distro.

With all these promising possibilities, and all these bands lined up for 1996, I was sure that the distribution deal I was so strongly chasing would arrive.  Looking around me at other indies, I was seeing lots of exclusive deals happening, and thought for sure that ours was just around the corner.  We had great bands, a decent reputation, a growing list of friends in indie rock, and outstanding press coverage.

With that in mind, I began putting together a new package, geared solely toward distributors, which laid out all the details of who we were, what we were all about, and why we would be a good choice for a pressing and distribution arrangement.

The kit contained a new fact sheet and bio on Dromedary, with a list of our previous releases and another list of our planned releases for 1996.  It contained individual press sheets on each of our records and a sheet containing a list of all the zines in which we advertised.  It was accompanied by a sampler tape containing music from Footstone, cuppa joe, Blenderette, Gapeseed, and The Mommyheads.

The bio read like this:

Dromedary Records

Fact Sheet – Winter, 1995

People have asked me to compile a sort of fact sheet, so I could keep everyone aware of whatever it is we’re all about, what we’ve done, and what we’ve got planned.  I’ve been pretty persistent about putting this off; now things have gotten to the point where I’ve got to do it, because our bands have helped us to get recognized enough that too many people are asking.

So at the risk of being unprofessional, my name is Al, and I run Dromedary with my wife Sandy.  I handle the fun parts of running a label; Sandy balances the checkbooks and keeps the bills paid and lets me know why I can’t advertise in Rolling Stone.  Rich Grasso is our Art Director – he does the films for all our beautiful record covers.  We’ve also got a revolving door through which a few interns come and go each year.

Sandy and I went to college together.  I was the Programming Director of the radio station, Sandy was a writer.  We were a natural match, so we got married and moved to lovely Lodi, New Jersey (home of meaty goth-rocker Glenn Danzig).  We just had a baby boy named Ryan.  We named him after Nolan Ryan.  I expect he’ll be calling radio stations for us by Spring.

Having settled in to our first joint apartment, we decided to do what most newlywed couples do: start a record label.  We struggled for a while, trying to think of a name.  Sandy came out of the shower one morning and said “dromedary.”  Ok.

After finding our name, we decided to take things a step further and actually put out a record.  A compilation seemed like the smartest idea, so we scoured the fertile clubs of New Jersey and finally cajoled ten bands into contributing tracks to what would become Nothing Smells Quite Like Elizabeth.

Although it remains the single worst record I have ever heard, it had enough shining moments to convince people that we at least had decent intentions.  Three bands even decided to work with us again.

That first record came out three years ago.  Since then, we’ve learned a lot.  We’ve been lucky enough to put out seven more records that we’re really proud of.  We try to document great songs, rather than follow the trends in independent music.  From the clean, almost Beatlesque pop of the Mommyheads to the homemade, hand-crafted songs of cuppa joe.  From the pounding, rocket-fueled punk/pop of Footstone to the crunchy noise lullabyes of Melting Hopefuls.  I think we’ve done a good job.

I guess what’s coolest about us is that we try really hard to make our bands feel at home on our label.  We try and separate ourselves from most other labels by being long on music, short on music business.  We’re not interested in careers.  We already have careers.  We put out records and treat our bands well.  If I were in a band, I’d want to be on Dromedary.

During the past three years, we’ve convinced enough people that we’re doing something important that our press clippings include names like Spin, Option, Insight, Flipside, Magnet, Jersey Beat, Oculus, Alternative Press, even New York Magazine. And our records have been distributed by the likes of Dutch East India, Cargo (U.S. and Canada), Revolver, Get Hip, Surefire, TCI, and Simple Machines, along with a host of mailorder companies.  And in 1996, we’ve got plans for at least five new CDs, and a seven-inch singles club that includes thirteen records and a followup compilation CD.

Ornette Coleman said “If you’re going to do something nobody expects, do it loud, and everyone will think it was all planned out.  This way, it doesn’t sound like a mistake.”  What he said, in a way, pertains to Dromedary.  We’re not following conventional “music business” structure – we’re doing what we want to do.  Maybe it isn’t what everyone expects, but we do it anyway.  As loudly as we can.  And that’s what makes independent music, and our record label, so great.

First of all, aren’t you pissed?  I mean, if you’ve been following this blog from the start, you’ve read more than 270 entries at this point, all of which were pretty much summed up in the above nine paragraphs.  You sure wasted a lot of time.  You could have just started here and you’d be pretty much up to speed.

Second of all, it was a pretty solid statement on what we were all about.

