If you happen to be fond of bands like INTEGRITY, FULL OF HELL, RINGWORM, PULLING TEETH, THE LOVE BELOW and GEHENNA, then you most likely have heard of A389 Recordings. The long running Baltimore based DIY label has been releasing music for over a decade, with this year marking year twelve, mostly on vinyl formats. Just recently, label kingpin Dom Romeo relocated his entire inventory into his basement from a rented warehouse he was previously operating out of. Romeo operates his label with being a fan of the music at the forefront of thoughts, pressing usually 500 to 5,000 copies of each release as well as offering limited edition versions. Having a record label is a lot of hard work, countless hours are devoted, especially when most years see anywhere from 10-30 releases. For the Inside the Industry segment, we asked him a bunch of questions regarding what it’s like running a label on your own (with help from friends) and some insight on what goes into it all. Romeo‘s commitment and devotion to music is outstanding, and hardly matched. For more on A389 look to their website, as well, you may want to reserve some time and browse the A389 Bandcamp where you can stream virtually every release.
Matt Darcy: A389 has, for the most, part been a one-man job since you started it. How have you handled running a label that releases several albums each year by yourself?
Dom Romeo: I pretty much devoted the majority of my life to recording and touring with bands and/or releasing music I thought was worthwhile. It became so ingrained in my day-to-day nothing seemed impossible within that realm and anything else was almost foreign. I think in my banner year I did 30 releases on vinyl on my own. Once kids came into the picture for me it was impossible to do it alone anymore and thankfully there have been a bunch of people to step in and help out when needed. Most notably TheXBaron and Superior Alex who’s job description is ‘get whatever needs to get done…done.’
In January A389 will be 12 years old, and will have 165 releases under it’s belt as well as other stuff on it’s alter-ego labels (Murder Contest, The Blake Harrison Society, D389 Recordings).
Throughout the years, what has been a constant hurdle or a reoccurring problem a DIY-label faces?
Internet famous Robin Hood’s that steal from those who struggle/work to give to the lazy and entitled for free. Pressing plant being completely overbooked by represses of records you can still get at garage-sales for $1. Not having enough time in the day anymore to climb the mountain.
The music released through A389 started with your own bands and friends of yours, similar to how many labels start. What considerations to you take when approaching or being approached by a band where you do not know any of the members or have a connection with?
I guess you can say A389’s number one demographic is me. If a band’s record or performance makes me feel a certain way then it’s a shoe-in. Most of the A389 family of bands consists of a lot of the same core of people. That’s also what made the Anniversary Bash shows so special, it was like a family reunion once a year. There haven’t been many bands I did records for off a demo submission, I usually find them myself and reach out. But I do remember getting the Napalm Christ demo in the mail and being stoked on it and putting out a record for them. Caulfield too, but that was maaany years ago. Both records still hold up and are oddly similar now that I think about it.
I will say it always is funny to get a demo or sincere letter telling me how much the band identifies A389 and wants to be on the label… Only to find out they sent the exact same letter to other labels I’m friends with.
You keep a big focus on physical releases, especially vinyl. How do you navigate through the higher costs of pressing vinyl and turnaround times?
I pretty much submit releases and forget about them until I have news that it’s ready. Usually I do anywhere from 10-30 records, [this] year I have like 6 on deck. Lately it’s been really discouraging. I’ve had to slow down my release schedule considerably, collaborate with some other labels to get whatever needs to get done. That way everything can keep moving forward. I always used to joke about tape labels, but maybe they’re smarter than me after all. I’m definitely thinking that after this last move.
How has the resurgence of vinyl affected the label and do you think vinyl will stay as a popular format?
Absolutely not, the bubble burst is coming soon and soon most of this will end up in a landfill. Hopefully the same one that houses the Atari 2600 E.T. cartridges in Nevada. Fortunately the few that still care and love the format will hang around. The same ones that were there before the boom.
How do you make your label financially sustainable when music sales are down, never mind having to support yourself and a family?
I don’t. I’ve always had side jobs to keep me afloat. Once we started having kids, I committed to a desk-job from 9-5 to make sure there is always a house and food for them. A389 has just always had a knack for coming off as way bigger than it actually is.
Are there any services, such as Bandcamp, Haulix, Hootsuite, Big Cartel, etc, that you use that have made operating a label easier?
Bandcamp is a great way to check out new bands and buy music with minimal interference. Also as a label or band it’s a really convenient way to have your catalog up on the same page where people can hop from record to record and check things out. Social Media is cool too. I like talking music with anyone who posts on our Facebook or Instagram page, but then there’s Tumblr, Twitter etc. I can’t keep up with all that stuff as much as I’d like to because it’s actually kinda fun.
Admittedly, A389’s social media presence is more about my day to day adventures with kids and dogs mixed with label stuff but it’s intentional. I wanted to make the experience more realistic. Like day to day hanging out with me. It makes the actual band pushes mean something and not seem like a constant sales pitch. On the flipside, sometimes it feels like that show Lost. You have to keep checking into the machine and updating. I hate that aspect of it.
What advice would you give someone looking to start their own label? Any tricks you’ve picked up or lessons learned?
Be honest with yourself, your bands, your audience and everyone you work with. It goes a long way. Also remember what takes longer to build, will take longer to tear down. In a good way as far as longevity goes, but also in a bad way as in moving 12 years worth of A389 stuff to a new space being one of the worst experiences ever. 🙂