Yes, we've been seriously hyping up Sweat Records' fifth anniversary party, on this blog -- but that's because the event deserves it. Sweatstock, as the party is dubbed, is shaping up to be one of the best locals-only (plus No Age) events to come along in a while, something that all the different little camps are equally excited about. That's because everything involving Sweat gives everybody the warm fuzzies. Rather than let it devolve into a cliched music-snob-run, High Fidelity-type place, owners Lauren "Lolo" Reskin and Jason Jimenez have fashioned their into a meeting place where all are welcome.
In fact, there is so much going on at Sweat (and under the general "Sweat" event brand) that it makes everyone else look lazy. Reskin, especially, has been through a lot to get here. Hurricane damage pushed her out of the store's first location in 2005, and a serious robbery welcomed her to her current storefront next to Churchill's. Yet her baby has emerged stronger than ever, and the team scored a coup this year with a generous Knight Foundation grant. It was unusual, since, technically, Sweat Records is a for-profit business; other grant recipients included, for instance, the Florida Grand opera.
So even bigger things are on the horizon, but it's worth celebrating these five years so far, no small feat for an independent business in Miami operated by twentysomethings. In anticipation of the anniversary, Crossfade met up with Reskin recently (over a fair-trade almond milk latte) to chat about the keys to Sweat's success far, and her upcoming big plans for the place. We'll post the interview in three parts. In this first part, she gives us the scoop on the Knight Foundation grant, new plans for a web store, and the upcoming vinyl resurrection of her record label, Sutro. Check for parts two and three today and tomorrow.
Sweatstock. With No Age, ANR, Jacuzzi Boys, MillionYoung, Otto von Schirach, and others. 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday, April 17. Sweat Records, 5505 NE 2nd Ave., Miami. Admission is free; all ages; 786-693-9309; sweatrecordsmiami.com
Crossfade: You've been in this space for a little over two years now, since November of 2007. What's been the biggest challenge of running the new space, especially after the break-in?
Lolo Reskin: So far so good. We're definitely making the best of it, as we always do. Running any business is hard, running a business with so many different facets is even harder. It took a while to get settled; we never really got to get settled in any of our previous spaces before a hurricane came, or it was just a temporary space. Now that we've been here, things are starting to gel into place.
Slowly but surely, it's becoming easier, but we could probably still use more help. Right now we're actually running on fewer employees than we have in a while. It's just me and Jason full time, and Matt Preira of Roofless Records part time. For the most part, Jason and I like to be here a lot, so we both work as many shifts a week as we can that don't conflict with Shake, or Fridays at the Vagabond.
How many hours a week are you personally at the store?
At least 40, for real, depending, but I work on Sweat stuff from home constantly. It's definitely more than a full-time job. I love being here. Sometimes it's distracting, but the distractions are nice. Like earlier today, Nil Lara came in and shot the shit with us for like half an hour, and he's always funny, and he left us a CD and stuff. I love people, so it's great to be here because we get so many random characters coming in, and tourists, and people who just moved here, and all kinds of friendly faces. Sometimes it's good to be home to just bear down and take care of e-mails.
What do you think most people would be surprised to hear you have to deal with behind the scenes here? What kinds of e-mails are you dealing with the most?
Well, people kind of think Sweat is the 411 of the music scene, like, "Hey, do you know what's happening at the White Room tonight," places that we're not even affiliated with. We get a lot of "Hey, book my band" kinds of e-mails, and we have a form reply that we send until we can actually get to listening to it and finding a space for it.
There's a lot of distro ordering stuff. The amount of material that a record store owner is given to choose from is kind of staggering. I'm sure back in the day when there were five record labels it was a lot easier. The music wasn't better, but now there are 30 awesome distros that we work with, alone.
One of the things we're working on now is digitizing our inventory. We're transitioning to a fully digital point-of-sale which will sync flawlessly with our web store, so people will be able to see online what we have in our store. We got extra-inspired when we were selling the Iggy Pop T-shirts online for a while, and I realized that half the orders I got were from South Florida. Like, I was literally mailing them to South Beach. So I figured we'd better sell some stuff online.
Did that realization give you any pause about running this type of business?
