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80/20 Records Makes Getting Signed Cool Again

Published: Friday, December 14, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 13:12

Captain Squeegee

Courtesy of band

Captain Squeegee

It’s no secret that record labels are in trouble these days. Illegal downloads and steaming music online has made it virtually impossible to turn a profit on music. Labels are downsizing and folding, unable to keep up, but rather than bellyache and focus on the past, Phoenix’s Mike Zimmerlich started his own label with drastically different terms.

80/20 Records was born nearly five years ago but made its biggest announcement last week. It signed Future Loves Past, PALMS and Captain Squeegee, three well-known bands in the area that have garnered their own followings with blood, sweat and gigs.

Zimmerlich, founder of 80/20 Records, says the company didn’t intend to sign three bands at once; it was just an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

“That’s a funny story. We had Dry River Yacht Club [on our roster] and we got to a point where we had the structure behind the label to bring on board another artist. We were looking to bringing on one, maybe two artists,” he says.

Zimmerlich says 80/20 scouted venues for new artists, but after being in the scene for several years knew who they wanted to work with. However, signing a band isn’t an easy process and can take several months of meetings to work out an agreement.

“It’s also not an easy decision for an artist so they take their time to see if it’s a right fit,” he says. “It just so happens, out of the blue, that all three of these artists came up to us around the same time and said, ‘We’d love to sign.’”

They all signed within the week and label mates Dry River Yacht Club approved. The new additions are a big move for a label that started a bit serendipitously. Zimmerlich had no experience working with record labels before starting his own, which probably helped in crafting 80/20’s business plan, in which artists keep 80 percent of their royalties.

“That’s unheard of in the music industry,” he says. “Most record labels offer about 12 to 15 percent royalties so we’re doing complete reversal.”

While 20 percent doesn’t sound like enough to keep them in business, 80/20 Records prides itself in being smart with expenses and promoting crowd funding. It also focuses on digital distribution rather than spending money on physical CDs.

“The band decides what we are involved with, so if it’s just the music or if they want us to be involved in the merch, we’ll do that and then we get our fair share,” Zimmerlich says.

80/20 Records offers to do the dirty PR and management job that bands have had to do for themselves for so long. Zimmerlich says relieving bands of their business duties allows them to focus more on their music and get better as a band. 

“Mike [Zimmerlich] and Jason [Shoff, head of A&R] of 80/20 have a well thought-out business plan that nurtures bands rather than exploiting them, and the relatively small size of their roster makes it realistic to give each band the necessary attention to record good albums and make smart moves,” says Austen Mack, keyboardist and guitarist for Captain Squeegee. “We're excited to work with them on planning our next year of recording, touring and getting the business end of our operation running smoothly.”

Captain Squeegee has been on the local scene for nearly a decade and singer/ trumpet player Danny Torgersen says it just made sense to join forces.

“They just emailed us. We said, ‘We're just trying to save the world with our next album... that's all... we're about 80/20 on our chances of it working,’” he says.

All four bands on 80/20 Records are planning on releasing a new album next year, and Zimmerlich says he can guarantee 2013 is going to be by far the best year they’ve ever had.

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