punkstuff.

And that was all there was to it.  Rich and I got to talking about the idea, and we decided that it was time to revive the record label.

A record label, at least.  It couldn’t be Dromedary Records.  Dromedary had been gone for three years and I didn’t want to revive it.  Dromedary was a traditional record label, with vinyl and plastic and radio promo, and the new label wasn’t going to do anything like that.

There were going to be a couple of key differences between this new thing and Dromedary.

First, our new thing was going to be all internet.  We were structuring it in such a way that it was going to be completely different from any other record label.  It was going to be internet-only, and the music was going to be free.  “The music wants to be free,” we’d say.

Second, was that this was going to be more than just me.  I had already proven that there was no way I could run a label by myself.  Dromedary was great when Sandy and Rich were heavily involved, and when we got copious input from our bands.  When it was just me, bouncing ideas off people and then trying to execute those ideas on my own, it wasn’t anywhere near as strong.

The first thing I did was get buy-in from Rich.  Rich was going to create all the graphic elements of the company.  Ads, logos, everything.  He was going to do all the cosmetic web programming.  By this time, Rich’s career as a graphic designer had completely taken off.  He’d done lots of work for big companies, designed the website for a major print magazine, and even had one of his designs plastered on a billboard in Times Square.  He had completely blown away anything I had thought about his capabilities, and was now a pro; he’d worked for two different ad agencies and done a significant amount of freelance work.  His career had completely taken off, and he’d met a ton of great people, many of whom he’d introduced to me.  If he was into the idea, I was more than willing to share the burden that this new venture was going to create, in terms of workload.

Rich was more than willing to be a part of it.

We had a conversation about my new dayjob, where he flat-out asked me what my goals for it were.

“Well, when I first took the job,” I admitted, “I was just trying to get out of the old place.  I had gotten to the point where I would have taken virtually anything.  But now, I can see some value in it – I’m much closer to the end user.  At the last two jobs, I was doing marketing, but it was retail marketing.  I was trying to get my products into stores, and then I was helping those stores create programs to sell the products through to the end user.  Now, I’m much closer to the end user.  I’m creating programs designed to sell directly to them.  And with this venture, I’m going to use that skill to create marketing programs to reach people who want this music.”

Rich sounded relieved.  “Wow,” he said.  “It’s good to hear.  In all of your last jobs I could see how they related to what you wanted to do, even if they had nothing to do with music.  When you took this job, I couldn’t see it.  Now, I can.”

The next person I reached out to was Ralph from Footstone.  Ralph knew everybody in the local music scene, and would be the perfect guy to build relationships with local bands that were worth getting involved in the project.  Part of what was going to make this unique was that the label’s goal was going to be “stickiness” – keeping people on the website for as long as possible, so that they’d see as many ads as possible.  I couldn’t progress like Dromedary did, with two or three releases a year.  It needed to start with 25 or 30 bands, a hundred songs or more, and it needed to grow exponentially beyond that.

When I brought it up to Ralph, he was enthusiastic about it.

I also reached out to an ad agency that I worked with, that had also started a business incubator.  They had access to venture capital, and were taking equity positions in technology companies in exchange for bearing some of the costs of doing business – not only hard costs like office space and administrative services, but also the cost of personnel.  With a full-blown ad agency behind us, we had access to a multitude of designers to execute Rich’s creative visions, and an entire PR department to help us get the word out.  They knew virtually nothing about music or the music industry, but that wasn’t important – what we needed was a bunch of worker bees who could execute.

Things crystallized pretty quickly.  Rich would be in charge of the company’s brand identity, and would use the agency to develop the look and feel of the company, as well as to create the programs that were necessary to build the MP3 files and create systems that would serve up the ads while music was downloading.  The agency would work on building some sort of file format that would make copy protection possible – I didn’t want to make it completely copy proof, but I wanted to make it much easier to just go and grab the songs off our website for free.

On the music end, Ralph and I would be responsible for finding bands.  Ideally, we’d start with bands that already had music recorded.

