Sunshine Music Moguls
"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.
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."
Music-industry respect was the last thing on then-19-year-old Jason Bieler's mind when he caught Jane's Addiction at the Cameo Theater in 1988. "They changed my life," Bieler affirms. "Jane's made me and my friends realize we could do a heavier type of music that didn't revolve around 'I got a girl in the back of my car.'" Bieler immediately set about blazing a musical trail for his band Saigon Kick. "Our goal was the melodies of Queen with the crunch of Jane's Addiction," he explains.
At first, the deeply segregated South Florida music scene didn't know what to make of Saigon Kick. Jason Bieler recounts: "We alienated the hard-rock scene for being too weird, and we alienated the alternative scene for being too much of a hard-rock band. We straddled a place where music made its great divide, and it left a gaping hole for us to fall in." Fortunately for Saigon Kick, alternative metal and grunge were breaking nationwide. Bands like Soundgarden made Saigon Kick's arena rock/punk fusion acceptable for mass consumption. Saigon Kick took advantage of rock's new cosmopolitan attitude by pushing its way onto any bill featuring high-profile touring acts that came to the tricounty area, regardless of genre. After the band gained a huge following by opening for glam-metal, punk, and alt-metal acts, Atlantic Records took notice and signed them.
In 1991, Saigon Kick recorded its self-titled debut album and toured the world nonstop with Aaron Bieler as their guide. "When the band started, they asked me if I'd help out," Aaron recalls. "I said 'Sure,' and the next thing you know, five years of my life disappear." While Aaron busied himself getting the band from show to show and disengaging wrecked equipment trucks, Saigon Kick sold a respectable 80,000 copies.
Its next record was The Lizard in 1992. The band had big plans to promote it with a road tour, but then somebody at now-defunct Miami radio station WSHE fell in love with Saigon Kick's cover of Chase's 1974 ballad, "Love Is On the Way." Before the band knew what was happening, the record was in heavy rotation across the country. Jason Bieler recalls: "Atlantic called us in Mexico and said, 'Guess what? You've got a hit record!' It was bittersweet in the sense that it's wonderful to have a hit, but we knew there was no going back. We were all 22 or 23 when it broke and had a clear understanding that it was a death blow as far as credibility goes. And there's your video at number one on MTV... you're torn. It was a good and a bad thing."
After riding "Love Is On the Way" to a gold record, Saigon Kick imploded. "All bands eventually turn into Spinal Tap," Jason Bieler declares. "And we weren't any different." Unwilling to go along with Jason's experimental leanings, singer Matt Kramer and bassist Tom DeFile left the band. With Jason now on vocals, 1993's Water tanked. Atlantic dropped Saigon Kick. Retro-metal label CMC International beat the dead horse and released Saigon Kick's swan song, 1995's Devil in the Details.
While Saigon Kick ground to a halt in 1995, 20-year-old Culture guitarist John Wylie, a short Buddha look-alike, was busy getting a crash course in minor-label shenanigans. His first instructor, says Wylie, now 28, was Michigan hardcore indie Conquer the World, which released Culture's CD Born of You. To support the record, Culture risked life and limb to tour in a broken-down van only to discover, he says, that the record had been pressed multiple times with neither permission given nor royalties paid. "They claimed they'd only pressed it once," Wylie says, his face twisting with emotion. "But we'd meet distributors at shows who told us it was still in print."
The next year, Wylie sent Conquer the World, which long ago went belly-up, a demo of his new band, Morning Again. "I figured, 'It's just a demo; what could it hurt?'" Wylie shrugs. History repeated itself, he says, as Conquer the World again paid royalties on one pressing of Martyr and denied the existence of subsequent ones. Two rip offs were enough for Wylie. "I found out about it and told them to go fuck themselves."
