Hello friends of A Different Drum! It’s time to touch bases with you once again. Though I don’t have any new releases to talk about this time, I do have a few other small news items, and then the next installment of A Different Drum’s history.
–> First of all, if you’re waiting for the Anything Box re-issue CD’s to be shipped, I just want you to know that I have not yet received them. Transit time from the label in Argentina is a bit unpredictable, but I’ve been assured that they are on the way. So, we’ll just wait patiently for them to arrive.
–> Next, if you’re a member of A Different Drum’s VIP club, then you should have received (or will very soon receive) the latest package which included the Isaac Junkie CD and the new Syrian CD. If you’re not a VIP member, and you’d like to join so that you can automatically receive limited edition CD’s each month, then simply send me an email and I’ll help you sign up. There are currently a few open spots. Only 300 copies are manufactured for each release, just for the CD collectors and synthpop fans. I do send a couple copies of each release to Amazon.com so that they are listed in the online catalog, so if you’re fast, you can sometimes snag one of their copies to add to your collection, but typically, those releases become rarities very quickly. Also, as a little hint… Syrian made a few of their band copies available on CDBaby.com if you want to grab their new album before it is sold out.
–> If you’d like to bid on a small collection of import and collectible CD’s, including some rarities and promos, I’ve just put a small lot on EBay which may interest you. It’s a rather odd assortment of synthpop and electronic items I had in my office, and I thought I’d give the collectors a shot at them. Here is a direct link :
A DIFFERENT DRUM HISTORY - PART 5 - MAKING A RECORD LABEL
I’ve mentioned in a previous installment that the first official CD carrying A Different Drum’s logo and name was called “Rise! America’s Synthpop Underground”. It was put together and released while I was still in my little store on Center Street in Provo, Utah. My brother Nathan, who is a graphic designer living in San Francisco, made the cover art. I still have one of those CD’s mounted in a frame on my office wall, thanks to my thoughtful wife who knew that one day it would be a treasure to me. (See CD cover here : http://www.amazon.com/Rise-Americans-Synthpop-Underground/dp/B002W7PNTC) When I released that CD, I didn’t really go into it with a plan to start a label. I thought of it more as a marketing tool for the CD’s that I offered in my store and through mail-order. But the reception was so positive, and the bands so seemingly happy with the resulting attention, that I decided to go ahead and make another one. This time I focused on remixes, since I had been a long-time fan of remixes and extended versions. Many of the bands in the underground scene didn’t have opportunities to put out remix singles because they were on a small budget, so I thought that such a collection could be a nice opportunity to get some remixes into the hands of the fans.
Rather than focusing entirely on the American synthpop scene, I broadened my scope to include tracks from some bands from outside of my own country. I called my connections and included remixed tracks from De/Vision (Germany), Kiethevez (Sweden), and Tinmen (Canada). The cover art for this one was perhaps a bit less interesting, using a computer filter effect to make a swirly design (something that would quickly feel dated as computer graphics improved), but the music was top notch. (See CD cover here : http://www.amazon.com/Mix-Rinse-Spin-Various-Artists/dp/B001UWNF90) Again, the finished product was received with great excitement, and by that point, I was already contacting a few bands to discuss individual releases because I felt like my dream to run a label was suddenly within reach.
When I talked to the first few artists, they were of course very excited. Working with a label meant that they could focus more on making their music, and less on trying to manufacture and market it. Somebody else would help to cover the costs and somebody else would push it to a growing fan base. From the beginning, I opted to run my label differently than others– there was a general feeling among much of the synthpop scene that major labels were evil, and then there were smaller labels, which sometimes tried too hard to act like majors, which was ridiculous in a such a small scene. I decided that I would write a very simple contract that would be no longer than one or two pages. I would keep it in plain English with as little “legalese” as possible. I would give the band as much freedom as possible by making each contract for only one album, and never claiming ownership of the source material. I would simple have the right to release it and sell it until I no longer felt there was a demand, at which point the band could go ahead and do whatever they wanted with the album. They could use each song however they wanted as well, offering themselves to compilations or collaborations if they felt it was useful in their efforts. If things worked out, we’d do another contract if they still felt my services were useful, or they could go on their merry way.