The outside of the fact sheet contained our discography on one side, listing out each of our releases, specifics about the artwork, and specifics about how many copies were pressed.  I did take a few creative liberties here, telling some white lies about when our last two records came out – I wrote that Flying Suit came out in December of 1994 when it actually came out in November, and then I wrote that Lippy came out in September of 1995, when it actually came out in April.  I didn’t want it to seem like we’d had a six-month empty space with no releases.  I wanted distributors to think that we had a consistent flow of new stuff coming out.

Also on the flip, I listed out our planned releases, as well as information about our current distribution.  It read like this:

CURRENT ACTIVITY/PLANNED RELEASES

  • Dots Will Echo (New Jersey) – former High Street recording artist; they write tremendously catchy pop songs and we’ve loved them since college.  CD planned for winter, ’96.
  • Blenderette (New Jersey) – Big Star-esque sing-song pop.  7″ planned for Spring, ’96, full length debut CD planned for Spring, ’96.
  • Moviola (Ohio) – Beautiful lazy rock songs.  Some type of record coming soon.
  • Gapeseed (NYC) – Detuned, high-octane math rock.  Some type of record coming soon also.
  • Footstone (New Jersey) – More rocket-fueled pop/punk.  CD planned for Spring, ’96.
  • My Gradfather’s Orchestra (New Jersey) – Real lounge music for the cocktail revolution!  Recorded in a New Jersey basement in the mid-1970s by four tuxedo-clad lounge cats.

DISTRIBUTION AFFILIATION

Dromedary is currently affiliated with a bunch of independent distributors including Dutch East, Surefire, Cargo (U.S. and Canada), Get Hip, Revolver, Simple Machines, TCI, Sonic Swirl, Parasol, Forefront, SoundWire, and Turn-On.

Obviously, the bit about Dots Will Echo above was a lie.  And I don’t know why I wrote it; we knew at that point that we wouldn’t be releasing their CD, but I think for some reason, I must have thought there would be some value in having that band listed among our plans for ’96.

There was also an enclosure that listed the zines in which we advertised: Flipside, Jersey Beat, Speed Kills, Popwatch, My Brightest Summer, Glut, Indier Than Thou!, Shoelace, Insight, Oculus, Powerbunny 4×4, Science Geek, MaximumRockNRoll, and The Aquarian Weekly.

In hindsight, I’ve sorta been telling this story in tiny bits, 270+ entries’ worth of stories and bullshit, slowly explaining what was, up until this point, the slow rise of a micro-indie label.

When looking at this little kit, though, even today, it seems kinda impressive to me.  Laying out the zines in which we regularly advertised (even if I felt the need to include the defunct Indier Than Thou! in the list), along with distributors like Cargo, Revolver, Parasol, Simple Machines, and Get Hip, was pretty cool.  Adding in some of the publications where we’d received press – Spin, New York Magazine, Alternative Press, Magnet, Option, and capping it off with the bands we’d planned to work with, well, it seemed like a lot of name-dropping all in one place.  But it also seemed like we’d actually accomplished something relatively meaningful.

A single folder that essentially laid out all the important bits of Dromedary, all in one package that could be read and digested in ten minutes but still told enough of the story as to make clear what we were all about, where we’d been, and where we were going.

I got some suggestions from Matthew Kaplan (the lawyer we were talking with about eventually representing us), and some more from Rich Masio and a few other friends as to where to send the package.  I also reached out to some people that I knew very peripherally but respected a great deal – Kristin Thomson, Gerard Cosloy, Steve Albini, and a few other people that were five or ten notches above me on the indie ladder.

They were all very helpful, and gave me lots of great advice on people to send packages to, things to do, and things to consider.

Albini suggested that I was out of my mind for trying to get into bed with a distributor.  He thought I should distribute my own records.  He made a comment that was very astute.  To paraphrase, he said “Who the fuck is the arbiter of ‘success’ in this business?  If you can put out a record, entirely on your own terms, and it sells a hundred copies, that’s a pretty amazing accomplishment.  So, why would you want to get into bed with someone else who wants to dictate terms to you, when you can put out the occasional record and do it the way you want to?”

Steve Albini is one smart motherfucker, and if I had listened to him, I’d still be putting out records.

But I was single-minded in my vision for creating an environment where I could release a steady stream of records and focus solely on marketing, while someone else worried about the nuts and bolts of making my records and getting them into stores.  I was sure that at this point, someone out there would buy into my strategic vision.

Again, in hindsight, there was no strategic vision.

~ by Al on September 28, 2009.

One Response to “distro.”

  1. […] able to find a plant that would do 500.  Even in the early 1990s, when no less an authority than Steve Albini suggested that selling just 100 records, done on my own terms with complete artistic integrity, […]

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