valentine’s day.

And thus we arrive at the third thing that happened in February of 2004 that changed Dromedary.

I’ve read interviews with record label guys who say that if you have a label, at some point you’re going to have a falling out with a band.  Eventually, something is going to end badly.  It’s part of the nature of running a label – of any size – that if you release multiple titles from multiple artists, you will eventually wind up in a situation where it can’t end amicably.

For us, it happened on February 14, 1994. Valentine’s Day.  And even though we continued on as a label long after 1994, even though we released our best music, worked with the best bands, and made our best friends after this point, if you were to ask me what the turning point was, what the single event that resulted in the end of Dromedary Records, this would be it. Because even though we continued on long afterward, it was the “Valentine’s Day Massacre” that resulted in just a tiny bit more “business” seeping into our “music business” than we liked, just a tiny bit more mistrust seeped into our relationships with bands than we’d hoped, just a tiny bit more cynicism and hurt pervaded our outlook on things.

It all started with an innocent enough phone call from Ray, where he warned me that the contract Rick was preparing was going to stipulate that after the 1500 promo copies were pressed, I would have to waive my right to press any more copies of the record.  Whatever I had in inventory would be the last copies of “Allnighter” that I would be allowed to sell.

In my mind, part of running an indie label is the tradeoff of releasing records you like – but that few people will ever hear – against the possibility that one of your bands happens to move on to bigger things.  If that happens, the indie gets to share in some of the success, if only through the increased record sales.  But you needed to actually have the record in your catalog to be able to sell it.

So I said that I would not agree to that.

The result was a lengthy phone conversation that began at my office and spilled over into a shouting match between band members and I that lasted well into the night.

Meanwhile, it was Valentine’s Day.  Sandy and I hadn’t spent much time together with my new job and everything, and so she had big plans to make me a delicious dinner.  When I got home, she had cleaned the entire apartment and was already cooking.  A bottle of wine was waiting.  There were candles on the kitchen table.  She had gone through a lot of effort to get home early, and spent a ton of money (for us, at the time) on a romantic dinner.

“Listen,” I explained to her.  “I have to talk to Ray tonight, before dinner.  It shouldn’t be long.”

It was long.

But it was also fifteen years ago.  I’m writing this blog to tell the story of Dromedary, I’m not writing it out of sour grapes.  At this stage in the game it’s silly to relate the details of an argument that’s not really pertinent to the story.  Suffice to say it was an argument, and that it was mean, and it was hurtful, on all sides.

The beginning of the discussion was pleasant enough.  We were aware that we disagreed with each other, but we were good friends, and good friends can overcome any disagreement.

But as the conversation dragged on, it became clear that neither side was going to budge.  In their mind, I was interfering with their ability to take the next step.  In my mind, they were trying to take away a record that I had every right to continue to press and repress, for as long as the market wanted to buy it.

Plus, I had already made what I felt was a big concession by giving up the right to release a CD, which is something that the band had agreed to early on.   “Allnighter” would be the one item in my catalog that would have some built-up demand for it that I could actually satisfy.  I was not about to give up the ability to press more copies of it.  At the time I couldn’t think of one story of a label that had agreed to something like that, no matter how small they were – at least not without some form of compensation, and compensation in the form of free promotion for a record I could no longer sell didn’t seem equitable to me.

Our conversation began to get more heated as it became clear to us that neither of us was going to change our minds.  I thought they were being unreasonable.  The band didn’t seem to see it that way, and the longer we talked, the more I felt they wanted that 7″ out of my hands.  The band was just trying to be a band, to move on to what they felt was the next step – and I was standing in the way.  I was just trying to be a label, to put out records that people liked – and I was about to lose half my catalog.

Sandy, eventually, ate dinner on her own, while I paced around the apartment, ranting.  She kept my romantic Valentine’s Day dinner warm in the oven for a while.  Finally, she went to bed.  Like I said in an early post in this blog, Sandy sacrificed a lot for Dromedary.

Finally, Ray suggested that we put a limit to the number of records I could press in the future.  I suggested 5,000 as a number, to give me a little room to do a little better than just break even.  We both figured 5,000 was not an unreasonable number.

“I’ll talk to Rick and have him call you tomorrow,” he said.

For all practical purposes, that was it.  The following day, Rick called me, and we worked out the deal.  He would press 1500 copies of the record, with a decal to be affixed to the back with his label’s logo.  I insisted that all the materials would be shipped to me, and I would assemble the records for him.  This way I could control where the decals went.

I agreed not to press more than 3,000 copies.  Verbally, he agreed not to send the promos to retail stores.  And we agreed that I would have the right to review and approve the letters that he was sending to the radio stations and press.

I had given up the option of releasing a CD, and I had given up the ability to press the 7″ in perpetuity.  If the band took off and became a smash, record collectors and hardcore fans looking for that elusive 7″ would have to buy it from someone other than me.  We could only press 3,000 more copies.

I felt like I had done my job.  I felt like I stood by that band, and did everything I could to be a good friend and, regardless of how small my label was, a good partner.  A hard worker.

I still had 3,000 copies to sell, plus the few hundred I still had in inventory.

What I didn’t know was that I had already sold the last copy of that record that anyone would ever buy.  From Dromedary, at least.

At the end of the day, I think this is one of those situations where everyone was working in their best interest, and nobody actually did anything wrong.  It probably didn’t need to end badly, but we were all young, and we were all ill-equipped to leave personal feelings out of it, keep things professional, and work towards a win-win.  I think if we all had the benefit of experience, it would have worked out fine – but I’ve said repeatedly in this blog that I didn’t know how to run a record label; every experience was a new one for me, and I handled some of them properly and others not as well.

I think we probably all can say the same thing.

~ by Al on March 27, 2009.

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