The only part of my contract which somebody might have felt was restrictive was that I boldly stated that I would not include any profanity, hateful lyrical content, or explicit content on my label releases. I was pleasantly surprised to find that most bands I worked with never gave a second thought to that particular restriction, since they didn’t write songs of that nature anyway. If any band complained about the profanity clause upon seeing the contract, we’d simply part ways, since I was obviously not the label for them. Only once did that particular part of my contract become part of a public debate on an internet forum, where words like “censorship” were thrown around. I found it absurd to suggest that A Different Drum was involved in censorship since I was not a government entity and I was not gagging anybody from saying or doing what they wanted in their music. I was simply a businessman offering a product, and as the owner, I could decide what kind of product I wanted to sell. If I chose to sell synthpop, then that was the kind of music I would sign, and that was what I would release. Nobody could force me to release heavy metal CD’s, or rap CD’s, or country CD’s. Likewise, if I wanted to release product that did not require a parental advisory warning, then I would only make contracts that fit that standard. Of course, other labels could release whatever they wanted. Bands who wanted to include that kind of content could freely take other routes with other labels. I only chose what I wanted to release on my own label. In no way was that censorship, but merely a personal and business choice. As a family man, I chose to release music that I felt my children (no matter what their age) could also listen to and enjoy, without concerns of hateful or obscene lyrical content. Maybe I was a prude, but I didn’t really care.
The first bands to join A Different Drum’s roster were gleaned mostly from my early compilations and were bands that had mostly released their own CD’s before working with me. I felt that those bands had already showed that they were serious and motivated. There was Faith Assembly, Brave New World, Cosmicity, and Paradigm, all from the USA. Others shortly followed and after the first few releases, the bands on the label from outside the USA quickly outnumbered the Americans. Paradigm was the only band that was considered “local” since I met the two members, Adam and Mike, within my store. They had released a cassette under the band name “X Effect” before changing their name to Paradigm. When I heard about their first band name, I remembered that I had played a show on the BYU campus one afternoon when they were also playing. I had been in a band called “That’s What She Said” and “X Effect” was across the quad from us. Adam and Mike were easy to work with and had some simple, catchy tunes. Though they didn’t catch on as quickly as other bands on the label and never managed to make a follow-up release, I was proud of their contribution to the early days of A Different Drum. You can see their album here : http://www.amazon.com/Lifeline-Paradigm/dp/B00000HYWN
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again– I was a huge fan of 12-inch singles and remixes, dating back to my youth. Thus, it was natural that I wanted to include CD maxi-singles among my releases. I wanted the bands to have actual singles with various versions and to feel like they were able to do the same things the well known bands from the early synthpop days had done. Why not create a large pool of albums and singles? This particular determination eventually got the best of me in terms of business success. Singles lost money pretty much every time I released them, but I was so darn stubborn that I stayed with them for many years, dropping a lot of money on remixes and additional manufacturing. A few fans enjoyed the singles, but they often ended up being the boxes I stored for the longest period, until I eventually would hand them out as promotional tools and freebies at clubs and special events. I wanted them to go out of print quickly, becoming the collectors items that I felt should be their destiny, but usually they didn’t and usually I took a loss. Take the “Winter Song” single by Brave New World as an example. I wanted that super-catchy song to have some great remixes, and it was suggested that I should pay a “big name” producer to make the perfect remix. That resulted in me paying $1,500 to the man behind the electronic band Psykosonik for a remix that ended up being my least favorite, though I suppose I should have expected the result. It was a well-produced slice of electronic music that had pretty much nothing to do with the original song, which was a trend in major label remixes during the 90’s. I’d always hated when singles by my old heroes (like Depeche Mode or Erasure) came out with remixes that had completely new instrumentation and only vague references to vocal snippets from the original song. I missed the old, extended versions. New music was even fine, as long as the song was still intact. So, I told myself I’d never do that again, and from that point on, I think the most I paid for remixes was about $500, and almost always to somebody I already knew and worked with.
When running a label and putting all the pieces together for each release, and doing it on a small scale without any real staff, mistakes were bound to pop up, and during those early years, there were some really fun ones. The mistakes usually showed up on the artwork where a typo slipped past our notice. One of the most memorable “oops” moments was again on a CD single. For those of you who know Mark of Faith Assembly very well, you’ll know that he is meticulous in his craft and extremely focused on making every detail of each release perfect. He spends years recording new material, and he used to spend a lot of his own money on additional production that I couldn’t afford, and on artwork layout. He was the only guy I worked with that would actually buy or rent fancy dresses for his models, or rent stages, etc. for photographs and videos so that everything would look exactly as he’d imagined. He has always been intense in that way, and so it was with much dismay that a huge error slipped past both of us during the proofing of the artwork for his “Red Ambition” single. The front cover boldly presented the title as “Red Ambiton” (missing the second letter “i”). It wasn’t until a fan who had purchased the single called me to point out the mistake that Mark or I caught it.
“So, is this single really supposed to be called Red Ambiton?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, that’s what it says on the cover.”
“Yeah, right! haha!”
“No Todd, really, it does.”
(Todd walks to one box out of many, housing a thousand copies of the single and pulls it out.)
“No, I have one right here in my hand, and it clearly says…um…Red Ambiton!”
“Yeah, that’s what I’m telling you.”
(A few minutes later.)
“Um…Mark, I have some very bad news.”
“Did you get your copies of the single?”
“Did you see the front cover.”
“What about it?”
“The title is misspelled.”
Well, in an effort to appease a great artist, many hundreds of dollars were spent to make a new printing of the cover art and I had to un-shrinkwrap the existing copies and hand-insert the new sleeves. Wow…another big money loser, but it was a sweet single. Those of you who have it know what I mean. Maybe you even have the ultra-limited edition with the misspelled title? If so, hold onto it!
It actually become something of a game to look for the misspelled names, typos, and other goofy errors on nearly every release. It seemed like something would slip past us every time, but usually the fans didn’t notice, and rarely did we actually reprint anything. That become part of the business– dealing with the imperfections that seemed inherent to running a small label.
The first international bands to sign to A Different Drum’s label were from the UK. The Nine and Blue October were early contributors to the roster, plus I decided to enter into my first licensing agreement with my Swedish counterpart, October Productions, by putting out American editions of CD’s by Kiethevez. We usually put out one or two supporting CD singles for each of those early releases.
Here is a list of the first 21 releases which created the foundation for A Different Drum’s label (most of which are long out-of-print):
ADDCD1001 Various Artists “Rise! America’s Synthpop Underground”
ADDCD1002 Faith Assembly “The Diary of Winter” limited EP
ADDCD1003 Various Artists “Mix Rinse and Spin”
ADDCD1004 Paradigm “Lifeline”
ADDCD1005 Brave New World “Understand”
ADDCD1006 Faith Assembly “Her Deepest Sleep” MCD
ADDCD1007 Paradigm “Soul Flight” MCD
ADDCD1008 Brave New World “Regret” MCD
ADDCD1009 Faith Assembly “My Mortal Beloved”
ADDCD1010 KieTheVez “Three Empty Words” limited US edition
ADDCD1011 Various Artists “Rising! Synthpop vs. the World”
ADDCD1012 KieTheVez “Can’t See This” MCD
ADDCD1013 Brave New World “Winter Song” MCD
ADDCD1014 Cosmicity “Isabella”
ADDCD1015 KieTheVez “Opium”
ADDCD1016 The Nine “Our Tomorrow” MCD
ADDCD1017 Cosmicity “Visionary” MCD
ADDCD1018 The Nine “Native Anger”
ADDCD1019 Blue October “Incoming” MCD
ADDCD1020 Blue October “Incoming”
ADDCD1021 Faith Assembly “Red Ambition” MCD
Most of those can be searched and found on Amazon.com if you’re curious, though most are only offered as used product, if at all. I’m proud of those early releases and can still listen to them with quite a bit of nostalgic pleasure.
PART 6 - THE MANY MYSTERIES OF PROMOTION