The Beat Goes On:

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Tower Records may have gone the way of vinyl LPs, but check closely and you’ll still feel a pulse on Sacramento’s music-business scene. With a nationally distributed record label, a digital music empire and concert promoters filling venues with both legends and locals, all right here in River City, we are compelled to quote The Who: Long live rock (and every other kind of music). Here are some local folks who help keep the music playing.

Jerry Perry: Promoting the Locals, With Heart&emdash;

Jerry Perry has spent a lifetime promoting local music, and it’s definitely not about the money.

Thank God my wife is in real estate, he jokes.

Although he’s been collecting a regular paycheck for the past 10 years booking bands for the Friday Night Concerts in the Park series at Cesar Chavez Plaza, making a living has always been a spotty business for Perry, who puts the music first, money second.

I think music lovers just inherently love to turn people on to the music they like, says Perry. And that
would be me.

At 43, Perry exudes the kind of excitement about music that most people lose around the time they begin
obsessing over mortgages and 401(k)s. While he admits it’s a tough job to put out a free publication&emdash;his monthly music newsletter, Alive & Kicking, is in its 17th year&emdash;he keeps on keepin’ on, dividing his time between playing publisher and booking shows, mostly at Old Ironsides. That gig, he admits, doesn’t pay much either. When you’re charging $6 [at the door] and you’ve got three bands a night, he says, you can’t make money.

There have been better times. At the Cattle Club, which Perry opened in 1989 and closed in 1995, he was able to make money doing what he loves. We went from almost zero to creating a club that was truly about local bands, recalls Perry. Local acts such as Cake and the Deftones basically started at the Cattle Club, according to Perry, who seems more excited about that than the fact that the club also hosted such big names as Nirvana, No Doubt and Green Day. Even when we brought in the big bands, we made sure we had local bands on the show, he says proudly.

His dedication to local talent also is evident in the roster he brings to the Friday-night concert series (which kicks off this month) every year. I have adamantly kept it local, even when there’s a push to bring in Bay Area bands, says Perry, who is, not surprisingly, a Sacramento native. We’ve got so much local talent, we don’t need to do that.

Although he’s contacted by some 30 to 50 bands a week, Perry still gets pumped when he hears new talent. I see these great new bands all the time, and I’m just compelled to get the word out, he says. Today, I’m interviewing Alkali Flats for the cover of my next issue, and there’s another new band in town, Agent Ribbons, who are just incredible. I can’t wait to have them on the cover. Last year, Perry introduced 27 new bands to the Friday-night series. That’s very important to me because it’s a big event, a lot of people want to play it, and I don’t want to present the same 40 bands every year.

One thing he doesn’t ever want to be, Perry says, is complacent.

I think it’s easy to get complacent, he says. But I don’t ever dislike going to shows. Often when I’m in my car driving there, I’m thinking, ‘This is about the best job ever&emdash;if I’m allowed to call it a job.’    

Mitchell Koulouris: Living in a Digital World&emdash;With his shock of dark hair and faster-than-a-speeding-bullet manner of fielding questions, the word intense comes to mind when describing Mitchell Koulouris. But that’s not surprising: This savvy entrepreneur is the CEO and mastermind behind Digital Music Group, Inc., the digital distribution company that in a few short years has expanded its influence beyond Sacramento to become a global leader.

It’s quite remarkable when you think we began from a standing start just three years ago, says Koulouris during a meeting in his sleek, modern Natomas-area office. We’re the leading company in the world in this space, and that’s very exciting.

Digital distribution
may sound like gobbledygook to you, but it’s really quite simple: DMGI acquires the digital rights to music, TV, film and video catalogs and makes them available online. Even simpler: If you go to iTunes or Yahoo! Music and download Johnny Cash’s I Walk the Line, you get an earful of great music&emdash;and DMGI gets a little coinage.

In a world that is becoming more digital by the day, the future looks bright for DMGI, says Koulouris, who estimates the company has already acquired the rights to more than 300,000 music tracks.

 

It’s the business we’re in, obviously, so we have biases toward an all-digital world, says the 46-year-old former Tower employee whose passion for technology found him creating magazines for software developers at his previous company, Informant Communications Group. While witnessing the market shift from CDs to digital music several years ago, Koulouris experienced his light-bulb moment. Harking back to the days when CDs became the format of choice over cassettes, I realized the same thing was effectively happening with digital media and thought, ‘There must be an opportunity here.’ After putting on his thinking cap for several months, Koulouris created a business model, raised money through private equity and started DMGI, which has a second office in San Francisco and some 40 employees. The company went public in 2006.

