Production Notes on Free-For-All Vol. 1

In summer of 1995 I was gainfully employed as doormat, er man, at the Electric Lounge which entailed checking i.d. and taking money, as well as sweeping the place after hours when the jack-ass owners would throw full beer bottles at the wall in a drunken frenzy.

One night a couple of stiff looking suit-type guys came in and I recognized one of them as an executive from Hamstein Publishing, the company that handles the catalog of ZZ Top and many other hitmakers (I recognized him by the logo on his sweatshirt). I introduced myself to him, and he introduced me to Mike McCarthy, a Nashville session engineer who had been invited to relocate to Austin to start an in-house studio at Hamstein's office in the Hill Country.

Many months later, Mike McCarthy and another corporate representative came to see Superego at the Free For All. When I told them of my plans to put out a compilation, I could see the wheels start turning in their head. After several more meetings at the Hole in the Wall (where they kept trying to convince me to franchise the idea to a bigger venue) and a couple of trips out to their headquarters to see all the gold records, I agreed to let them finance the compilation project. I had a short list of bands that had agreed to submit tapes, but the Hamstein guys had a better idea. We would record the whole project at their fledgling state of the art studio facility. The only catch was that each participating band would be required to sign an agreement that gave hamstein half of the publishing rights to the song recorded for the album.

It was a fair deal and beneficial to all parties involved, since hamstein places songs every day in movies, commercials, and television shows, so the bands would stand to make money in the long run from royalties, but this concept can be hard to grasp. I set out to convince the bands that it was a low risk opportunity, worth signing on the dotted line.

Unfortunately, many of the bands already involved with label deals and management contracts failed to see how surrendering any part of their publishing rights was a necessary career move, so they started bailing on the deal right and left, leaving me demoralized because I failed to communicate the message effectively.

It was a simple message really. Everyone knows that 100 percent of nothing is squat, and 50 percent of something is substantially more than nothing. But still I got kind of tired of going over it again and again with the bands, and eventually I was left with a less dynamic line-up than I anticipated.

Most heartbreaking was that we had already begun tracking selections by many of the bands in question, and they were sounding great. Spoon, Fastball, & Crown Heights all had fantastic tracks in the can when they decided to take their master tapes and split.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, disturbing developments were happening beyond the mammoth wooden doors of the Hamstein/Lone Wolf Management offices. Though no-one from the company told me, it was clear from my communication with close friends in the bands that Hamstein had ulterior motives. While they maintained correctly that they were "doing everyone a favor" by financing the project, as a "gesture to the community" they were also beginning a process of pursuing a management deal with a couple of the faster rising bands on the project. Unfortunately for them, Fastball (then Magneto) and Spoon wanted nothing of it, even though signing with the publishing company would possibly guarantee the songwriters a substantial future income in royalties, they felt that their other opportunities were better, and giving up any part of their publishing royalties was out of the question.

Magneto left the project even after the artwork was designed with their song "Make your Mama Proud" as the title cut. Spoon just took their tapes and split, and Sixteen Deluxe never even saw the studio.

Meanwhile, less suspicious bands such as Flying Saucers, Big Drag, and Big Horny Hustler recorded excellent tracks produced by McCarthy and myself in some real fun sessions. I had a swell time meeting the bands at Hole in the Wall, driving them out Bee Caves road and explaining how the deal worked, sometimes stopping for beer and barbecue on the way, on my nickel. It was an exciting but frustrating time.

Eventually, I convinced the honchos to see one other band that I was really psyched about, and soon El Flaco became the company favorite. Their song was placed first, as well as some tracks by acts who were friends of McCarthy's who were in the right studio at the right time and ended up in some pretty good company.

Mike's place, the "boiler room," is well-equipped with some of the best and most sought-after vintage compression and preamplification gear that platinum records can buy. He really saturates the overhead drum mics with "manley" compression, and runs the vocals and guitars through telefunken preamps before going to digital tape. Word is he has a 24 track analog set-up now also. Other clients include old friends of the family Van Wilks, Flaco Jiminez, Storyville, and other company proteges like Pushmonkey. I would welcome the opportunity to work there again, but needless to say, I don't like the way they do business.

I had already arranged some of the details about packaging and production, but my efforts to communicate with the decision-makers in the company were met with a very cold, steely, corporate shoulder. The man that introduced me to the whole ordeal, a completely clueless (and rich) Christian music entrepreneur, never even returned one phone call to me ever. His secretary was rather inappropriately unfriendly with me on several occasions, also.

Meanwhile they spent several thousand dollars contracting the artwork out to a graphics company in Nashville (go figure) and an east coast manufacturer was making the cds, in spite of the fact that I had already advanced jason austin some cash and tacos for a killer design. A local rockumentary filmmaker friend of mine spoke with them about a short promotional video for the project, but things didn't work out after the suit behind the desk invited her to run through the script with him at barton springs and "bring your bikini."

At some point I decided to wash my hands of the project and start my own Superego album project, with me as the sole producer. The production schedule of the compilation kept getting pushed back, and I even had to cancel the record release shows I had booked and advertised at my own expense. My efforts to communicate with the company stooges were met with even more indignance, and I finally withdrew completely.

The project was getting some decent advance press, with Corcoran at the Statesman even calling me a "major player," in town, but the company men were oblivious, completely. Apparently the owner is kind of a private guy, and his paranoia filters down throughout the company. I was excited to get a meeting finally with the heads of their marketing departments, but they basically just sat me at the end of a thirty foot conference table and said "leave it to us, we have the juice." They told me to lay off the press, since my divulgences to the media had been embarrassing to the head dude. I showed them the impressive array of clippings that I had already collected, but they just shoved them in their briefcases and told me to be patient. I mentioned the possibility of a buyout of my efforts and time, but they just stared blankly. I told them that every band that skipped out on the project would have probably stayed if they gave each a token advance equvalent to about a month's rent and some groceries, and they said that was not their policy. I stopped short of telling them they were full of shit. At that point I had put way too much sweat into the project, and I just wanted the 500 CDs they had promised me.

I paid Mike under the table for the masters of several Superego demos, took them over to the new studio that was being built by the guys in my cover band, and finished a full-length album, mixed, mastered, and manufactured it in about one fifth the time it took to release the free for all comp.

I was overjoyed when I learned they planned to place 5000 copies in the registration bags at SXSW, but I was crestfallen when the discs finally arrived and I learned that the project had somehow become the product of "lone wolf records," a trademark owned by the company but never put into use before, and the jacket listed me as assistant producer to Mike and executive producer (the owner of Hamstein) who I ever even met once.

I got one carton of 140 cds, and eventually sold about 50 in the stores and gave away the rest schmoozing at SXSW. I sent a fax with a list of the impressive contacts I had given discs to while pounding the pavement in support of my two new cds. But when I went back for more, they implied that I would have to pay cost for them, which was never the agreement, so I ended up never receiving another carton.

As the song says, "I ain't asking for much..."

I removed this piece for awhile at the request of parties involved,
now I am restoring it with some sensitive names removed.

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