Wednesday, April 04, 2012

10 Questions with Jon Schroeder (of Under the Belfry)

Under the Belfry is a Tulsa, OK based record label that specializes in promoting local artists through live recordings.  Their latest release was Other Lives’ Live at Fassler Hall (check out my review here).

This interview was conducted via email March 9 – April 3, 2012

For more information on Under the Belfry check out their official website, Facebook, and Twitter pages.

Dave:  What’s the story behind Under the Belfry?  Why start a record label?

Jon Schroeder:  I got a hair brained idea to record 45 bands at the Free Tulsa Festival.  I talked Clint Engles (business partner) into taking this project on with me and Under the Belfry was born.  We thought we could do something good and give back. We want to see Oklahoma artist compete.   Are we really a record label? We could call ourselves that but we don't like to.

Dave:  How do you decide what bands/artists to work with?

Jon:  When we started we just wanted to help everyone and while we want the best for every band, we've become more selective.  It's not a question of genre, we're looking for bands that are hungry and have hustle.  If a band has those two things then we'd love to get behind them to support.

Dave:  You are in the process of releasing a live album by Other Lives.  How did the project come about?  

Jon:  Two weeks before the Other Lives show at Tulsa's Fassler Hall one of our guys, Ben Elder, said "We need to shoot and record the Other Lives show, I'm gonna call Jonathan Mooney".  As I remember it, Ben didn't get a hold of him that night.  What I do remember is that we got the green light the day before the show which gave us about 24 hours to line up shooters, get the recording gear in place, light the stage and figure out how we could pull it all off. It was a long day for Clint and I because we already had a video shoot that started at 5a and wrapped at 6p.  I honestly don't think we knew how great the set was until we got into mixing and editing.  We were just too tired to think about.  We got lucky with Other Lives. They want to see Oklahoma music showcased and move outside of Oklahoma as their band has been able to do.  Ben being their friend from college didn't hurt either.  Thanks Ben.

Dave:  Does Under the Belfry plan on ever producing physical releases?  

Jon:  Sure...You know anyone that wants to invest in physical copies? Let me know who these people are.

Sarcasm aside, we own a lot of masters.  I see us doing one of two things.  Partnering with bands to do physical releases and/or bringing in an investor to fund that side of the business.

Dave:  Were/are there any records labels that you look to and think “I want to run Under the Belfry like that”?

Jon:  I'm not sure if there is a label that does what we do.  There probably is somewhere.  Our whole concept is promote bands, give back and sell advertising around the site.  We've found companies like daytrotter.com and blogotheque.net to be inspirational but don't have the same business model that we're currently utilizing.

Dave:  What are your thoughts on the current state of the music industry and the illegal downloading of free music?

Jon:  It sucks.  I don't think you could find an artist, label or anyone in the entertainment business that could say otherwise.  We figured out pretty early on that the music wasn't selling.  We also realized that it needed to get out there so we adjusted our business model. Give away music, drive traffic to artists we care about and help bands build fan relationships. If potential fans don't hear the music then they're probably not going to pay to be at a show, buy beer or pick up the bands shirt or vinyl. You can't torrent a live show experience no matter how hard we try. If it becomes possible, UtB would adjust and keep helping the artists.

Dave:  What are your thoughts on the music scene in Oklahoma

Jon:  Here is my very skewed point of view: Oklahoma has the resources (musicians, studios, management) to be competitive at the national level musically.  Oklahoma has some of the coolest places to record like The Church Studio (super biased), Blackwatch Studios (also biased) and guys to record with like Stephen Egerton, Chad Copelin and Costa Stasinopoulos.  I'd really like to see bands utilizing these resources.  UtB is here to creatively support all these groups.  I'd like to see Oklahoma get the title of "Hardest working music scene in show business"....Can someone get a hold of Fats Gonder?

Dave:  This is a High Fidelity inspired question.  What are your top 5 favorite artists/bands, albums, movies, television shows, books/authors? 

Jon:  I'll try this with no particular order.
Music:
• John Mellencamp. "No Better Than This record" - T-Bone Burnett used one of two microphones on the whole record.  Are you kidding me? It's amazing.
• The Black Keys. I like everything they do.
• Gungor, Brilliance and Oksweetheart records.  I have to admit my bias again since I've done a lot of work with all three bands. Rob Gungor, Dave Gungor and Michael Gungor can run musical circles around most of us.
• M83. "Hurry up we're dreaming".

Books:
• Tipping Point / Outliers / Blink - Malcolm Gladwell
• Crush it / The Thank you Economy - Gary Vaynerchuk
• Next book to read - "Brewing up a Business" - Sam Calagione

Shows:
• Shark Tank
• Modern Family
• Boardwalk Empire

Movies:
• Beer Wars
• Freakonomics
• Helvetica
• Rock Prophecies

Dave:  What’s next for the Under the Belfry?

Jon:  • We're working on a new series of recordings/shoots that benefits a charity of the artists choice. "One Mic, Camera & Cause" as the working title.
• Clint makes some amazing beer and we're going to have to start selling it instead of drinking it.
• We've got some exciting partnerships that we'll be announcing soon but can't say anything about them right now.

Dave:  Any final thoughts? 

Jon:  I've got a few really selfish & selfless thoughts:
1. Go to UnderTheBelfry.com, find a band you like and post their videos on facebook, twitter and/or on a blog.  Download the music and share the links.
2. Like UtB on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
3. Go to a freaking show and BUY a record from an artist/band if you like them. Get their shirt too. Bring a friend with you next time and tell them to do the same.

That’s all I've got.  

Editor's Note:  Here's a video by one of my favorite artists that Under the Belfry has worked with.  

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