How I Became a Record Label

It all started back in 2008 when my friend Brandon coaxed me out for a night of bohemia. Being older than dirt and not much of a social animal, I’d become the definition of “don’t get out much.” Brandon thought getting out of the house, seeing some people and listening to some music might do me some good. Also, he was trying to get up his nerve to play his guitar in public and had enlisted me as a wingman of sorts.

So, off we went to the Monday Night open mic at the Gypsy Den in Santa Ana. Brandon didn’t perform that night, but a lovely local girl did and, for probably all the wrong reasons, I bought her CD and suggested I might be able to set her up with a show of her own. I’d worked on and off with The Chance Theater, an intimate venue near my home in Anaheim Hills, and I was thinking, “It’d be cool to do a music show there…” I think I fancied myself as the Jools Holland of North Orange County.

Of course I hadn’t ever hosted a show and had no idea at the time how difficult it is to get people to come to music events – especially if they have to pay for them. But ignorance is bliss – sometimes you don’t know what you can’t do.

I kicked the idea around with the theater management and about six months later, they gave me the green light to host an almost-monthly series, the somewhat cheesily named Set Sounds. (We spent about three hours brainstorming to come up with that gem.) I ended up doing five editions of Set Sounds during the summer and fall of 2009, each featuring three performers: two openers and a headliner, although often the only difference between the headliner and the openers was a few months longer experience or a few songs longer set. To fill my bills, I frequented the Orange County singer songwriter scene: discovered the Thursday Night Open Mic at Gypsy Den and started hitting places like eVocal, Alta Coffee, La Cave, Sol Grill, Neighborhood Cup, McClain’s and so on in search of talent. Along the way I met John Carrillo, local open mic impresario and a singer songwriter in his own right.

John had the good fortune to host a Singer Songwriter Night Tuesday’s at Alta Coffee in Newport Beach. Not only did he get paid to choose the night’s performers from the cream of the Gypsy Den’s Open Mic, but Alta Coffee has an inexplicable allure to the Most Beautiful Girls in Newport Beach. (Seriously – there must be something in the coffee that attracts them.) I like music as much as the next guy, but, once again, I may have been drawn to Alta for all the wrong reasons.

One night, I’d settled in to my usual perch and a relatively elderly gentleman (turns out he wasn’t that much “elderly” than me, but I’m getting ahead of myself) took the stage (really just a window ledge) and launched into the somewhat edgy self-penned ditty, I Love to Get Drunk In the Car. This being the heart of Orange County and all, and what with the general trend towards drunk driving outrage, both phony and genuine, this struck me as a rather brave admission and, as was likely its express purpose, it drew my attention away from the customary bevy of beach beauties and towards the white haired geezer singing it in the front window. The politically incorrect troubador followed his naughty paean to irresponsibility with the equally discomfiting Love Me Slow a sort of Tantric Sex Guide with a ragtime feel.

“Who is this guy?” I wondered, a query almost immediately answered at the close of his set by emcee Carrillo, “Let’s have a nice hand for Lon Milo DuQuette, everyone!” I filed his name and likeness away in the moth-eaten wasteland where my short term memory used to be, and returned to the business of contemplating the evening’s more interesting clientele.

Towards the end of 2010, John registered “ocmusicscene.com” and began posting featurettes on local indie musicians and the general goings on in the Orange County Music Scene (thus, the name.) Although it wasn’t clear to me whether the purpose was to promote his various music enterprises or to perhaps build value for the domain, I expressed interest in being a stringer – thinking it would be a nice vehicle for meeting musicians and also an opportunity for me to learn how to do interviews. Having heard some odd stuff about Lon from John, I asked Mr. DuQuette if he would deign to be my first interview victim and he readily agreed.

Turns out, in addition to thumbing his nose at convention (and DUI statutes) Lon dabbles in the occult. Perhaps more than a dabbler: he’s written sixteen books on such topics as the Enochian Magick of John Dee, a guide to Qabalistic practices and Aleister Corwley’s Rituals of Thelema. He’s the oldest living member of the Ordo Templi Orientis, Crowley’s erstwhile secret society and an Archbishop of its ecclesiatical incantation. In short, he’s some kind of a nut.

