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Business As Unusual
Popular online shop Smartpunk.com is your portal to loud fast rock
Ryan Metheny of online music store Smartpunk.com stands ready to fulfill your punk/emo/hardcore/metal/indie needs.
What is Smartpunk.com?
We’re an online music store. We sell clothing, CDs and merch to fans of punk, rock, emo, screamo, hardcore, electronic—all those types of genres. We sell music from indie labels and major labels, but one of our main focuses is unsigned bands. That’s what I do—scout bands to get on the site. We help bands who don’t have a distribution outlet to sell their CDs online. Fans may not be comfortable just sending a band a check, or a money order, or their credit-card number. We have a secure site that allows customers to discover new music any time they want.
How is Smartpunk involved with the Warped Tour?We have a stage on the Warped Tour and have since 2004. We’ve had a lot of bands who’ve gone on to do great things. Underoath played our stage when not many people knew who they were. Saosin is signed to Capitol Records. We had put their CD up as an unsigned band; they gained a fan base and went on to do great things. The Warped Tour’s really helped us. It’s like a traveling billboard for the whole summer. From June to August, we have a product that’s reaching people throughout the United States.
How did Smartpunk start?It was in the middle of 2003. The guy who started it [Graham Day] had worked at another online store that catered more specifically to the skate-punk genre. He decided to branch out to a wider audience. A band like Saosin really put us on the map. They started getting attention and selling thousands of CDs a month. That helped grow the business. And getting that stage on Warped Tour really put us out there. That’s the type of music we associate ourselves with. And since we bring in so many unsigned bands, our customers know if something’s brand-new and hot, they’re going to be able to come to Smartpunk.com to find it.
What’s your title?I’m the consignment manager, and I handle licensing. We bring in music from unsigned bands on a consignment basis. We pay the band as it sells. That way, we don’t have to pay for product upfront that may not sell and hurt ourselves, and we’re also helping bands by giving them an outlet to sell their music. I also license the digital rights for bands. We license to iTunes, Rhapsody, Napster, eMusic, Amazon, [etc.]. Digital is where music is headed right now with album sales declining, so that’s one thing we’ve gotten into.
So bands submit their stuff to Smartpunk, but you look for unsigned bands as well?Yeah. There are bands out there familiar with what we do. They contact us. But a lot of my time is spent going on MySpace and Purevolume to find unsigned bands. I check how many plays a band has and what their comments are like on a given day. I’m checking to see if it’s a band we want on our site. It helps that band out and helps our company grow as well.
You mentioned the way the music industry is changing. How is Smartpunk trying to address that?We cater to unsigned bands, but we also sell the bands on big indie labels and major labels. We try to get preorders for albums four to eight weeks before they hit stores. We work with the labels, bands and managers to create a way people will want to preorder an album. One thing that’s worked for us is getting a band to autograph a couple of hundred posters. If someone preorders from us, when their order ships, they get a free signed poster from the band. A lot of kids don’t want to buy an album when they can download it for free, so we’ve countered by offering something unique from these bands. We’ve also really focused on band merch because you can’t download a T-shirt.
Where is Smartpunk based?We’re in Garden Grove. We’ve got a nice little warehouse we’ve been in since we opened. The best thing about it is that we’re in the middle of great venues such as Chain Reaction, the Glass House and the LA clubs. Being in Southern California has really helped us because there’s a concert almost every day of the week, and we can go out and find bands.