Walking into the Fort Lauderdale offices of Eulogy Recordings is more like reaching an intersection than a destination. One route past the standard plastic furniture, fax machine, and copier leads through the typical, successful American business manned by a small, efficient staff. The other winds into the isolated world of underground hardcore punk, evinced by said staff's ratty dress, tattoos, and sometimes bare feet. Label chief John Wylie, sporting a shaved head and limbs painted in tattoos, G-Unit gear, and an off-center baseball cap, might himself be mistaken for a musician, a punk kid, or some other fringe-dwelling type. All of which he is.
At the same time, Wylie is one of South Florida's most successful, influential, self-made music industry entrepreneurs. If you exist outside South Florida's fiercely independent hardcore scene, you probably have never heard of him. But ask a punk kid from Anytown, USA, about our state, and he'll mention Eulogy. Whether they're from Portland, St. Louis, or Tehachapi, California, the bands he works with consider Wylie a mentor. Closer to home, he provides economic support to local musicians and several music-related projects, always doing things his way. He employs kids from the scene, he throws shows, he owns businesses. Whether you were aware of it or not, these are all vital components of what South Florida offers the rest of the world.
"If I hadn't started listening to punk, my life would be totally different right now. I would be living like a robot," Wylie says, holding court in his spacious executive office, which contains a new computer and comfortable couches. As a kid, Wylie was turned on to punk and quickly made the transition to hardcore a faster, more aggressive subgenre with lyrical content focused on constantly being misunderstood by mainstream society. The theme of self-determination and an us-versus-them mentality would go on to serve Wylie well as he transitioned from music to the music business.
After years of playing in hardcore bands, including beloved local acts Tension, Morning Again, and, more recently, Until the End, Wylie had plenty of experience with the shortcomings of small labels.
"I saw an area where people weren't doing things the way I thought that they should be done," he says. "In a band, I have to depend on four other people. With the label, I could do things the right way every time. So I had to make a decision whether I was going to be in a band full time or do the label." The decision turned out to be clear-cut. In 1997, Wylie parked the tour bus and picked up the LLC for Eulogy Recordings. Since then, Eulogy has released more than 60 records from a slew of hardcore bands across the country, including new school acts like Jacksonville's Evergreen Terrace, New Jersey's Shattered Realm, and scene veterans Hoods from Sacramento.
"I feel like I've achieved everything I want to as far as being a musician," Wylie says. "I want to move forward with the business." Which is exactly what he's done. After Eulogy's initial success, he continued applying his outsider attitude to other aspects of the music industry. He invested in Bending Tree, a Fort Lauderdale printing company, in 2004. "I saw an opportunity where we were going to be expanding, so I bought half the business," he says. That process of finding struggling operations and improving them is Wylie's signature. He's repeated it many times over, in other avenues, like Merchspin, a band merchandise production company in Orlando, Aces High Tattoos in West Palm Beach, and a recent partnership with Ray's Downtown, also in West Palm.
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Like Wylie, Eulogy's director of sales and advertising Jeffy Scott is a ferocious multitasker, typifying the unique role of local DIY entrepreneurs. Scott drums for the band Know the Score and directs Break Even Booking and Double or Nothing Records, both new ventures based in the hardcore scene. According to Scott, support from Florida hasn't had much bearing on Eulogy's success. "The biggest market here is for dance, hip-hop, and reggaeton," he says. "South Florida, in the overall picture of music, is on the C-level as far as importance for punk and heavy music, whereas New York, L.A., Detroit, and Boston are A-plus areas." Eulogy has crucial presence in those cities, recruiting bands and supplying records to indie shops, wielding a surprising influence through its reputation for quality. "I would move to New York," Wylie admits, "but most of my business is done on the phone and online. And I hate the weather."
Furthering his reach out of state, Wylie recently inked a distribution deal between Eulogy and Warner Records. "With the deal we have now, we have a lot of options," he explains. "Indie labels are doing things that are making us more profitable than the majors, and that gives us a lot of leverage." For each release, Eulogy can choose to go with Warner's massive distribution network or the smaller one offered by Lumberjack, the label's usual distribution partner. Wylie is pragmatic about the market he's expanding into. "As much as people don't want to admit it or like to talk shit about it, the kids that buy our records are the kids that go into Hot Topic," he says. "I don't see anything wrong with that."
Beyond traditional distribution methods, Wylie's also focusing on other avenues to further spread the sound he loves. In addition to the fully functioning MP3 store on the Eulogy Recordings website (eulogyrecordings.com), the label will make its bands' music available as downloadable ring tones. "The key right now in the entire music business is the transition from CDs to digital media. That's where the ring tones come in," Wylie says. "It is something that we should have completed in the next few months." And in hopes of establishing a real-world gathering place for the hardcore community, he recently bought a share of Ray's Downtown. "Honestly, the only reason I throw shows is so that they happen," he says. "It isn't a moneymaker, but I feel like it's a very important part of the scene."
Wylie may have a small empire built, but he remains true to the music and mentality that gave him direction and meaning in his life. "What we are doing is giving these kids a chance," Wylie reflects. "[The punk scene] teaches you to think differently: You can do whatever you want. It's OK to be different. It's OK to try to do something else other than just go to school and make your parents happy. It's OK to care about other people and work together on things."