Barking Dog Records shows us how to succeed in business: by really, really trying by Peggy J. VanDuyne
Ska band 3 Minute Hero has made a name
for itself by playing regularly in local clubs.
Once there was a little dog who barked a lot. He was at the end of CDs, hidden, precocious yet always inspiring. Just when you would least expect it, there he was "arfing" on the tail end of your disc. Good thing you were lazy and let the CD run its course, because this is the trademark of Barking Dog Records, the Midwestern label founded by Mike and Linda Coates and run out of Fargo, North Dakota.
In conjunction with Barking Dog Records, Raptor Studios was also started by the Coates in the winter of 1995. Mike and Linda knew the talent base in their hometown was pretty phenomenal and they wanted to tap into it. Having extensive experience with music already (Mike taught in the music department at Moorhead State and Linda was executive director of the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony), they immediately identified a niche market in the Fargo area and produced a regional Christmas album which began to market Barking Dog Records' talents.
"We envisioned a label," Linda says, "for our music and others we identified with." The Coates' soon realized that the talent was indeed vast, but not deep, meaning that there were tons of great bands in the region but not (especially in Fargo) many of the same breed. But the couple knew what they must do: "We had to diversify," Mike says. The couple eventually changed the label's concept from being genre-specific, to having a regional focus.
For Mike and Linda, having a studio and a record label was, and is, all part of the plan. They believe the connection is necessary. For one, Mike could lose himself in the technical aspect, while Linda has a solid background in graphics, publicity and booking. The importance of stringing the studio and label together wasn't so much for Mike and Linda's sake, but for the sake of their artists. Linda says she finds it hard to market someone and give people a true sense of what they are about if she hasn't worked with them directly.
One thing that the Coates always stress to their talent is that they must be committed to working in the region. Not that growing and touring elsewhere isn't desired (it is) but establishing oneself in the upper Midwest and playing for the people in the Midwest are stipulations which keep Raptor Studios and Barking Dog Records on a path many small labels may follow in the future.
Who are these "talents" you may ask? Funny thing is, they are two of the biggest artists (out of only a handful) you probably associate with Minneapolis right now: Brenda Weiler, urban folksinger, and the local kings of ska, 3 Minute Hero.
Both from Fargo, the Twin Cities became the next obvious step for these musicians. Establishing themselves regionally, or "owning the region" as Mike puts it, is important because, as Linda says, "These guys are indie artists with no [commercial] airplay, [no] splashy ads in trades, nothing. They have to perform."
And that is exactly what they've been doing. Within a year of signing on to Barking Dog Records, 3 Minute Hero has made a name for itself in this magnet-for-regional-musicians town - they even came out on top at the Regional Battle of the Bands. Weiler being hailed as the next Ani DiFranco has also garnered quite a following and is currently on a West Coast tour. Both artists have played extensively in the Twin Cities including such places as the Fine Line and First Avenue, and all of their success has been built from the ground up - the power of live performance.
Other musicians on the label include Deb Jenkins, considered one of the best regional rhythm and blues musicians by the High Plains Reader poll, Debora Harris, a flutist and principal in the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony for the past eight years, and the Coates themselves, teaming up as a classical guitar and vocal duo.
When you're on the receiving end of solicitations by publicists, you can tell whether they care or not. So many bands need so much publicity that it's not uncommon for music journalists (or anybody else able to provide free publicity for a band) to get upwards of 30 phone calls a day. On the other end of the phone you hear so-and-so from Wherever Records feigning enthusiasm with a Casey Kasem voice about a "hot new band" straight out of Compton - we can tell when they're faking it.
Enter Jessica Hoffman, publicist for Barking Dog Records and the third of only three employees. I made an appointment to talk about the label, suggesting that we meet at her office. "Well," Hoffman replied, "there's not much to see here. I have a stapler, a computer, a phone, some papers . . . I don't have an office, I work from home."
The difference between Hoffman and the thousands of other record label publicists is that she believes in the talent she's promoting. People can tell, she says, that she truly admires the talent she represents.
"Weiler and 3 Minute Hero are both in my CD rack," she says. "We don't force any of them to go on tour if they don't want to, but we are behind them 100 percent if that's what they want to do because we believe in who they are. That's why Brenda (Weiler) is in a van, equipment in tow, running from city to city on the West Coast."
The set-up is nothing fancy, but it's real and it seems to be working fairly well for this company of three. Mike feels that the studio/label combination is not only doing his talents a favor but, because of the client/artist relationship, it is establishing more of a regional name for Barking Dog and attracting national attention to the Midwest region.
The Coates say they think it will be interesting to see whether or not other labels' affiliations with studios grows in the future. Meanwhile, the Coates hope to expand Barking Dog's affiliations with more local and regional artists, but they know that the label is a gamble: It's a big step and it's much different than simply running a studio, but it's proving to be worth every minute, penny, and person. So, Mason Jennings, how about it?
For more information on Barking Dog Records and its artists, visit www.barkingdogrecords.com
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