He also, as it turns out, is formerly one half of the seventies duo, Charlie D. & Milo, has played the guitar since he was fourteen (well, except for a twenty five year lay-off) and was signed to Epic Records where he was paired with the likes of Arlo Guthrie, Hoyt Axton, Johnny Rivers and, of all people, Sammy Davis Jr. As Sammy would have said, “This was one strange cat!”

I see Lon here and there, playing open mics, occasionally slightly longer sets as a “featured artist” and I start to get familiar with his repertoire. He agrees to buy my one of my books if I agree to buy one of his (I buy Low Magick.) Reading is not part of the deal, but I do it anyway. Winter of 2011 finds him and me both in the frozen tundra of the Chicagoland area and I attend a full length concert sponsored by the local coven of heathens (probably not how they’d describe themselves, but accurate as far as it goes.) I hear a lot of pretty good stuff and take note that his local followers have all kicked in $15 apiece for the privilege (of which they are enthusastically digging.) I start to think, “This guy has potential…” but before I can give it any further thought, I take on a musical project of my own (see related …)

Mid summer I get an invite to a Lon birthday party/gig of sorts at DiPiazza’s in Long Beach. I don’t go, but it reminds me that Lon is still flailing around in the minor leagues, musically speaking. I resolve to think about what can be done about this.

My thinking proves to be unproductive so I decide perhaps the best thing to do is plunge in despite having no experience and no ideas. My decision making process has often been flawed in this regard. I’m up front with Lon, “Hey, I think your music merits a wider audience than the ladies of Alta. I’ve got zero experience in artist management. You’re 63 years old and in a dying industry. Why don’t we team up?”

And so we did.

Initially, I thought I might be able to contribute on the management side. After all, I’d been a manager of sort at my “day job” for quite some time and (probably mostly due to dumb luck) that had worked out okay.

I had some ideas.

The first order of business was to get him out of his pajamas and Vans and into a proper costume. Initially I was thinking vintage, but circumstances dictated we go modern. We stopped into Lubiano’s on Newport Ave and had him fitted for “The Suit.” The Suit is part Redbone, part Colonel Sanders with a little Mark Twain. Looks sharp with the right shirt, hat, tie and suspenders. A pair of faux ostrich shoes completed the look, although they didn’t fit as well as they looked.

Next we set about securing a record contract. But first we needed a publishing company. Or was it the other way around? No matter. Working my way down the Checklist to Stardom, it proved to be most expedient to just create both entities and get to the important stuff: recording the songs. I called the label “Ninety Three Records” as those digits are the most numerologically significant to the OTO. I hoped that those that knew of Lon’s work in the occult would make the connection.

Recording is expensive. You need a place to do it. It has to have certain equipment. Someone has to know how to operate it. You often need other instruments. And people to play them. Some degree of experimentation may be beneficial. All of this takes time. And money.

I was familiar with Kickstarter, a “crowd-funding” application that friends had used to raise money for theater projects. I thought, given Lon’s following, perhaps his friends, family and fans, might be willing to donate some of the seed money. They were. So were mine. Some gave a little, some a bit more and one generous soul gave a whole lot. We raised our goal and then some. Expenses of fulfilling the donor rewards ate into some of our kitty, but we started out in pretty good shape.

We spent the money raised very judiciously, mostly to good effect. This was fortunate as I hadn’t properly budgetted for the things that come after the basic recording is complete. The costs of Mixing, Mastering, Manufacturing and Marketing, often exceed that of the studio sessions themselves. I lived, learned (and paid) and we got about eight large boxes of CD’s a couple of days prior to our big CD Release concert at The Chance Theatre. We had a cool looking cover, eleven tracks of solid music – even a bonus hidden “Easter Egg” at the end! We even had distribution on the Internet – CD Baby, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify – Lon’s songs were nestled right in there with the latest from Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga.

“I’m Baba Lon” was released on March 9th, 2012. Several dozen Folk DJ’s added it to their setlists. Lon was interviewed by the local papers, including a front pager in the Orange County Register. An East Coast tour in April was followed by a European tour (four countries!) in September. People like the songs, love the CD and Ninety Three Records established a tiny foothold in the topsy-turvy world of the record industry.

We’re still figuring out the sales end of things, but between our fundraiser and concert patrons, we’re only about half as much “in the hole” as we might have been. All-in-all, it was a pretty rewarding experience.

“Baba Lon II” comes out September 3rd. (Click here to order yours today!)

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