"Miami-based rock quartet Nuclear Valdez have channeled the breadth of vision, tunefulness, and integrity of their widely heralded Epic debut I Am I into an exciting and surprising follow-up, Dream Another Dream, set for a January 14 release."
So begins a November 13 press release from Set to Run Public Relations, which, with the help of Epic itself, has already mounted a campaign on behalf of Dream, sending out advance copies and press releases, calling key people in the media to spark interest. But the publicity push might not be necessary. Dream could hit the charts before Epic ever releases it.
At least it could if there were more people out there like Keith Conlan.
A 28-year-old employee of the Broward Sheriff's Office and a devoted collector of recorded music, Conlan took out a free classified ad in the November 13 issue of New Times beneath the heading, "Bargains $50 & Under." For twenty dollars he was offering a rare Basia live CD, and also this: "Nuclear Valdez CD, Dream another dream, $15. Not yet released. Call Keith...."
The first query came from Mike Lembo. "I called and said I'd like to get one," Lembo says. "I was acting like a fan."
Conlan says he remembers that call clearly. "I knew it was just a bunch of crap, that something was up," the Plantation resident says.
Mike Lembo happens to be the New York-based manager of Nuclear Valdez.
What Conlan was doing is clearly illegal, but even Lembo admits it's not quite the crime of the century. "If he had boxes of them," Lembo says, "then I would have done something. He's just a guy trying to make a few bucks, $60 or $70. But that this is happening means the value of the band is big. It's like the [Grateful] Dead, who don't mind their stuff being bootlegged. It's not a great thing, but I'd love to have seen this happen in, say, Minneapolis."
Nuclear Valdez - Fro Sosa, Juan Diaz, Jorge Barcala, and Robert Slade LeMont - proved that a Miami-based rock band could attract national attention when they signed to Epic at the end of 1988. The group, which cut its teeth in Miami clubs, recorded an album, I Am I, which Epic released in October 1989. It sold approximately 40,000 copies - not great, but not so disappointing as to cause Epic to drop the band. In fact, says the label's Lisa Markowitz, "We love this band. The people at Epic, in all departments, truly love this band, and that always helps."
It helps because publicists, for example, can get approval to put money and effort into promoting the Nukes that might otherwise be devoted to some other Epic band. After Dream Another Dream was recorded early this year at Criteria Studios in North Miami and scheduled for release in mid-September, the hype began immediately. Epic sent out 6000 advance copies of the CD.
But in early fall, Epic reps met with Lembo and his people, and it was decided that the release of Dream should be delayed until January so it wouldn't have to compete with the glut of albums shipped for the Christmas buying period, the U2s and Princes and Michael Jacksons. A "baby band" like Valdez could get overlooked in such cash-register-ringing company.
But by that time, the 6000 advance copies had already been cast upon the waters and could not be reeled back in. "It's a weird, wacky situation," says Markowitz. "You can't go back and get all the promos. You can call as many people as physically possible and tell them that the album is bumped. But there's only so much area you can cover."
At least one of those promo CDs apparently wound up among the new and used platters at All Books & Records in the Searstown Mall in Fort Lauderdale. That's where Keith Conlan says he found it in September. "I picked it up for a couple of dollars," the jail guard says. "I thought it was a single because it was in a cardboard sleeve, not a plastic box. Then I realized it was the whole album. I saw an article in New Times about the release being delayed. So I decided to sell it."
The business of selling used CDs can be a very lucrative one, mainly because the discs aren't damaged through use the way vinyl is. The record industry, predictably, has begun raging about the recycling. Retailers, who tend to feel the used-CD market is taking money directly out of their pockets, generally blame label employees, radio station staff members, and other insiders, who they say contribute to the problem by selling promotional copies, which typically are physically stamped with a not-for-sale stipulation. "We send advances to key critics and key promo people at radio stations to listen to the music," says Jocelynn Loebl, senior vice president at Set to Run. "It's not so they can say, `I don't want this and good-bye,' and it goes to a store. We trust these people to listen to this music. If they care about the music, they won't give it to a store. That's taking money away from the band. It's disgusting."
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And so far no one in the industry has come up with a solution. "Generally, we know [illicit selling] is done practically every day of the week," says Lisa Markowitz. "[Conlan] happened to get caught. It's a concern, it's a problem. It's a known fact within the industry that bootlegging is so widespread you can't really crack down from Podunk to Manhattan."
But does consumer/entrepreneur Keith Conlan belong on the industry's Most Wanted list? "I'm not into bootlegging," Conlan says. "I collect music and I like to have rare things in my collection. Like Basia, that was a promo item recorded in Chicago that was never released. I found a copy at a record show for five dollars. A big Basia fan can't go to Peaches and get this CD."
Between albums, major-label bands avoid touring so as not to dilute their value, and the members of Nuclear Valdez have been between albums for months now. Sosa and Diaz have been working at record stores as something to do and to earn some pocket money. Barcala gives guitar lessons, LeMont is a professional hair stylist. So they were in town to hear about Conlan's ad. "I heard about it and looked into it," says Fro Sosa. "He had a few promo copies and sold them. He told us he had five. I can't do much about it. I could find out where he lives, I guess, and send a cease-and-desist letter from our lawyer."
But, Sosa asks rhetorically, "How can I be pissed? Maybe the guy's a fan. I mean, it sucks, but I fully expect it. With the market for used CDs, you know the record's going to be circulated. I should put a thing in New Times myself and sell some stuff. We as a band have to sell a lot of records to really make money. Any kind of promotion might help. But the irony is that he's making money off our music, and we aren't.