Morning Again then rereleased Martyr on Belgian hardcore label Good Life. The following year, Good Life released a follow-up titled Hand of Hope. While Good Life helped Morning Again become one of Europe's biggest hardcore draws, Wylie claims, they were even shadier than Conquer the World. "To this day, they say they've only sold 5,000 of each CD," he smirks. "But that's impossible. The CDs I sold personally along with the ones the band sold on tour accounted for over 5,000 each."
Good Life CEO Edward Verhaeghe refutes Wylie's math. According to Verhaeghe, the total amount of CDs Good Life has "given/donated/traded with John Wylie" comes to 2,260.
The news wasn't all bad for Wylie. California hardcore giant Revelation Records was intrigued by Morning Again's European success and signed the band in the summer of 1997. "We thought we finally signed to a good label and everything was going to be cool," Wylie recalls. Revelation flew the band across the pond for a European tour. Good Life was to provide tour support. "The deal was, we'd give them the wholesale cost of our merch to pay for gas, food, and the rental," Wylie states.
Then, he says, the old record-company flimflam stepped in again. "When we got to Belgium, they said it wasn't a good deal for them and they wanted all the money," Wylie says. "We were in a bad spot, so we went along with it. At the end of the tour, we kept a couple grand to pay our bills with and told them to fuck off." Verhaeghe denies changing the deal.
Frustrated with what he saw as the crookedness and incompetence of his bands' record labels, Wylie founded Eulogy Recordings later that year. He recalls: "I said, 'Fuck this! I have credit cards! I can put a couple records on them and definitely get my money back.'" Encouraged by the initial demand, Eulogy released eight CDs in its first 18 months. "I got a little bit ahead of myself," Wylie admits. "Until about a year ago, I always had a little more than I could handle."
In order to get his discs off the shelves and into stores, Wylie traded records with as many distributors as he could and began a traveling record booth that he set up at shows around South Florida. Wylie explains the logic behind his widely recognized business acumen: "If your releases just sit there, that's lost money you thought was coming in. If they're already paid for, that gives them more incentive to push them."
After a year spent both running the label and working a shady day job managing a phone bank that sold "information packets" to would-be postal employees, fate intervened and made Wylie a full-time record executive. "That place got closed down, and we got out of there by the skin of our teeth," Wylie recalls. "The lady I worked for, her husband had a phone bank also. He got raided and ran to the bathroom and called her. We took off. We went across the street to a restaurant and saw the cops go in the building." The near miss with the law put Wylie's priorities in order. "I realized the only way I'm going to live off the label is if I quit working day jobs and force myself to live off it."
While Wylie was finding new ways to prepare ramen, 16-year-old Amy Fleisher brought a Miami MAST Academy's internship program form to Cheers, her neighborhood all-ages punk-rock hangout. "I went up to Gaye [Levine, Cheers' owner] and said, 'Hi, I go to MAST. If you sign these forms, I can work for you for free.'" An ecstatic Levine put Fleisher to work promoting concerts and gave her a 10 percent cut of the door. After six weeks, Fleisher had saved $600 and decided to start Fiddler records, named after Fiddler Jones, her own photocopied punk-rock fanzine.
University of Miami film student Brant Sersen caught wind of Fleisher's story and made her a subject in his documentary Release. "He told me, 'I heard you're starting a label -- can I follow you around for a month?'" Fleisher giggles. "I had a crush on him, so I was like, 'Sure, you can follow me around!'" Fleisher's Release vignette captures the essence of teenybopper impresario life. The pony-tailed pixie holds court on her bed, surrounded by punk-rock posters, rhapsodizing about booking shows. She's then shown inside Cheers, booking her first artist, Boca Raton emo-punk band Vacant Andys (fronted by a pre-Dashboard Confessional Chris Carrabba) to play their release party. Next, Fleisher is shown making a flier and stealing copies at Office Depot's copy center. "The mission is," Fleisher narrates, "to steal as much from 'the man' as possible." A pleased Fleisher shows off her gold vinyl outside of Cheers. All is well until the show bombs. Crushed, Fleisher sucks it up for the camera and spins: "Only about a third of the people I expected showed up, which really sucks, but the records sold well. So I should be happy about that."
