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.
Name: 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."
Name: 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!"
Rockin' the Business World
Name: Kate Pierson, 58
Gig: Big-wigged singer with the B-52s now runs a "mod"-est motel
Business: Lazy Meadow Motel
Location: Mt. Tremper, New York
Date Founded: 2003
Partner: Monica Coleman
2005 Sales: Declined to say
Though she may be known for rockin' the "Love Shack," when B-52 Kate Pierson wants to unwind and escape from "Planet Claire," she drives out to her own self-designed, self-managed getaway in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York, the Lazy Meadow Motel. "Initially, I just wanted to make a real estate investment," explains Pierson about her reason for buying land in the Catskills. "An agent showed me this, and I instantly fell in love with it."
Though she admittedly had no plans for a hotel when she first came upon the nine-acre lot on the banks of the Escopus Creek, Pierson quickly realized it would make a perfect spot for a motel. "I figured it would be easy to decorate the [existing cabins] with different themes," she says. "What I didn't realize is that I didn't know how to run a motel."
As a member of the B-52s, Pierson had been involved with a business for 29 years--but the music business is quite different from the hospitality trade. "Once I bought it," she recalls, "there was a lot to think about that I hadn't thought of. How many towels were we going to put out? How will people pay?"
Fortunately, Monica Coleman, Pierson's partner in life and business, had some business experience. And while Coleman was also new to the hotel management game, her business savvy, combined with Pierson's decorative drive, helped put the Lazy Meadow on the map. "I was the one who initially bought it," says Pierson, noting the absence of any other financial partners, "and Monica and I put a lot of sweat-equity into it."
In addition to eight individually themed cabins--all with a mid-century modern/space age-feel, complete with 50s-style kitchens--the Lazy Meadow now offers a set of four (though soon to be six) fully decorated Airstream trailers as well as a three-bedroom house called the Lazy Cabin. "We're still growing," Pierson says proudly, "and still groaning under the weight of renovations." But that hasn't stopped travelers from dropping by.
"It's very much a destination place," Pierson suggests. "People want to come here because they've heard about it or because they're fans or just because they want to get away from the city and stay in a place that's interesting and fun. I understand what it's like to be a hotel customer, and I want my guests to have the best experience they can.
"We get a lot of repeat customers," Pierson says. "And we've done no advertising. It's all been from word of mouth and press. And that's really helped us because starting a small business without that is hard."
And though the hotel business represents a new venture for Pierson, her years with the B-52s prepared her well: "The B-52s' motto has always been to do stuff we like and make it fun," she says, "and that's what I applied to this. I have had so much fun doing this."
Name: Dave Rowntree, 42
Gig: Animated Blur drummer becomes animated series founder
Business: Fuse's Empire Square animated TV show
Location: New York City
Date Founded: 2002
Partners: Ant Cauchi and Lloyd Salmons
2005 Sales: Declined to say
As the menu of media outlets and opportunities continue to grow, there's still room for the ambitious and artistic to make their mark on the forefront of technology. But more important than creativity and foresight, says Blur drummer-turned-TV executive Dave Rowntree, is a touch of ego.
"The basic motivation for doing this project," explains Rowntree when asked about his new made-for-mobile technology animation series Empire Square, "came from the fact that I and the other two co-creators are megalomaniacs and we all wanted our own TV show."
Rowntree and his creative partners, Ant Cauchi and Lloyd Salmons, both former EMI record label execs, originally wanted to do a children's TV show, but, as Rowntree puts it, "That world is so crazy--we didn't want to get near it."
Fortunately, there was an alternative. At that time, mobile phone companies were expanding their offerings--or, at least, their offering capabilities. "They were complaining that they had this wonderful platform but no content," says Rowntree. "We heard their cry and decided to take advantage of this gap in the market. We went for the rude and disgusting market, and that was the genesis of Empire Square." The result was a series of three-minute phone clips.
Unfortunately, when Rowntree and his mates went to the mobile phone companies to sell their idea, nobody was ready to buy. "We found to our horror that none of them were actually ready to distribute it," he says, noting that he was probably not the first person to run into this issue.
Undaunted, Rowntree and his partners put Empire Square on DVD and pitched it to TV stations, and Britain's Channel 4 picked up the series to run during their Friday night music programming slot. "That slot had no branding," Rowntree says, "so they used Empire Square to brand it. It helped give their slot a look, while making us look bigger than we were."
At the end of the first season, the three-minute episodes were tied together into a clip show that was screened at the Tribeca Film Festival. "That's where we bumped into folks from fuse," recalls Rowntree, "and the rest, as they say, is history."
Purporting themselves to be "the nation's only music-centric, viewer-influenced television network," New York City-based fuse features music videos, concerts and artist interviews. To transition their "ultra-small-screen" program to a TV screen, Rowntree and his team brought on writers who could help them connect with fuse's audience.
And just what kind of a profit is the show producing? Rowntree says it's difficult to determine what its annual revenue is because the show doesn't have its own merchandising yet. "It's more similar to making a record than to making soap powder," he suggests. "TV programs are like fashion items, and people need to discover it themselves. If you try to force it down their throats, they resent it and fight against it."
To help expose people to the show, Rowntree plans to keep Empire Square true to its roots through a series of mini-episodes, ring tones and other tie-ins. FuseMobile will also offer clips, and fuse OnDemand will allow fans to view complete episodes whenever they want to.
"With all of these things," Rowntree observes, "you can be as involved as you wanna be." And while he's sure that fuse would love it if he moved into their offices permanently, Rowntree is still committed to Blur, which takes up a good deal of his time and energy: "My full-time job here is directing the voice actors and the animators," he explains, "but Blur still takes over."
Our slideshow offers a look at even more rock stars who've found a way to profit from their "out of the limelight" businesses.
Matt Robinson is a professional journalist from Boston.