Label Focus: SideOneDummy Records
Behind most of your favorite artists and albums, there’s a record label staffed with passionate people working to bring that music to you. With Label Focus, we profile the record labels and imprints we love. Here, we get to know Los Angeles’ SideOneDummy, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
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SideOneDummy Records was founded in 1995, when roommates Bill Armstrong and Joe Sib were both looking to start their own separate record labels.
Joe was starting SideOne Records while Bill was about to launch Dummy Recordings. But instead of going their own way, they decided to join forces, pool their money together and symbolically combine the two names. Renting their first small office space on L.A.’s Melrose Avenue, SideOneDummy Records was born.
Today, they’ve moved to Hollywood and continue to release records from many of alternative music’s best up-and-coming bands. That roster includes current talent like Superheaven, PUP, Andrew Jackson Jihad and Xavier Rudd, and alumni like Flogging Molly, Gogol Bordello, Title Fight and The Gaslight Anthem.
Twenty years into its story, we talked with co-founder Bill Armstrong about lessons learned, favorite moments along the way and, of course the music.
“SideOneDummy is like the little engine that could. Man, that label is awesome. Small staff, small roster, but they get shit done. They work so hard and care so much about their bands. It’s incredible to have people like that behind you.”
–Stefan Babcock, PUP
How did you get into the music business, and what motivated you?
I fell in love with music as a youngster. I saw the Partridge Family on TV and thought, “I want to do that.” You know, travel around the country in a bus with my family, making music. My parents had no musical inclination so at that point it was a dream. A dream, however, that captured my imagination.
Shorty after that, I heard [Steely Dan's] “Rikkie Don’t Lose That Number” on a transistor AM radio my grandparents gave me. I bought all of the K-Tel ["As-Seen-On-TV" compilation series] greatest hits and was pretty much hooked. I discovered FM radio and it just kind of spiraled from there into classic rock, new wave, punk and metal. It was a world I desperately wanted to be a part of.
My parents rented me a guitar from the local music store, Jensen’s Music, and I didn’t look back. I wanted to rock the world. I later moved to L.A., started a bunch of bands that never made it big and realized I also had passion for the business aspect of music.
“As the music industry changes, there’s one thing that has remained important: passion. When we think of SideOneDummy, that’s always the first word that comes to mind. We’ve never been as lucky as having such a hard-working, friendly and passionate group of humans helping to ensure our music reaches as many ears as possible. It’s truly amazing.”
–Steve Sladkowski, PUP
What labels were your own roles models when you started up?
Matador, Sub Pop, Fat Wreck Chords.
What does SideOneDummy represent or stand for as an institution?
Joe Sib, my business partner, and I met as musicians. We always felt frustrated that many of the people we met at labels had no idea what it was really like to be a musician: scraping by, promoting shows, living with five people in a one bedroom, carrying equipment in the rain on the city bus to get to rehearsal…
We both thought it would be cool to have a label run by musicians for musicians. That was our mantra for a long time “for musicians by musicians.” We even had a SideOneDummy band that opened for [punk band] T.S.O.L. called the SideOne Dummy’s. Original, huh? That was pretty fun!
In your opinion, what’s the greatest achievement in the history of SideOneDummy? What are you most proud of?
Staying in business for 20 years! There have been so many milestones along the way: working with truly talented musicians, being one of the first people to bundle concert tickets with albums (even before Prince did it!), getting real distribution, putting out the annual Warped Tour compilations, our first Gold record, our first Platinum DVD, hearing our artists on commercial radio, seeing our artists play Letterman, The Tonight Show, Kimmel, Conan, Live Earth, front The E Street Band at Hyde Park, the list goes on…..
“The team at SideOne plucked our band out of near-total obscurity and turned it into something we can do at a sustainable level. At a time where most bands are self-releasing or beefing with their label, I can’t think of another place we’d rather be. These are real people that actually give a shit about every band on the roster personally and professionally. Dream gig.”
–Jon Loudon, Restorations
Any plans to celebrate the 20th?
We have been doing some neat stuff. We started a vinyl club and reissued some of our definitive releases. We’ve signed a TON of great new artists. We never thought beyond trying to keep the doors open, much less staying in business two decades. We have been really blessed to have had the opportunity to work not only with great artists but also great people on the business end – people who gave us breaks and plenty of good advice.
What’s the secret behind keeping the spirit alive for such a long time?
Surrounding yourself with smart people who are passionate about music.
Did you have an initial idea back then on what SideOneDummy should be and how it could evolve in the future?
No idea at all. Neither of us wanted to get a “real job.” That was a huge motivational factor. It’s easier to work 80 hours a week for yourself than 40 hours a week for someone else.
“SideOneDummy is a great label where everybody loves the music they put out – seriously, they don’t put out records if anyone who works there doesn’t think it’s awesome. You can see that passion in how hard they work for their artists, how much they want people to hear the records they put out, and how they let us sleep in their offices when we’re on tour.”
What does being “indie” mean to you?
The definition of indie has really changed over the years. I would say being able to call your own shots.
The music scene has gone through various mutations during your time in business. How do these changes reflect the history of SideOneDummy?
Personal taste, realizing that things always change and hanging onto the past really narrows your choices. Scenes change, technology changes and people change.
The music industry also goes through changes. How have those challenges affected you, and what is different about running a label today compared to before?
So many things. When we started, cell phones weren’t around. The Internet was something that few people knew about. We had massive postage bills. Besides those types of things, though, it is still the same. Talent plus proper promotion and good timing equals sales.
Any regrets? Anything you would do differently if you had a second chance?
No regrets. Plenty of things I would do differently but they are all lessons in the end. We jumped into this with a ton of passion but for the first few years we really didn’t even know what a record company was supposed to do. We just wanted to be a part of something, lend a hand and be a part of greatness. Neither of us had ever worked at a record label, so there was a learning curve. Luckily we asked a lot of questions and got some good advice along the way.
“SideOneDummy has been great. They’re very into their artists doing their own thing, and not only respecting that, but supporting it. And that’s been really important to us. We’re grateful and proud to be a part of this label.”
–Taylor Madison, Superheaven
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