Iowa City – Patrick Bloom puts a new spin on working from home. After he folds the laundry and puts his daughter to bed, he turns his full attention to the business of running Mud Dauber Records.
Coordinated from Bloom’s cluttered kitchen table, where a shiny Apple laptop competes for space with a vase of roses and the day’s mail, the cooperative music label was launched in 2007, with the goal of bringing together artists trying to accomplish the same goal, in the same musical genre, under one roof. By splitting costs among artists, borrowing musical talent, and utilizing the power of the Internet, Bloom offers a blueprint to minimize artists’ expenditures, maximize profit and increase exposure.
“Mud Dauber is a collection of artists working in collaboration to the mutual success of everyone involved,” said Bloom, the 39-year old founder.
This Internet-based experimental label, named after a vindictive wasp, is home to four American roots acts. The musical styles range from Bloom’s jangly, folk-pop to the old-time bluegrass of The Gilded Bats to the rollicking, jam band picking of The Mayflies and the Southern-blues soloist BeJae Fleming.
The idea started when Bloom realized Iowa City’s vibrant roots-music community was being undermined because artists were operating independently, expending valuable resources. While mastering The Gilded Bats’ self-titled album in 2007, he felt energized by the group’s raucous sound and wanted to help spread their music. After a dinner conversation with fellow musician Bejae Fleming, Bloom realized the potential of beginning a label. He pitched the co-op idea to the band and they were interested, so Bloom pushed the foundations together for an actual organization.
First he asked his wife, Nancy Lincoln, if the commitment of starting a record label would work into the mix with raising their 4-year old daughter, Tula. But Lincoln, an accomplished painter and mixed-media artist, shares Bloom’s desire for artistic expression.
“If you consider a day like a pie chart of time, we do a beautiful job of waxing and waning – not so much juggling, as sharing and being present in each other’s passions as a painter and a musician,” said Lincoln.
As the previous owner of the Petting Zoo recording studio in Iowa City, Bloom had the expertise to bring the business model for Mud Dauber in place within a week and a half. He purchased the label’s domain name, mapped out the Mud Dauber Web site, secured server space, and began drafting the label’s wasp-inspired logo.
The Gilded Bats realized the benefits of following the Mud Dauber model of limiting upfront costs and maximizing exposure right away.
“We were looking at five years before breaking even after putting out our first CD,” said The Bats’ fiddler Norbert Sarsfield. “It ended up only taking about a year, and that wouldn’t have happened without the Mud Dauber presence.”
Bloom, and several of his label-mates work day jobs to pay the bills. For Bloom this means serving as a full-time purchasing manager at New Pioneer Co-op. It makes for long days but allows him the financial freedom necessary to create his music and continue propelling the Mud Dauber name.
“It’s Mud Dauber’s job to support the process these artists have already begun and create a glue that will hold numerous bands together through the same process,” said Bloom.
The label provides each artist a page on Mud Dauber’s website that lists bio information, tour schedules, links to additional artists’ webpages, like MySpace, and offers electronic press kits – all at no charge. This leaves recording fees and promotional costs to the individual artists’ discretion.
“If you run small you can do this forever, but if you pump too much money into the start-up, it can bankrupt you,” said Bloom. “Mud Dauber isn’t in position to make money so it isn’t in position to lose money either.”
Distribution is handled through CD Baby, an online independent record store in Portland, Ore., which digitizes the music and offers streaming media and downloads through iTunes, Rhapsody or Napster.
As a business entity, this may not sound like a particularly profitable endeavor, and at the moment it’s not. There isn’t a traditional revenue stream, but that is by design. Any money realized for the label is generated by transaction fees for downloads or online purchases.
“I suppose David Geffen would laugh at me,” said Bloom.
At 7 cents earned per downloaded song, the label rakes in around $20 per year, but this is enough to pay for the yearly fee associated with owning the label’s domain name. Bloom did all the online design himself, and aside from paying a nominal amount for hosting fees, Mud Dauber Records is static – it pays for itself. The only intangible is how much time Bloom invests into the label.
“I’m up at 6:00 a.m., and if the label has a release coming out I’ll send e-mails till after midnight,” he said.
The label has thus far had two official releases, The Gilded Bats’ self-titled disc and Bloom’s March 2008 offering, Moses.
He is finishing up a new CD, Ghosts of Radio, named after his backing band, scheduled for an April release. This multi-talented musician is a storyteller at heart, in the vein of Iowa’s own Greg Brown, and that remains evident in his upcoming release.
While the new recording has a more loose and upbeat style than his previous offerings, Bloom continues to scrutinize the humanness of people and what drives them.
“It’s melodic in a way, like Paul Simon, but darkness is there time and again,” said Lincoln. “It’s like getting punched in the face by Paul Simon,” responded Bloom.
This release revisits a formula successful to Bloom for him on his Moses recording. In addition to employing the low cost principles his label espouses, he applied for and received a $7,800 grant from the Iowa Arts Council. The council, which awards major grants of up to $10,000, receives about 80 applications a year but only gives grants to about 25 percent of them.
“I’m unbelievably grateful to the arts council,” he said. “I couldn’t do what I do without it.”
The cost for producing a new release can run to more than $15,000. The grant money will help Bloom to promote his CD, which will move units and get his music heard by a wider audience.
The Mayflies also are putting the finishing touches on their latest release, A Thousand Small Things. The CD is the band’s fourth but first on Mud Dauber, and band members are looking forward to putting the label’s philosophy to work.
“Mud Dauber is appealing because it’s an independent label and nobody’s out to take anything from us,” said Stacey Webster, a singer and guitarist for The Mayflies. “We combine our resources to lift each other above what could be done alone.”
Bloom remains most interested in capturing the benefits a solid roster of musicians will bring: a family atmosphere, mutual support among artists and a reputation in the folk-roots community. If that goal can be realized, financial success might not be far behind for the Mud Dauber family.
“The potential is pretty cool, and it all revolves around artists remaining completely independent and still working together,” said Bloom.
# # #
Published by: Off Deadline | Volume 1, Issue 2, p. 16 | Spring 2009