The Interview Series // 19

leeorbrown

Remember that emo-kid at school who ‘managed’ the punk band? Let’s call that kid ‘street smart kid’. ‘Street smart kid’ was the shit. He was creative, tenacious, focused, could get a hundred screaming kids along to some shitty gig in the sticks, and hacked up letterboxes with an axe after downing a bottle of Jimmy B at your fifteenth birthday. Where is ‘street smart kid’ now? Running that record label you want to work for, of course. This week we interview one such ‘street smart kid’ – Leeor Brown. His L.A based label, Friends of Friends (http://www NULL.fofmusic NULL.net/), sells limited edition tee-shirts and other tangible goods that come with a download code instead of a CD. He’s already done one with Daedelus (http://www NULL.myspace NULL.com/daedelusdarling), and Mos Def stole the idea with his newest release, so it must be the shiz-nit. We know there’s some ‘street smart kids’ reading this site – so why don’t you go out and start a label, y’all? Go on! It’s better than a real job. Fuck!

Junior: Why the hell did you start a record label? Aren’t all of those things going broke?

Leeor: Well, I think that’s debatable. Labels that have been around and built a business model on what was happening back in the day, treating it like a product based business, aren’t keeping up with the times. I saw an opportunity to do the things that labels used to do without nearly the same amount of overhead. There’s still money out there – people are still buying digital. Not at the same rate or the same amount of income earned as it was with CDs, but at the same time you spend a lot less money getting that release out and distributed these days. For me it’s about trying to do things differently, not spending that much money up front so the artists and label can see some money at the end of the day.

Jr: We read somewhere that vinyl sales were actually through the roof too.

L: Yeah in the last few years they went up something like a thousand percent where CD sales dropped off. The way I always look at it is that the people who are clamouring the most are the ones that made money, or established their business in that model, and that shit just doesn’t exist anymore. Not even just the major labels either, even the bigger indie labels that have been around for ten or fifteen years are struggling too because they created a whole business that now has to shift modes.

Jr: Definitely. You’re releasing your second EP soon right?

L: Yeah, we have one release out, Friends of Friends Volume 1. But I also have these remixes that came exclusively with the shirt for the first three months but I put those out on iTunes last month.
Our second release, Volume 2, is out September 15th and is this group Larytta (http://www NULL.myspace NULL.com/larytta). That’ll be the second shirt release. Then our first full length will be this dude Ernest Gonzales (http://www NULL.myspace NULL.com/theoryofeverything) in February.

Jr: Is the full length going to be just a shirt too or will it be something else?

L: No no no, it’s going to be a whole other thing. I’m pretty excited about it actually, I’ve got to say. I’ve gone big for Ernest’s record: we got 16 musicians to do covers, so there is a cover for every song on the full length, and then we got artists from around the world to do their interpretation of a song so there are 13 pieces of artwork that will be made into a book that comes with the download codes for the record, digital artwork, and covers.
The way I look at it especially with the word of mouth idea – we have sixteen remixers, fourteen artists, Ernest and his label, me and my label, and the label doing the vinyl. All of a sudden we have something like 40 people built into one release and talking about it or having a reason to get people excited for it. It’s instant promotion.

Jr: So have you made some mistakes so far? Anything you’d like to share with other first timers wanting to make their own label?

L: I mean, it’s all a learning process. I’m sure there have been a bunch but I have no idea yet. (laughs), I actually think about that all the time because I only launched in March – so I’m not even that far into it. At this point I’m still flying by the seat of my pants. Eventually I’ll be able to look back and be like, ‘God you fucked that up’, but for now there’s not too much. Again I’m not putting that much into it, financially that is, since it’s mostly just my time, it doesn’t feel like I’m making too many mistakes because I’m not really going to get screwed financially or anything.

Jr: Is it hard to convince artists or people that you’re working with to love the idea or do they love it just like we do?

L: For the most part people tend to jump right in. I tend to not work with a bunch of really established artists though, Daedelus (http://www NULL.myspace NULL.com/daedelusdarling) is probably the most well established artist I’ve worked with to date, and he is legitimately a close friend and if it wasn’t for him I probably wouldn’t have done the label. He kicked me in the ass more than a few times to make sure this went down. Besides that I try to work with artists that aren’t that well known and they are just hungry, they want to get their music out there. On top of that I have the ability to promote rather extensively so most artists are like ‘Oh this is dope, let’s do it.’ I’m sure I’ll run into a fair share of people who aren’t that into it, but for the most part the artists and press are loving it.

Jr: You’re a publicist at Terrorbird Media (http://terrorbird NULL.com/) right now too. How do you break into that world? Because it seems like that would help you with ideas and the progression of making them a reality.

L: Yeah it’s all been a slow build so far. I started off in college radio as a hip hop director at KZSC (http://kzsc NULL.org/) in Santa Cruz, got a job in radio promotion that I got over in a while, moved into online marketing and finally progressed into publicity. Basically all of my experience with my job was teaching me lessons about the music industry. Trying to talk with labels and artists and evaluating everyone’s situations and seeing how I might be able to fit into it. Slowly but surely I realized I have access to all these great artists and could promote because that’s what I did for a day job and that you can release things digitally for nothing! At the end of the day I realized I have this possible business in hand for a very minimal investment and it just kind of went from there. I have to say, I don’t know if somebody else could just up and do it like I did because I was lucky to already have certain things in place if I wanted to do them.

Jr: So one of the biggest assets for you was probably your network of creative people around you?

L: There’s no doubt about that. That’s kind of what the whole Friends of Friends notion came from because I knew I had this really awesome network of people but ultimately they were homies with all these people I didn’t know about, and they didn’t know me, but of course I know their music or something. So that was how the idea progressed. I didn’t want to be restricted to only the people I knew but I had to start the label that way.  So the idea of Friends of Friends is that I can bring in the people I know but maybe they can bring in other and slowly and surely the word can spread between friends. “Oh hey I’m with this thing, it’s called Friends of Friends, you should check it out…”
I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just about me, because that’s what a lot of labels tend to be and this was trying to expand on what network I already had in place.

Interview by: Pat Collins (http://www NULL.anotherpatrickcollins NULL.com/)

Written by Junior
Originally posted on: 09/09/2009