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Altruism & Repertoire
Fullerton’s ArtiSans Label brings compassion to an industry traditionally lacking any
It sounds too good to be true. Like one of those e-mail or Craigslist scams—“I resided in this apartment before relocating to Nigeria!”
Their website is full of lovely promises: “You can Release Your MusicT with ArtiSans Label without giving up your profits, copyrights or control!” (Yes, they apparently have “Release Your Music” trademarked.) Learning more about the economics behind it, it’s just as much a savvy, novel business concept as it is an altruistic pursuit. Basically, in lieu of a traditional record label, which signs artists, pays them an advance, and then puts the pressure on them to produce something tailored to their liking, ArtiSans Label (get it, “sans” label?) has acts pay money upfront, and then ArtiSans outsources all of the services a record company would provide to carefully selected third-party vendors.
“I hate saying it this way because it’s not sexy,” says Michael J. Filson, founder/president of the Fullerton-based ArtiSans. “We’re the wedding coordinators of releasing music. It’s the exact same business model. Your wedding coordinator is taking the stress off the bride and groom, but the wedding coordinator is not the one spinning the disc, not the one making the cakes.”
Filson’s compassion is obvious when talking to him. Though he would like his investment—which, given that ArtiSans also includes a full recording studio, is sizable—to pay off, he really does seem genuine about helping out local artists. He started ArtiSans after realizing that his unique perspective as a former struggling musician himself combined with his business experience (he was a business major at Cal Poly Pomona and worked in that department for years) made him an ideal candidate for launching a company like this.
“All of my eggs were in the basket of being an artist,” says Filson, 33, speaking of his time playing guitar in Fullerton band Mojo Filson. “Our last album was released in 2002. We met with all of the big labels—the Capitols, the Elektras. They all passed.”
After 11 years playing music, this was enough for Filson to scrap his own rock-star dreams, though he was always conscious of the effect music business as usual had on his friends.
“I just took a look around, and pursuing that golden carrot of a traditional record deal, even if it works out in the short-term, just ruins people’s lives,” he says. “A traditional label might sign 10 people that year, and then they’ll do some test marketing, and they’ll reallocate the money from eight or nine of the artists and put it behind one or two ponies, and the other artists get shelved or dropped, and it’s the end of their career, getting signed, not the beginning.
“These are my friends in the trenches who we played with for years and years. Losing their health and their relationships and the education that they skipped. That always bothered me. I thought there had to be another way.”
Filson filed the paperwork for ArtiSans three years ago, and the business has been up and running since March 2008 in a surprisingly swank Fullerton office—they’re mired in a seemingly endless morass of ugly, identical office buildings, but their space is full of funky furniture, a full bar, a game room with air-hockey and foosball tables, and that nifty recording studio. They currently have a staff of 12, including full-time employees, part-timers and interns. Filson estimates that they’ve had 38 or 39 clients (including Orange County bands the Living Suns, the Steelwells and Chamber of Echoes, though they draw clients from across Southern California, and a few from Las Vegas), virtually all through word-of-mouth.
Artists look for different things from ArtiSans. Some just want to record there, some are looking for help getting CDs pressed, and some go for the total package—which includes legal representation, press releases, social-media campaigns and even registering music with Gracenote (the database that causes iTunes to recognize CDs when you put them in your computer). But what Filson sees as perhaps the most valuable service is the free consulting provided by him and his staff.
“We’re not going to let you spend money in an irresponsible manner,” he says. “Somebody who, their draw to a show is, like, 60 people, and they play maybe once a week, and they wanted to order, like, 20,000 CDs. Fine, if you force us to, we will put the order through. But maybe, why don’t you spend it on marketing a little bit?
“That’s because this whole thing is altruistic. We desperately, desperately want artists to have a fighting chance.”
Funny thing is, when Filson says things like this, you actually believe him.
Visit ArtiSans label online at www.artisanslabel.com.