Any musician knows that the ultimate goal of being in a band is to get your music onto a record, whether it be for glory, chicks or to let the public know what is on your mind. Accomplishing this feat, to say the least, is quite difficult, despite the fact that we are living in a society where artistic values is of little importance to the general public,. Because we are so far from the coasts, where most of the recording companies are, very few bands or talent ever make it in Salt Lake. The closest thing to anybody making it big from Salt Lake is The Osmonds and The Jets. Besides a few individuals who have made it into other bands, very few alternative bands from Salt Lake have received any attention from the outside world.
Athens, Georgia created quite a stir about ten years ago with acts like B-52’s, R.E.M. and a plethora of others. Later, Seattle brought in the grunge scene and produced several bands, but only a few, including Nirvana, Soundgarden and some others have left a serious mark. This kind of energy has never really existed in Salt Lake and so too often most good bands come and go, never having enough success to keep up the momentum and secure a recording contract. This leaves bands to record, produce, fund, and distribute their musical creation on their own.
A year ago Brad and Vicky Barker, along with a few other partners who are no longer with them, started Flatline Records with a minimal amount of money to spread over a vast amount of talent. With the help of Brad Collins, owner of Raunch Records, Brad Barker released his first 7” record with his own band, Victims Willing. The record sold well on a national level and brad learned enough about the music industry to expand and try some other bands. His first effort was another 7” by locals Brainstorm, a band composed of the members of Insight, Better Way, and a few other local musicians. The production took several months, but with the help of several people the record finally made it. Unfortunately, by the time the record had come out, Brainstorm was no longer together. However, locally, people knew enough about the band that it sold well.
Once the Brainstorm project was done and out, Brad and Vicky moved on to The Stench four before, 4 songs early songs written before the Crazy Moon album. Because of The Stench’s constant touring and two previous albums, this record did much better nationally. By this time, Flatline Records had become a familiar name to distributors all over the U.S. and Europe. When Search, Flatline‘s 3rd release, came out people knew the name meant something and the record has virtually sold on its own.
Flatline’s insistence on quality records and top rate production has given them credibility and respect. Surprisingly, only about ten percent of the records they press are sold locally, while the rest go out to about twenty national distributors or are sold through regular ads in Maximum Rock and Roll. Brad says that the number of people who order through the mail is increasing every month and the sales by far outweigh the cost of running the ad. It is amazing how willing people across the U.S. and throughout the world people are to purchase independent records.
As far as I am concerned, almost all good music that is released bears the name of an independent recording company. By the time most alternative bands get their music onto a major label they have kissed so many asses that the music becomes bland and mediocre. Very few bands can maintain their integrity and still play with the big boys.
After a year of pressing and working, Brad and Vicky almost have the business running on it’s own, financially. When I asked Brad what his ultimate dream for the company was, I half-expected to hear stories about flashy cars and a bitchin’ pad. Instead, he said he would just like to have enough money to release the music when it becomes available. Brad wants to deal only with independent stores, independent record labels, and alternative bands. In short, he wants his company to support the scene, instead of the multinational corporations. One thing has become clear to me and that is … making money in Salt Lake’s alternative market is difficult if not impossible; it takes time, work, and a hell of a lot of help from the people around you. When Brad makes a deal with a band, there are no fancy contracts and no unkept promises. The band gets a portion of the product and all other funds go back into the business to get more bands on vinyl. This is worked so far, the bands working with Flatline trust Brad and the momentum is building.
Who knows? Sub Pop started as a cassette-only business and in a few short years they became one of the most influential independent labels on the market. If Brad and Vicky can keep at this pace, they could easily being tapping further into the vast amount of talent in this valley. On the horizon, Flatline will be releasing Reality and Waterfront and have future plans for Iceburn, Hairfarm and others. Keep your eyes open: the first two Flatline 7” are out of print and supplies are limited and trust me, these records are good and they can only increase in value with scarcity.
Besides Flatline, the biggest local independent was Running Records. Set up by Terrance and Geoff of The Stench as a way to release their own albums, the two hooked up with Cane Boychuck, who was then distributing with Cargo Records. However, Cane turned out to be a questionable investment for Running Records when he allegedly allowed The Stench’s albums to die in distribution. Posters, media push and all the ads and publicity generated by the band were to no avail. As a result, two great albums by The Stench, Crazy Moon and Saltair, never received recognition and all the other stuff outside the band that Terrence wanted to release never got out. However, one good thing came out of it, when Terrence presented Can with Bad Yodelers‘ debut album I Wonder. This album reached several distributors, including Semaphore Records in Australia, and they liked enough to buy up the rights and press it themselves. They pressed it, European kids loved it, and the magazines raved about it.
On the other hand, despite this apparent success, Cane seemed to be the only one who profited financially from this deal. The Bad Yodelers now have a contract with Semaphore, so Running Records at least accomplished this before its demise. Running Records is no more but The Stench’s third album was released by the Stench’s newest member Pat Young, the album is doing well and should be available on compact disc this month.
Most of the other indies trying to release records are people primarily interest in releasing their own music. This includes Giving Ground, operated by Scott and Lara Bringard of Commonplace, who have released The Chosen Ones on 7”, and are now working on a full length CD and tape. However, like many they are just waiting for some way to fund their project. Aida House Records has released Colour Theory’s 7” with plans for more, but nothing yet.
R.U. Dead seems to be the longest lasting indy in Salt Lake with an EP by Hate X9. Focusing on the hardcore/thrash genre they have also released two 7” since Apprehension and Khristmas in Kuwait. R.U. Dead were one of the first indies to actually release music other than their own when they produced Dead City by a Dead Lake, a cassette compilation of several bands. In the works is a second compilation, which will be a benefit for Native Americans involved in the Bid Mountain project. Travis Nielsen has joined with R.U. Dead Records for this project and will be helping them release their full-length album due early this year. R.U. Dead plans to release as much local music as possible, as soon as funds become available.
Siren Song Records has just released Idaho Syndrome’s Schemes of Angels, one of the first alternative full length CDs to come out of Salt Lake. Disappointedly, the Siren Song logo was left off the CD. Despite this turn of events, Matt Taylor plans to release a 10” by Mary Throwing Stones in the near future, and plans to produce both local and national bands as well, although he will steer clear of the punk genre.
These independent record companies require years to get rolling and if all else fails, some great music has already been released and bands have worked together to make good things happen in Salt Lake. Salt Lake has become a melting pot of musicians and luckily relatively little animosity is present here. With luck, these fledgling companies will keep up the great work and with some support Salt Lake could easily become a major source of talent in the music world.
For more from the SLUG Archives: