August 22, 2013

A Different Drum Update - August 22nd, 2013 - History Part 6

Filed under: Uncategorized — Todd @ 5:15 pm

Hello friends of A Different Drum!  I have had a few busy weeks with life, but the kids went back to school today and that means I finally have a few minutes to put together a little update, and the next installment of A Different Drum’s history.

As a reminder, if you’ve missed past “history” posts, you can find them all posted on A Different Drum’s blog page here:
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/blog/

First of all, some good friends of mine have released a new album that you should check out.  The band is NULL DEVICE, and I’ve always been a fan of their unique synthpop style that blends ethnic influences into the instrumentation…

NULL DEVICE “Perihelion” $14 — This is a limited run of CD’s for the fans and collectors, and the inside of the booklet has been autographed.  It’s too bad that these quality bands can’t sell more than a couple hundred CD’s in today’s rough market, especially when they have such musical talent. I’m sure there are many thousands who will have the music in the end (either legally or otherwise), but at least the band continues to make music…something that is hard for a true artist to give up.  Order the new CD here:
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/8036762772-2/Null-Device-Perihelion

A DIFFERENT DRUM HISTORY - PART 6 - THE MANY MYSTERIES OF PROMOTION

It is one thing to decide to start a label.  It is another thing to actually keep it alive for any length of time, and much of that longevity depends on promotion. I’ve sometimes joked with people about releasing albums, or starting labels, or going out on any such venture when they have no idea what they’re going to do next. Even in my current job working as a manager in a media store, I have local bands come in and ask if they can sell their CD’s on consignment.

“Sure, we can put your CD on the shelves on consignment.  But are you promoting it?”

“Well, we’re really good.”

“Are you playing shows?”

“Yeah, we’ve played at a couple of local parties.”

“That’s good, and you’ll have to keep doing that, a lot.  Because putting the CD on the shelf isn’t going to do you any good unless you’re promoting it.”

“Sure.  But we’re really good…”

The thing is, you can be the best band in the world, but if nobody hears you, then how do they know to pick up your album?  It is what I call the “Field of Dreams” mentality.  If you’ve ever seen the movie, “Field of Dreams”, a man is basically inspired to rip out some of his corn fields to build a baseball field.  He is told, “if you build it, they will come.”  Without going into details about the movie, I’ll just say that the philosophy doesn’t usually work in real life.  “If you release it, they will buy it.”  That doesn’t work…at all.

It felt a little bit like I was living the Field of Dreams when I put out my first compilation CD, since customers seemed to pop out of the woodwork to buy it.  But in reality, the groundwork had been laid quite a while before the CD was released.  That groundwork was promotion– maybe unintentional promotion– but promotion nonetheless.  I’d been hanging out on internet newsgroups and email lists, etc. talking about the music, selling the bands, etc. So, when the “Rise!” CD came out, I already had a little network of people who heard about it, talked about it, and supported it. But that wasn’t going to happen for every band, and for every release unless I could build the fan base larger.  The trick was this– what could I do?

I can’t tell you how many times I received emails from well meaning fans who wanted the music that they loved to become mainstream.  They wanted A Different Drum to succeed, and they wanted to see these bands hitting the same kinds of sales as the old-timers like Depeche Mode or Pet Shop Boys.  So, they’d send me emails saying things like, “Hey Todd. You know, you could sell a bazillion of these CD’s if you just played it on the radio.”

Let’s look at that suggestion.  “Just play it on the radio.”  There are basically two kinds of radio stations out there (at least in the USA).  There are the commercial radio stations, which are by far the largest and most influential stations in the market.  Then there are the non-commercial stations which are run non-profit by places like schools, universities, etc.  They do not sell commercial airtime for a profit, and the DJ’s are all unpaid volunteers.  The commercial stations are in the business of selling advertising so that they can pay their employees, cover their costs, and hopefully make a profit.  The little, non-profit guys are more in the business of giving people experience with radio (educational purposes) or for simply sharing alternative information and programing with the public.  Since the smaller, non-commercial stations don’t sell ads, they have to do fund-raising to pay the operational costs.

That is a simplified explanation, but it suffices to make my point. The non-commercial stations often have volunteers who play whatever they want, so they are the easier target when trying to introduce people to new, independently released music.  Sometimes there is a super-great DJ who loves synthpop and says, “Yeah, I’ll play whatever you send me!” (Hello Eric O. in Santa Clara).  So, I give up copies of the label CD’s and pay to mail them out for free to these DJ’s who play them on the air.  The downside… the number of stations is huge, so you can’t do a sweeping promotion without mailing hundreds or thousands of copies, and unless you actually know the DJ who is willing to play the music, your promo copy is going to end up in A) a box which the station is going to auction off or give away in trade for donations because they need money during fundraising, or B) part of a DJ’s huge music collection of thousands of free promos they’ve been soaking up for whatever reason.  So, what you really have to do is find those DJ’s who really play the stuff and who aren’t just in it for freebies.  Happily, those guys often seek you out as a label, talking about how they like what you’re doing in specific terms, rather than sending a form letter, begging for promos.

In the end, you have maybe a couple dozen college stations that will actually give your music a spin or two.  The result?  You have a station with a couple dozen regular listeners (impossible to know…maybe a hundred…maybe three people), hearing a song played during a show that lasts two hours on a designated day once per week.  So, the chances of the right people hearing it are, needless to say, pretty slim.  But we take what we can get.

So, why not just send out the CD’s to commercial stations?  That is an entirely different ballgame.  Since commercial stations exist to sell advertising time, they rarely have anything to do with the musical programing.  There are not DJ’s sitting there, selecting their favorite tunes and “promising newcomers” to present to the audience.  They can only sell ads by saying, “we play the biggest hits by the biggest artists in category X.”  If it’s a pop-rock station, they play the hits by the biggest bands, and they have to, because they can only convince Coca-Cola and Budweiser to pay them the big bucks if they capture the largest audience.  So, why couldn’t I get a band like Brave New World, or Cosmicity, or Neuropa played so that they become the biggest bands with the biggest hits?  Well, because I’m a small label with a very small budget. To play that “big boy” game, you have to fly reps to the stations that own all the other stations, schmooze the guys who call the shots, taking them to dinners, taking them skiing, taking them to concerts,etc. until they decide that maybe they can give you a little break.  They all have their own networks already, and they are networks that are controlled by money.  Maybe it sounds like I’m making excuses, but when did you see any label with a couple thousand dollars break into a major market? Usually it is somebody controlled by the likes of Capital EMI, Sony, BMG, etc. If was a little guy that made it big, it was most likely a Cinderella story where the unlikely girl gets the Prince.  But what about the thousand of beautiful girls out there that didn’t get to marry the Prince?

So, if you take away the radio angle, which was not a tool accessible to such a small, boutique label, then what do you have left to get the bands heard?  The internet is a wonderful thing.  It opened the doors for new bands to be heard without having to be filtered through those who control the airwaves.  New internet stations were popping up all over the place.  People were streaming.  It grew fast, and I think that fans were able to narrow their searches and find new music easier than ever before.  It was a revolution of sorts in the late 90’s that opened up the doors for small labels and bands to be discovered.  In that way, it was a blessing.  But in another way, it created a lot of noise.  If anybody can start a station on the internet, then you’ve got thousands upon thousands of internet stations popping up.  That means fewer and fewer listeners per station.  If you thought the college radio stations had a hard time getting a large audience, imagine an internet station among tens of thousands trying to get a few people to listen.  So the impact was again hard to measure.  If I sent out freebies to internet DJ’s, then there was no real way to know if the promotion was doing any good.  I could just end up a couple hundred CD’s short and two extra copies sold.  The real internet DJ’s who loved the music often bought their own music anyway, which meant that they were dedicated and serious, and I think it showed in their programming.  But in the end…what about promotion?

The music was out there with samples, easy to hear if you could channel the searchers to the right places.  That became the challenge.  You had to tell people where to look so that they could discover the samples and the streams and become fans.  That meant more online networking, and more use of certain tools.  Amazon.com had some of the best tools, including ways to share lists and suggestions with other shoppers.  I created a bunch of “Listmania” lists which actually got a lot of hits, comparing old synthpop bands with newer ones.  Amazon became one of my best vendors.  The label was making more on the monthly Amazon payments than it was through A Different Drum’s online store for a couple of years.  After all, people browsing Amazon were there because they were looking for things to buy. They welcomed recommendations.

