Sunshine Music Moguls

A cadre of smart South Florida music entrepreneurs is bringing the area into the mainstream

"Maybe one day, the Bieler brothers will be like the Warner brothers!" Aaron Bieler says, beaming outside his new Pompano Beach headquarters.

Who knows? It could happen. Maybe the goateed, fast-talking ex-tour manager will someday be another Jack Warner. But Powerline Business Park is a bizarre place to start an empire. The Bielers share the place with, among others, an auto-body shop, a slot-machine supplier, and a sealant manufacturer. Building U-5, as the Bielers' space has been designated, is the former location of Powerline Studios, a sprawling, 7,000-square-foot rehearsal space and demo studio favored by sleazy glam-metal bands. Tattered foam and puke-orange shag carpet line the walls of the studio and rehearsal rooms. It's a monument to everything hideous about South Florida's '80s music scene. The smell of wannabe rock-star desperation and stale beer lingers. If you close your eyes, you can almost hear Button South cover bands practicing the saccharin old standard "Every Rose Has Its Thorn."

It's poetic justice that Aaron and his older brother, Jason, are erasing building U-5's past. As guitarist of Broward hard rockers Saigon Kick, Jason became the unlikeliest of rock stars. Despite angling toward grunge-rock longevity, fate and radio programmers intervened, and Saigon Kick became a one-hit wonder in 1992 with "Love Is On the Way," the last power ballad of the glam-metal era. Aaron served as the band's road manager. Together, the Bielers rode hair metal's last wave. Now they oversee Building U-5's metamorphosis, putting $50,000 into remodeling the recording studio, stocking it with $500,000 worth of recording equipment (from ex-Florida Marlins Owner John Henry's now-defunct Elysian Studios). The butt-rock evidence will be buried under coats of fresh paint.

Suitlessly successful: (clockwise from top left), Amy Fleisher (second from right, with Fiddler staff members Jessi Hector, Jay Parkin, George Davis), Jason and Aaron Bieler, Gabe Ermine, John Wylie (with business partner Ian Rowan)
Suitlessly successful: (clockwise from top left), Amy Fleisher (second from right, with Fiddler staff members Jessi Hector, Jay Parkin, George Davis), Jason and Aaron Bieler, Gabe Ermine, John Wylie (with business partner Ian Rowan)
Reluctant chartbusters Saigon Kick, including a stagier Jason Bieler (top left). Fiddler HQ, in Amy Fleisher's bedroom.
Reluctant chartbusters Saigon Kick, including a stagier Jason Bieler (top left). Fiddler HQ, in Amy Fleisher's bedroom.

Good-bye, Powerline Studios. Say hello to Bieler Bros. Records, Broward County's first major record label.

"It's only about making music and having fun," 34-year-old Jason Bieler proclaims with a true believer's zeal. He leans forward, and his comfortable girth disappears behind his desk. "I had just as much fun making the least successful thing I've done as the most successful record I've ever had." The damn-the-torpedoes approach has served him well. "The first show I ever saw was Ozzy Osbourne at the Sunrise Musical Theater," Bieler says. "I went from seeing Ozzy and saying, 'That's what I'd like to do someday' to opening for him in Japan at Budokan."

Jason and Aaron Bieler's journey from local music scene fixtures to record-label heads has been mirrored by a trio of other music moguls. Like the Bielers, they began on the fringes of South Florida's music scene. Fiddler Records head Amy Fleisher began promoting concerts at age 16 while attending Miami's Maritime and Science Technology Academy. Eulogy Recordings chief John Wylie played guitar in a host of Coral Springs hardcore bands. OHEV founder Gabe Ermine spent four years as a clerk at Uncle Sam's Music in Pompano Beach.

Together, the four companies have left a giant footprint on the nation's musical landscape. Both Fiddler and Eulogy have transcended their boutique status via CDs by South Florida titans New Found Glory and Dashboard Confessional. Fiddler raised the ante in December 2002 by signing a production and distribution deal with MCA lucrative enough for her to buy a house near Ice-T's in Los Angeles' Hollywood Hills. Three of OHEV's 14 eclectic titles are the work of bands that have used the label as a springboard to greater success. In less than three years of existence, Bieler Bros. has spun a two-client management company into an MCA-backed imprint with a formidable roster.

The days of South Florida's bands having to leave town to "make it" are over. The industry has arrived. We are no longer isolated by geography and vast indifference.

It was a different story in the 1980s. Back then, South Florida's rock scene was "a wasteland," according to local impresario and Y&T Music founder Rich Ulloa. "There were no bands being signed from here, and there was a perception in the music industry that we didn't have any talent." History supports Ulloa's claim. Between 1980 (Critical Mass, It's What's Inside that Counts) and 1990 (Nuclear Valdez, I Am I), not one South Florida-based rock act released a record on a major label.

"The consensus was that it wasn't going to happen here -- you had to go to L.A.," remembers Glenn Richards, former Locals Only host on Miami radio station WSHE. Richards points to Palm Beach glam rock expats Rock City Angels, who found a major-label contract on L.A.'s Sunset Strip after migrating there in 1986. Other South Florida refugees included Jane's Addiction frontman and North Miami Beach High alumnus Perry Ferrell, Quiet Riot bassist Rudy Sarzo, and Circus of Power guitarist Gary Sunshine.

To keep local talent at home and prove there was more to South Florida music life than dance-pop schlock like Exposé and Will to Power, Palm Beach Post music critic Scott Benard joined forces with booking agent Stuart Posen and band manager Georgina Vidal to create Miami Rocks Too in 1989. Designed to showcase the area's rock talent to major labels, Miami Rocks Too generated tons of local publicity during its four-year run but, save for giving early glimpses of future platinum acts the Mavericks and Marilyn Manson, didn't have much of an impact. "You can have showcases and invite major-label scouts," Ulloa states, "but if the respect isn't there, you're wasting your time."

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