportunities to put out additional records after the compilation.

Even better was our hope that the compilation would help introduce fans of each band to the other bands. New Jersey had a few decent clubs and a lot of colleges, but no real “scene” of which to speak. At the time, I looked at what was going on in places like Seattle, Chapel Hill, and San Diego as outstanding examples of what could happen if people got together and helped each other, but it seemed like in New Jersey everyone was either killing themselves to get gigs in New York, or showing up to play their own shows and then going right home afterwards. There appeared to be very little friendship between bands – just lots of competition.

Doing a compilation would give Rich and I an opportunity to do something we had been talking about – put out our own music, without having it take away from our true focus, which was to put out other people’s stuff. Rich and I had begun making 4-track recordings under the name Death Train Motor Man (named after a New York Post headline the day after New York subway driver Robert Ray, operating a subway train under the influence of alcohol, derailed his train and killed five people). DTMM was sort of an industrial-flavored, instrumental shoegazer type of thing, sort of like Dif Juz only louder and more, well, train-like in its chugginess. And we figured that if we could get enough decent bands to participate in a compilation, maybe we could sneak a Death Train Motor Man song on it and nobody would notice.

We then spent a whole night coming up with some principles by which we would guide the label: we would never screw a band; we’d be completely up front with them about everything; our contracts would protect both parties; we’d do everything ethically; and we’d never, ever, ever let a record go out of print, as long as we were in business.

We figured if we were going to crash the label into the ground anyway, we might as well do it in such a way that we could look ourselves in the mirror each morning. We still didn’t think we’d get out more than one or two records at that point, but it wasn’t going to stop us from trying. And we felt like the compilation idea was perfect, and gave us the best head start we could possibly get.

So the next step was to expand our search from just looking for one band to looking for many, and the best way to do that was to take out an ad. The East Coast Rocker offered free classified ads, so we figured we’d write one up.

The only problem was that our record label didn’t have a name.

One night Rich, Frank, Sandy and I bought two cases of Lowenbrau (the beer we bought at the time when we really wanted to treat ourselves to something expensive – fifteen dollars a case), cranked up some music, and sat down in our living room with the goal of coming up with a name for the label.

“I think you should call it ‘Label,'” Rich offered.  At another point, he suggested we call it ‘General Tso’s Chicken’.  

Not knowing yet whether it was going to be a metal label or an indie label made it much tougher.  We kicked around ideas, and the more beer we drank, the more outlandish the ideas became.  “Monkey Nut Records” was one, I think.  “Pisswad” was, as well.  I seem to recall “Baloney Pony” being mentioned at one point.

We finally settled on “Mash Head,” a horrible nickname we’d heard someone called once, and decided the label would become “Mash Head Music.”

Rich immediately booted up the computer and opened our pirated copy of Quark XPress and threw together a quick logo idea.  It was very punk, and very low-budget, and none of us were really confident with it.  But at the end of the night, when Frank and Rich left the house, that was the name of the label.  Mash Head Music.

But then, the next morning, Sandy burst out of the shower, looked at me, and yelled “DROMEDARY.  DROMEDARY RECORDS.”

I figure anyone who does their thinking in the shower is all right by me, and should get a couple of bonus points for their idea.  I liked the fact that the name didn’t sound like “Megaforce” or “Def Jam” or “Teen Beat,” so it didn’t really connote any particular type of music.  I liked that it was named after an animal, because that opened up lots of logo opportunities.  And I liked that the idea wasn’t mine.  But most of all, I liked that she came up with it in the shower, rather than during some drunken brainstorming session.

So Dromedary Records (the name, not the company) was born in the shower of a garden apartment in Lodi, New Jersey.

~ by Al on January 9, 2009.

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