Milwaukee has always very much been a DIY kind of town, and the local music industry is no different. Thankfully, that doesn't seem to be stopping Brew Towners from making sure our music scene thrives.
Resources might be sparse in this town, and that's all the reason Kristan Harris needed when he started his own record label -- Snapdragon Records -- to help promote his band and make it generally easier to book shows all over.
Can't find a record label to support your band? Start your own. Sounds simple, right?
"Well, it ended up taking more of my time than the band did, so I had to make a tough decision and I ended up sticking with the label," says Kristan, 27. " But now that I'm older and don't have time to tour it's wonderful to still be involved in the music industry."
Since 2003 Snapdragon Records has helped smaller local bands -- as well as those from Chicago and even California -- get on their feet. The label's repertoire -- comprised of punk, hardcore, ska and indie rock acts -- includes work with Milwaukee's The Response, The Rock Band, Lollygag, Subdue and Welton. The current roster includes Milwaukee punkers Eighty-D and Chicago's Until I Bleed Dry and The1985Bears. California hardcore ska band, A Billion Ernies, is the newest addition to the Snapdragon family.
"Everyone wants to get signed off the bat to a label like Drive Thru or Victory or Revelation Records. In theory, it's highly unlikely. Most bands start out small and after touring the majority of the time and building a following on a smaller label like us, a larger label can then study their success based on album sales and venues they've played. We're like a stepping stone."
Harris says there are three main criteria that any label, big or small, looks for in a band. The obvious one is "good music" -- both recorded and live, but ear candy isn't going to be his only selling point. "I also look for bands that are financially stable and who have toured full time for several years."
Although he loves Milwaukee and agrees that it is as great a place as any to be in a band, it's important not to rely solely on your hometown for support. One downfall about Milwaukee he says is the scene segregation.
"Not too many people are willing support multiple genres here. I think that's one thing we (Snapdragon) do well is get kids to realize that they might like other things than just hardcore or just punk."
And that is why for Snapdragon's "After Christmas Party" at Waukesha's Mainstage on Friday, Dec. 30, Harris has an impressively eclectic lineup planned. For $8 in advance or $10 at the door, the show features performances by Eighty-D, I Voted For Kodos, The1985Bears, Until I Bleed Dry, Drive By Alibi, Ceteri, Rainy Day Ollie, Headbox, Koala Taxi, The Gas Rats and Ayla Rae. It's an all-ages show that starts at 3 p.m.
According to Harris, if his party goes well, the Mainstage could very well become a permanent all-ages venue.
"The Mainstage is an awesome bar and it looks like a mini house of blues inside," he says. "It fits about 375 kids and I've talked the owner into getting an all-ages approval from the city of Waukesha. If the party does well expect me to book some bigger national indie acts."
He adds, "We expect big things. All you kids who are screaming for an new all-ages venue, here's your chance to come out and make it happen. It's needed pretty bad."
On Tuesday, Dec. 13, Tim Jordan, former guitarist for Snapdragon's Welton, died at age 24. After the demise of Welton he quickly was hired by Number One Fan to play keyboards on their tour and later became apart of the All American Rejects. The1985Bears will perform a song at the Dec. 30 in rememberance of Tim.
Snapdragon Records' Web site is snapdragon-records.com.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.
As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When OnMilwaukee.com offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”