and it never ends.

It is hard to run an indie label.

Not just for the obvious reasons – limited resources, limited time, limited access to the record industry “machine,” but also for the reasons you never think of.

We had been contacted by Way To Go! Music, telling us all about how they could produce CDs for us at prices that were competitive with what we were already paying for seven-inches.  We quickly built a rapport with our account rep, who rattled off an impressive list of other indies they were working with.  They provided us with a very professional list of instructions on preparing artwork and masters, that made it very clear to me that these were people who knew what they were doing.

Then, after we had sent them two CDs worth of masters and artwork, and down payments on both titles (which were, by the way, cashed), they sent us a brief letter stating that they needed us to give them new artwork and master tapes, because their replicator went out of business.

I received an initial correspondence from the company, to which I responded and was told that if I provided new master tapes, I’d be good to go.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t really getting sufficient answers from the company about what was going to happen with my masters, and thus I was pretty uncomfortable about sending them new ones, because something seemed fishy.

Meanwhile, the guys in cuppa joe were getting antsy – where was their CD?  What were the final, silkscreened booklets and tray cards going to look like?  What was the on-CD art going to look like?  

I did catch a break with the Mommyheads.  They had initially planned to tour in the summer of ’94, but for whatever reason, had to push that back to the fall.  One night I got a call from Adam where he sheepishly asked me if I would have any problem pushing back the release of the Mommyheads record by a few months, so that their tour could coincide with the release of the record.

I told him I was fine with that, and never told him that his master tape was being held hostage by the replicator.  They never knew there was a problem.

Meanwhile I was trying to nail down the next CD.  Footstone had decided to go into the studio to record their next record, and we had tentatively planned to put that out at the same time as a Toast CD.  Those two CDs would satisfy our obligation to Way To Go! for 1994.

We were already planning for 1995, however, and our plans were big ones.  I figured at that point that four releases a year were a pretty good schedule, and we had already committed one of those four CDs to Gapeseed.

The second of those four CDs would be devoted to the Schoolhouse Rock covers compilation.  That left two more.

I had mentioned in an earlier post that Rich had received a 7″ from a New York City band called Jenifer Convertible.  I thought they were a fantastic band, and there were lots of weird, serendipitous ties between us and them.  First and foremost, their guitarist Jim wrote the Melting Hopefuls demo review for Alternative Press that Rich noticed, way back in mid 1992, that ultimately resulted in our inclusion of “Gondola” on the Elizabeth compilation.  Second, their 7″ was recorded by Ray in the band’s basement studio.  Third, they sent their 7″ to my best friend for him to review.

Jim and I began communicating back and forth by email, and he ultimately sent me copies of the band’s two 7″s for my own.  I fell in love with them both, and then he sneakily let me know that the band had a host of other music already recorded and ready to go.  He told me he’d send me a copy of the tape, and I immediately assumed that it was going to be just as strong as their 7″s – I’d seen the band live before and they even did a show for us, and I knew they were fantastic.  I had tentatively penciled Jenifer Convertible in to be Release #3.

We were also becoming friendly with Nick, the singer in Dots Will Echo.  Over the months after we first met Nick, we had come to understand that he had lots of music recorded, and was looking for a new record deal.  At the same time, he also just wanted to get a record out so that the band could keep their name out there.  It had been a few years since their debut CD, and since Nick told me that CD sold 10,000 copies, I became interested in hearing what else they had recorded.

So it seemed as if we had a tentative release schedule for 1994 and 1995, and I was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to feel that spontaneity that I felt when we would receive a demo from a band, and immediately start thinking of how we might put it out.  It was the summer of 1994, and it seemed like we already knew what we’d be doing for the next 18 months.

At the dayjob, the mayhem also continued.  While I was trying hard not to scare my dog while in the midst of casual conversation, but it was hard not to realize that I had a “work personality” and a “home personality.”  At work, I was racing around like a maniac all day, yelling at people, being the “Chupacabra” and simultaneously being abused by my boss.  At home, I was the friendly indie guy, sending rubber toys to people in the mail and running ads that said “Dromedary Records: We’re Your Best Friend.”  It was an interesting juxtaposition, to be sure.

Our first shipment was right on target: June 1, 1994, Target Stores received their first shipment of our product.  So did KMart and Wal-Mart.  It was a great day, a great achievement – we had nearly 2,000 products in our product line, all developed from concept to completion in four months.  2,000 different sets of packaging, warranty cards, clamshells, everything.

It was a great feeling.  And after developing so many products in such a short time frame – a professional achievement that I thought nobody else could beat – I felt ready for the big promotion that had been dangled in front of me since my initial interview.  And boy, I already had that $60,000 spent.

So on the day my boss called me into his office, I almost knew what was coming.  I sat down at his desk while he talked on the phone for a few minutes, and when he hung up, he looked at me.

“Well, I think you’ve done a great job, and so we’re going to make you Product Manager.”

I smiled a huge smile.  It felt awesome.  “That’s great,” I said.  “Wow.  Thanks.”

“Well, you’ve earned it.  Not only did you do the job, but you’ve put up with my shit for the whole winter and spring.  Congratulations.”

He shook my hand.  

“Of course there’s a raise that goes with that,” he said.

I grinned even more broadly.  Here it came.

“So we’re going to boost you up to $32,000.  You’ll see the raise reflected in your next paycheck.”

I looked at him with probably the most shocked look I’ve ever given anyone.  “$32,000?”

“Yeah,” he said.  “That’s a $4,000 raise for you, right?”

“In my interview, you said that if I got promoted to Product Manager I’d be making $60,000.”

“Sixty thousand dollars!” he said.  “That’s what an experienced Product Manager makes.  You’re an entry-level Product Manager.”

“Do you think an experienced Product Manager could have launched 2,000 brand-new products in four months?” I asked.

“I think you did a great job under pressure,” he explained. “But there’s no way I can raise you from $28,000 to $60,000.  Sandy would kick me right out on my ass.  Plus, like I said, I could get a superstar, experienced Product Manager for that much money.  You still have a lot to learn.”

“I really think you told me I’d be making $60,000 if I was promoted to Product Manager,” I explained.  “I’ve been working towards that goal since I got here.  I think under the circumstances you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who would do all the things I’ve done at my salary.”

“Sure,” he said. “I’ve sent you all over the country, put you up in the best hotels, paid all your expenses, and given you a promotion after four months.  I’ll bet I’d have a hard time finding someone who’d be interested in that job.  Why not call someone in from the factory and we’ll ask them if they’d take that job?”

I was quiet.

“Listen, I need someone who can go to San Francisco and meet with our clients, do a training session,” he said.  “Why don’t you book the trip, take a few extra days, maybe bring your wife?”

So I busted my ass for four months and got a $4,000 raise and a few days in San Francisco.  Sandy couldn’t go, so I went alone.

~ by Al on May 7, 2009.

3 Responses to “and it never ends.”

  1. That was a mean trick – though if you really got such a huge “bump”, it would have been amazing.

    I don’t remember if we ever knew about the lost masters – I guess maybe Doug did, and maybe he told me but I don’t recall it. Or maybe you were just shielding us and the middleman company eventually recovered the original master. Guess I’ll have to keep reading.

  2. Your CD was a nightmare. 🙂

  3. I feel like a little kid who asks his parents, “What was it like when I got borned?!” and they say, “Well, your mother got torn up, we had to yank you out with the forceps and you almost didn’t make it!”

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