By: Jessie Schiewe
Record labels are exclusive by nature. They are purveyors of taste, harbingers of new talent. Getting signed is a milestone in any artist's career. But what happens if anyone can join a label? Does it still mean something? What happens to a member's-only club when everyone becomes a member?
At Wiener Records, anyone can be a Wiener. The business model behind the Burger Records offshoot is remarkably simple. Bands pay anywhere from $250 to $650 for the manufacturing of 100 tapes; plus, they get social-media shoutouts and their music sold on its website. "The point of Wiener is that everyone can do it," says Danny Gonzales, the "head guy" behind the record label. "You can literally burp on a mic for 20 minutes, and I'll put it out."
If that bar sounds low, it's because it is. Wiener's mission isn't so much about discovering new talent as it is about making music manufacturing egalitarian. Sure, you've got to pay a small fee, but, as Gonzales points out, that covers manufacturing costs. Tapes are cheap and relatively fast and easy to make. Compared to the $1,500 that getting 100 LPs manufactured costs, the Wiener deal is a bargain. Manufacturing takes about two weeks for tapes, while it can take anywhere from 14 to 16 weeks for LPs. And unlike digital files, tapes are tangible. "For your fans who care about you, they want to have a memento or something to remember the show by," says Burger Records co-founder Sean Bohrman. "For the most part, I think anyone can afford [a tape]."
The idea for an Everyman's label came about in 2011. It was actually a solution to one of Burger's most perplexing problems: too many solicitations. "There's so many bands, and obviously we can't put every band on Burger," says Lee Rickard, co-founder of the garage/punk rock label, "but we still wanted to provide a service and help people out." Instead of rejecting bands that were not necessarily "Burger-esque," the label now had a different direction to point them in. "It softens the blow," he explains, "and at the same time, we're helping people grow and improve and make some income."
Though Wiener has been around for some time, it has only started to get hype in the past year. Part of this has to do with Gonzales. When he joined the team, the Wiener branch of things "was in a sleeping state," Gonzales recalls. "It's something [Rickard and Bohrman] had in the backs of their minds for a while, but they were just too busy with Burger."
Starting from scratch, Gonzales answered dozens of old emails and listened to heaps of mailed-in demos. As the wheels of Wiener started churning, more bands began seeking the overall benefits of joining the label. To date, Wiener has put out more than 100 releases and has "signed" bands from all over the world. Its bands performed at three different stages at this year's South By Southwest, and the label hosts regular shows in Fullerton. "It's come a long way," Gonzales says, adding that he receives dozens of submissions weekly.
Wiener bands actually get free hype and press from both labels. "They're joining a community," says Gonzales. "[Wiener is] pretty much the little brother to Burger. . . . The bands look out for one another. It's very supportive." For instance, when Wiener bands tour, they often contact fellow Wieners in the cities they're visiting to perform with them.
Joining the Wiener roster is also an effective way of grabbing Burger's attention. "It's kind of like a training ground for Burger," says Bohrman. Since the label's formation, a handful of Wiener bands have already been bumped up to Burger Records. Just look at Australian band Wax Witches. In 2013, they commissioned Wiener to manufacture their EP because it was cheap and would help them get attention overseas. "In Australia, it's really hard to release music if you're an indie artist because there are no indie labels over there," says Alex Wall, who writes and records the band's music. "So I was like, 'That's super-cool. I can have merch and stuff by them and not try to find a label over here.'"
By joining Wiener, the Wax Witches gained a larger presence in the U.S., as well as caught the ears of Rickard and Bohrman. "He moved up from a tape to a tape deal to a full-on record," says Rickard, who listened to Wax Witches' Wiener-produced EP. "And now he's a Burger star."