Another way to reach people was through magazines.  Again, there were the physical, print magazines, and then there were the internet “webzines” which started to pop up everywhere, just as the internet radio stations had.  Originally, I sent dozens of CD’s of each release out to print magazines, mostly in Europe.  There were only a couple in the USA that even covered independent synthpop, but there were several in Europe.  The point of sending out the CD’s was to obtain reviews, thus getting the attention of the readers and hopefully attracting them to the internet to listen to the band. So, the review didn’t need to be entirely positive to help sell CD’s.  Just the awareness of the band name and album was enough to plant a seed attention.  Those European print magazines had reviewers who obviously had specific tastes.  As long a as a band’s release fit that reviewer’s taste, they were going to get a high rating.  If the CD didn’t fit within their tastes, then they struggled to find anything positive to say, and the rating was mediocre.  You don’t send a light, bubbly, catchy synthpop release to a primarily industrial magazine and expect a glowing review.  Usually the album was described as “weak”, or “too retro”, or “lacking intensity.”  In my opinion, the intensity may have been there, but it was more displayed in the melodic structure and lyrical content rather than through pounding drum machines, stabbing synthesizers, and gritty, half-yelled vocals.  I’m not criticizing industrial music, but you can see the difference in the two styles when you put Wumpscut next to Neuropa and expect the reviewer to consider each on their own merits, when they are obviously fans of one style more than another.  I remember one of my favorite lines printed in a UK magazine, reviewing one of my label releases.  By “favorite” I mean that it proves my point exactly.  They first said how boring the release was, and how “weak” (of course) and then said that such-and-such track was better than such-and-such track, but only like stepping in a puddle of piss is better than stepping in a pile of poop.  Classy…

But I sent out those review copies regularly, until the requests for promos from all of the webzines started flowing in.  Once again, any Tom, Dick, or Stanley can make a webzine (the predecessor to blogs) and then start emailing hundreds of labels, asking for promos.  But does it mean anybody is reading their reviews?  I had to focus on the webzines that were created by people like myself who had been working inside the scene for years, and who were recognized by their peers and respected by their readers.  For every twenty or so promo requests, there was maybe one even worth the postage cost to send a promo. The rest were just background noise.  Eventually, nearly all of the print magazines gave up the expensive costs of printing and went online, marking the death of independent music magazines. Only the big magazines were left, and do you think a CD from a band like The Echoing Green was going to get reviewed by Rolling Stone magazine when thousands of CD’s were probably hitting their office every single week?  Well…the odds are few.

Looking back at the struggle of independent magazines, I have considered the tightrope the publishers had to walk to stay alive. It was probably every bit as touchy as the labels. When you consider that A Different Drum wasn’t willing to spend $1000 for a large ad in a magazine, while apparently other labels were, then why would the magazine worry too much about lesser reviews of A Different Drum’s releases? They could say what they want without hurting their income. I’m not saying that reviews are undoubtedly influenced by such business transactions, but it is worth consideration. You know what they say about “biting the hand that feeds”, and I didn’t often see negative reviews about releases by labels that consistently paid for advertising space. Maybe they just put out very good releases, all of the time?

There is another group of DJ’s who I believe had the biggest power to influence listeners. Those are the club DJ’s.  Any DJ with a regular club gig and a steady crowd has great power to create a “hit” within their particular audience.  A club DJ can play what they want, and they rise in the ranks based on their ability to get the dancers moving– not whether they can sell advertising spots to Pepsi.  They have freedom to form their own style and their own approach, and if they choose to put something into rotation, they can do it.  My biggest promo list was to club DJ’s who I knew were active by verifying that they had an audience.  My own customer pool was big enough that I could check on clubs in certain areas and verify what the DJ was playing.  Surprisingly, it was easier to find out about what was happening in the clubs than what was happening on the radio stations.  Club-goers love to talk about where they go, and what they listen to, and they love to keep up on what is fresh.  They were the ones who often ended up buying CD’s.  The club was the best way to reach people that I could find– at least in terms of pulling them into a mindset where they cared about the music enough to seek it online and possibly even buy it.

As a result, much of my promotional efforts turned to the clubs. I traveled to clubs sometimes, even when it wasn’t for a live show.  I encouraged the bands to talk to the clubs and get to know the DJ’s and schedule live shows in their venues.  This was their lifeblood when it came to promotion.  Whenever I showed up in a club and set up a table full of CD’s to sell, I would have a great success.  People would crowd the table in search of new music to buy.  They’d hear it play, walk to the table and ask what they’d just heard, and I’d sell it to them.

Luckily, this kind of promotion didn’t cost a lot of money.  I sometimes got a lot of pressure from bands to pay for magazine ads and “promote them properly”.  They figured that if I announced that a new album was out by a band nobody had heard of, thus printing some expensive, half-page ad in a print magazine, then people would flood to the stores to buy it.  But that’s not how it works, and I knew it.  I’d even read an article once that explained how print advertising only worked if you had already done your branding and you were announcing a product that was already recognized.  So, for music, it made sense to pay for a magazine ad that announced a new release by a band that the readers already knew, because that simply served as information upon which the reader could act– thus seeking the album.  But a print ad about a band that nobody knew (which was the case with most bands I introduced to the market), then it was a quick way to lose money.  Readers understand enough about advertising to recognize that an ad telling them that something is the best thing on planet earth– that it’s just hype.  So, they skip over it.

I did pay for a handful of print ads, but they were usually advertising A Different Drum more than any single band, because telling people that there is a store where they can buy a whole bunch of different CD’s was more financially rewarding than convincing readers that they had to shop for one particular item.  Generally, I found that advertising A Different Drum in any way ended up doing more good than advertising each band independently.  Maybe that means that certain bands didn’t get as much attention as they “deserved”, or that others got more than they should have?  But it created a single entity that fans generally trusted.  If A Different Drum was putting out a new CD by somebody, it was often given the benefit of the doubt by those who had come to respect and enjoy the music released by the label in the past.  “See what is new at A Different Drum” was more effective than “See what is new by Band X.”

I remember once promotional campaign that was more expensive, yet more rewarding that many others I’d tried. If getting people to hear the music was the best promotion, I found a way to introduce a lot of people who had a particular taste to a lot of new music, all at once. I printed a couple thousand copies of a sampler CD with inexpensive packaging. Then I got permission from a concert promoter to give away CD’s to all the attendees of an Erasure concert in Salt Lake City. I stood in the lobby of the venue and handed CD’s to everybody who wanted once, thus distributing more than a thousand CD’s in a single night. True…some of those CD’s were swept off the floor of the venue when the night was done. But many of them made it to homes. I was told by individuals months and even years later that they turned to Amazon.com or to ADifferentDrum.com initially because they’d liked some music on a sampler CD that was given to them at an Erasure concert. Was it worth the cost of manufacturing a couple thousand CD’s just to give away? Maybe. That’s still hard to tell, but if those customers kept coming back for years, then it must have been a good idea. I also printed other sampler CD’s (sometimes in partnership with other labels) which were given away as freebies to customers who ordered through A Different Drum’s website. Since those were people who already ordered music, then they were a prime target for introducing new material. Some of the best promotion efforts any retail business can make is directly to the customers that they already have. Those are your most valuable customers in the long-term, so you have to treat them right.

With all of this said, I still have to look back and figure that I must have missed some big opportunities.  I must not have understood everything clearly, because eventually, all of the attempts to promote didn’t stop the label from suffering losses.  The CD’s stopped selling as downloads became cheap and easy (not to mention free to most would-be customers in the world).  No matter how much I pushed to introduce new music, the sales stopped coming as they had.  The good reputation and branding may have been there, but the financials failed to add up.  The emergence of downloads didn’t kill all labels, but it took down a lot of us, including A Different Drum to a large degree. The very things that had changed the promotion game for the small guys also took everything away from those same small guys in the end. So it goes– if you don’t adapt and change as fast as the market, you lose.

I could promote all I wanted, but if it was only introducing new material to steal, then it wasn’t helping in the end. I remember receiving a phone call once from a guy who had called and talked to me regularly over the years. He said that he simply wanted to tap me for some suggestions. What was good? What was new? What should he try? He had absolutely no intention of ordering anything, which I discovered after a few long conversations which were probably initiated on my toll-free phone number at my expense. He eventually explained that he only wanted to know what he should download so he didn’t waste so much time trying to find the good stuff. Was he buying the downloads? No. He even admitted that he always downloaded the music for free because he couldn’t afford music at the time. If he really liked it, then someday he would purchase the CD. I avoided any call from him from then on. He had no idea what kind of damage he was doing with his “Disney - Aladdin” attitude—“If I can’t afford it, then it’s OK for me to steal it.” The true problem is that he merely represented what was becoming a huge majority of music listeners around the world. He was simply one person brazen enough to call me and admit that he wasn’t buying anything. I guess everybody else had the tact to keep that information to themselves.

There are other fun stories about promotion that I’ll share later– like a couple of years venturing with some success into the anime market, and going on little club tours (always a big adventure) and setting up festivals.  Those were fun times, and I’ll be sure to share plenty of stories which will ultimately be a lot more fun that this little run-down of the mysteries of promotion.  Talking business is boring. I know you’d rather hear stories.

Next time…I may actually post a gallery of photos that my wife pulled out.  It turns out I do have about a half-dozen photos from the earliest shows I promoted.  Nice! I’d forgotten about them!  But I have to scan them and put them online somewhere.  Then, I’ll move onto…

PART 7 – LET’S HAVE A PARTY

-Todd

August 1, 2013

A Different Drum Update - August 1st, 2013 - History Part 5

Filed under: Uncategorized — Todd @ 7:02 pm

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 :
http://www.ebay.com/itm/181188605506

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.”

“Really?  What?”

“Did you get your copies of the single?”

“Yes.  Thanks.”

“Did you see the front cover.”

“What about it?”

“The title is misspelled.”

(pause)

“Nooooooooo!!!!!”

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.

Next time:

PART 6 - THE MANY MYSTERIES OF PROMOTION

Thanks!
-Todd

July 25, 2013

A Different Drum Update - July 25th, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Todd @ 11:22 am

Hello friends of A Different Drum!  It is time for a brief update, though I must apologize, since I haven’t had a chance to write the next installment of A Different Drum’s history yet.  Still, I wanted to let you know of a couple interesting new releases that came during the last couple of days.

