Friday, a Drexel University student program will celebrate 10 years of working in one of the most tumultuous industries: the music business.
In the last decade MAD Dragon, a record label run by students, has released 32 albums by 17 artists. The Friday night anniversary concert will feature some of the stars of that catalogue, including Cheers Elephant, Matt Duke, Andrew Lipke, and Hoots and Hellmouth.
The funky roots act Hoots and Hellmouth started in 2005 as a reaction to the unwieldly scene-making of the hipper-than-thou indie rock scene. Sean Hoots’ fairly successful band Pilot Round the Sun split up, and he felt burnt out.
His next project, with his friend Andrew Grey, became Hoots and Hellmouth, a band that was not designed to be successful.
“There was no pushing, there was no real over-the top effort,” said Hoots. “We were just going to have fun with it. Having fun with it ended up making us a whole lot of fans.”
Making the grade while earning a grade
The unexpected success of Hoots and Hellmouth came in part because of the two records recorded and released on MAD Dragon. Although the business and technical staff of the label are young, green, and unpaid, they got the job done.
“On the one hand, they are college kids. Having not too long ago been in college, I remember how you treat your studies,” said Hoots, adding that he saw some real passion for music at MAD Dragon. “It’s their project, and they are in that school for a reason. They are going to put the effort in, if only for a grade.”
When it started 10 years ago, MAD Dragon was one of the first university-run music labels. In 2007, it got a major boost from the Redwalls, a well-established Chicago-based band suddenly dropped from Capitol Records. The band decided to release its already-recorded third album “The Redwalls” on MAD Dragon.
That’s when things got serious.
“It definitely whipped us into shape,” said Christianna LaBuz. “All of a sudden, we’re reliable, we’re being held accountable for this band’s career.”
LaBuz, now a talent buyer at World Café Live at the Queen in Wilmington, is an example of what MAD Dragon was designed to do: Prepare students for jobs in the music industry, even as the industry is struggling to understand itself.
Meeting challenges of an evolving industry
With CD sales plummeting, online piracy rampant and almost no artist development to speak of, the music industry hasn’t yet found its footing in the 21st century.
“It’s not as if you are an English professor or a history professor and you can teach the same core content,” said Drexel faculty adviser Terry Tompkins. “Every year you have to be fluid, and understand the changes taking place in the industry, and implement them.”
Tompkins says part of the label’s success lies in its low overhead — most technical and business services are done by students. Even recording studio time and music videos are handled by students aspiring for professional careers.
MAD Dragon is in the music industry, but not of it. Because it enjoys support from Drexel University, the label is freed from making creative decisions based on bottom-line finances.
“Certainly one of the selling points for us is — if you’re working hard and doing all the right things, and not turning a profit, that doesn’t mean we’re going to walk away from you,” said Tompkins. “We’re going to continue to support you as long as you support your own career.”