Soon Fleisher would have a lot to be happy about. Her third release, It's All About the Girls by Coral Springs pop punkers New Found Glory, would go on to sell 80,000 copies. NFG guitarist Chad Gilbert was well-known in the indie-rock world as the teenage screamer for Revelation hardcore act Shai Hulud. That bit of star power, along with assistance from connected local scenesters, helped Fiddler rack up distributors. "They made the first call," Fleisher explains. "They'd say, 'This girl is a friend of mine, and she's going to call you.'"
All was well until it came time for New Found Glory's second release, Nothing Gold Can Stay. Fleisher recounts: "I had dropped the check off at the studio when Chad called and told me that they were going with Eulogy because they had European distribution. I told him he was still in high school; when was he going to Europe? Luckily I got my check back."
More shaky business in the yeast-like indie-music scene.
Fiddler's lost treasure turned out to be a mixed blessing for Eulogy. "New Found Glory asked me ten times to put it out before I gave in," Wylie recalls. "They were my friends, and I figured I'd sell a lot of them off the fact that Chad was in Shai Hulud." Less than six months after Nothing Gold Can Stay's release, MCA farm club Drive Thru Records signed New Found Glory and bought the rights to the record for the $5,000 Wylie had invested in the project. The record had now sold more than 160,000 copies. "If I had just added on the contract that I got points on the record," Wylie says, "I'd have a lot of money right now. But I didn't know what that was. There was no guarantee they were going to do well, and my friends were happy."
He shrugs stoically. "I didn't make out like I could've, but had I kept that record, it might've set them back nine months, which they would've had to spend writing a new record. They weren't in the grand scheme for me. I was just trying to sell two or three thousand copies."
Whereas New Found Glory didn't do much for Wylie's bank account, Fiddler used It's All About the Girls to climb up the distribution food chain. Fleisher recalls: "When New Found Glory broke, I started demanding half the money up-front. It's amazing how much easier it is to get the rest of your money once they've already given you half."
Eulogy was not to be denied. Its sales doubled and eventually quadrupled, forcing Wylie to move his stock out of his Margate trailer home and into a Pompano Beach warehouse. Eulogy shared space with OHEV records, a budding label founded by Uncle Sam's Music buyer Gabe Ermine. The two labels set up shop on opposite sides of the warehouse and opened the OHEV/Eulogy store to anyone not frightened off by a ghetto industrial-park location, lack of air conditioning, and rat infestation. "Somehow it worked out," recalls Ermine, 26. "We had Dumpster carpet: half blue and half yellow. Every day, we hung out listening to music, and kids would come by and pick stuff out."
Encouraged by OHEV's success, Ermine got a job as a representative for Anderson Merchandise, Wal-Mart's exclusive music distributor. Working a five-store, $2.2 million territory between West Palm Beach and Clewiston, Ermine found that the more things changed, the more they stayed the same. "I would drive to the store, put up posters and scan music. It was just like working for Uncle Sam's. Except instead of selling punk rock, I was selling 'N Sync."
Ermine sank much of his $35,000 salary into OHEV's seventh release, State of Feeling Concentration, by local indie pop act the Rocking Horse Winner. TRHW's singer was Jolie Lindholm, Ermine's ex-girlfriend of three years. "I put every dime that I had into the record," Ermine recalls. "It was amazing. I was so close with her, and I wanted to see her be successful."
Unfortunately, OHEV's distribution was hopelessly tangled in business complications, and stores quit ordering product. "I went from doing well to just scraping by," Ermine says. But he continued to plug away, signing Portland emo band Kind of Like Spitting and British Columbian synth rockers Hot Hot Heat to one-off deals.
