schoolhouse.

The Schoolhouse Pop concept was going to be, I was convinced, massive.  Everyone I talked to about it thought the idea was brilliant.  Every band we asked to get involved wanted to be on it.

When I sent a note to the Posies asking them if they’d be interested in participating, and received a very polite and apologetic-sounding postcard from Ken Stringfellow, I started feeling like this was a serious record.  The Posies had no reason to get in touch with us, they could have ignored the letter I sent and I wouldn’t have thought twice about it.  But it also felt like we were beginning to get some notoriety in pop circles – when we increased our ad budget we did it mostly in pop zines like Yellow Pills and Popwatch, and I had begun receiving lots of inquiries from customers, bands, other labels, and even distributors.  So when I got that postcard, it sort of reinforced this idea that somehow, we were developing a name for ourselves.

One night, Sandy and I were sitting around, talking about it, and we began discussing the possibility of making it a double CD.  It was going to be chock full of popular indie bands, and at that point we had even begun receiving letters from people asking about it.  And we were months away from even asking bands to send us their tracks.

“You know, you really should square away all the details with the licensing,” Sandy said.  “If we want to put this record out in the winter, you really should give the bands as much time as possible to record.”

She was right.  Plus, the Mommyheads had a week off at the very beginning of November, and they were going into the studio to record the “Figure 8” song.

First, though, I wanted to make sure I had all my ducks in a row from the standpoint of actually selling it.  For the first time at my new job (besides the time I took the 7″ adapters), I thought it would be worthwhile to get some Dromedary advice from the retail specialists there, so I sat down with Glenn the packaging guy.  I wanted to create a corrugated box that was big enough to house 20 CDs that would double as a retail display.  The idea was to print the box in full color, inside-out, so that when I filled it with 20 CDs and packed it up, it would appear to be a normal, brown cardboard box.  But when a retailer opened it up, the could simply fold out the printed insides, and it would make a nice display that they could put right on the countertop, near the checkout.  

Glenn came back to me with an awesome design.  

I also decided that I was going to ask Rich to design the artwork for this one.  He was working on his portfolio and wanted to become a graphic designer, and had begun taking on some freelance work.  A lot of the things in his portfolio, though, were phony designs for made-up products, and since I wanted to stay true to the idea that Dromedary was supposed to help us all move our careers forward, I figured a high-profile indie label package design would be a great thing for his portfolio.

“How much are you paying?” he asked.

I laughed at him.  “Nothing.”

“Deal,” he said.  I could tell he was thrilled.  I told him I needed the CD packaging, and then I would need him to do a poster, the artwork for the display boxes, and a print ad for the record.

A few days after that, we had plans to get together with Rich and Lissette for dinner.  When we lived in Lodi, Rich would usually just drop by a few days each week.  Now that we were living much further away, and I was no longer driving him to work every day, we actually had to make plans to get together.  When they came over, Rich had his hands behind his back.  “I’ve got a present,” he said.

“What?”

He produced VHS tapes of the Schoolhouse Rock segments.  A couple of dozen songs – music, lyrics, and animation.  I don’t know where he found them, but I could have kissed him.

We spent the night sitting around the living room, drinking beer and listening to Schoolhouse Rock songs, trying to figure out which bands we would assign to which songs.  In a few cases, we’d hear a song and say “Pavement would do that one great.” or “Can you imagine J. Mascis singing this?”  We started making a wish list of bands to play songs we hadn’t already assigned.

Sandy got the task of finding a charity.  She started poking around, trying to find an charitable organization that benefited teachers at inner city schools.

And my job was to contact ABC’s legal department to get the necessary permissions to release the songs.

In the case of the nurture CD, we had a cover song on the CD but weren’t sure how to handle the issue of obtaining the rights to release it.  So instead of listing it on the CD, we just hid the track at the end.  It was a great version of a shitty song called “Second Violin,” which was sort of a lite-rock Irish folky song that cuppa joe garaged up and made loud.  I didn’t want to leave it off the record, partially because the song was so well-done and partially because the band had gotten to the point where they were playing lots of shows at an Irish bar in Trenton, and I did want to give a nod to those people who went out and saw their shows.

But ultimately I cheated and hid the song.  No permissions necessary.

But in the case of Schoolhouse Pop, I felt the need to do it properly.  I wanted ABC to send me a letter, or I wanted to do a contract.  I was hoping that, because it was a charitable cause, they would somehow reduce the payments I was going to have to make.  Or something.  I had no idea how any of that worked, and I still don’t.

We had been planning this idea for months – literally since we lived in the Lodi apartment – and it was, at this point, enough of a reality that it was time to pull the trigger and get official about it.

So I called ABC, and asked to speak with their Legal Department.  And after a few rounds of explaining who I was and what I was looking for, I was finally directed to a nice man who was, apparently, the guy responsible for licensing ABC properties.  Or something.

“Hello?” he said, as most people do when they answer the phone.

“Hello,” I responded.  “My name is Al, I’m from Dromedary Records in New Jersey.  We’re a small indie rock and pop record company based in New Jersey, and we recently had an idea.  See, one of our band members is a teacher, and he told us about the problems that inner-city teachers are faced with.  We got to talking about it, and we had the idea to get a bunch of bands together and record cover versions of the Schoolhouse Rock songs that you own, put them all on a compilation CD, and donate the profits to a charity that benefits inner-city teachers.”

“What a great idea,” he said.  I was emboldened.

“We think so,” I said.  “I think those songs are mostly forgotten, but there’s such a sense of nostalgia among people in their 20s and 30s, I actually think we could raise quite a bit of money – and the fact that it would be coming out on an indie label that’s run by people who grew up in the generation that Schoolhouse Rock was aimed at, well, that’s just an added bonus.

“We’re planning on calling it Schoolhouse Pop,” I continued.  “Our record label releases music that’s considered ‘indie pop’ – kind of sugary bubblegum music that’s a little noisy…”

“Is it ‘alternative music?'” he asked.

“I guess,” I stated.  How do you explain indie rock to a stuffy, corporate lawyer in the television business?  “It’s a little more subculture than what they call ‘alternative’ today.  But we’ve got a lot of the most popular and up-and-coming bands in the genre who are committed to this project.  Everyone is really enthusiastic about it.”

He was quiet for a few seconds.  Then he said “I wish you would have called me two weeks ago.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because yesterday I finished the contract that gave Atlantic Records the rights to release cover versions of all the Schoolhouse Rock songs.  They’re planning on doing the same thing you are, only without the charity part.”

I was stunned.  “What does that mean?” I asked.

“That means I can’t let you have the rights to release the songs,” he said.  “If you had called me before I finished the contract, I probably could have written something into the other deal that gave us the rights to license it to you.  I like your idea better, it’s more in the spirit of what the segments were designed to do.  They’re educational.  Your project would have benefited the educational field.  But the contract is signed.  Yesterday.”

“So we can’t do the record?” I asked, incredulously.

“I’m sorry.  You can’t.”

And just like that, Schoolhouse Pop was dead.

I was devastated.

~ by Al on June 26, 2009.

One Response to “schoolhouse.”

  1. Ugh. I had no idea it was this close… painful story, Al.

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