From the October 2002 issue of Startups

Been to a trade show recently? Inside the crowded exhibition hall, hundreds of companies work to grab the attention of prospects, reporters and distributors. Free gifts and promotional items abound, and attendees bring home plastic bags stuffed with hats, pens, mugs, cookies and more.

But at the end of the day, is someone really going to wear a T-shirt that advertises accounting software? The minds behind CD Promo don't think so. In fact, this Encino, California, company strives to give people something they really want--CDs that double as promotional giveaways.

"It's a chance for [business owners] to give their brochure to someone [who] won't throw it out," says Denny Tedesco, who, along with brother Damon, co-founded the company in 1994. A 10-track playlist that features unknown talents in jazz and classical draws listeners in--hopefully long enough to notice the inside jacket, which is actually a brochure that pitches the very business that passed it out.

The Tedescos grew up in the music business; their father was a session musician, and Damon is a recording engineer. In fact, their background in the music business is what led the brothers to realize how many talented, lesser-known musicians were out there with catalogs ready to be shared. "Our father was a guitarist, and he was legendary among guitarists, but unless you were a guitar freak, you would never go into Tower Records and buy his album," says Denny, 41. "We started thinking [that] he's got all this material, and [all these renowned jazz musicians] have all this material--yet it's very difficult for these guys to make any airplay."

Taking advantage of their connections in the jazz world, the brothers approached musicians with their idea of creating customized CDs as promo items for companies, charities and organizations. CD Promo views it as a win-win for all involved--clients get their name out, and musicians get royalties. "Many of the artists had [been] beaten up by every record label they've ever dealt with, [so] there were some skeptical people," says Damon, 34. "It's such a small community that all the sudden word gets out that these guys are doing CDs, and they're paying right away and they're legit."

CD Promo currently has the rights to songs from about 100 musicians that fall into that "great artists you've probably never heard of" category. Clients can also request bigger names, like Miles Davis or Charlie Parker, but that requires the brothers to approach the record labels for permission, a sometimes-lengthy process. "It's not just the label," says Denny, who handles marketing and permissions. "The artist has to give you permission because [he or she] might not want to be affiliated with [a certain company]."

Although Denny, a former commercial documentary producer, works full time in the business, Damon still works as an engineer, something both brothers feel benefits CD Promo. Says Damon, "[It's] good for the company, because I'm still around the musicians that service us with music."

And in the end, those relationships benefit CD Promo's customers. "It's nice because it's not a hard sell. It's not like somebody handing you a CD-ROM and saying, 'You've got to look at my stuff,'" Damon says. "Basically, this is a gift that gives people the opportunity to look at the inside jacket on their own time. It's their decision to check it out, and that creates a nice atmosphere for the sale instead of beating [them] over the head with a CD-ROM."