sour grapes and velvet ropes.

Not that I’m bitching, I’m not.

Once, years ago, I asked a distributor what it would take to get them to focus a little more closely on our records.  At the time, I thought we were doing a pretty good job of getting the word out, getting people interested in our music and participating in the indie music community to the best of our ability.  I took cues from labels around me that were slightly larger than we were, learning from them – and going out of my way to be nice to everyone.  I got that from Simple Machines.  They were always nice, friendly beyond belief to anyone that reached out to them.  Once, I sent them a cuppa joe 7″, just because, and I got a really nice postcard back from Kristen.  A few years later I was carrying some items of theirs in my mailorder catalog, and they were carrying one of mine.  I would never have been presumptuous and called them “friends,” but they were certainly nice, and most definitely helpful.

Anyway, this distributor said “Release something by Superchunk.”

I never ran a record label so that I could convince hip, big(ger)-selling indie bands to put out a record with me.  I ran it so that I could turn people on to music I liked, that nobody knew.  Superchunk already had a record label.  It was Footstone, Cuppa Joe, Toast and The Mommyheads that needed a record label in 1994.  That’s who I was representing, trying to open people’s eyes about.

At the various points in my life where putting out records has been an activity of mine, it’s always been out of a “check out this band I love” way, as opposed to an “I can make a bunch of money if that band will let me put out their record” way.

In 1994, though, I learned that there was this indie community, and then there was this other indie community, one I was definitely not a part of.  Despite the fact that very few people in the indie community had any level of celebrity, despite the fact that everybody had a passion for independent music, there was still a velvet rope.

Two velvet ropes, actually.  The one that separated the indie community from the mainstream, and then the one that separated the better-known indie community from the really little guys.  And it always boggled my mind that there actually was a distinction.  When Steve Albini told me in an email that he considered it to be an artistic achievement to make a great record and sell 100 copies of it, that always resonated with me.  But I discovered that there were others – people I genuinely admired – that didn’t feel that way, it stung a bit.  100 copies sold meant that I was insignificant, and not worth the time it took to have a conversation.  Somewhere, there was a better conversation to be had, and it did not involve me.

As Dromedary got more experience, occasionally people or bands would reach out and just ask questions, ask for help, ask an opinion.  I always felt obligated  to give that person my attention.  It was flattering to me that they thought enough of what I was doing to ask.  And there were other people who did the same with me.  But then there were plenty of others that would just ignore me, or brush me off as if I were completely irrelevant (which, to them, perhaps I was).  That always stung.

You’d think that 15 years later, what with all this new technology, things would be a little different.  Indie labels much larger than Dromedary are releasing titles, dumping all sorts of money and effort into them, and having them sell 150 copies.  Email and text messaging make it entirely possible to read and respond to a question in seconds.  Facebook and Twitter and MySpace make it possible to have “friendships” with people without actually having to get close to them – hell, that’s the whole point of social media in a lot of cases.  I say “Holy shit, the new Mogwai record is great.”  You hit “Like,” and it’s as if we just had a brief conversation.  You say “I just had a baby,” I type “Congratulations!” and it’s like I just gave you a hug and a couple of ugly outfits for the baby.

To blow someone off in 2011 is more difficult than it actually is to provide a quick, friendly response.

Example: when I was re-starting Dromedary, there’s a person who could have helped me accomplish something fairly easy.  It’s their career to do what I needed done, and I was happy to pay for the service.  This person provides similar services for a few well-known indie artists.  I emailed, and got no response.  A couple of weeks later I emailed again – no response.  A third time, no response.  So I went elsewhere.

A few months later that person had a question that I could answer, so he called me on the phone and asked me.  Of course I took the call, answered the question, and I haven’t heard from the person since.

Another example: Early on, I reached out to a PR firm about a record we were releasing.  I thought, based on that company’s client roster, that there was a good fit – and there was plenty of time.  So I sent an email.  No response.  Second email: no response.  I followed up with a phone call, and accidentally got the person on the phone.  The person told me he’d listened to the band, really liked them, and that he’d prepare a proposal for me in the next day or so.  That was in early May of 2010, and despite asking a few times, I’ve yet to see the proposal.

I can understand the occasional blowoff; it happens.  You get an email, put it aside because it requires a little extra thought or effort to respond, and then a month later you say “Aww, FUCK, I forgot to respond to that guy!”  You feel like an idiot because you forgot.  It’s embarrassing, even.

But in indie rock, I find that it happens frequently.  It weirds me out.  I’m not asking you to move in with me, I’m asking you a simple question that will take ten seconds of your time.  Who presses your vinyl?  What do you think of this company’s service?  Have you ever had an issue with XYZ company?

Or, as in one case with a person that I had extensive email discussions with back in the 90s, when his band was looking for a label to release a 7″.  Said band sucked pretty hard, but I was happy to participate in a months-long email dialogue, referring him to a couple of email lists to which I belonged, offering him my contact lists for help with manufacturing and distributing his own record.   Last year I bumped into him on Facebook and said “Wow, I haven’t thought of him in ages.”  I sent him a friend request with a personal note saying how great it was to see him, and asking how he was doing.

He responded by saying, simply, “I have no idea who you are.”  Obviously he didn’t accept the friend request, either.

It was embarrassing, in a put-me-in-my-place sort of way, I guess.  Especially because it turns out he’s doing pretty well for himself on the management side of indie-land.

Does this sound like sour grapes?  Probably.  But when we re-launched the label I said I’d always maintain this blog here, and it would always be a more personal thing than the “news” section of the website – sort of a place where I got into the more personal elements of this.  And I’ve been totally lax about posting here over the last 15 months or so, and that’s one of the things that’s missing from Dromedary – the personal side.

So there, it’s out there.  It’s more difficult to exclude someone than it is to be friendly.   So much more difficult, in fact, that if you’re excluding someone, that person generally knows it, and really resents you for it.

If you don’t know this, its because you’re currently not being excluded from anything.  Someday, you will be, and it will suck.

~ by Al on April 19, 2011.

3 Responses to “sour grapes and velvet ropes.”

  1. being ignored, blown off, or forgotten by lame-ass fuckwits is nothing to be embarrassed by. the world is full of jerks. some of them manage to be successful despite themselves, but they are still jerks.

  2. Al, its a tall order to expect people to be one tenth as friendly as you are. You are one of the good guys in life.

  3. I almost wrote a Facebook note last month called “2011: The Year of the Blowoff” – I wrote some rough notes but never followed through with it, because I figured that my Facebook friends would think it was about them, which was true for a few people.

    I agree with all your thoughts – it stings much more now than it used to, because of the convenience factor. Ignoring someone’s message in 2011 is equivalent to a slap across the face in 1993.

    I’ve been blown off a bunch of times for hobbies (music being the main one), personally and professionally, especially in the first few months of this year – all in situations like you describe, where (if I’m asking for information) the answer doesn’t take much effort to state. I always make a point thank people if they help me out, too – I almost never hear any acknowledgment back. Makes no sense. I’ve even been ignored when someone who barely knows me asks for help or information, and I respond. It’s frustrating not to hear a word back.

    I try to not let the blowoffs affect my future behavior, but it’s tough as it grows more common. I’ve been tempted to call people on this, but it seems pointless. Ah well – at least it helps you appreciate the more courteous people all the more.

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