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ReThinks The Music Industry

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ReThink Records founder Jordan “Squirrel” Tomaeno.
Photo courtesy of Lars Prandelli.
Two Twenty-Somethings From Tempe Have Created ReThink Records To Shake Up The Industry And Offer Up-And-Coming Artists An Alternative To The Status Quo

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By Ryan Scott
Modern Times Magazine

Feb. 2, 2016 To say that the music industry has changed a lot in recent years would be a bit of an understatement. Starting with iTunes in the early 2000s, the digital revolution has completely altered the way that people consume music and much of the industry itself is still struggling to adapt to that shift. However, a couple of twenty-somethings in Tempe are looking to spark some major change with their new subscription-based record label, ReThink Records.

“When this whole thing started it was really looking at the question of ‘Why are things this way?’ Because it doesn’t have to be. What if we tried something different?” said 22-year-old founder Jordan “Squirrel” Tomaeno, who, with the help of 23-year-old co-founder Zach James, is trying something that hasn’t been done before.

Rethink Records Launch Party and Artist Showcase, Free, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 6 to 10 p.m., Rebel Lounge, 2303 E. Indian School Road, Phoenix. RSVP required for the 21 and older event.

“A lot of the costs that are affecting record labels are things they have to outsource to independent contractors. The two biggest expenses when you go in to cut a record on a record label are going to be promotion and cutting the record itself,” Tomaeno said. “We operate through creative partnerships. Everything is made possible through creative partnerships. What do I mean by that? Well, for example, I have the cheapest studio time in town and that’s  because I pay for it in bulk.”

The company produces everything in-house and has a small but dedicated staff that handles social media, photography, web design and even engineering.The rest is done through those creative partnerships Tomaeno mentioned with other local entities, such as TallCat Studios.

“Right now, the industry isn’t looking out for the average musician,” Tomaeno said. That sentiment is exemplified by his personal motto: “Music is great; the music industry sucks.”

Essentially, a traditional record company works more like an investment company. The record company invests a certain amount of money into recording and promotion for an artist, and the company will then recuperate those expenses, along with sizable profits, as the artist begins to bring in money.

ReThink, on the other hand, charges the artist a flat monthly fee, and the artist gets a certain amount of services for that fee. The exact price is dependant on the amount of services the artist desires. ReThink offers three tiers: local, regional and national. The local level starts at $500 per month and goes up as the artist grows.

The local subscription includes 15 hours in the studio, three pieces from the in-house graphic designer, promotion, social media and local booking. After three months, the label will look into music videos and open up other services. Once the artist outgrows the local tier, they will move up. While the top two tiers are more expensive, ReThink doesn’t intend for those costs to be assessed to the artist out of pocket.

“Regional and national are much more expensive on paper, but we don’t want [the artists] to have to pull that out of your pocket. The idea is that you come in and put an initial investment in your company, your band, your brand. The idea is that we can monetize and get there organically instead of indebting you,” Tomaeno said.

Tomaeno and James describe themselves as button down punks, and, at a glance, it can be hard to imagine that this concept is anything more than a pipe dream. But the fact is that after operating for six months, the company is currently supporting five employees and five artists with ambitious plans to coincide with its official “coming out party” on Feb. 3.

“Our attack and our plan is to essentially be what Uber was to the taxi industry,” Tomaeno said. “The only way to interject yourself into the market is to undercut the prices, and that’s basically what we’re doing. It’s more than sustainable; it’s profitable.”

When the ReThink founders talk, it does not sound like idealists flying by the seat of his pants; they talk like people who are very passionate and who have done the research.

“We wrote out the entire business plan. We had it on paper and we were like ‘This looks really good,’” said James, who has a very clear understanding of their partnership and feels that is why things work as well as they do.

Rethink Records Launch Party and Artist Showcase, Free, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 6 to 10 p.m., Rebel Lounge, 2303 E. Indian School Road, Phoenix. RSVP required for the 21 and older event.  

The pair were initially rejected by an investor, but they decided to press on anyway and so far that has proven to be a good move.

“One thing we have a lot of pride about is that we are, I believe, the only record label that operates with no debt,” Tomaeno said. “We do take a smaller profit than what a bigger studio would take, but our volume compensates for it.”

It also helps that James and Tomaeno’s personalities compliment each other.

“As you can see, this fool can talk and I can listen. Together we balance out very nicely. So it kind of just happened where I'm really good with the business side of things. Writing up documents and crunching numbers, that sort of thing and Jordan is really good at talking to people and doing the music end of things. It was a natural progression,” James said.

The idea of a subscription based record label is fairly progressive in itself, but the pair isn’t prepared to stop there. James and Tomaeno are attempting to assess the realities that exist in the current landscape of the industry and make a profitable business that accepts those realities.

“I think it's about creating an avenue that makes sense for everyone involved. As of right now record labels aren’t exactly the most profitable they have ever been. It’s about creating something that is going to help the industry across the board as opposed to letting things continue to fizzle out,” Tomaeno said.

As opposed to other record labels, the guys have an understanding that revenue from hard copy media is borderline non-existent and, at least for now, streaming revenue is still a drop in the bucket, so they aren’t basing their business model around it.

“It's (physical media) a dying form of revenue, so I am not going to create any form of dependency on it. When an industry changes people need to rally and change with it,” Tomaeno said. He isn’t going to hinge ReThink’s success on something like Spotify either. “I'm not going to put my eggs in that basket. They’re just another start up,” Tomaeno said.

The label isn’t looking to take on every single artist that is willing to pay its monthly fee, either. It is only interested in artists that are willing to put in the hours and grind it out to succeed, because that is what ReThink claims it will do for its artists and that is how Tomaeno and James feel artists can achieve success in the modern age at a local or regional level.

“If a musician wants to make money these days, they need to be prepared to be on the road for 200 days a year. People need to shake your hand and know who you are. The most successful regional artists are the ones that have the most engaged fan bases,” Tomaeno said.

When talking to the pair, it is clear to see that there is a dichotomy at work that is driving their company. On one hand, they are both incredibly passionate about music and love to create. On the other hand, they feel that the industry as a whole is very flawed and greedy, and they want to stir the pot. All of that, at least for now, boils down to something pretty simple.

“I just wanna work in music. And if I can pay my bills and eat, then I am fucking happy, and I can do that with this company,” Tomaeno said.

ReThink will officially launch with an event on Feb. 3 at the Rebel Lounge in Phoenix. The event will include a showcase of the label’s signed artists and the revealing of one artist or group who will be selected to receive free services from ReThink as part of a giveaway launched in January. General admission to the 21-and-over event.
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