NEW ARRIVALS:

IAMX “The Unified Field” $18 — IAMX has become of the scene’s most interesting and dynamic performers, and now we have the new album in stock.  You can order the CD here :
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/4046661293524/IAMX-The-Unified-Field

De/Vision “Strange Days” (Box Set) $30 — I only got a couple of these boxes, since I wasn’t sure how many fans needed to pick one up.  As a big De/Vision fan, I found the release interesting as it represents a collection of works from De/Vision’s early days which are perhaps my favorites.  But if you’re like me, you already have these tracks– consisting of the first three albums and some of the remixes from singles and bonus discs.   You can see the complete track list and order the box here :
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/POP022-2/De-Vision-Strange-Days

Christopher Anton “In Silence - Rename Mixes” (limited promo CDR) $12 — This limited edition promo CD features four versions of “In Silence” as remixed by Rename.  There are only 50 numbered copies worldwide, and I’ve got only a few here.  You can see the track list and order here :
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/RENPRO/Christopher-Anton-In-Silence-Rename-Mixes-Promo

Mechanical Apfelsine “RED” $16 — After a great debut album which sold well in A Different Drum’s store, we now have the cool, 2nd album by Russian synthpop band, Mechanical Apfelsine.   You can check out one of their songs and order the new album here :
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/MechAP2/Mechanical-Apfelsine-RED

That is all I have for you this week.  I’ll try to get another installment of A Different Drum’s history written next time.  Thanks for your support!
-Todd

July 13, 2013

A Different Drum Update - July 13th, 2013 - History Part 4

Filed under: Uncategorized — Todd @ 1:35 pm

Hello, this is Todd at A Different Drum.  There are three great, new releases that arrived into the store this week, so let’s take a quick look at them before diving into another piece of A Different Drum’s history:

NEW ARRIVALS:

Zynic “Blindsided” $20 — This is the 2nd album from the top-notch, European synthpop act that made a big splash with their debut album, “Fire Walk With Me”.   You can listen to an album sampler and order the new CD here :
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/CRCDZC04/Zynic-Blindsided

Tenek “Another Day” (CDEP) $12 — As previously announced, this is a taste of the new music being produced by TENEK, a well-produced and talented synthpop act from England.  You can order this new 4-track CDEP here :
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/TENEK1/Tenek-Another-Day

Neutral Lies “Cryptex” $18 — This new import from France is the second album by Neutral Lies, a rising synthpop act that has a sound very similar to some of the popular bands in the 90’s.  Watch their video to get a taste and order their new CD here :
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/BDMCD22/Neutral-Lies-Cryptex

Now, as I head into another installment of A Different Drum’s history, I want to point out that all of the updates and the history segments can be found on A Different Drum’s blog page here :
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/blog/

Though I have made a regular practice of posting all updates on that blog, and mention it via Twitter and Facebook every time, it was pointed out to me by a friend that many people only see my updates through email and may not know about the blog if they want to look back at previous posts.  Feel free to check it out.

HISTORY OF A DIFFERENT DRUM - PART 4 - BRINGING A SHOW TO TOWN

Provo, Utah was my home for several years.  It is where I went to college, it is where I fell in love, where I got married, and where my wife and I started our family.  It is also where A Different Drum was started as a business, and it is a beautiful place to live.  It has grown a lot from year to year, along with the surrounding cities in Utah County.  I’ve always loved Provo, where despite the growing population, it always felt like your neighbors were your friends, everybody shared similar values, and your kids were safe to play in the streets without worry. Plus, it was beautiful, where you lived under the shadow of a great range of mountains.  But with all of Provo’s great attributes, it was true that not much happened there in terms of entertainment, other than a huge, Independence Day celebration and some great college sports.  There had never been more than two dance clubs ever since I can remember.  The long-time club was The Palace.  Another called The Edge was around for a while, later changing its name to The Omni.  While I was a college student, I had never danced at The Palace, but instead drove to Salt Lake City where there were many dance clubs to explore, and one in particular where I eventually became the head DJ.  The Palace in Provo had a reputation of being…well…kind of a boring place, though I never went to find out why.  After I’d started my business, I ended up getting hired as a DJ in the pop/rock room on Latin Night, and I found that it was a respectable business run by a respectable man.

My store was established and I had rediscovered synthpop, thus diving head-first into the new underground scene of the 90’s.  I started to wish that the fun would come to my town instead of always happening in faraway places.  I’d met my friend, Gary of New Wave Records, and we often talked about putting together a show in Provo.  After all, Provo and Utah in general was home to a great fan base for 80’s music and synthpop.  Many of the local fans were completely unaware of the underground scene, but you would regularly hear the classic synthpop stuff on the local, alternative radio stations.  Finally, Gary and I got serious.  I had been calling these bands regularly to order CD’s, so why not line something up with them and bring a show to town?  We had no experience as promoters, but how hard could it be?  We had credit cards, so we could cover the costs and simply pay ourselves back after the ticket sales, right?

We chose our first targets.  Anything Box was well known on the local radio station for their hit song, “Living in Oblivion”, which still played regularly, so we decided to make them the headliner for our first show.  We grabbed the local synthpop band, Agnes Poetry, as an opening act, and we even got another underground synthpop act from California called Turning Keys to come play a set.  It looked easy.  I called Orangewerks, which was the independent label for Anything Box and a man named Tim answered the phone, as usual.  I’d always dealt with Tim for CD orders and he knew me well.  He referred me to a lady who was the band’s booking agent and explained that I’d have to propose the show to her, and then she’d arrange the payments and let us know the equipment list, etc.   Basically, the rules to promoting a show with a band that is popular enough to get paid is that you cannot advertise that anything is happening until you have signed the contract and have paid the required advance (usually half of the total booking price).  Gary and I split the costs and booked Anything Box.  The opening bands were simple arrangements consisting of something like, “hey, you want to play?” “Sure, we’d love to!”

As soon as the wheels were in motion, we excitedly began making preparations.  For advertising, we paid for a few radio ads, but they were expensive, so we didn’t buy many.  I mentioned in my previous installment how the radio station’s DJ was even heard to make fun of the show after running one of the ads, saying something like, “That will be a great show…with one song!”  But despite the minimal budget invested in advertising, a few tickets started to sell.  In fact, a few fans were worried that they wouldn’t be able to get in.  “Did it sell out already?”  Of course they could still get in!  Tickets weren’t selling that quickly…we had plenty.  We booked The Palace as our venue.  They gave us a good deal, since I knew the manager and had been working there once per week as a Latin Night DJ.  Gary and I thought that we might sell a lot more tickets to college students who may not know the band, but who simply wanted something to do, so we made flyers and spent many hours posting them in every dorm complex in town.  Maybe we sold a half dozen tickets through our flyer efforts, but we learned quickly that the media was far more effective than flyers, and that was why it was so much more expensive.

There are other things to take care of before the show can go on.  Aside from paying the advance, we also had to book a hotel for the band, buy their airline tickets, and acquire all of the necessary gear on their technical rider.  I took care of the airline tickets right away.  We’d been informed that there were three people in Anything Box, plus one extra person who would come to sell merchandise.  That was four tickets total.  Thinking myself rather clever, I figured that Tim, the man who always answered the phone at Orangewerks, would be the merchandise guy, so I bought one of the tickets in his name.  There was Claude, Dania, Gary S, and Tim.  When I called Tim and told him what I’d done, I got something of an odd response.  “Um….um….well…I don’t think I’ll actually be coming…”  Apparently I’d jumped the gun by assuming that Tim needed a ticket.  After a little confusion, Tim assured me that everything would be OK, and that they’d transfer the ticket to whoever was going to come.  In the end, three people walked off that plane.  It was with some amusement that I came to realize later that Tim could not have come as a separate person.  After all, these guys were on their own label, right?  Who else would run a label that released music that was written and recorded by one person?  I didn’t care that the airplane ticket was a waste, and I understood that “Tim” had to answer the phone to avoid many endless conversations with strangers wanting a little time with the star of Anything Box.  It made perfect sense, and in the end was simply amusing.  Even more amusing was the fact that I now had my first CD release, “Rise! America’s Synthpop Underground” printed with a permanent “thank you” to Tim.

The technical rider for a show includes all of the necessary equipment for the band to perform, because most bands who are popular enough to use a booking agent and charge for their gigs don’t actually bring their own gear. Nobody wants to haul expensive keyboards and equipment around on airplanes.  Plus, there is also a list provided of hospitality needs.  Aside from a hotel room, the band may request things like “a dozen, ice-cold water bottles and three clean towels in a secluded backstage area.”  They may have special meal requests or other things that they want to make sure are not forgotten.  Gary and I looked over the list of equipment that we needed to secure and found that there were a couple of items that were not available locally for rent.  We had to call several store in Salt Lake City to rent the specific keyboard that had been required.  It was an expensive rental, and we had to drive an hour each way to pick it up, all while we were also picking up the band and taking care of other last-minute arrangements.  But in the end, we got everything, including the large mixing board and the professional audio engineer to run it.  We set the equipment up on the stage and then, during sound check with the band, got another amusing surprise.  The microphones (which were already at the club, and thus the cheapest piece of equipment on the stage) was really all they needed for the sound check.

I pointed at the top-notch keyboard with great pride.  “Look what we got for you!”

“Oh, nice.  Thanks.”

I plugged the cables into the keyboard and asked which channel they wanted it plugged into for the mixing board.

“Um, just toss the leads off the side of the stage.  You don’t need to plug them in.”

“Really?  Why?”

“We’re not going to play anything on the keyboard.  That’s just where Gary stands.  We only need to plug in the DAT machine.”

They had brought a DAT machine (digital tape) which was set on top of the keyboard where Gary S. could push play, pause, or whatever while dancing his fingers around on the keys.

“So, you don’t need this particular keyboard?”

“Not specifically.”

“It was on the technical rider.”

“Oh, we just put a quality keyboard on there, but it can be any good keyboard.  We’ve just had shows where we show up and there is a cheap Casio on stage, and we look like idiots, so as long as it has Roland, or Korg, or some legit brand name on it, we’re good.”

I thought to myself, “Well, I have a cool Roland sitting in my home.  I could have brought that for free, but we just spent hundreds of dollars to bring this thing from Salt Lake City for a night. Oh well.”  I shrugged it off.  After all, this was Anything Box, and they were awesome.  I loved these guys!  I still do.  Anything Box will forever be one of the premier, American synthpop acts.

I think back to when Gary and I were at the airport to pick up the band.  Back in those days you could actually meet your party at the terminal as they walked off the plane.  All I knew about the appearance of the band was what I’d seen in album covers and promo flyers.  There was the unforgettable hair that defined 80’s new wave, and the cool fashions.  Gary wasn’t as fooled as I was when the band came out of the tunnel.  I don’t know what I was thinking, but I was looking for black leather, hair that defied gravity, and somebody…well…a bit taller.  When you think of your heroes and the people you “look up to” your mind sort of makes them larger than life.  You expect them to be tall.  So, when three regular people came out of the tunnel and my friend Gary moved to them to shake their hands and welcome them, I took a split second to realize that this was who we’d been waiting for.  They were just regular people, in regular clothes, with regular hair, and a bit shorter than myself.  Again, I was laughing at myself for being somewhat naive in the entire process.  We got to talk quite a bit with Claude, Gary S, and Dania, and found them to be very kind, down-to-earth individuals.

By the time the show rolled around, we were surprised by a long line outside of the club.  Based on pre-show ticket sales, we really did not know what to expect.  We were looking at financial losses, for sure.  But the line went out the door, across the parking lot, and down the street.  When we brought the band to The Palace and they saw the line, they too seemed a bit surprised.  This was Provo, Utah and nobody had known what to expect.  There were between two and three hundred people at the show, which was a great crowd for the size of the club.  It wasn’t too many, and it wasn’t too few.  I stood with my wife and my sister in the back, next to the mixing engineer who was finding the entire thing somewhat amusing since he wasn’t mixing much at all, except three microphones and a DAT player.  But you know what?  Once Anything Box started singing those songs, the crowd went wild and the show was more fun that I had imagined.  Claude sang wonderfully, and Dania was like a cheerleader up there, working the crowd into a frenzy.  Every song got the crowd bouncing and singing along.  A funny thing about Dania was that she had not planned to do her hair, but Gary had begged her, saying, “Dania, everybody expects you to have the hair!”  So, she did it.  The wife of Ronn from Turning Keys gave Dania a trim in the hotel, then helped her apply the necessary, gravity defying gels and sprays to make it stand on end.  So when Dania hit the stage, she was exactly what the crowd expected, and I think they loved her most of all for the energy she brought to the show.  Gary and I were in heaven.  We’d brought a show to Provo, Utah, and everybody was having a great time.  Nobody knew or cared how much of the instrumentation was live, but they knew that Claude was singing the songs they loved.  There was one brief snafu when the DAT player came unplugged and the music suddenly stopped, leaving only the mics on.  But Clause and Dania kept singing while Gary S got the DAT hooked up again, and people seemed to love the brief acapella performance as much as the rest of the show.

When the band had finished and the show was over, they came out from backstage and hung out with the fans who had stuck around, hoping for an autograph.  They didn’t just sign autographs, but talked with people and sat around, sharing themselves until the club finally insisted that we pack up and leave so that their employees could finally go home.  Everybody seemed very uptempo and happy to have been there.  In every way it looked like a huge success.  Gary and I counted up the cash from the door ticket sales, which were better than we’d hoped.  We already knew what we’d spent, and we already know what we’d sold in advance, so when we tallied everything together, we’d lost about $750.  I remember we both agreed that we’d never had so much fun losing $750 before and that we should do it again.  Next time we would know better what worked and what didn’t, and we now had one show’s experience under our belts.

We immediately put the wheels in motion to do it again, booking The Palace for another show with Red Flag, Seven Red Seven, and Cosmicity.  We indeed moved through things more smoothly, spending less time plastering the city with flyers and putting more money into strategic radio ad placements.  Guess what…my keyboard ended up on stage this time, though I had to make sure that the extra man who came for Seven Red Seven’s stage show, Robert Semrow of The Memory Garden, knew that it was actually my keyboard and I didn’t want it damaged from the performance (Robert loved to pound on keyboards for stage effect).  Once again we had a lot of fun hanging out with musical friends, particularly the Seven Red Seven and Cosmicity guys who joined Gary and I for Chinese food before the show. Once again we had a good crowd between 200 and 300 people, and once again everybody seemed to have fun.   We didn’t get as much of a chance to talk to Mark and Chris from Red Flag, as they tended to stay in the hotel until the last minute, and weren’t quite as sociable as Anything Box had been.  But at the end of the day, Gary and I counted the money and gave each other high-fives for having once again lost about $750 on a synthpop show in Provo, Utah.

In the end, money was lost, but memories were made, and some of A Different Drum’s long-time customers and friends were found in those first audiences.  In fact, I think that those two shows did more to boost A Different Drum on a local level than anything I’d done up to that point.  Suddenly people were walking into my store to buy synthpop CD’s that they couldn’t find anywhere else.  Suddenly, the business felt a little bit more legitimate.  It felt less like a home for all things international, and more like a home for nostalgic synthpop fans who wanted to look at my one little rack of CD’s and discover something new.  Gary and I had started a life-long friendship through those collaborations, and I had also made my first face-to-face contact with bands who I’d work with for years.  I have further stories which include these people, which I hope to touch upon later.

Next time…

PART 5 — MAKING A RECORD LABEL

Thanks for reading!
-Todd

July 4, 2013

A Different Drum Update - July 4th, 2013 - History Part 3

Filed under: Uncategorized — Todd @ 10:49 pm

Hello friends of A Different Drum!  It is time for another update, and another installment of A Different Drum’s history.  I hope that you’re enjoying the history segments.

But first, here are the NEW ARRIVALS…

The Voice In Fashion “The Moment of Truth Re-Loaded” (2CD) $15 — This is a new import from a classic synthpop act, featuring the album “The Moment of Truth” with a bonus CD loaded with remixes for a total of 23 tracks!  You can see the complete track list and order the 2CD here :
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/SA018/The-Voice-in-Fashion-The-Moment-of-Truth-Re-Loaded

Jens Bader “Second Life” $15 — Hot on the heels of the Unisex CD release, this is another collection of remastered and remixed songs by the prolific German synthpop act.  You can see the track list and order the CD here :
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/JB2013-2/Jens-Bader-Second-Life

PRE-ORDERS:

Tenek “Another Day” (CDEP) $12 — This is an exciting new selection of new tracks leading into the upcoming Tenek album!  Tenek has a connection with the old days of A Different Drum’s label with Geoff of THE NINE and ALIEN#SIX13.  You can read about this new material and pre-order the new EP here :
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/TENEK1/Tenek-Another-Day

As previously announced, these re-issues by ANYTHING BOX are available for pre-order and will ship to anybody who orders as soon as the CD’s arrive from the label:

Anything Box “Hope” Pre-Order Here
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/TWI116/Anything-Box-Hope

Anything Box “Worth” Pre-Order Here
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/TWI115/Anything-Box-Worth

Anything Box “Recovered” Pre-Order Here
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/TWI114/Anything-Box-Recovered

Anything Box “Volumen One” Pre-Order Here
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/TWI117/Anything-Box-Volumen-One

HISTORY OF A DIFFERENT DRUM - PART 3 - REDISCOVERING SYNTHPOP

As mentioned in the previous installment of A Different Drum’s history, the company first began as a special-order business that focused on hard-to-find, international music, with the bulk of the sales in Latin music.  The first incarnation of the physical store carried almost all Latin music on very few shelves.  The 2nd physical location, which was the first in its own building, saw an increase in space for inventory.  Customers could walk into the store and find both ethnic music and popular music from many countries, as well as musical genres generally ignored by the mainstream.  I had a fun time in that store, and it was there that my constant searches for unique products led me back to my musical roots.  While seeking rarities and imports, I found that quite a few of my old band favorites like OMD, Alphaville, etc. actually had new albums that I didn’t know about, because they had been completely abandoned by the market in the USA.  I ordered new albums by those bands, both to sell, and to add to my own collection. I figured that they could find a welcome home in a store that was focused on international CD’s.  Since my business was small, and customers were not frequent, I had plenty of time each day to dig around the globe, spending hundreds and hundreds of hours running up phone bills.  Looking back, I miss the personal connection that I was able to make with the artists, labels, and people behind the scenes, as well as with my customers, in a world that had not yet completely turned to virtual methods of communication.

