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The Making of a Rockpreneur

From burning CDs to avoiding burnout, these musical entrepreneurs have found new ways to make a profit.

While many music artists have found ways to make money by lending their caché-laden names to various products and companies, a pioneering few have taken the next step by launching their own product lines and even entire businesses. Take a look at these four examples--Former blink-182 guitarist Tom DeLonge; former Great White bassist Anthony Cardenas; B-52s singer Kate Piersen; and Blur drummer Dave Rowntree--of the off-stage business lives of a few on-stage stars.

rockpreneurs_img1Name: Tom DeLonge, 31
Gig: Former blink-182 guitarist spreads his wings into lifestyle marketing
Business: MACBETH Footwear and Optics
Location: Carlsbad, California
Date Founded: 2002
Partners: Jon Humphrey and Bill Silva
2005 Sales: $3 million

While many artists like to put their name and money behind companies that create clothing and lifestyle accessories for musicians, few of them are involved with companies that are almost entirely operated by musicians. But MACBETH Footwear and Optics is such a company.

"For decades, there've been companies that tie into lifestyle," says MACBETH founder Tom DeLonge (center in photo above), former guitarist with blink-182 and now with Angels and Airwaves. "There have been many for action sports, but the other side of the coin, especially here in California, is music. It's so much a part of who we are and who people here are. For the first time, we're trying to build a whole company based on rock and roll."

It was actually a crisis in rock and roll that got him started thinking about moving from music to a music-related business in the first place. "Music has lost 60 percent of its net sales," DeLonge observes, "so, as a musician, I had to wonder where the opportunities were. Music is no longer the product. The circumference of the world around the musician is the new product." That, says DeLonge, is where MACBETH fits in.

Though MACBETH deals primarily with the manufacture and sales of footwear, it's a far larger enterprise than that. "It's about more than just shoes," says DeLonge. "We wanted to create a company where a band can come in and get everything and where the music almost becomes the marketing device instead of just the product itself."

True to his word, DeLonge and his partners, former concert promoters Jon Humphrey and Bill Silva, have installed a recording studio in the MACBETH warehouse. "We [offer] everything from clothing to music and video production in one building," he says, "so we can get it all out there."

His time on the road provides DeLonge ample opportunity to get in touch with his client base. "It gives me a chance to see what's out there and what people are doing and seeing," he says. "That helps us grow and that has helped us find our direction."

DeLonge admits that running a company is hard. "When we [started], it was a grind," he recalls. "It's still a grind. But we started with $20,000 and are now worth about $3 million. Within five years, we expect to be far above and beyond what most of these one-shot companies do with musicians who put their names on them."

Speaking of what's next, DeLonge hopes to have MACBETH become one of the world's leading footwear and apparel companies, but with a twist. "We want to make a company that can rival Adidas," he says, "but one that's not based on soccer players but on musicians who have the passion for music.

"As a musician, I get excited about lasers and big shows," he explains, "and that's what I want to bring to this industry. I do not want to stick to a traditional mindset."

rockpreneurs_img1Name: Anthony Cardenas, 40
Gig: Former Great White bassist now the basis for a CD duplication revolution
Business: DiskFaktory, a CD production company
Location: Irvine, California
Date Founded: 2002
Partner: Ben Abadi
2005 Sales: $3.7 million

After scoring popular hits with Great White such as "Once Bitten, Twice Shy" and "House of Broken Love," Anthony Cardenas (at left in photo above) went looking for something else to do. "It just wasn't fulfilling anymore," the rock bassist says of his music career. "So I started toodling around with computers and found another passion--I loved the whole tech thing."

"As a musician, I knew that people want to get CDs made," Cardenas explains, recalling the days he spent duplicating CDs at his local Kinko's. "I came up with an application that would help musicians--or, at least initially, musicians--turn out short runs of [radio-ready] CDs with pretty quick turnaround time."

Thus was born DiskFaktory, a partnership of music and technology that, since launching in 2002, has become a fast-growing success. "I come from a creative background, but my partner, Ben Abadi, is a hard-nosed business guy and a great engineer, and that's what I think has allowed us to make some real leaps and bounds here."

And with his partner's solid business sense in place, Cardenas was able to reach back to his musical roots for inspiration--and clients. Soon after launching DiskFaktory, Cardenas pitched a partnership idea to Guitar Center. "We partnered up and launched a site, and it just blew up," Cardenas recalls.

Though smaller batches of anything usually cost more than bulk orders, the company's found a way to carve out a niche as the price leader in its field. "Thanks to our work with Guitar Center, we're very retail savvy--they've helped us price things," Cardenas explains. "They also turned us on to their wholly owned subsidiaries, like Musician's Friend and a few other sites as well."

To help his new business succeed, Cardenas has also reunited with other colleagues from his past, including the folks at Fed-Ex/Kinko's, where he'd produced some of his earliest packages. "Our relationship with them allows us to work with smaller business-type services," Cardenas says, noting that DiskFaktory works with many individuals and businesses that aren't involved in the music industry.

In an effort to make their services even more complete, DiskFaktory is currently in negotiations with a number of labels to provide musical content. They're also developing an all-in-one version of their software that customers will be able to purchase at Guitar Center.

Current expansion plans also include introducing DiskFaktory to Europe where, Cardenas says, their services are "sorely needed." And a new venture called DiskFaktory Artists will allow his company to actually promote some of their artists.

No matter how big his company gets, however, Cardenas is still a rocker at heart. "I still play," he says, "but the company allows me to stay in touch with and help my friends. And it's nice to be involved with all these new artists--that keeps me on my toes--my 40-year-old toes!"

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