Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Sunday Conversation with Dead Beat Records

Today we're making a little Ripple Road Trip to the Rock and Roll mecca of Cleveland, Ohio, home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and our bid for hall of fame indy label, Dead Beat Records. Now don't you worry. We packed up our nifty red interview couch and tossed it into a trailer to haul all the way across the country, because we just couldn't wait to get our good friend Tom to sit a spell on the couch and enlighten us about the trials, tribulations, and successes of running an indy label in this digital age. After popping open a few cool drinks, we hit Tom with some questions to try and learn how he's not only managed to survive in this day and age, but to thrive and continue to put out one quality release after another. Most recently, he blew our collective Ripple minds with his discovery of Cory Case, but there's a whole lot more percolating at Dead Beat Records than that.

How did you get started with Dead Beat Records?

It began as a hobby in college with me and my two roommates at the time.

What motivated you? Did you tap into a particular local scene or were you aiming to capture a sound?

Me and my two roommates were really into buying underground music. So we wanted to do something to give back to this scene we were supporting. We though about opening a record store, or opening a club. But we decided on a label because it involved the least amount of capital up front. The first band we all agreed on was J Church.

Which was your first release?

J Church- She Has No Control 7". RIP Lance Hahn.

Who's been your biggest selling artist to date?

The Stitches- You Tear Me Out 7" has sold the most, right behind a few of the Viva La Vinyl compilations.

There's so much to learn about running a label, share with us some of the lessons you've learned along the way.

If you're looking to put out records because you think you can turn around a quick buck. Save your time and money. It won't happen. Trust your gut instinct when working with a band. If they have higher hopes than you can offer, let em go. Don't deceive them into thinking you can do more for them than you can.

Offer creative input on all artwork submitted. Your label name is attached to it as well. Don't release something that looks like shit if the band submits a boring looking record cover.

What's been your label's high point? Low point?

The high point by far is not having to work a day job. I spent many a years during the "hobby" stage of the label working crummy retail jobs. It's nice to know that those days are behind me and I can spend my time and energy doing something I enjoy. From day one I always dreamed that it would be nice to be able to live off of the label. Over time the dream turned into reality. That "over time" definitely didn't happen over night.

The low points would involve the times when moneys pretty tight and I'm trying to scrape together enough funds to pay the rent or to get the next couple records out. Not as bad as it used to be, but I used to have to hustle a lot more than I do now. I'd usually go out with a friend or two and we did what I called a "Southern California bomb run." And basically that entailed going to as many records stores as we could in one day in the Los Angeles/Orange County area trying to generate money to pay the bills. Ask many of the record stores I used to visit in and around Southern California. They always knew when Dead Beat was walking through the door with umpteen crates of record to sell, he wasn't looking for drug money. And they'd usually oblige. Best success story was walking in to a record shop that just opened. They had very little inventory in the store because it was their first week in business. It was a case of right place, at the right time and I walked out with a check for $1200. Oh didn't bounce!

Looking back on those days, it was fun at the time and humbling to say the least. But I'm really happy that I don't have to load the car up and sell over the counter any more. It was a big pain in the ass carrying all those crates of records in and out of each record store!

Who would you like to work with, but haven't yet?

This is a pretty common interview question for me. Their really isn't anyone. If I'm interested in working with a band, I let them know. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn't.

Oh and to answer your question about how I discovered Cory Case, it was mostly on a whim. I was on some band's Myspace page and stumbled across a link to Cory's old band called The Licks. This was about a year and a half before I moved back to the Midwest. Anyways, I checked out their page and was really impressed with the music. Really good Who, Small Faces, Stones type stuff. I'd later come to find out that Cory was the band leader and wrote all of the music, some of which evolved into Cory Case (solo artist) songs. Anyways, I was planning to go see the Licks in So. Cal. and for some reason they canceled the show. Shortly after that I noticed the band had broken up and that was that.

Well over time, I'd periodically check back to that Licks page and noticed that Cory started posting "solo material" songs. It kind of turned me off because I really wanted to release music from "a band". Anyways, over time I'd continue checking back on his page and each time he would post a track I was pretty blown away. After coming to the realization that Cory really has something going on I decided to contact him with the intentions of putting out a record. So the long and short of it is after I contacted him he sent me a number of CDr's and I scoured all the recording sessions to pick the tracks I wanted for Waiting On A Remedy. Originally it was going to be part Licks songs and part solo material, and over time Cory just continued to write more and more songs and send them to me as he recorded them. And it evolved into an album of all Cory Case (solo artist) songs.

What changes do you see ahead for the music industry?

Hopefully people will stop buying "digital releases" or paying to download albums. Maybe I'm just from a different era, but I've never paid money to download an album. Records are artifacts that you hold in your hands as well as play. They're not meant to be intangible one's and zeros.

How do you promote your artists?

To various fanzine, magazine and radio station outlets. I have a pretty big promo list.

How can a new artist and label best work together to find success?

Well, that's a bit of a vague question, because how do you define success? By selling a lot of records? By being popular? Because with the internet now a days, you can be very popular, but really not sell that many records. So who are you successful than? I think at the core, the label needs to promote the band. And the band needs to tour...a lot. If those things are done properly and consistently, the band CAN be successful in terms of record sales.

Seems that the sound of the bands you sign keeps evolving. What do you look for in your bands?

I don't really look for anything in specific, but I know it when I hear it/see it. At the core a band has to have something special and unique that makes their band stand out. If you start your band to "sound like this band" or aim to sound like a certain genre or period of music. You'll probably never end up on Dead Beat.

How do you find your artists?

Their are many different ways. Some I contact them personally. Others have sent submissions. Some are friends. And some are referred to me by other artists on the label.

Are you a club rat, constantly searching live venues for cool acts?

I used to be, way more than I am today. When I first moved to LA, I went out about 4-5 nights a week. But after clubbing nightly and having been on tour with a number of my bands; I can honestly say I don't find too many bands from the club scene. Take the US tour I did with the B-Move Rats for instance. Their are only a few bands on that whole tour that I saw, that really blew me away. And that I hadn't heard prior to seeing them. I get so many records in through the mail order, that I tend to get a bands records in long before having the opportunity to see them. So clubbing isn't really essential in terms of finding new talent.

What are you looking for now?

Same thing I always have been looking for....bands that are unique, original and have something special to offer.

Who does your artwork for you?

Sometimes the bands do the artwork, sometimes I do. Most bands have an idea of what they want. Some know a friend that can turn that idea into a cover. Sometimes I talk to friends that I know that are artists. Other times I do the artwork myself. If you run a label, you should be skilled at QurarkXpress and Adobe Photoshop. If you're not, I'd reccomend taking an intro course on them now. Will save you a bit of headaches down the line. First album I ever put out, I didn't have the capabilities to open the art files. So I went into the pressing plant and opened the art files up at the desk of the person in the art department. Big mistake, trust me. I still regret not nixing that cover 15 years later!

Well, seems like that's been one of your few regrets. We'd like to send you a Ripple thanks for being a good friend to us over the years, but more importantly, for all the hard work you do to bring such fresh, exciting music to fruition. What you do is clearly a labor of love, and we happen to love what you do. Best for the future of Dead Beat!

You can find the phenomenal Cory Case CD and all the other great Dead Beat artists at

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