WESTFIELD Owning a record label is something Dave Witthaus has always wanted to do and he is now living that dream through his new business, First National Records, which recently released a CD for the Boston-based band, The Swinging Steaks.
Witthaus, owner of the independent record store, Platterpus Records in Westfield, said that once he spoke to the band, his dream of owning a record label came true within six months.
He said that having spent nine years in the radio business, three of which were spent as program director for WRNX in Springfield, he became friendly with the Swinging Steaks.
He added that if ever needed a band to do a show while he was in the radio business, the Swinging Steaks would be there within three hours of his request.
He said that he remained friendly with the band after he left the radio business.
He explained that the band's latest CD, Sunday Best, was released in Europe and was supposed to be released in the United States, but their label went on hiatus.
"It is too good of a record not to have out," Witthaus said.
He decided to approach the band after a show with his idea to start a label to release their CD in the United States.
Witthaus was it was difficult to get them to sign at first because "they had been through the major label thing."
He added that they were skeptical about signing on with a label since the deal with the original label fell through.
"I had to convince them that I would be the least corporate corporation they would ever be involved with," he said.
He explained that many record labels do not involve the bands much in the process of releasing an album, but he said they would be part of the whole process.
He said that he talks to Tim Giovanniello, a member of the band who does vocals, guitar and lap steel, at least once a day, sometimes two or three times a day.
The other band members include Jamie Walker, vocals, guitar, mandolin, and slide; Jim Gambino , vocals, piano, organ; and Paul Kochanski, vocals, electric and upright bass.
Witthaus explained that as a small record label, he puts the CD out.
"We do not do the manufacturing and we do not distribute [it], but we sign the band, do promotions press, radio and retail promotions."
He added that he does not distribute the record, but he collects the money to make sure the royalties are paid to the right people.
The CDs released by First National Records are distributed through Redeye Music Distributors, which Witthaus said "is a great distributor for a label of my size."
He added that the company is small enough in which he can speak to the head of the company if he needs to, but large enough to get the CDs into stores.
When starting the label, Witthaus said that he struggled with over 100 names, one of which would have named the label after Westfield Whip City Records. However, when he entered the name on the web, a number of websites with that domain came up.
He added that some of the names he came up with.
"The toughest part about about a business is coming up with a name," he said.
In the end, Witthaus named the label after the credit card he maxxed out to start the business.
He explained that when he first thought about starting the label, he went the traditional route and approached a bank for a loan.
"They looked at me as if I just said I wanted to open a Yugo dealership," he said.
He said that with the bad publicity the record industry has been receiving over the past couple of years, no one wanted to lend him the money to start a label.
He said First National Bank gave him a line of credit and "I was stupid enough to use it."
Witthaus explained that his label concentrates on the Americana genre of music, which he said was known as country rock when he was younger.
He said that blues or adult rock bands such as John Mayer and the Black Crowes falls under that category.
He also said that the label releases music for the 25 to 54 year-old demographic, which "is considered the adult buyer."
He said that he is hoping to find other bands to sign, but "it is a matter of finding a band marketable to that age group [that is] good enough to sell CDs."
According to Witthaus, juggling his two businesses has not been "too bad."
He said that owning a retail store allows for some downtime, which allows him to make phone calls or get on the computer when the store is not busy.
"The periods of time I know I will be busy, I concentrate on the store," he said.
Witthaus said that owning a record label has "been a ton of work," but added that the CD has "been selling as well as, if not better, than I expected."
"It's been fun," he said.
He said that last week, the CD sold 10 copies in Tennessee.
"It is neat that a band out of Boston and a label out off Westfield is moving copies out of Tennessee," he said. "I wonder how did they hear it."
According to Witthaus, the Swinging Steaks music is currently played at 25 radio stations across the country, including WRNX and WRSI locally.
Witthaus said that he hopes to sign other bands to his label and that he is close to signing a few, although he did not want to release the names.
Most of the time, he hears of bands through word of mouth or hears a band play himself that he may be interested in signing.
He said that he is not soliciting demo tapes, but since he declared himself a label, he will receive demos.
He added that anyone who sends him a demo needs to understand the demographic of his label.
He said that he is happy with the way things are going so far,
"I am waiting for the other show to fall," he said. "But actually so far it has been really fun."
He added that is has been a little different that he thought is would be spending more time on things he thought would be easy and less time on things he thought would be difficult.
The Swinging Steaks CD can be found at any retailer or online.
For more information about First National Records, visit www.firstnationalrecords.com.
For more information about the Swinging Steaks, visit www.swingingsteaks.com.