Though I don’t recall exactly how the pieces came together, the discovery that my favorite bands from my youth had never quite vanished, but had merely been deserted by American labels, eventually led me to sleuthing out contacts for more and more of those artists, including American bands like Anything Box, Red Flag, and Seven Red Seven. Those bands had also continued releasing CD’s on their own labels once the majors deserted them.  For some, the abandonment of the major labels felt like a sort of liberation, allowing the artists to take their sizable fan bases and sell independent CD’s for a larger profit margin than they could have made with the labels.  For others, it felt like a slap in the face to see their support unceremoniously pulled away.  Some bands had barely even recorded debut albums, only to see them quickly sold as cut-outs and forgotten.  I saw that while my interests had expanded and my focus had changed for a while, I could not turn my back on the music I’d loved during my youth, even if the larger market had already forsaken it. I not only felt that I could expand my store’s selection by taking in some of those import and independent releases from what was now an underground scene, but I also felt a sense of obligation to reclaim my roots, embrace my old dreams, and even lend a hand if possible.  Sure, I was just one guy in a small building with very few visitors, but I was sure I could contribute in some way.  Soon enough, there was a little corner of my front counter with a small CD rack that carried titles like Anything Box “Hope”, Red Flag “The Lighthouse”, Seven Red Seven “Bass State Coma”, and Cosmicity “The Moment”, along with imports like Alphaville “Prostitute” and OMD “Universal”, among others.

One thing led to another.  My phone conversations and explorations led to new contacts with small labels in Germany and Sweden, where synthpop had not been as roughly treated as in the USA.  I talked frequently to a man named Dennis who ran a label called October Records.  We shared similar backgrounds and similar aspirations.  I talked to a man in Germany named Lorenz who managed what was one of the synthpop underground’s favorite bands in the mid nineties called De/Vision.  I started interacting with other folks online, connecting with people that had formed an underground synthpop network in Australia, and posting comments on a small, internet newsgroup called alt.music.synthpop.   I conversed with a wonderful woman named Jeri who had worked passionately to not only run an Information Society fan club, but also kept a series of printed newsletters going and put together some early CD compilations of new synthpop bands from the underground– bands who might never have been heard otherwise.  I found a man named David who publushed a wonderful magazine that not only focused on the 80’s roots of synthpop, but actually reviewed and interviewed new bands.  There were other magazines in Europe that included synthpop in their pages, but only as a spring-off of their main industrial and gothic focus.

One day a man named Gary walked into my store and saw my little collection of imported and independent synthpop on the counter-top.  “What?” he exclaimed with surprise.  “You carry Anything Box?  Alphaville?  Red Flag?  I thought nobody had this stuff!”  It turns out that Gary had come into my store to scout out what kind of establishment I had, as he was also starting up his own retail outlet.  He was starting a business called New Wave Records, with a focus on new wave and synthpop rarities.  We fast became friends and never once thought of each other as competitors.  He opened a very small store in a basement room in an office building, which was an odd location for retail, but it was basically a base of operations.  He had some CD’s, both used and new, spread out on tables.  Our conversations and sharing of resources quickly resulting in collaborative efforts to bring a couple of our favorite synthpop bands to Provo, Utah for concerts.   Those efforts may have been poorly conceived, but were fueled by a passion that we both shared, and soon enough we were organizing our first events.  We put together a concert with Anything Box, with an opening performance by a local synthpop favorite, Agnes Poetry.  We also organized a show combining Red Flag, Seven Red Seven, and Cosmicity.   I remember spending all of my evenings for a few weeks spreading flyers around dorm complexes surrounding BYU in Provo, hoping that the right people would notice.  I don’t think those flyers had any effect, but how could we know unless we tried?  We also paid for a few radio ads, and I remember both Gary and I becoming quite angry with the local alternative radio station for nearly mocking our shows right after the ads.  There was one time when an ad for Anything Box ran, and then the DJ said something like, “Wow, that should be a great concert– with only one song!”  Gary called the station immediately and told them, “We’re not paying for that one.”  They apologized..after all, it was their job to hype the show, not mock it.  I shall elaborate more on these initial concert events in my next update.  Suffice it to say for now that we didn’t make any money on either of those two events, but at the end of each show, Gary and I would look at each other and say, “That was the most fun I ever had losing $1,000!” (or whatever the amount had been).

My passion for synthpop had been rekindled. I continued to build my selection and opened a very simplistic, online store so that the CD’s I carried could be ordered from anybody, anywhere in the world.  Orders started trickling in as the fans who roamed the internet supported my effort to bring the remnants of the scene under a single roof.  Though the CD’s could have been ordered from each artist individually, it seemed that people liked the idea of a store that carried a larger selection, and business steadily grew.  I remember when I reached a point where I would sometimes sell more CD’s through online orders and phone orders that I had sold to any customer actually entering my physical store.  The business was still very young, but it was growing steadily.

Inspired by the “Cat Compilations” released by Jeri Beck in the USA, I put together my own collection of songs, gathered from American synthpop bands both new and veteran, hoping that it could act as a sort of exploratory tool for would-be fans.  It was then, in 1996 that I put together the first release to carry my store name of “A Different Drum”.  The CD was called “Rise! America’s Synthpop Underground” and it quickly became my best-selling synthpop CD as orders trickled in from around the world.  My associates in Sweden and Germany wanted to import a few and sell them to their fan-bases as well, and I could see that there was a small market for such compilations.  I quickly began planning more.  Why stop there?

During those early days of mailing CD’s out of my little store, I met some very good customers who became long-time friends.  Folks like Sal A., Sean N., and Ken D. (among others) would call frequently to find out what new titles I’d brought into my store, and I spent many hours propping a phone next to my stereo speakers so that they could hear the latest tunes.  It is with a smile that I think to those days of telephone sampling, and how costly it must have been to spend one or two hours with a single customer flipping through tracks for horrible sound quality.  But they kept calling, kept buying, and kept wanting more.  Even today I enter into regular contact with some of those early customers, but not to listen to music over the wire.  Instead we talk as friends and share our personal experiences and feelings.  Sal is a particularly prized friend who calls often to see how my family is doing or to share political opinions.  Even if there isn’t as much music to buy from A Different Drum as there used to be, we’ve watched each others families grow and we’ve shared wonderful memories.  He probably has purchased every synthpop release I’ve ever stocked in my store, from the early days until the present, but I believe that it isn’t even about the music as much as it is about supporting his friends, which is something I cherish.  Let me tell you a quick story about Sal, as it brings a smile to my face whenever I think about it– and there are many more stories about this great man.

Back in those early mail-order days, I often had to wait for paper checks to arrive as payment for CD’s, and then I’d mail the CD’s to the customer.  Debit cards were not as popular then, so things had to be done the “slow way”.  One particular customer called and ordered quite a few CD’s, which he claimed that he needed quickly for some upcoming event.  He asked if I could ship the CD’s immediately, and he would mail the check at the same time, and the two would “cross paths” on the way to our addresses.  I agreed and shipped the CD’s.  Weeks went by, and no check arrived.  I reminded the customer that I was waiting, but the check never seemed to come around.  One day I was talking to Sal, and I mentioned that I had a customer who was not paying. I believed it would be my first loss to theft with the mail-order part of my business.  Sal was quickly frustrated that somebody would do such a thing to a young businessman who was sacrificing so much to support synthpop.  After all, every CD I stocked was with my own money, and not a small cost in some large, seemingly intangible entity.  Stealing CD’s from my store was really the same thing as walking in and taking cash from my wallet.  Sal lives in New York and has an Italian family background, and though he’s as honest and gentle as you can imagine, I’m sure that a certain tone in his voice when angry could shake somebody a little bit.

“So, Todd, can you give me this guy’s number?”

“No, don’t worry about it Sal, it’s really not a big deal.  I just know better now about sending large shipments with a payment first.”

“Seriously man, I’m not going to do anything stupid.  I just want to talk to him.”

“I don’t want him to think that I’m after him.  It might look bad for me, as a business.  What if the guy never orders from me again?”

“Who cares if he never orders again?  He isn’t paying you anyway!”

“OK, here’s the number, but don’t do anything crazy.”

“Look Todd, you know me.  I’m not going to do anything that would make you look bad.  I just want to let him know that he needs to be honest with you.”

Well, within a couple of days, I received a priority letter with a check enclosed, and the customer called long enough to ask, “So, did you receive my payment OK?  I told you I’d send it, and I have.”  I never heard from that guy again.

I called Sal and asked, “So…buddy…what did you say to that guy?”

“I just told him that I understand he owes you money and that you’re my friend, and he better send it to you, right away, because I don’t like people stealing from my friends.  Something like that.  Why? Did he pay you?”

“Yes, he paid right away…express.”

“Great!  So, no harm done?”

“Nope.”

I don’t really know what went down on that phone call that Sal made to the guy, but I imagine he was forceful, yet polite.  But that is the way Sal has been from the beginning.  He has been extremely passionate and even protective of the entire synthpop scene and A Different Drum.  He has the largest collection of CD’s I’ve ever seen in one place, and he treasures them, just like I treasure his friendship.   He has often asked me, “So Todd, how many CD’s to you have now?” I just laugh and reply, “Not nearly as many as you do.”

“Oh, come on!  You have tens of thousands of CD’s!”

“Yes, but I have thousands of copies of the same thing.  Hundreds of this one, hundreds of that one, a thousand of another.  But every disc is unique in your collection.”

