cds in your living room.

I got an unsolicited demo tape from a band called Shadowbox.

They were more of a jam band, kind of a Spin Doctors thing.  The Spin Doctors were, unfortunately, popular during this time, and as bands are apt to do when they’re not particularly original, bands started writing earthy, groovy tunes like “Pocketful of Kryptonite” to appeal to the hackey sack-playing, barefoot pseudo-hippies that listened to them at the time.  Having never liked that kind of music the first time around, when it was called the Grateful Dead, I didn’t particularly like it this time around, either.

Neo-hippies always bothered me.  I felt like (and still do) the hippies of the 60s represented a cultural and social movement – even a political one, to a degree – that rallied around a cause and looked to their cultural icons for guidance and leadership.  Neo-hippies, on the other hand, were hippies because they liked the clothes, or the music, or the drugs.  During the Persian Gulf war – certainly a cause that would inspire a hippie – the neo-hippies were nowhere to be found, preferring frat parties and Phish concerts to actually doing anything.  It was the punks that embraced the antiwar movement.  The hippies were too busy blowing bubbles and burning incense to care.

All that said, Shadowbox, at the time, was decent enough for me to put their demo alongside the Footstone tape in the “not bad” pile, giving me a grand total of two bands in that pile.  Their demo tape was produced by Ed Stasium, who had also produced a couple of bands I grew up with – the Ramones and the Talking Heads.  It was the first tape I’d received that was somehow affiliated with someone who was remotely connected to the actual music industry, which gave me a certain sense of relief in that there were actually bands out there who might be interested in being on the compilation that other people liked.  The lyrics were hokey and the songs were pretty basic, but again, not bad.

Here’s where things get a little fuzzy.

I received a phone call from a man named Abe Hoch.  I believe – but can’t be sure because I didn’t take notes and don’t completely remember the context of the discussion – that he was the manager of Shadowbox.  He was certainly the manager of one of the bands who sent us a demo, and for some reason in my mind, I attach him to Shadowbox.  He was a nice guy who dropped a lot of names very early in our conversation.  I couldn’t tell if he was for real or not, and since there was no internet at the time for me to use for researching him, I couldn’t have possibly known that he had been affiliated with Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song Records, and was actually a pretty solid guy, as far as the record business was concerned.  To me, I just didn’t know who I was talking to.

We had a pleasant conversation, during which he let me know in no uncertain terms that a Shadowbox song on our compilation was going to cost me a lot of money.

Money?  What the hell was that?  Up until that point I really hadn’t considered the fact that it was going to actually cost me money to do this.

I let Abe know that as much as we were interested in Shadowbox, I had no intention of paying bands money up front for appearing on the compilation.  My intention was to pay the band a small percentage of sales (I didn’t want to pay out more than 10-15% in total), give each band a certain number of CDs for their personal use, and offer the bands the ability to buy CDs from me at wholesale prices to sell off the stage at their shows.

“Well, that won’t do,” Abe explained.  “This is a serious band.”

I explained that Dromedary was a serious label, but that perhaps there was a misunderstanding about our mission.  My goal with Dromedary was not to provide a promotional vehicle for bands who were looking to launch their careers as rock stars.  My goal was to give bands the ability to stay independent, put out music on their own terms, and not get raped by major labels.

I think that softened Abe up a bit.  He understood that I wasn’t some guy looking to get a chunk of his band’s future, I was just a guy looking to put out records.  

“Are you looking for an exclusive?” he asked.

“No,” I explained.  “It would help if the bands wouldn’t include the song we choose on any other compilations, and it would help even more if they didn’t release the songs as 7″s, but frankly I don’t care what they do.  The songs belong to the bands.”

“You’re not looking for any points on future deals?”

“No.”

“You’re not looking for publishing?”

“No.”

“Well, how are you going to make money?” He seemed perplexed.

“I’m hoping to keep putting out records.” I explained. “If I can get a decent-sized catalog going, I should be able to sell enough records to turn this into a business.  If I can get some good distribution, I should be able to afford higher and higher royalties for the bands.  My thought is that the band should actually make more money than the label.  But if I have enough records out, I’ll be able to make enough money and still pay the bands more.”

I then went on to explain about Dischord’s paying the bands’ health insurance (a story I’m still not sure is true to this day), and how I would really prefer to stay out of the bands’ publishing.

“It’ll never work,” he said, “You’ll never make enough money.”

“Maybe.”

He then said something else, and called Dromedary a “vanity label.”  A vanity label is, basically, a phony label set up so that the owner can put out his own music and have it seem like it was done on a “real” label.

“No.  This is not a vanity label,” I explained.  “This is a real record company.  We’re going to put out as many records as we can, promote them to college radio and indie-friendly publications, and try and place the records in as many stores as possible.”

“Listen, Al,” he said.  “Don’t kid yourself into thinking your record company is a real record company.  Your record company will be a real record company when you have piles of CDs all over your living room.”

Boy, did that piss me off.  But he was right.

Then he said “Maybe we can still work together.  I like you.  Get the rest of your compilation together, and when you’ve got some bands, give me a call.  I know a lot of people in the business, maybe I can help you.  And maybe we’d still be willing to put a Shadowbox song on the compilation if the record is good enough.”

We then had a lengthy discussion about starting a record label, and he gave me lots of advice.

Abe Hoch was a good guy.  And I kept the Shadowbox tape in the “not bad” pile with Footstone.

Here’s “Moon of Life” by Shadowbox.

~ by Al on January 14, 2009.

One Response to “cds in your living room.”

  1. […] I scooted over and looked at it. For a good, long while.  Obviously I knew what it was going to look like, and to an extent, even worked on some of it myself.  But still, it was live, which meant that Dromedary was real again (although I no longer have CDs in my living room). […]

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