home listen a- z back next

David Mead (photo by Jeremy Cowart)

A Conversation with David Mead

Puremusic: I haven't seen you since South By Southwest. How was that for you, and how have you been keeping since?

David Mead: I've been crazy ever since. That was sort of the official kickoff of Tangerine and Tallulah! madness [the new album and label, respectively]. But I've been keeping well. It's a lot of work, but it's invigorating, and it's exciting.

PM: How did you like South By Southwest?

DM: [laughs] Actually, I had my best one ever, just because it was so busy. And it was also fun to be down there from a somewhat different standpoint. At the end of the day, I think it's probably a festival that's set up more for people who are running labels and booking agents, and people who are on the business end of it, more than it is for artists. So since I had that motivation to be down there and to be talking to as many people as I could, and to be handing out my record and such, it was lot more enjoyable for me. If you just go down there as an artist, it's such a hotbed of everything that is happening at the moment, and there's always somebody who has more going on than you. It's kind of hard to not look around and feel a little envious, regardless of how big you may be.

PM: Sure.

DM: But the attitude that has pervaded my entire label-running experience is that I know what I have to do, I know what my goals are and my expectations are, and I'm much less concerned with what else is going on in the music world. So, South By Southwest, just approaching it from that angle, I thought was a lot more enjoyable than just going down there and waiting around to play your showcases, and wondering what all these people are talking about.


PM: And it's set up, also, for the people who are just there enjoying the music, because they're having a field day.

DM: Definitely.

PM: And I certainly enjoyed it from a video aspect and a writer aspect, just being able to see twenty or thirty bands that I knew were good. I didn't care who the hell else was there.

DM: Right.

PM: But you say that since then you've been caught up in the pre-launch madness of Tallulah!, and of Tangerine. Well, speaking of Tangerine, of course, and that's why we're on the phone--it's another brilliant record.

DM: Thanks, Frank.

PM: You are really a wondrous musician.

DM: I appreciate that.

PM: It's very exciting whenever you hear a great record, and if it's by somebody that you think of as a friend, it's doubly so. But let's talk first about being on your own label now. Really is that what it amounts to, with your own team gathered about you, and feeling more entrepreneurial about your own career?

DM: Well--

PM: Or, run it down to me how it really lays out.

DM: Well, the way it really lays out is like this--I'm sort of the initiator of the ideas and the direction. I work with a company--I mean, obviously, we start with the record, which Brad Jones and I finished last year. And then my manager, Kip Krones, hooked me up with a company called Emergent Music. You've probably crossed paths with them before.

PM: Sure. David Macias is a friend of mine. Quite a person.

DM: Right. And so from there, we basically--we've been incredibly fortunate. I was sort of approached by a successful businessman who was interested in why I was at the point in my career that I was at. And he wanted to know if there was a way that he could help. So we put together a budget that we thought was healthy but also modest and very focused, and what we thought it would take to work this record effectively. And we did that with Emergent. And then we presented it to him, and he said, "This sounds like a plan. Let's go for it."

So since that point, it's been amazing. Now I understand why my release dates used to always get pushed back. We actually made ours, which I couldn't believe. We set May 16th back in January, and quickly realized how many things we had to get together by that time. [laughs]

PM: Yeah.

DM: We had a booking agent in place, and obviously, I have a good manager, and we had Emergent. But there was a lot of hiring that had to be done. I was on the phone finding out everything from quotes on posters to manufacturing to--just all the stuff that, when you start out on a major label like I did, you definitely took it for granted.

PM: Right.

DM: You think, "This just gets done." But what it's created, basically, is kind of a--I won't even call it freedom. In a lot of ways, I think it was a curse when I had the time to sort of sit around and just be an artist--whatever that means. I'm pretty much on it eight hours a day, now.

PM: Yeah. At this time in the music business, what's more artistic about having "freedom" when you can get to direct your career instead. Taking the reigns of your own career is artistry.

DM: Absolutely. And that's a great point. And that's just totally how I've started thinking about it, because there are many aspects to doing the job-- obviously it's very creative. It has to be, if you're going to pull it off at my level and actually get noticed.

PM: Who's handling AAA radio in the current scheme of things?

DM: His name is Jesse Barnett. He has a company called Right Arm Resources. He's in a suburb of Boston.

PM: How did you find him or pick him?

DM: Kip, my manager, had heard nothing but good things about him through various sources. And we just wanted someone who was going to focus, who had really strong relations, basically, with NonCom [non-commercial] radio. Because as nice as it is to get on AAA radio, and as big a help as it can be, with the whole Clear Channel/Infinity/Advent situation or monopoly with the larger formats, Triple A is just so jammed now, because that's everybody--that's where they're seeing daylight. So you're competing with almost every major label artist that is not urban.

PM: Right.

DM: And it's tough to get in there, even when you have the budget that I have. So what I was interested in was more just creating a presence in the NonCom/NPR-affiliated world. It worked out well for this record, anyway. I think Tangerine has a couple songs that in a perfect world would be really big hit singles. But in what's currently on big radio, sonically there's no reference point for it. So I just wanted to go that route. I've sort of tried it before, but not as heavily as I'm doing now. And like with so many other things in this whole process, I feel that the good thing about those formats is that once you develop relationships with those stations, they tend to remain very loyal.

And that's the deal, because I do actually know for my next record that I'll have another budget. But maybe the next one down the line, I won't. And you have to be able to have some sort of human connection with these people, to go back and try to service them again, and keep them as a client base, if you will.

PM: That's as cogent a rap on radio as I've heard from a person in your position. [laughs]

DM: Yeah, well, obviously I've had some time to kind of go through it and see the different ways that it works. If you go up to the NonCom convention in Louisville, which just happened this past week, you see that these people are the remaining super-cool music folks who started out in big radio in the '70s and the '80s, generally got fed up with it, and came here because this is the last bastion of freedom that they have. And they're great people to hang out with it. It's always enjoyable to do in-studio things with them. I look at this as like people that I work with, I look at them as an extension of my company. And so you want people who you enjoy doing business with as well as ones that you're going to have a mutually beneficial relationship with.

PM: Right. You're partners, after all.

DM: Yeah, totally. Kip seems to like this metaphor that I came up with--at this point I feel I'm kind of like a small antiques store, that it's entirely possible to make your life work on that level. You don't have to be Castner Knott, but I would think of those people as my buyers, my clients that I have to go out and try to maintain a relationship with and keep feeding them product that they can use.

PM: Very interesting. Well, walking down the street in Soho, I am always struck by the fact that you'll walk by Footlocker and The Gap, or big shoe stores, and then you'll see these other shoe stores [laughs] that seem to have like thirty pairs of shoes, in what must be a very expensive storefront to rent.

DM: Totally. How do they do it?

PM: And they're obviously staying alive. They must be selling something really good. Or something.

DM: Well, they have a high level clientele, which quite frankly, it's kind of how I think of mine. I'd play to fourteen year-olds all day if they'd come and see me, but they're not the people who keep my business alive. They're not the ones who are buying five copies of the records for their cousins and their sons and daughters.

PM: Exactly.     continue

print (pdf)     listen to clips      puremusic home