Although its original premise was primarily to exploit vintage music&emdash;Sugar, Sugar by The Archies and Build Me Up Buttercup by The Foundations are just two titles that trickle off Koulouris’ tongue&emdash;the company is no longer just about oldies, he notes. We do have a lot of oldies, but we also distribute music by current multiplatinum artists, such as Death Cab for Cutie and Daddy Yankee. It’s really a mix of old and new. DMGI also has stepped up its video efforts, recently scoring a deal to distribute video clips and music through YouTube, the video-sharing website owned by Google.

Things are only going to get better for digital media, predicts Koulouris, who notes that the format is still young and has plenty of time to grow. Historically, in the music business, each format transition has taken about 10 years to occur, whether it was long-playing records to cassette tapes or cassettes to CDs. In digital, we’re only about three years into that transition, so if you look at it historically, it’s inevitable that it will get there.

In the meantime, Koulouris&emdash;whose office walls are neatly decorated with framed posters of his favorite recording artists, including Chris Isaak (he attended the same high school in Stockton as I did)&emdash;says he intends to stick to his mission. For us as a young public company, it’s a matter of keeping things simple: acquiring as much great content as we can and fulfilling our obligations to our shareholders to be profitable.

DIG Music’s Dennis Newhall&emdash;At the age of 6, Dennis Newhall heard Elvis Presley sing Hound Dog and has been hooked on music ever since.

He’s taken that love of music and, like a cat with nine lives, has reinvented himself many times over, parlaying his skills into a string of careers since his start as a disc jockey at local rock station KZAP in 1972. Today, the 55-year-old Sacramento native continues to juggle hats, bouncing between audio and video production duties at Nakamoto Productions and finding archival material for the locally based record label DIG Music.

We’ve been digging up some great never-released music, explains Newhall, when asked how the name DIG came to be. Plus, you can ‘dig’ it. I like double-entendres.

Sitting in his office at Nakamoto at 20th and I streets&emdash;the building that doubles as the Sacramento Rock and Radio Museum and was once the home of the Oasis Ballroom&emdash;Newhall shares his excitement about DIG’s national distribution deal with Ryko, a subsidiary of the record-label giant Warner Brothers.

We’re now a record label that can offer major-label distribution, and that’s big for us, says Newhall. The distribution deal allows DIG Music to get its records into stores across the country and onto Amazon.com and other websites that sell CDs, explains Newhall. You can print up a pile of CDs and store ’em in the garage all day, but unless you’ve got a way to sell them, all you’re going to be able to say is, ‘Oh, yeah, I had a record label.’ It won’t get you very far.

Newhall is quick to credit DIG Music’s success to two people: co-founder Marty DeAnda and the artist whose career DeAnda helped to launch, Jackie Greene. Although DIG’s first release (in 2001) was a Beau Brummels live recording from 1974, it was the success of Greene’s Gone Wanderin’ (released in 2002) that gave DIG the financial muscle it needed to survive. That record actually sold considerable amounts, and while we weren’t making enough money to go out and party or anything, it allowed us to build an infrastructure for a record company, says Newhall. Whereas Greene has since moved on to a larger label (Verve), DIG continues its musical quest with a spate of new releases including one that Newhall is particularly stoked about: Something in the Water by Chris Webster, the lead singer of Mumbo Gumbo. I think a lot of Sacramentans know about Chris, and she’s really starting to make people stand up and take note as we distribute the record throughout the country, says Newhall.

For the most part, though, DIG is devoted not to new acts but to Northern California bands of the late ’60s and ’70s, such as Cold Blood, Stoneground, the Sons of Champlin and Moby Grape. We’re not out there looking to sign a bunch of bands, says Newhall. It’s better to take care of the ones we’ve got. The archival music they release is not always old, adds Newhall: Sometimes it’s new stuff by bands that were around 40 years ago.

Surviving in the music business for 35 years hasn’t always been easy for Newhall, who, after being fired from a radio job in the ’80s, decided never to have just one job again. It’s a philosophy that continues to serve him well. It takes a lot of juggling, he admits, but I’m not working 12-hour days or anything, and I don’t get bored. I really like what I’m doing.

And he hasn’t given up on radio, either: You can catch him Thursday nights on KXJZ 90.9 FM, playing jazztunes.