The season of relaxing, playtime and outdoor entertaining is upon us. In the Sacramento Valley, Summer time also means an abundance of fresh locally grown organic fruits and vegetables. I’m incredibly lucky; I have a huge backyard with planter boxes filled with ripening tomatoes, traveling vines of cucumbers and melons and plenty of fresh herbs to season this bounty. As a Master gardener, I’ve learned to prepare the soil, plant the seeds, water and wait. If you do things right, little green shoots will pop up through the dark rich earth with in a couple of weeks and start growing like crazy. But sometimes, you have to go in and weed out the extra stuff that wasn’t planned for in your otherwise well-prepared beds. It’s the same with running Gearhead Records. I’m fully in the middle of weeding now, creating space for the little seedlings to come.
Thank you so much for the overwhelming support and encouragement so many of you sent in regards to the last newsletter I sent out. I was blown away by the outpouring of shared stories, many similar to mine, and the appreciation for the honesty that I shared when telling my story.
The response was so overwhelming I have not been able to answer all the wonderful emails I’ve received. I am deeply grateful my words were an inspiration to others and honestly, I cried when I read some of those emails. If you haven’t heard back from me yet, know I will answer your email. I believe in saying thank you and making a personal connection to the best of my ability.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about who I am, and what I believe in. There’s an ad that runs on TV and radio for Kaiser Permanente, a health care provider here in the US that states all the things they stand for and encourage their patients to reach for: exercise, healthy relationships, good food and plenty of sleep, play time and balance, and clear honest communication.
It got me to thinking: what do I stand for? What are the most important values in my life, and how do I share that with the world? A few that come to mind are sincerity, honesty, patience, enthusiasm, great customer service, speaking my truth (even if it seems counter productive), treating others as I wish to be treated, connecting with my customers personally, and transparency in all actions. As I look back on the twelve years I’ve spent running and building my business, these are values I’ve tried to incorporate into Gearhead on a daily basis.
When I first started the label I had another goal: I wanted Gearhead to be the first label in the history of the music business that was honest with the bands, and put out music I totally loved and believed in.
As I take a hard look at where I am today personally, and where Gearhead is, I see it’s more important than ever to honor all these values. There’s always been the myth of label vs. band, and that myth has created a lot of false impressions and bad feelings between record labels and the bands they’re supposedly helping even if they are being totally honest. It seems when you mix financial gains with art, there’s bound to be misunderstandings somewhere along the line. It’s enough to make me want to throw my hands up, and ask, can anyone be honest in this day and age? Can a business truly be transparent in their business practices and still be successful?
As I sort through the remnants of Gearhead Records, and get honest with myself about what was and wasn’t working, I realize now that despite my best intentions at transparency, there were a lot of times where my actions seem to go against everything I stood for. Although I have never lied to a band or anyone I’ve worked with, I see now that I was totally lying to myself, and that’s just as bad, if not worse. I have made a whole lot of mistakes because of ignorance and getting caught up in the ego of creating a “successful” business.
I’ve been applying many of the Alcoholics Anonymous principles to healing my life and bringing it into balance, and the one area I’ve really been stuck on is Step 4: taking an honest and fearless inventory of who I’ve harmed with my actions and making amends. In order to build on a solid foundation, you have to find and fix all the cracks in it. It’s not a pretty place to be, and honestly, I was able to justify my actions because my intentions were always the same: treat people as I want to be treated, always be honest and truthful even if it’s painful. But in my misguided effort to “grow the business” I let a lot of these values get varnished over by thinking I was making the best decisions for everyone. I forgot to be honest with myself.
There’s a quote from Ayn Rand that really reflects this: “You came as a solemn army to bring new life to man [or in my case, to bands]. You tore that life you knew nothing about out of their guts–and you told them what it had to be. You took their every hour, every minute, every nerve, every thought in the farthest corners of their souls–and you told them what it had to be. You came and you forbade life to the living.”
It started out so pure, so honest. I had no intention of creating a “business”. I only wanted to share my passion with the world, to share all this great music that I had access to. I was completely ignorant about what I was doing; I have a degree in Cultural Anthropology, with an emphasis on Ethnobotany. I never took a business class in my life. I just flew by the seat of my pants, working full-time as a sales person for Mordam Records by day, and at night, learning how to put out records by just doing it: DIY baby! And gradually, it all shifted after the massive commercial success of The Hives. That’s when I started pushing the bands to be something they weren’t, to do something bigger and better. That’s when the silent destruction began. I started lying to myself, and following my ego instead of my heart.
I told the bands what they had to do to “make it” even if they had no desire deep down to become successful. Certainly, almost all bands I’ve worked with say they want to be successful, but the truth is, it’s really hard work, and most bands just want to have fun, play music, party and get laid. And I have always told bands just starting out: “If it’s not fun, don’t do it. Don’t become a band because you think you’re gonna be famous.” My pal Toothless George has just released a book called Band Together about this very topic in which I am quoted saying this very thing! I encourage everyone one of you reading this newsletter to check out his book; it has a lot of sage advice from some of the greatest talent in the world of independent music!