Ermine quit Anderson ("I felt with a college education, I shouldn't be going into Wal-Mart and dealing with people with missing teeth," the immaculately groomed Ermine cracks) and spent the next eight months in a corporate job selling boxes. Frustrated with OHEV's stagnation, he enrolled in Nova Southeastern University's law school and entered OHEV into a production and distribution deal with Revelation. Despite law school's death grip on his attention span, OHEV's average sales shot up from 2,000 to 5,000, boosting his bands out of the OHEV lineup and up the food chain to heftier labels. That was fine with Ermine. Far from feeling victimized by his clients' success, he was happy to be a rung on the success ladder with a strong back catalog. "If they went to a similar label, I'd be depressed," Ermine admits. "But I can't compete with Sub Pop. Go with my blessing!"
After graduating from MAST, Amy Fleisher hit the road with her acts the Grey AM and the Agency for a 40-day, whirlwind, coast-to-coast tour. Upon her return, she enrolled in the University of Miami's film school, where she spent four semesters tormented by wanderlust. "I hated it," she says flatly. "You had to double-major to stay in the film program, and I didn't want to do that." Fleisher's summer job following her sophomore year was road managing New Found Glory's 1999 summer tour with Vagrant Records emo band Saves the Day. Much to Fleisher's chagrin, Release was picked up by Chicago hardcore label Victory Records, making her a T-shirt booth celebrity. "Kids started asking for pictures and autographs. I'd tell them 'I'm not in a band -- what do you want with me?' That was a college project for a friend of mine." She harrumphs. "It was never supposed to see the light of day."
At tour's end, Saves the Day asked Fleisher to join them permanently. Fleisher dropped out of school and hit the road, leaving her mother to do Fiddler's banking and mail order. "My mom is a really good punk rocker," Fleisher smiles. "If someone sent a dollar, they'd get a sticker and a thank-you note from her."
Between tours of duty with Saves the Day, Fleisher's pet project was convincing ex-Vacant Andys guitarist Chris Carrabba to let her release his acoustic solo project, Dashboard Confessional. "She nagged me constantly to record or play out," Carrabba recalled in a 2001 interview, "but I really thought no one would be into it, which didn't help my stage fright any." In March 2000, Fleisher's persistence finally paid off, and Dashboard Confessional recorded The Swiss Army Romance. The record's combination of relationship angst and catchy acoustic guitar made a deep impression on the exploding emo-punk scene. In three months, the initial pressing of 1,000 sold out. Unable to meet the demand while road-hogging with Saves the Day, Fleisher sold the rights to The Swiss Army Romance to Drive-Thru Records for $10,000, signaling the first shot in the acoustic emo revolution. To date, it has sold more than 125,000 copies.
When Saves the Day played Los Angeles, the band brought Fleisher to Vagrant's Santa Monica offices. She passed out copies of The Swiss Army Romance and was immediately summoned by Vagrant President Rich Egan. "He said: 'You designed this? You put this out? Want a job?'" At tour's end, Fleisher moved to California and became Vagrant's A&R head. In December 2000, she persuaded Egan to sign Dashboard Confessional away from Drive-Thru. Fleisher recounts: "He'd say, 'I can't sign this -- it's acoustic!' It wasn't the Vagrant sound. But Chris got bigger and bigger, and it got to the point where everyone noticed what was going on."
As a thank you for bringing Dashboard to Vagrant, Carrabba gave Fleisher his first demo, and Fiddler released The Drowning EP in January 2001. Despite her A&R title at Vagrant, Dashboard Confessional was to be her only signing. Instead, she became a jill-of-all-trades. "The first few months I was there, there wasn't an art person, so I'd design ads. There wasn't a permanent retail sales person either, so I'd spend three days a week calling stores and running contests." After six months, Fleisher quit Vagrant and enrolled in Pasadena's Art Center College of Design's advertising program.
While Fiddler, OHEV, and Eulogy were making punk-rock hay, Aaron Bieler worked his way up the ladder at Fort Lauderdale production behemoth Garret Sound & Lighting. Using his road management background as a springboard, Aaron ran production for local radio festivals, along with tour packages such as Ozzfest and the Kings of Comedy. During the July 1999 installment of WZTA-FM's (94.9) "Zeta Fest" at Lockhart Stadium, both Bieler brothers had their lives altered by Broward nu-metal heroes Nonpoint. Stunned by Nonpoint's vitriolic performance, the Bielers started a management company expressly for the band. "They were magic to me and the kids in the scene here," Jason Bieler expresses. "It was like finding money in the street. Pick it up and hand it to someone; nobody is going to say no. Nonpoint had already done the hard part. They had built a huge following, they had the street cred... they had all that stuff that you can't teach."
Using his wealth of industry contacts, Jason Bieler quickly signed Nonpoint to MCA and asked the band members if they knew any other local acts ready for prime time. Nonpoint introduced the Bielers to Miami rap-metal band Darwin's Waiting Room during a gig the bands co-headlined at Cypress Creek alt-rock joint FU*BAR. Two weeks later, Darwin's Waiting Room shook hands with the Bielers. "We've never signed a contract with the bands we manage," Jason explains. I want them to feel as passionate about working with us as we do them. If we wake up one day and don't want to work together... you tell me, I tell you, and we split our business clean down the middle." A handshake deal with legitimate music figures was right up Darwin's Waiting Room's alley, according to DWR singer Jabe. "We had just gotten out of a management contract with a guy who said he was the Doobie Brothers' manager. It turns out he managed one of their old bass players, who led a band of Doobie Brothers impostors."
Two months later, MCA signed Darwin's Waiting Room. As DWR entered the studio, Nonpoint hit the road in support of Statement, its anthemic, Deftones-esque debut. "It was one of those beautiful things... six to eight months with no pressure from MCA," Aaron Bieler exudes. "I knew that if they can do it here, send them to Charlotte, North Carolina, a few times and they'll do it there. The sales started building from 500 a week to 800 a week... then finally you are selling 5,000 a week." Statement eventually sold more than 200,000 copies, propelling Nonpoint to nu-metal stardom.
An impressed MCA set the Bielers up with their own imprint in May 2002. "Our label is a major label in every sense of the word," Jason says. "I have every resource that any major label has and no limitation financially to what I can commit to any of our artists." Despite their financial clout, the Bielers are more interested in artist development than one-hit wondering. "We have a long-term approach," Aaron says. "A lot of labels treat first records like a movie release. If the first-week numbers aren't in, it's 'Thanks for coming -- good-bye!' I'm not interested in the first-week numbers, as much as I'm interested in the 12-month numbers. What has it done in a year? How have we progressed in developing a band?" Bieler Bros.' first signing, West Palm Beach roots-rock act Legends of Rodeo, is proof of the Bielers' sincerity. LOR's debut, A Thousand Friday Nights, sold only 3,000 copies, a certain deal-breaker in the major-label world. "I would put out six Legends of Rodeo records that sell ten copies," Jason thunders. "We are involved with them because we believe they are a hugely important artist. They've got nothing to do with our heavy bands, and they're not really an emo band, and that's not an easy thing to deal with. It's a cold start. But we didn't spend $2 million to sell 3,000 records. That's where our approach differs."
Yet the Bielers are hardly running a charity. Their 2003 release schedule is top-loaded with high-profile acts plucked from the ever-downsizing major-label world. First, they salvaged Montreal nu-metal act Slaves on Dope from the wreckage of Sharon Osbourne's now-defunct Oz Records. Then they were tipped off to a personnel shift at BMG that left London dub/metal act Skindred out of favor, despite a completed, masterful record with famed producer Howard Benson (P.O.D., the Crystal Method ) at the helm. "We leveraged the CD from them," Jason grins broadly. "I almost felt like Steve Jobs when he bought the mouse back from Xerox. 'What do you want a point-and-click operating system for?' They could single-handedly define the next trend in heavy rock."
