The music industry as a whole isn't exactly known for taking care of the workers who create its main commodity. Yet Florida Music Association (FMA) executive director Helaine Blum insists that the Tampa-based nonprofit organization exists to help musicians develop the skills needed to journey unscathed through the financial minefields and contractual bear traps of a fairly ruthless business.

"The most important thing we do is help musicians," says Blum, who works out of the group's Sunrise office. "Our main mission since we started three years ago has been to educate and promote Florida musicians and the people who fill the auxiliary professions of the industry -- people in management, recording, everything. In the long run we lend a helping hand to everyone in the music-related industry here."

How, you ask? The FMA provides a variety of information to musicians, Blum explains, from offering contacts at nightclubs, radio stations, and press outlets across the state to featuring bands in FMA-sponsored showcases held monthly in the organization's chapter cities (Tampa, Orlando, and Miami). "Basically, a band can save a lot of time and money by letting our fingers do the walking for them," Blum states.

Not that these services are provided for free. The FMA is funded almost exclusively through membership fees: An individual annual membership costs $25, or $100 for bands and businesses with two to six members. In return, a member receives benefits such as free admission to all FMA-sponsored seminars and showcases; discounts at certain recording studios and retail outlets; and, perhaps most important, access to low-cost health insurance. Additionally, each year the FMA's steering committee selects one band to receive what Blum calls a mini record deal: "We put them in a studio, record them, manufacture a CD for them, and distribute it."

The organization's most recent endeavor is Florida Music Isn't Just for Breakfast Anymore, a genre-spanning CD sampler featuring fifteen acts from across the state, selected by the group's 21-member steering committee (which includes Miami artist manager Rich Ulloa and Joel Levy of Criteria Studios, among other locals). South Florida is represented on the disc by Diane Ward, Sister Madly, the Robbie Gennet Band, Black Janet, Jolynn Daniel, INHOUSE, and Suzy Creamcheese. Blum says the disc was released not only to increase the profile of the state's music industry, but also to raise funds for the FMA. To be featured on the disc, artists had to pay a fee ranging from $50 to $150 (depending on the number of musicians in the group), which entitles them to a year's membership and ten copies of the disc. Artists will also divvy up 50 percent of the net profits generated by sales of the disc, which will be available in record stores across the state.

Multi-instrumentalist Ben Peeler of Sister Madly says the money his band spent to be included on Florida Music was well worth the exposure the disc can offer. "We didn't do this as a selfless contribution to the FMA," Peeler admits. "We did it to promote the band. That's the most attractive thing about it. A record executive in New York City probably wouldn't listen to a CD by one band from South Florida, but a sampler of a lot of different bands might catch his eye. And we need something like that because being from South Florida can put you at a disadvantage. You go to Kansas City or Los Angeles and tell someone you're from Miami, and they'll expect to hear congas. We need all the help we can get."

Florida Music was distributed earlier this month at the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, and Blum contends industry reps appeared interested. "People seemed to love the idea of getting to hear fifteen bands from one state in one package," Blum notes. "We think it's a nice, condensed source of music that really represents the variety of talent in the state. It should help raise the profile of the Florida music industry and let people know what's going on here."

One thing you can be sure of: I Don't Know is no more. The screwball quartet from Hialeah -- which last year was named Best Local Rock and Roll Band by this very publication -- will hold its farewell performance Sunday, March 31, at Churchill's Hideaway (5501 NE Second Ave.).

"It's just a general things-have-come-up situation," says I Don't Know guitarist/vocalist Ferny Coipel, who has led the group since its inception four years ago. "Our accordion player [Mark Ruiz] is outta here -- he's moving to Washington, D.C., for a job opportunity. And our drummer [Izo Besares] wants to go back to school to finish up his master's degree, so . . . "

Coipel adds that the group will continue work on its second album (the followup to the self-released 1993 set Gullible's Travels) and that reps at Sub Pop Records in Seattle are still interested in the finished product, although he admits interest will probably wane if the label gets a whiff of the band's demise.

In the meantime, Coipel and I Don't Know bassist Tony Landa are trying to complete the Wake Up Miami compilation CD, which will feature local acts such as Kreamy 'Lectric Santa, the Goods, Drive Choir, the Holy Terrors, and -- naturally -- I Don't Know. Landa may move to Los Angeles after the disc is released this summer.

"This is like the end of an era for us," Coipel laments. "But this has happened to a lot of other bands, so we're just going to work with what we've got and make the best of it.

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John Floyd