I took something pure, and as Ayn Rand so eloquently puts it,“tore it out of their guts”. No wonder most of the bands on the label ended up breaking up, and no wonder so few of the records ended up breaking even. I owe every one of those bands, every single customer and person I came in contact with over the years an apology. I made some terrible mistakes thinking I was doing the right thing. Even though I was completely transparent in all business practices, including all the accounting, sales and money, I was lying to myself. I wanted the label to grow, and to sell a lot of records. I wanted the bands to be splashed across the covers of the big music magazines. I wanted to look cool because I discovered a band and brought them to the world.
One of my favorite movies, Almost Famous, has some great lines in it that really highlight reality of the music industry. If you don’t know this movie, go rent it!! It’s a semi-autobiography by the now famous movie director Cameron Crowe (Singles, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Jerry Macquire among others) about a geeky music fanatic high school kid who wrote for Creem Magazine and Rolling Stone. The kid, William, finds himself on the road with a fictional rock band in order to get an inside look at the band for Rolling Stone Magazine, and during the tour it becomes clear he is not part of the “in-crowd”.
This movie reflects my life in so many ways. I started out Djing for a college radio station, KBVR in Corvallis OR, in 1986. Before that I went to the occasional concert: The Moody Blues, The Kinks, Heart, and the occasional punk show that came to town (Dead Kennedys and The Miracle Workers in 1982 stand out big time). As a DJ, and then as a music critic for the Oregon State University paper The Barometer, I began going to shows almost every night. I found myself wanting to be one of the “cool kids”. I was going to tons of shows, interviewing bands, writing about music and in general surrounding myself with the “in crowd.” Being around those bands made me feel cool, and I became friends with many of them. Or so I thought. There’s a line in the movie where the Lester Bangs character, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman says to the kid, William “Oh God, you made friends with them! They make you feel cool, and hey, I’ve met you, you are not cool.” That one line perfectly describes my life in a nutshell: I’m not cool; I never was, despite hanging around cool people.
I’ve been sorting through all the old posters I’ve collected from my past twenty-five plus years in the music industry, and listing them for sale in the Gearhead eBay store I’ve decided to liquidate everything. I’ve dragged boxes of this stuff around all these years, holding onto them as badges of “coolness”, looking for validation in these colorful rolled pieces of paper. The truth is, I’ve seen and done a lot of cool stuff, hung with amazing people and witnessed the emergence of some unbelievable talent. I don’t need those posters to prove that I’m cool, because I’m not.
I’m just a music geek girl who got sucked into a life that fed my soul and my passion, because it made me feel. There’s another line in that movie where William is interviewing Russell Hammond, lead guitar player for the (fictional) band Stillwater, played by Billy Crudup. He asks him “What do you like about music?” and Russell pauses, and then answers “EVERYTHING”. The movie closes with a line, spoken by the groupie Sapphire (played by Fairuza Balk): “They don’t know what it is to be a fan, to truly love some silly piece of music or some band so much that it hurts”. And that’s what it’s all about: loving music and being so moved by it that it hurts.
As I continue to reassess Gearhead and where I’m at spiritually, emotionally, financially, and physically, that’s all that really matters. I still love music deeply, passionately, and joyfully, and it doesn’t matter that I totally get off on listening to Cat Stevens or John Denver when I need to feel a little sad and introspective, or that I throw on The Go-Gos or The Runaways when I need a pick-me-up, or Gram Parsons and Emmy Lou Harris when I need to feel the ache of raw longing. It’s all about the music, and despite my mistakes, that will never change.
I deeply love the music I helped release into the world: I still sing along at the top of my lungs with That Dukes of Hamburg record every time I listen to it. That White Barons record totally reminds me of what a fool for love I’ve been when I listen to their anthem “Drank Myself Right Back to You”. The Mansfields make me want to dance every time I crank it up, and Mensen and Puffball get my blood flowing and I air-guitar along like a cool rocker chick when I listen to them. I Walk The Line is still one of my favorite records for it’s honest dark emotional lyrics, and I still think Red Planet is still the greatest pop band that no one ever heard. Every single record in the Gearhead catalog does something for me and I’m grateful that I got to share that with the bands who created the music, and the fans who supported Gearhead by buying the records and going to the shows and giving me the guts and inspiration to keep putting out records by bands no one ever heard of, just because I thought someone else might dig it as much as I did.
As I find redemption in the music, I know I’m going to be ok. Gearhead will continue on. I know now I’ll put out another record when the time is right, and this time, I’ll just let it be what it is; a captured moment of self-expression, creativity, and passion, not just a cog in the financial success of a business. In the words of the Flaming Sideburns “We gotta testify, we gotta go to church, we gotta drink the wine, we got to testify!!” Rock n’ roll still feeds my soul!
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Till the next go-round,