“True, true.  But you still own them.”

There is also Ken D. in Canada, who I’ve been privileged to meet in person and who has called and talked to me all these years.  He also has a huge collection, complete with concert bootlegs and videos that I have never seen before.  He is more selective than Sal, but feels a very compelling drive to fill any hole in his collection if it comes to a band that he loves. He and others like him have filled their lives with music, and have shared parts of their lives with me.  I remember a customer who used to mail me mix CD’s that he made of his favorite songs and artists.  Then he asked me what kind of music my wife enjoyed.  When I told him, he then made her several mix CD’s of just the kinds of things she liked.  It was his little way of giving back and sharing the music that brought him joy.  With one CD that he mailed, he included a note that thanked me for all the CD’s he had found and purchased from my store.  He told me that he had been diagnosed HIV positive, and that the music had kept his hopes and even his body alive at times when he had thought the end was near.  He felt like the music was better than any other medication, and he had been grateful to have found A Different Drum.  At the times when I felt like I was throwing my life away and risking the well-being of my family because of my belief that I could make something of my business, it was letters and comments like that which kept me going.  It convinced me that the financial side didn’t always have to add up, as long as the human side did.

There are many more similar experiences that began with quick emails and telephone calls from that little store.  I’ve laughed myself to tears in lighthearted conversations about not only music, but about life, all because I was chasing a dream, and was too stubborn to quit.  That is probably why I’m still here, typing this update and this history– because despite the fact that A Different Drum has faded from its prominent position in a synthpop scene that may itself be fading into the noisy background of a myriad sounds that flood the internet and the airwaves…I’m too stubborn to just close the door on that old store completely.

Next time, PART 4 - BRINGING A SHOW TO TOWN

Thanks for reading :-)
-Todd

June 20, 2013

A Different Drum Update - 6/20/2013 - History Part 2

Filed under: Uncategorized — Todd @ 12:55 pm

This is Todd at A Different Drum.  It is time for another update, and another installment of the history of A Different Drum.  Quite fitting to the “historical” side of the spectrum, I also have some pre-orders of upcoming ANYTHING BOX re-releases for you!  Yes, some of the first independent synthpop releases I stocked in my little store were by Anything Box, and their song, “Rise” was included on A Different Drum’s first label release, “Rise! America’s Synthpop Underground”.   So, it’s fun to see these classic synthpop songs being re-released on CD once again as imports.

First, the new arrivals:

Huminoida “Mystic Summer” (10-inch vinyl + CD) $20 — This is a limited edition, with only 200 numbered units in the world.  It includes a 10-inch, transparent vinyl record, plus a CD so that you can enjoy the EP even if you don’t have a record player.  This is a band project with Kimmo who used to be the vocalist in Neuroactive.  We still have the first album available too, if you missed it.  You can order this limited edition here :
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/5OUTR10/Huminoida-Mystic-Summer

Lastrax “Shape Your Destiny” $15 — Imported from Argentina, this is a hard-hitting electro / synthpop act with a follow-up album to their debut which came out a few years ago.  This new album is loaded with more uptempo, edgy tracks for your enjoyment.   You can order the new CD here :
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/TWI111/Lastrax-Shape-Your-Destiny

ANYTHING BOX PRE-ORDERS:

The following CD’s can be pre-ordered through A Different Drum now, but will not ship until they are received from the label in about a month.  These are all limited edition re-issues in digipack packaging (cardboard) and give us a wonderful opportunity to collect some old favorites.

Anything Box “Volumen One” $16
Anything Box “Hope” $16
Anything Box “Worth” $16
Anything Box “Recovered” $16

Pre-Order all of these here :

http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/TWI117/Anything-Box-Volumen-One

OK, it is time for the next installment in my history series.  I’ve included even more links to songs this time, since I received comments from a few people saying that they actually enjoyed hearing the funny tunes that represent my past.  Well, you asked for it, so cover your ears while you read!  This will be the last of the historical installments for a while to contain such links, as I gave up recording and moved into the business side of the scene.

HISTORY OF A DIFFERENT DRUM - PART 2 - TRADING CHILDHOOD FOR A CAREER

The title of this installment of the history series is somewhat ironic, because even as I tried to move my love of music into a career that could support a family, the choice to pursue such an endeavor as I did was probably childish.  By that, I mean, I dove in just as a child dives into crazy ideas, with reckless abandon, and often without the kind of better judgement that would have had me step back, take a better look, and make better plans.

When I graduated from high school, my family moved to Taiwan for a year with my father, a Chinese language professor.  That is, everybody in my family except me.  I stayed behind and started my freshman year in college, attending Brigham Young University.  While in that first year, I enjoyed the changes that come with leaving home and making my way in the world.  I still spent more money on buying vinyl records than I did on food, eating mostly cold cereal, potatoes, and frozen burritos, along with occasional left-over chicken patties that my roommate smuggled from work whenever he completed a closing shift at a local fast food restaurant.   I also made frequent drives from Provo to Salt Lake City (45 minutes away) to go to my favorite dance club once or twice per week.  I met up with friends there and eventually got to know a couple of guys who were planning to set up their own club.  They found out that I had a large collection of records with the best dance music of the time, and they let me know that I could be their club DJ once everything was set up.  I loved the idea, as I’d often imagined how much fun it would be to take charge of the playlist at a dance club.  Sure enough, they moved ahead with their plans, leasing an old church building, putting in a dance floor and lighting, etc.  The arrangements took several months, but I knew my DJ moment would come.

In the meantime, I continued recording songs in my basement apartment when I wasn’t in class or studying.  Sometimes I’d invite a friend to accompany me, like I did with this song called “Emotion Dance”.  Or sometimes, if I was in a pensive mood or feeling lonely, I’d try to write something more meaningful or even brooding.  This song called “Oh Please” was later re-recorded by my friend Marcus of Rename (many years later), which of course sounds much improved over my 1988 recording.  Or check out this silly slice of melancholy called “Alone on His Throne” which I wrote as a tongue-in-cheek view of my life in the basement, wishing I were doing bigger, better things (lyrics included below as a PS).   With all my recording and expectations of being a DJ, I still knew that I’d made a decision to leave school and any other interests to serve as a missionary for a couple of years, and that time was approaching as summer drew near.

Soon enough, I was spinning records in a new club called THE SAINT, and I loved it.  I enjoyed beat-mixing songs together in transitions, and the people who came to the club always commented on how great the music selection was.  I was playing Camouflage, Pet Shop Boys, CCCP, Depeche Mode, New Order, and so many more of my favorites, and watching people dance and have fun to the music that I loved.  It was certainly a dream come true, and I felt blessed to have a shot at doing something that I’d always wanted to do.  But after a few months, the summer arrived, and despite how hard it felt to say “goodbye” to such an experience, I knew that there was something more important that I had to do.  I visited my family in Taiwan first, spending a few weeks there in the summer.  Of course, I found a great dance club on top of a skyscraper called “Buffalo Town” where the DJ’s loved me because (though they spoke no English) I could request any song and they had it!  They’d pull out the record with a big smile, happy that the American was requesting the music that they really wanted to play. After those few weeks in Taiwan, I gave up everything to serve a higher purpose, and I left on a volunteer mission to Sao Paulo, Brazil.

I was privileged to meet wonderful people, experience a new culture, and devote myself to God for two years.  I can’t describe in this article all of the wonderful experiences I had, and the kind of growth that I experienced during that time.  I can only say that it was the most meaningful thing I’d ever done, and sacrificing my job as a DJ or the time with my keyboards was indeed nothing in comparison with what I gained.  I think it is enough to say that I left the confusing teenage times behind and became a man during those two years.  I still found myself sitting at the piano in a church building from time to time, writing songs in Portuguese, often of a spiritual nature.  Upon my arrival back in the USA, I recorded some of those songs.  Here is a song I wrote which was critical of some of the people (particularly men) that lived in the most impoverished neighborhoods I visited, where often the women and children were left to fend for themselves while the men spent every dime on drinking, if they stuck around at all.  I had a hard time understanding why a person could abandon somebody they claimed to “love” so passionately, rather than make commitments and take responsibility for such a love.  The song is called “Honravel Rapaz” (Honorable Boy).  Here is another more uptempo song called “Escravo da Moda” (Slave of Fashion).

When I returned from Brazil, I continued with school.  I pulled out my old equipment and wrote more songs, and re-recorded a couple old ones.  It wasn’t long before I met a wonderful woman who connected with my odd personality.  Myra still jokes about our first “date” when I invited her to “see my record collection”.   Yep, I guess that was a very geeky thing to do, but it got her to hang out with me for a while and she also loved music (though she wasn’t as stuck on dance music as I, and preferred more of a rock sound).  I wrote songs for Myra, which probably caused her to cringe when she listened to them, since the music I made was not something she particularly enjoyed.  She liked that I did it, but didn’t necessarily like the sound.  Here is one I wrote with her in mind, so it’s no wonder she just kind of thought…”he’s weird, but he means well.”  It’s called “Could This Be the One?”  Here is another song called “My Wandering Mind” which I recorded about the same time in 1991, which has since been recorded by my friend, Michael of Wave in Head (Michael’s is much better than my original).

