As I’m trying to launch a new career (fiction writing), I’m also taking stock of an old one (producing electronic music). I signed my first track in 1992, at the age of 23, to Mega-Tech records (an offshoot of the famous San Francisco disco label Megatone). I released my latest record, a reggae/breaks hybrid track, a week ago.
Breaking in wasn’t easy. I remember vividly sending out cassette tape demos in padded mailers to record labels in New York City and Los Angeles, following up via phone, and getting shot down by arrogant label runners (I’ve made a point to never be mean, running my own record label, even though our signing bar is very high).
I’ll always be grateful to John Hedges of Megatone for signing my first track, coaching me through the A&R process, and always taking the time to answer my questions. What a boss. Billboard named him best DJ in San Francisco in 1976. I was seven.
A few years later I was the newest member of the Trip ‘n Spin collective, a motley crew of music producers including DJ Spesh, Greg Lindberg (who produced as Island Universe), and the hip-hop band Mod Squad. We tried to operate like a business, but we all had different agendas and no common vision. For some reason our web server was located in the upstairs office — right next to changing rooms — of the Mitchell Brothers O’Farrell theatre (striptease club). Talk about distracting work environments.
In the late nineties, Spesh and I spun off to start Loöq Records. We hired Jackie von Treskow, first as an intern, later promoted to label manager. We ran a weekly dance music event, Qoöl at 111 Minna, that brought together thousands of dance music fans at the unlikely hour of 5pm. At Loöq we did (and still do) have a common vision, and a couple decades later we’re nearing our 200th release.
What started me thinking about all this was the project of consolidating my Albums and Discography page, part of some ongoing cleanup I’m doing on this site. I thought it would take a few hours. By the time I’d found all the old artwork, discovered about five new compilations I had no idea I was on, created a database of entries, written the code to export the whole deal to HMTL, and looked it over for errors and omissions, I was sixteen hours in. Here’s the new page.
While it’s always been a part-time career, the releases have added up. So far …
- 169 releases (not including licenses to games and films, unless that was the only release format)
- on about 40 labels
- under a dozen aliases, many of them collaborations
- ~ 500K total download sales? (wild guesstimate)
- ~ 20M total streaming sales? (wild guesstimate)
- ~ $100K net music production income, including royalties and licensing? (wild guesstimate)
No big hits, but several microhits. It’s a lot of work for not very much money (over more than two decades), but considering that I’ve usually had good income from other sources, I have few regrets. Music doesn’t pay well unless you’re HUGE (or you’re incredibly skilled and you do work for hire). On the other hand, making music tied in with other income sources, like DJing and event promotion. The latter was lucrative enough to allow me to work “full-time” as a producer/label runner/event promoter for a few years. I put full-time in quotes because in fact I just coasted during those years, still only working part-time on music activities. Instead of pushing hard, I got very familiar with a few videogames.
In terms of career arc, it might have been smarter to release more music on other labels (as I wrote about recently), but seeing as I’ve published work on about 40 different labels, I obviously wasn’t only self-publishing (I had no idea it was that many until I ran a query on the discography database). There was probably also a window in the early 2000’s where I could have bumped my career to the next level by touring and becoming a better DJ, but I just didn’t want to.
That said, I still have ego fantasies when it comes to music. A production credit on some kind of crossover hit? That would be a helluvalotta fun. I still push myself to learn new production techniques, experiment with unfamiliar genres, invent new sounds, and put in studio time almost every day. I have a (digital) vision board for music achievements I’d still like to unlock.
Looking forward, I’ll keep writing and releasing music. It may not be my top creative priority, but it’s good for my soul, and it’s good for my friendships with the guys I make music with. I’m planning a studio redesign. I’m excited that the new reggae track is currently Momu’s bestselling track. I was incredibly stoked that Beatport picked the latest Jondi & Spesh release as a “Staff Pick.”
It’s great to still be in the game.
While this post may be a vanity wank-fest, I write it at what is otherwise a time of creative insecurity. In the face of dozens of rejection letters from editors, it’s good to remember that I faced major rejection before, and kept going, and have something to show for it.