Five years ago, Lebron James and Dwyane Wade were still with the Miami Heat and we re-elected Barack Obama. In retrospect, it feels like a simpler, safer time to have been alive. But just because we're in a social nosedive doesn't mean 2012's legacy doesn't live on. Take Cheap Miami, for example. It was around this time of year, minus half a decade, that Patrick Garcia and Michelle Granados started a record label that would promote local musicians with something of a novelty — cassette tapes. The partners would book bands, both local and international, and offer to produce tapes of their music for free that they would then sell at their shows. They also had an online store.
"I've shipped tapes to Japan; I've shipped tapes all over Europe, Australia, Canada," Garcia says. "We also put them in record stores, stuff like that."
After talking to Garcia, it's immediately clear the goal was never the sort of get-rich-or-die-trying narrative you'd expect from a Miami startup. Back in the early days, Granados was active as a local musician and Garcia was eager to contribute to the scene he'd been haunting. Over the years, they've become an important part of the city's increasing appetite for rock shows in the neighborhood.
"It was a learning curve," says Garcia of the initial setup. "Me and my partner, when we first started, we sort of stumbled around getting to know how everything works. Now it's become much more streamlined. It's lazier," he laughs.
Lazy or not, the "cheap" in Cheap Miami was never meant to speak to the quality of the work. (It actually originated from Granados' Tumblr at the time, which was dedicated to "taking cheap shots of dirty Miami musicians.") A couple years ago, in fact, the label stopped making tapes in the name of quality. It had originally been duplicating tapes in mono, and making the switch to stereo sound meant dropping two or three grand on a new duplicating machine.
"I've been researching how to keep it self-sustaining," Garcia explains. "I've collected a bunch of really high-quality tape duplication machines, so I have been getting back into making tapes again this year. We've released four or five tapes in the last six months."
While the tapes were on hiatus, Cheap Miami was by no means taking a general break. The label regularly books shows at Gramps and Churchill's Pub, and Garcia hosts the karaoke night with Shelley Novak at Kill Your Idol. Novak and Garcia hosted a Dating Game-style show this past Valentine's Day. Cheap Miami also cohosted a caravan show with L.A.-based Lolipop Records and was a finalist in the 2014 Mastermind Awards. So yeah, they've been busy.
"I've had a lot of really cool opportunities to book bands that I always listened to when I was younger," Garcia says. "Like Bloodshot Bill. That was super surprising because I never thought I'd be booking one of my favorite artists."
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Aside from fulfilling childhood dreams, Granados and Garcia have plans to expand. With tapes in production and shows on the calendar, they're looking for a headquarters.
"The idea is to have a one-stop shop for bands. There's a bunch of recording studios and even labels all over the city, but there's no place in Miami where you can go to a studio and get something physical from a record label in the same place," Garcia says.
For artists coming to the brick and mortar, he explains, "We'll make 'em CDs, we'll make 'em tapes, and records too. We can get them shirts. We found a space in downtown Hollywood that seems really promising. It used to be an old brothel in the '30s, so it's got these homemade chandeliers everywhere and the Victorian glass doorknobs. Back in the '90s, it was converted into a recording studio, so it's basically already built for what we want."
Wherever they end up, you can be sure the duo will be making space for local music in this dirty, beautiful city, just for the love of it.