Well, for some reason, Myra agreed to marry me despite my strange musical aspirations.  We began our new life as a couple.  We struggled through school together, and for some reason got much better grades once we tied the knot.  While still in school, Myra discovered how determined I was to make music into a career.  I changed my major to music with an emphasis on sound recording, allowing me to spend many hours in a very nice music studio on campus.  I was required to record several projects each semester. Using my new love for all things cultural, I tried some different projects where I blended the musical influences of my past with ethnic sounds and guest performers.  It was a blast to have access to a huge mixing board, special effects, and a 24-track real-to-real tape recorder.  That was top-of-the-line in those days, and I’d never had access to so many toys.  Here is a song I recorded with an Arab man that I met who was a local tailor.  He’d sing in Arabic the entire time he was working, so I invited him into the studio to sing with a dance-hall reggae beat I’d recorded, thus blending two cultures together.  Here is another track I wrote and recorded, soliciting the vocal talents of a couple other students.  I loved the music of Dead Can Dance, and this definitely followed that influence.   Aside from the studio work, I joined with a couple of other music majors that I’d met and we formed a band called THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID.  The band only lasted a few months, but in that time we managed to win a battle of the bands contest based on live performances (we went out of our way to make the life performance absolutely ridiculous, but fun).  We recorded a few songs with our prize money, and then quit.  Here is a song that I’d written years earlier as a teen, and the guys in the band liked it enough to record it together, called “Think Twice”.

At the same time, I began a small, mail-order music service for other students who had a hard time finding independent releases and import CD’s from other countries.  I didn’t know what I was doing, but I made flyers and placed them in dorms, offering to hunt down music from around the world.  Most of the requests I received were for Spanish language music, since the local population included a lot of Latinos and students who spoke Spanish.  I started to accumulate a nice selection of Latin music and would attend regular Latin dances where I set up a table and sold the CD’s.  Myra thought I was out of my mind as I ran up a crazy debt buying CD’s in hopes of selling them at dances.  My Portuguese language skills quickly transferred to Spanish, and I learned about all the bands and singers that were popular for that particular audience.  It eventually led me to open a small store with a focus on Latin and international music.  I don’t know how I managed to find the time to build a small business while still in school, but I did it, thanks to the patience of a loving wife.  When I finally graduated, walking with my wife at the ceremony as she also graduated, I gave up working for anybody else (I’d worked my way through those last few years of college as a custodian).  A Different Drum’s first physical location was inside a make-shift shopping center called “The Shopper’s Outlet” that didn’t last long, and then my business moved to its own location in a small building on Center Street in Provo, Utah, selling mostly ethnic and international music.

I spent most of every day in that little building, only hiring one employee to cover for me so I could have a day off every once in a while.  I would sometimes take my young son, Dylan, to work where he’d sit in a little swing or walker and I’d try to keep the baby content.  Myra worked elsewhere, actually paying the bills.  She once pointed out to me that with all the time I spent on my store, I was making less than fifty cents per hour.  I told her that I was paying the price to start a business that could same day pay the bills and to be patient with me.  She was endlessly patient.  I’m sure I caused her much grief as I was gone so much, and my credit card balances got higher and higher as I continued to dump money into inventory and cover rent to keep that place open for the few customers who felt it was the only source they had for the music that they loved.  I wanted more than anything to live my dream.  I gave up recording music.  I no longer had time to record, and since I never considered myself very “good” anyway, I felt I should focus all my energy on the business side of music if I were to have a career.  School was over, but I had a lot to learn.

Next time, PART 3:  REDISCOVERING SYNTHPOP

Thanks for reading!
Todd

PS.

Lyrics for “Alone On His Throne” by Todd Durrant, 1988

He sits all alone
Alone on his throne
Of nice future wishes

A young man sits alone
In his dungeon of sorts
Staring at the wall
And feeding his guppies

Everything I see here is mine!
He reports
His music, his writing
And a bowl of cold cereal

Oh, the places I’ve been
And the sites that I’ve seen
He reviews and he plans
A life fit for a king

So he goes to bed, wakes up
Cleans up his room.
This may not be an empire
But I’ll be out of here soon!

He’ll always be happy
Just as long as he’s free
To give his own sentence
Of the utmost degree.

He sits all alone,
Alone on his throne
Of nice future wishes.
He sits all alone,
The king on his own
To rule dirty dishes.
He sits all alone,
Alone on his throne
Of nice future wishes.

If he doesn’t make his dinner
He just doesn’t eat
If his pair of shoes get ruined
He walks with bare feet

His free time he spends
With his tankful of friends
It’s his hopes for the future
On which his present life depends

He’ll always be happy
Just as long as he’s free
To give his own sentence
Of the utmost degree

He sits all alone,
Alone on his throne
Of nice future wishes.
He sits all alone,
Alone on his own
The king of his fishes.
He sits all alone,
Alone on his throne
Of nice future wishes.

June 11, 2013

A Different Drum Update - 6/11/2013 - History Part 1

Filed under: Uncategorized — Todd @ 12:07 am

Hello, this is Todd at A Different Drum.  It has been a while since I’ve written an update.  I haven’t had anything new come into the store lately, but I wanted to touch base with all my friends again.  As I mentioned before, the new arrivals will be fewer these days as I focus on the truly underground, independent, and some great values that come into the store.  I have to keep things small and simple these days.

I thought that I’d start a series of historical posts that may or may not be interesting to those of you who have followed A Different Drum’s business through the years. In this update I will post the first part in an ongoing series of thoughts and stories about where A Different Drum started and the road that the course that the business took through the years.

First of all, I’ve initiated a small sale for this week, with 20% off all releases on A Different Drum’s website, excluding the newest arrivals.  The 20% discount will be applied during checkout– so you’ll see the lower price once you go through the payment process.  Please note that certain items have limited quantities and won’t be restocked once they are sold out.  If you order anything that has just sold out, I’ll send a refund for that item unless it is coming back in stock right away.  Here is a link to the sale info :
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/sale.php

Also, I continue to have EBay auctions for CD lots, so you can pick up great deals from time to time, in bulk.  Sometimes there are mixes of new synthpop CD’s with mainstream used CD’s.  You can check here for the auctions :
http://myworld.ebay.com/adiffe

HISTORY OF A DIFFERENT DRUM - PART 1 - A KID ADDICTED TO MUSIC

Since A Different Drum has always been the business venture of one person, Todd Durrant (myself), it makes sense to begin this informal history by giving some of my own background which led to the creation of a small-scale music business.  I always had a love of music, much of it passed to me from my parents.  We always had music in our home, and I remember frequently pulling out my parent’s vinyl records, which my siblings and I played over and over again.  The Best of the Bee Gees (this one ), The Beatles (this one ), and The Carpenters (something like this ) were often heard in my home while I was in elementary school.

My mother signed me up for piano lessons while I was very young and I took to it quickly.  However, I started to struggle with piano because I had a tendency to memorize whatever classical music was assigned, and then play it back to my teacher from memory rather than reading the music, and eventually I preferred making my own tunes rather than playing what my teacher assigned.  So, despite my ability to impress my friends at school with my piano skills, I didn’t always make my teacher happy.  One day I took the opportunity while my parents were away on a trip to China, to quit my lessons.  Though my mother was not pleased when she returned, I promised that I’d keep playing, as long as I could do my own thing.  I had quickly become interested in the new sounds I’d been hearing on the radio by bands like Soft Cell, The Human League, Yazoo, etc. and I soon convinced my mother that my true interest was in playing an electric keyboard rather than an old-fashioned piano.  I was truly a lucky kid, because rather than shut me down, my mother went out and found a keyboard for me– a Korg EPS (Electric Piano and Strings).  I loved that instrument, and I played it constantly.

It was about that time, while jamming my own tunes on that Korg EPS, that I took an interest in recording the music that I played.  They were basically long jam-sessions, since most of my songs were created on the spot.  After a little while I wanted to add more tracks, but I didn’t have anything remotely resembling a studio, so I would record one track on a tape recorder, then play it back into another tape recorder while playing a 2nd track.  This resulted in some very fuzzy, horrible recordings, but I was very proud of my efforts and my interest in electronic music continued to grow from there. Here is an example of such a 2-track cassette recording from around 1984–a track I called SOUNDS.  I loved music by Depeche Mode, New Order, Howard Jones, Blancmange, and was hypnotized by the ultra-electronic grooves of Kraftwerk, and I eventually became a huge fan of Yello, who I thought was one of the most unique electronic acts in the world.  Many other bands became favorites.

I slowly built my little studio, adding an early drum machine called Dr Rhythm to my Korg EPS.  With the help of a simple mixer and microphone, I began recording actual songs with vocals.  Despite the fact that I had no vocal training and no real talent when it came to singing, I had no fear as a kid…after all, nobody was listening.  All the parts were played live, often while I was singing at the same time, trying to keep up with my drum machine, fumbling all the way. Here is an example of one of those early songs with the drum machine and live singing, etc.  It is from about 1985 and called MR. SEAGULL. Eventually I added a wonderful analog synthesizer called a Roland JX-8P and a Tascam 4-track cassette recorder to my little bedroom studio, and I could finally start adding layers. Here is a song called TENDER HEART ATTACK which featured my new synth and some of my first layered vocals (yep, tried to harmonize with myself).  I spent every free moment recording my own songs.  I think that I, my older sister, and my mother are the only people in the world who heard all my songs recorded as a teenager.  I wrote dozens and dozens of songs, compiling them into albums that also reached a couple dozen.

