Millenials get a bad rep for breaking the norm, but that’s not always a bad thing. In a time where modern technology is being integrated into our professional lives more and more, industries should learn to adapt to the ever-evolving business world. The music industry is no exception.
Back in the day, the profit model for record labels was flawless: Labels invested money into a musician and took a big chunk of the profits. The artist would sell records and the label would make their money back. It was a win-win situation.
Records used to sell like crazy because it was the only way you could get music. However, with the rise of music streaming technology like iTunes and Spotify, theold model for selling music is no longer relevant. Sales on physical copies are lower than ever, forcing hundreds of labels to go out of business or to become subsidized, leaving artists struggling for success.
After recognizing the need for change, Phoenix-based musicians Jordan “Squirrel” Tomaeno, 22, and Zach James, 23, decided to take a stand.
“The [music industry is]operating on a model that is no longer all that profitable. ReThink Records really operates on a brand new model that has very little ties to the standard recording contract,” Tomaeno says.
The twenty-somethings recently launched ReThink Records, a subscription-based record company in Tempe. They have contracts, but not your typical contracts. Instead of taking a majority of profits like other record companies, ReThink supplies a monthly membership that includes all the services musicians need to grow successful including audio, booking, promotion, video, public relations, publishing and marketing.
“What makes us so different is what they do and why we don’t do it. We basically do everything in reverse,” Tomaeno says.
“[The musicians] maintain rights to their copyright, they maintain majority share of their royalties and they pay us for the services we provide,” Tomaeno says.
The two business partners are no stranger to the world of music. James plays trumpet, trombone, ukulele and many other instruments, and has played in bands and frequents local shows here in the Valley.
“I started music in utero and from there it’s kind of just taken off,” James says.
Tomaeno played the Wurlitzer piano at his house at six years old, until he decided to shred the electric guitar as a teen.
“I was rockin’ my high socks, my Dickies shorts and my Blink-182 T-shirt and I started playing in a band with the jackass kid down the street,” Tomaeno laughs.
He recalls begging his parents for a MR8 Digital 8-Track Recorder for Christmas so he could start sending his music to record labels.
“All I had to do was hit record and that’s how recording music happened. In my 13-year-old-head that made perfect sense. It was the worst thing I’ve ever heard and I still have that recording. It kind of started that obsession of recording music for me,” he says.
The guys met two hours north of the Valley in Prescott, where James and Tomaeno became roommates and started recording music in their attic.
To fuel his passion, Tomaeno used all the money from serving tables at an Italian restaurant on recording gear. While the music kept on flowing, living in a small town was going nowhere.
“The monotony in my life was driving me to want to climb up the wall and scream. I was sitting there and thinking, ‘God I wish I would I could go see a show,’ but there was nowhere to go in this damn town and I was thinking in my head, ‘Well, why isn’t there?’” Tomaeno says.
From there, Whisperfest was born.
“I formulated this big plan in my head that I was going to throw a music festival in Prescott, Arizona. I had no idea what I was doing. I had never thrown a show, I’ve never booked a band. Why the fuck not? I could do this. I could figure this out,” he says.
Tomaeno told his friends he wanted to plan a music festival, and James was the only one who decided “to ride the crazy train.”
Although there were many hurdles, Whisperfest happened. The guys managed to book over 25 bands from all over the Southwest to perform on multiple stages for an overnight festival at Whispering Pines Camp. Featuring Valley favorites like Playboy Manbaby and Sundressed, it was the first time they organized a show of this magnitude.
“That was a really fun event. I think I ended up playing trombone for Playboy Manbaby, whom I met that night. They were all like really drunk and they said, ‘Come play trombone for us,’” James laughs.
“You didn’t even have your trombone with you,” Tomaeno includes.
“No, I had to drive all the way back to the house, pick up my trombone and drive back to the campground. It was like an hour drive. I learned the set list as we were playing it. That was lots of fun,” James says.
Fast-forward a couple years and James and Tomaeno tried to organize another festival in Phoenix with no success. James moved back to Prescott and played music there, and Tomaeno landed a gig at TallCat Studios. He was inspired by the artists and wanted to get even more involved in the process.
ReThink Records came from the idea that artists should get the opportunity to take control of their career.
“It just kind of happened. It arose out of necessity,” James says. “We cover every genre. We listen to everything, so we want to support everything.”
They currently represent five talented artists: Jade Sandra, Sam Era, Kirsin, E.$cott, and City on Stilts.
“We tried to get the prices down to a place where it’s affordable and accessible. It would be worth nothing if it was expensive for musicians to come in and do this,” Tomaeno says.
As a way to get their name out, the company threw a launch party on February 3, featuring all of their artists at the Rebel Lounge in Phoenix. In addition, they held an “Appetite for Disruption” sweepstakes where a local band, won a free six-month recording contract.
While they’ve only been in business for six months, the young entrepreneurs are determined to “disrupt” the music industry with their new business model and hope that artists and record labels will see how profitable their model can be.
“My personal goal as a producer is that we are contributing to how their music is created, and that they leave here frustrated because we challenged them to do something they’ve never done before,” Tomaeno says.
2121 E. Mill Avenue, Suite 203, Tempe, themusicindustrysucks.com