What was going to be difficult was persuading bands that this new business model was going to be worth their time.  In my experience, bands liked CDs.  They liked recording, then producing a finished product that you could hold in your hand, consign to a record store, and sell off the stage.  Most bands didn’t even want to discuss things like creative packaging for their CDs – talk to them about digipaks, and they’d tell you they wanted a traditional plastic jewel box with a traditional, full-color booklet and tray card.  Now, we weren’t only talking about having no tangible product, but we were talking about giving it away for free.

I decided that the best way to handle it would be for me to draft a very persuasive letter, explaining why we were doing this, what it was all about, and what we were looking for.

I wish I still had the letter, because it was pretty good.

I forwarded the letter to Jim Testa of Jersey Beat and, as usual, Jim was a tremendous help.  He posted it on the Jersey Beat website for all to see.  And within a day or so, I started getting emails from bands all over the world, expressing an interest in participating.

We struggled to come up with a name.  Initially, Rich and I were calling it punkstuff.  We had both decided that we wanted to move away from twee pop, which by 1999 annoyed the hell out of both of us, into more traditional punk and heavy indie rock.

But Jim immediately said that punkstuff was a stupid name, and as he explained to me why he felt that way, I found it difficult to disagree with him.  So Rich and I started coming up with names, and checking Register.com to see if the domain was available.  At that stage, that was what was most important – that the domain was available.

We came up with a laundry list of names, and I ultimately bought the domain Razortone.com.

Razortone.  You know, cutting edge music.

I had read an article somewhere that stated that by 2010, company names ending in “dot com” were going to be dated – as dated as company names ending in “o-rama” or “o-mat.”  The article said that companies like Amazon.com would eventually be forced to change their names because dot com would date them to the end of the 20th Century.  I agreed with the article, and decided that I wanted a dated-sounding name, almost as a way of poking fun of the “dot com” businesses that were taking off all over the place.  So “tone” became a necessity.  It had to be “something-tone.”

Razortone fit the bill.

And nobody else liked it.  At all.

But it didn’t matter; at least I had a name that I could say was a working title.  And as I started reaching out directly to bands, using my persuasive letter as a lead in, I was able to at least give them a tentative name.

Many of the bands I was contacting had never heard of Dromedary Records.  That was discouraging.  It had only been three years, but I’d lost complete touch with what was going on, musically.  I was still writing the Quiet Corner column for Jersey Beat, but that was a completely different kind of music than we were talking about for Razortone, or Punkstuff, or whatever it was going to be called.

The best local indie bands had completely changed.  Jenifer Convertible and Gapeseed had broken up.  American Standard had released a new CD on Bill’s Maggadee label, but the band rarely played and it seemed like a matter of time before they “officially” called it quits.  In their place were bands like bobfields and Boss Jim Gettys, Aviso’Hara and the Milwaukees, heavy rock like High Speed Chase and Slushpuppy, and quirky, avant pop like The Swimmies.

At first, we had some trouble getting people interested.  But then Ralph came through with a major coup: his high school friend Ted Leo told him that he had an entire CD recorded that hadn’t come out anywhere, and he was willing to contribute those tracks from his new band, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, to the new label.

On top of that, Ralph agreed to release the new Footstone music through the label.  So we had one well-known national indie band, and one very popular local one.

And pretty soon, we had a growing list of bands who were interested in participating.  Even American Standard said they would contribute a few tracks.

Within a month or two, I had a list of thirty or forty bands that were ready to jump on board with the project.  It was just a matter of building out the infrastructure and creating a launch plan.

~ by Al on December 3, 2009.

2 Responses to “punkstuff.”

  1. Jeez, Razortone is a great name. And .com will be the best top-level domain from now until our deaths. I just bought three domains yesterday (there’s a 3 for $39 sale at Network Solutions going on right now) – all .com No one I know who went with .tv, .info, .biz is especially happy with their decision.

    You had vision, 1999 Al. I’m so excited for what happened with this project!

  2. 1999 Al was staggeringly smart, indeed. 2009 Al, not so much.

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