Collecting became a part of my life, as I felt the urge to own any music that I loved.  I remember begging to buy my first cassette tape, which I believe was Herbie Hancock (remember the song, “Rockit”?) .  My mother told me that it would be a waste of my money because it was just a passing fad and wasn’t timeless music, like Beethoven or Mozart.  I eventually won and bought my first tape.  I remember buying Yazoo, Alphaville, and others.  I owned probably three dozen cassettes when tragedy struck.  My sister had a teenage party while my parents were out of town, and a bunch of crazy friends came to our house.  When the party was over (I believe the police had something to do with the end of that party) my entire collection was gone.  Somebody had stolen all my tapes.  That’s when I stated buying vinyl records, which I continued to do for many years after that, amassing quite a large assortment of albums and 12-inch singles.  I was particularly fond of the 12-inch singles in the 80’s– if there was a long version of a favorite song, then I wanted it!  I started making my own extended versions of my silly songs, just because I wanted to be like my idols.  Before I finished high school, I had volunteered as a DJ for several local church dances, since I was the kid in the neighborhood with the biggest dance music collection.  I dreamed of finding a job in a dance club some day.  I spent countless hours either crashing school dances all over Salt Lake County or trying out all the local dance clubs several times per week.  Music and dancing was my life…and yes,  eventually starting college was in there too…but music and dancing was my real love.  I rarely dated…I just danced.

When I think back on my youth, I see that the roots of A Different Drum were already forming, both with my interest in the music itself, and in the business side of the industry.  When home PC’s were a relatively new thing, my father purchased a Kaypro 10 (I think that was the name).  It was back in the days of DOS, and a computer with a megabyte of memory was considered huge.  I learned to program C-Basic and wrote my own game.  If I remember correctly, there was about 40 pages of C-Basic code in my game once it was finished, and it was no surprise what my game was about.  In the game you signed bands to a record label, then set up tours in big US cities and sold records.  You had to manage things right to get your sales up.  Honestly, I think it was impossible to lose in that game, but it was a big achievement for a freshman in high school to put together such a thing.  Once the Kaypro computer died, so did my little game, but as I look back, I can see that I was already dreaming of what I wanted in my future– if not making music, then selling and marketing music.  It was a part of me that would never completely fade away, even as I moved into the adult world years later.

Coming next update:  Part 2 - Trading Childhood for a Career

PS.  Thanks for reading, if you made it this far.  I’ve always thought it would be fun to look back at the journey I’ve been through for what probably amounts to the first half of my lifetime (unless I die sooner than expected).  Sometimes you have to wonder what contributed to the person you are today, and for me, this current reflection also has a lot to do with the discover of what will become of me during the rest of my life.  I guess that all remains to be seen.

Oh, and I don’t expect anybody to be impressed with the musical links above– they are honest, musical snapshots of my childhood, and certainly not professional in any way, shape or form. They were never meant to be marketed…and only included here for fun.

-Todd

May 15, 2013

A Different Drum Update - May 15th, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Todd @ 7:34 am

Hello friends of a A Different Drum!  It is time for another little update about items that have arrived in the store recently.

NEW ARRIVALS:

Mesh “Born to Lie” (MCD) $11 — Long lost package from months ago finally found its way here, and I have a few copies of the single in stock, though not many.  Hopefully my second shipment will arrive much more quickly.  This is a fun single for fans and collectors, featuring four versions of the title track, plus a bonus song “Black Dog”.  You can order the CD single here :
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/MIND203/Mesh-Born-to-Lie

Electro Spectre “Dangerous Game” (Russian Edition) $18 — This album is considered by many as one of the top synthpop releases of the last year.  This Russian edition has fourteen tracks and is limited to 500 numbered copies.  You can pick yours up here :
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/RAZ005/Electro-Spectre-Dangerous-Games-Russian-Edition

Supercraft “Stranded” (CDEP) $10 — Supercraft is a very fun synthpop act and had an excellent album recently released through A Different Drum’s VIP program.  This new EP features remixes and several songs for a total of 11 fun tracks.  It is imported from Russia and you can order your CD here :
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/SA017/Supercraft-Stranded

If you are not a VIP subscriber, but are interested in picking up the recently released, limited edition SUPERCRAFT CD, “Nation 47″ (limited to 300 CD’s worldwide), then here is an option for you.  I see that Amazon still has their 2 copies in stock, and I listed two extras that I have on hand on Amazon as well.  You can grab one of those remaining copies of the CD here :
http://www.amazon.com/Nation-47-Supercraft/dp/B00A6DRXEM/

Have a wonderful week, and thanks for your support!
-Todd

April 25, 2013

A Different Drum Update - April 25th, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Todd @ 11:22 am

Hello synthpop fans and friends of A Different Drum!

It is time for an update, and there are a few CD’s that have arrived in the store during the last couple of weeks.  Also, there are a few bulk-lot CD auctions that will be finishing today, if you want to jump in.  Though all the CD’s aren’t synthpop, there are several in each lot that ARE, and probably worth the low price with free shipping (in the USA only).  See those auctions here :

http://myworld.ebay.com/adiffe

NEW ARRIVALS:

Mesh “Automation Baby” $15 — This is the new album by synthpop heroes, MESH.   They are always true to their sound and I haven’t heard them disappoint yet.  You can order their new CD here :
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/MET859/Mesh-Automation-Baby

Concerning Mesh, there is an imported limited edition of the album, but I was unable to get any.  Yes…quite sad.  So, all I have is the regular, USA edition and not the expensive import.   Also, I had expected a shipment of the import CD single of “Born to Lie” weeks ago, but it never arrived.  I found out today that it was returned to the shipper, so now they have to ship it once again back to me.  I’ve had bad luck all around with this new Mesh stuff.  But alas, it will arrive eventually if you need the single too.

OMD “English Electric” $14 — Speaking of synthpop heroes and regular editions…  I also have the regular, USA release of OMD’s latest offering.  They are putting out some great stuff the last few years and it’s good to have them active again.   Order the new CD here :
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/B00BDSRBXM/OMD-English-Electric

Galactic Warriors “Under Attack” (2CD) $18 — For the fans of spacesynth music, here is a top-notch release for you!  This 2CD also features the “Return to Atlantis” album so you’re getting 2-for-1 here, and it is very polished instrumental synthpop with some heavy robot vocal additions.  Fun stuff!  Check out the album samples and order the 2CD here :
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/SSR00029/Galactic-Warriors-Under-Attack

Informatik “Playing With Fire” $15 — For those of you who enjoy the more industrial-flavored dance music, Informatik has a new offering for you as well.  They have a solid following and a nice blend of industrial and synthpop sounds.   Pick up their new CD here :
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/MET825/Informatik-Playing-With-Fire

RETRO, OLD-SCHOOL RE-ISSUES FROM GERMANY:

I just picked up a good deal on a few old-school synthpop / new wave releases from Germany.  These are CD’s that present archive recordings from the past, so though they may be rough around the edges in terms of audio quality, they present a nice glimpse of synthpop’s early days in the underground.   The following releases are all $10, so a good deal for collectors.  I’ve put sample videos on all four releases so you can check out the sounds:

Sonnenbrandt “Gestern” $10 — Order the CD here :
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/NLW/Sonnenbrandt-Gestern

Im Namen des Volkes “Volksmusik” $10 — Order the CD here :
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/Subo003/Im-Namen-des-Volkes-Volksmusik

Bal Pare “Ein Tag am Meer” $10 — Order the CD here :
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/NLW028/Bal-Pare-Ein-Tag-Am-Meer

Umpire “Another Substance Called” $10 — Order the CD here :
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/SUBO004/Umpire-Another-Substance-Called

That’s all for this time, but I hope to have another update for you soon.  Thanks for your support!
-Todd

April 8, 2013

A Different Drum Update - April 8th, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Todd @ 9:31 am

Hello, this is Todd at A Different Drum.   It’s time for a quick update, and guess what…. it’s also tax time!

Yes, as with every year, as April 15th approaches, it is time to pay taxes in the USA and it looks like I owe the state some money this year.  That means it’s time for a quick, “tax day sale”.   So, until April 15th, you can save 20% on your order through www.adifferentdrum.com   That excludes the new releases that have shown up in the last couple of months, but includes everything else.  The discount will show during CHECKOUT.

Check out the sale and grab what you’ve been wanting right away.
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/sale.php

Also, there are a couple new releases that were added to the catalog this week.

NEW ARRIVALS:

Monica Jeffries “Back to Eden” $15 — Here is a fun synthpop import with a cool, female lead vocalist.  It’s bouncy, catchy, and fun.   You can check out samples of the entire album through the video and order the CD here :
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/7M-119-2/Monica-Jeffries-Back-to-Eden

Isaac Junkie featuring Andreas Kubat “Save Me From Myself” MCD $10 — Isaac Junkie is a Mexican electronic producer who likes teaming up with synthpop vocalists from around the world on collaborative singles.  Here is the latest project from Isaac, this time featuring vocal contributions from Andreas Kubat of Northern Lite.  The flavor of Isaac’s work is usually futurepop, with a blend of synthpop and industrial dance edge.  You can check out one of the songs and order the limited edition CD here :
http://www.adifferentdrum.com/buy/IJRCD022/Isaac-Junkie-Save-Me-From-Myself

Have a wonderful week, and for those of you in the USA who have procrastinated doing your taxes until now…best of luck to you!
-Todd

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »