By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
People who know me, or claim to, people in the "biz," often hit me with an offhand comment such as "of course, you think every local rock band should be signed to a major label." Just call me Joe Cheerleader.
Except for two things. First, some local rock bands suck. They deserve nothing more than music lessons. And second, a major-label deal can be both a figment and a bane. I wouldn't necessarily wish it on my favorite band. Anyone who thinks a big contract is an end-all should ask Nuclear Valdez or Young Turk.
They, and plenty of others, went through battles with the corporations, but then again, they all had the opportunity to reach the level where lawyers have to get involved. A new promotion and marketing company called Swelter Records hopes to give area bands that same sort of chance, although, they hope, without the sometimes unfortunate ramifications.
Nonetheless, the real world offers this simple rule: Artists make music with the goal of having as many people as possible hear it. Musicians want to share their visions. They want to make money, or at least not lose money. And the real world demands they work within the logistics of, well, reality. If that wonderful CD isn't in record stores, consumers aren't going to buy it. They can't. Swelter wants to make sure they can.
The industry that gets CDs into stores -- that gets CDs recorded and manufactured and played on radio and advertised and reviewed in the press -- can't easily be bucked. Maybe circumvented in some way, but never disregarded altogether.
Miami's rock scene has tried many times to create a stronger presence in the world (meaning mostly the North American) musical economy. The latest such effort might be the most significant -- Swelter's independent network.
Swelter is not a label -- the CD they've released is strictly a promotional tool. Formed over the past several months in Broward County, Swelter hopes to provide the next logical step in an evolution that has seen South Florida grow to include perhaps 200 active rock bands, several adept managers, a slew of masterful CDs, a score of live venues. Not to cheerlead, but there's no denying -- from the streets of South Beach to the boardrooms of New York and L.A. -- that Florida has stepped up. And now this.
"This will serve as a platform for these bands to jump to the next level," says Swelter co-founder Michael Eiseman, referring to six bands already signed to the company. "The [major] labels don't come to you, and if they do, it's always with an asshole attitude."
Eiseman, who manages Rooster Head and I Don't Know, put Swelter together with partners Helaine Blum (manager of Black Janet) and Greg Sammons, guitarist for the now-defunct Plastic Nude Martini and a computer whiz.
They selected six bands -- three from Tampa and three from South Florida -- they felt needed, and deserved, a push toward national stardom. All the bands -- Clang, Edison Shine (formerly Catherine Wheel), Grassy Knoll Gunmen, Black Janet, the Goods, and Rooster Head -- are highly regarded, with extensive live-performance backgrounds and independent record releases. Most have already negotiated, unsuccessfully, with major labels. "We chose bands with CDs out," Blum explains, "because that would enable us to do a compilation CD, which is a great promotional tool to get the music of these bands out."
She refers to the Swelter triumvirate's first project: compiling two songs from each of the half-dozen bands' existing recordings on a CD called 48:06, which will be released tonight (Wednesday) at Stephen Talkhouse, where all six bands will perform live.
That's the easy part, or at least the easiest part. "If some of the bands around here were selling 15,000 copies of their releases and pulling in 300 people at live shows on a regular basis," Eiseman says, "well, you can write your own contract if you're doing those things." Maybe. The idiosyncrasies of A&R execs could fill a Psych 101 text, and you just never know. So few bands of the so many that try are ever called and chosen.
The Swelter team can sympathize with the suits at major labels. Let's say you're an A&R dog at Sony or Warner Bros. Rooster Head's manager calls you up and says, "Hey, got this great band here, they've already sold 1000 copies of their new CD." You would not be impressed because you'd know that bands in other cities were selling four to five times as many copies of their independent releases. "I'm not cutting down our market," Eiseman says, "but face it, with the Latin population and other factors, we top off at lower numbers. If Rooster Head were, say, an Atlanta band, they'd be selling 4000 or 5000."
One of the goals of Swelter is to help bands reach those markets by pushing to get their music distributed throughout the state, and the region. That's not always easy. For one thing, if an independent artist or distributor wants to put his "product" in a chain store in his own neighborhood, the paperwork would still have to go through the outlet's national headquarters, which might be in Dallas or Manhattan. "And how can a distributor do justice," Eiseman asks, "if he's pushing 400 different labels?"