Return of the Fiddler

Queen of the Fiddler Records empire, Amy Fleisher, comes back to the music biz.

Fleisher's advertising acumen paid off with a surrealist ad campaign for Austin, Texas post-punk act Recover. The somewhat morbid campaign featured the Texas teenagers wearing designer clothes amid three nude girls, and it created a sensation. Before the record was released, there were bidding wars for both Fiddler Records and Recover. The music industry apparently believed Fleisher had struck gold a third time.

Fleisher believed her own hype and took a leave of absence from Art Center. In November 2002, Fiddler signed a distribution deal with MCA records, spurning multiple offers to sell her company and work as an employee. "I didn't realize that the whole music industry shuts down over the holidays," Fleisher recalls. "It was like pulling teeth to get that deal done — and by the time I could get a hold of anyone, MCA was out of business."

In March 2003, MCA folded into Geffen Records, which inherited Fiddler's contract and fired the A&R rep responsible for it. "I was told by my lawyer that we were being moved to Geffen and to expect a call from Jordan Schur, their president," Fleisher recalls. "I never heard anything, so I freaked out and visited my parents in the Keys. The second night, I got a call from Schur while I was at dinner with 14 members of my family. So I went outside and he told me: 'So I don't really know what you're doing, and I don't really want to know what you're doing, so we need to figure out what to do.' I told him it didn't matter, because we had a contract. That's when I discovered that contracts don't matter."

While Fleisher's contract did keep Fiddler bound to Geffen, getting the disinterested major label to lift a finger proved difficult. "Say we wanted to get a sales sheet uploaded to the Geffen server. It was impossible, because no one would give us a password, and we'd miss the deadline," Fleisher says. "There were two people there who would help us out, just because they saw what was going on, but it wasn't their job to help us." During the three years under this arrangement, Fiddler Records released only five albums.

In 2005, Fiddler escaped Geffen and signed with Sony/RED distribution, a deal that would prove to be the label's last. "They brought me a giant fake check for $1 million when I signed the deal," Fleisher says, smirking. "It started off on a really good foot, but then a month after we signed, the CFO who brought us there left, and we were orphans again." According to Fleisher, corporate execs lost all interest when Fiddler's Juliette and the Licks album didn't immediately become a hit: "They were happy to fly to L.A. and see [Juliette] play Paris Hilton's perfume party and rub elbows with Hollywood. But I couldn't get them to pay for her tour support."

Weary of fighting with her distributors, trying to find ways to sell CDs in a digital world where no one bought them anymore, and trying to keep her bands happy, Fleisher dismantled Fiddler in 2006, nine years after starting the label. After a short tenure as the editor of Death + Taxes magazine, she returned to Art Center to fulfill a promise to her mother that she would finish college by the age of 30.

With her graduation coming up this spring, Fleisher has re-entered the music business with the first single on her new label, Jackie Darling — a partnership with label/distribution hybrid Hello My Name Is Records. Jackie Darling's first artist is XO, a side project of Say Anything members Jeff and Jake Turner. After stumbling upon XO on MySpace, Fleisher contacted them, discovered they had a finished EP in the can, and decided to get back in the game.

"It seemed like all the puzzle pieces fit without it being a hassle. I liked having a record label, because I liked putting out records. But at the end of the day, Fiddler, it was just this crazy business," she says. "With Jackie Darling, I can put out whatever I want — even a book."

Fleisher glances across the street at the old Cheers and laments how many of her favorite bands are throwing in the towel because of rising costs and diminishing returns. "The thing about bands was supposed to be, 'Maybe we'll make it; maybe it'll happen. Maybe we'll become rock stars.' And it feels like that 'maybe' might be gone." She pauses and considers the gravity of her words. "Don't get me wrong. I am the 'maybe' kid; I am the 'maybe' spokeswoman!"

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