Meanwhile, in 2001, Fleisher stumbled upon the first L.A. gig for Austin, Texas, teenage post-punk monsters Recover. She was dumbstruck by their youth, chops, and stage presence. "The only word that I could think of was 'wow.'" After the show, she invited Recover home. Before they left her living room, the band agreed to terms for a one-record Fiddler EP. Fleisher then put her art education to work and hyped Recover with a massive surrealist print ad campaign featuring the Texas teenagers wearing makeup and designer clothes among a trio of morbid female nudes. Fiddler was portrayed as the evil record label, forcing the straightforward punk band to be everything it wasn't. "They were down for all of it, as long as there were naked girls," Fleisher smiles. The surrealist sexuality of the campaign created a sensation in the music industry. In March 2002, two months before Ceci N'est Pas Recover ("This Is Not Recover") was released, major labels began approaching both Recover and Fleisher, convinced that she had struck gold for the third time.
For eight months of 2002, Fleisher was wined and dined by suits from the major labels, execs who would apparently say anything to make a deal. "It was like being in the bay with a school of minnows," Fleisher says. "You slap the water one way and the minnows go that way. Then you slap the other way and they go that way."
Spurning offers to sell Fiddler and become an employee of her own company, Fleisher settled on a lucrative three-year production and distribution deal with MCA this past December. At the ripe age of 23, Fleisher had conquered an industry that chews and spits out seasoned vets every day. While she always had her finger on the pulse, she now had the financial clout to compete with any label in the world. Much like the Bieler Bros.', Fiddler's new financial muscle is being used to break diverse talent. The first two signings under Fiddler's MCA deal (Miami Indie pop act Poulain and six-piece Phoenix thrashers the Bled) have nothing in common, save for Fleisher's admiration and belief that they will both be successful.
John Wylie tends to be a lot less comfy-cozy with his acts. Talent decisions for Eulogy are based upon the label's audience rather than upon his personal taste. "I think the bands I sign are going to sell records," he says. "I don't ever lie to bands and say that I listen to their records every day. Most of the bands on the label, I don't listen to very much. If they're doing things that I think kids like and are in the right frame of mind, I'll sign them."
Wylie leaves the cheerleading to partner Ian Rowan -- a graphics whiz who was formerly Eulogy's best customer -- and Dan Mazin, Eulogy's office manager and sole employee. The three of them helped Eulogy gross more than $200,000 in 2002, enough dough for the 28-year-old Wylie to buy a home in Dania Beach. When Wylie isn't practicing with his bands Where Fear and Weapons Meet and Until the End in his Fort Lauderdale office, he spends his scant free time at twice-weekly jeet kun do (Bruce Lee's martial arts) classes.
A big part of his 2002 financial breakthrough was Dashboard Confessional's Summer's Kiss EP, an amplified, full band reworking of Swiss Army Romance. A huge departure for Eulogy both in genre and scope, Summer's Kiss sold out its limited run of 25,000 copies in less than a month. "People asked me if I was pissed because I only got to press 25,000," Wylie says, scratching his head. "Why would I be pissed? It was the easiest money I've ever made!"
Another feather in Eulogy's cap was holding on to Boston hardcore metal act Unearth, its biggest-selling artist. Wylie declares: "We had six different labels ready to pay us money for their last record, and we let Unearth negotiate with all of them, and now we're putting it out. They had all these sleazy people sending them shady contracts. We have to run it like a business, but you can still tell the truth."
Wylie may condemn the sharks' eating habits, but he's more than willing to swim with them. Eulogy's recent success has attracted many of Fiddler's old major-label suitors. "If we get the right deal that involves working with a major label, we'll do it, as long as it doesn't fuck us long term. We don't want a quick fix. Anything that happens quick can be taken away quick."
There's a lesson there somewhere. Wylie sums up: "Build something strong and it will take a lot to tear it down."
Wise words that any of the Sunshine Music Moguls might have tacked up on their funky office walls.
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