No, because we don't think we're going to have a record store where we just sit back, and people come in and buy CDs and that's what we'll live off of. We actively have many streams of revenue that we have amassed, so that we can pay all of our bills, the Knight Foundation grant included. We're also very event-driven. Like tonight, we have a craft night, and a bunch of people are going to come in and order coffee and cupcakes, and those are sales we wouldn't have made otherwise. It doesn't cost us much to bring those things to the table.
About that grant -- when did you get the idea to apply for it? This is essentially a for-profit business, so it's an unusual award.
Well, I didn't hear about the grant the first year. I only heard about it when they announced the winners, and I saw that the Bas Fisher Invitational, and the Upper East Side Garden, and some other cool organizations that weren't huge had gotten it. So I read the guidelines and I realized we did fit. We're about the arts, and we're about the community. So I figured, well, "We've been kicking ass, why don't we apply?"
Did you write it yourself?
I absolutely did! But here's the thing, the Knight Foundation grant is so special and unique, the playing field is really level in a way that probably no other grants are. Most other grants seek out who they're going to give money to, but this is the other way around. You get 1020 characters, and whatever you can write in there is what they read, no matter if you're the Florida Grand Opera or Sweat Records.
So I made every word count. I said we've been doing what we've been doing for several years, and we positively represent Miami culture and we've gotten press in the New York Times, and CNN, and other things -- I know they look for outside validation a little bit. We're one of the only all-ages event spaces, we don't serve alcohol. And yeah, we're a for-profit business, but we're clearly not in it for the profit, because otherwise we wouldn't be doing any of this.
So luckily we made it to the second round, and the second round is where they give you more space to flesh out the proposal.
Did you have specific projects in mind when you applied?
This grant is more of an overarching operational grant, but we do have to meet certain goals, like increase our number of in-store events to a certain number every month.
Do the in-store events funded by the grant have to be free?
No, they don't. But we wrote into the grant that we were going to have to start charging bands to use our space for in-stores, and the grant would allow us to keep it free, so that's pretty cool. We weren't going to charge a lot anyways, but it's nice to know that if we have to stay open a couple extra hours for an in-store, we can compensate whoever's working without having to charge the bands or take money out of what we pay the touring bands.
Then yes, we're also working on the web store, which is going to be locally focused. We're modeling it after the Buy Olympia site, which sells a lot of the K Records stuff. They've been around for like 10 years, and they make people money. We want to do that for people, so people can sell their wares for us. We'll be set up to take credit cards online, so we would deal with a lot of the annoying infrastructure stuff so people can stay busy creating. Hopefully we'll have that launched by the summer.
We're also going to use some of the money to re-launch my old record label, Sutro, which is short for "subtropics." The first time I was running it was in 2005, a couple months after Sweat opened the first time. I had just met ANR, and I was so blown away by their live show that I was like, "I can't believe nobody has signed yet."
So we put out ANR So Far, the CD, which was the best tracks off their first two self-released EPs. That was the one that got a 7.9 on Pitchfork. We heard from someone on the down-low that the reviewer wanted to give it an eight-point-something, which would have put it in that "Best New Music Category," but they didn't know who they were so they stuck it with a 7.9. That was frustrating, but what can you do?
So we put out that one CD, and then we put out the All Party Talks 12-inch by ANR, which was four original songs, on translucent blue vinyl with artwork by Reeve Schumacher. The sounds on it, to me, to these days hold up way up there. I still think it's a lot better than a lot of the music that's out now.
To make a long story short, the band broke up, and the label went on hiatus, but now they're back and we're going to start up again with a series of colored vinyl split seven-inches. We have some pretty damn sick ones lined up. We're going to have the first-ever split between Jacuzzi Boys and Electric Bunnies. We have one that's going to be Otto von Schirach on one side, and Panic Bomber on the other. We have a bunch more already lined up: MillionYoung is already on board, Teepee, Jesse Jackson, ANR of course, and Animal Tropical. Of course everything will come with a digital download, but for physical product, it's only going to be on vinyl.
It's nice to be able to actually make something, and especially to help local bands have more merch to sell. A lot of bands don't have enough merch, and that's something they really have to be thinking about, because music is becoming a free commodity. But people will still come in and drop 30 bucks on the new Joanna Newsom box set or whatever, because it's big and pretty and it has the artwork all nice.