The Fifth Beatle
If you had to sum up the philosophy behind Austin's Framed! Records in a slogan, it would probably be "Dilettantes Need Not Apply."
Which isn't to say the local label provides a living wage for anyone involved. Whenever he's not working at his obligatory day job, Framed! founder Andrew Magilow spends his free time running the typical one-man show out of a post office box. However, Magilow refuses to let Framed! be the aural equivalent of a vanity press. To him, a lack of resources is no excuse to compromise his commitment to marketing the label's output in the best way possible.
"My goal has always been to put something out that you probably won't hear any place else and get it out there so people recognize it," says Magilow.
The Framed! story began in 1996 when Magilow released the debut single from local band Olive (now known as Gallus Mag) after being wooed by the band's performance. He credits earlier local labels like Craig Koon's Rise Records and Roger Morgan's Unclean Records as inspirational precursors to Framed!.
"You can still e-mail Roger and ask him for advice on how to do it," Magilow points out.
Singles from the Water Margin and Monroe Mustang followed, but 7-inch records proved to be a hard sell beyond the city limits.
"It's not that I don't want to do 7-inches anymore," explains Magilow. "It just seems like they have such limited potential. You can get them pretty cheap, but you're not going to make that much money off it.
"Call up a record store in Los Angeles and say, 'We're this band from Austin and we have two songs on a record.' They don't care! And distributors aren't in it for charity, either. They want to make money. They don't want to waste their time on 7-inches."
But Andrew, what about the purists who insist that vinyl is a better format and regard CDs as an evil reminder of major label hegemony?
"To me, if you're a purist, you just like music," Magilow replies. "You get so purist that you alienate yourself from half the music out there, which begs the question, 'Do you really give a shit about music, or are you just trying to make a statement by having a black circle in your hand?'"
Indeed, it was the prospect of another hard-to-move black circle that motivated Magilow to pitch the idea of a seven-song CD to then local band the Hamicks (who have since moved to Chicago), a group that had already released a number of singles on various labels. The quintet responded with the darkly comedic Ventriloquist Conartist. Magilow says the disc sold "pretty well," due in part to the Hamicks' 60-date tour this spring.
This summer, Framed! released the New Wave-flavored debut CD from Hello I'm A Truck. The Los Angeles quartet is Magilow's first find outside of Texas.
"A lot of labels confine themselves to Texas, but I think it's really important to spread out," he says. "With Hello I'm A Truck, I have all these people in Los Angeles talking about Framed! Records."
Although Magilow says sales haven't been that notable yet, Hello I'm A Truck has done quite well in college radio. The album hit Number One on three stations around the country, including Princeton's influential WPRB. Some of this radio success can be attributed to Magilow's stint as music director at Austin's KVRX.
"It gave me an idea of how college radio works," he explains. "It helps knowing how they operate. You have to be persistent to where they say, 'Goddamn, it's that annoying guy who put out the Hamicks CD again. I'll just play it to get him off my back!'"
Next up for Framed! is the long-awaited sophomore album from Stretford, Long Distance, which Magilow plans to have out by the end of September. And for the vinyl purist, Framed! is also releasing a three-song 7-inch from Stretford to coincide with the album.
Magilow's advice for upstart bands hoping to interest an indie label patron is simple: Don't act like all you have to do is hand over the tape. "If someone's going to put up money to put your record out, they're not going to want to see you sitting on your ass," he says. "They're going to put you to work, too."
Which is why Magilow likes to spend time with bands before sinking a bunch of money into them. It's not worth his while if everyone in the band really hates each other.
"You've got to have a team effort going on," he says. "It's like adding another person to your band. You've got to be committed to the band and you have to know that they're committed to the product."
In a climate where just getting a CD in the stores is an accomplishment, having a "Fifth Beatle" in your corner could make all the difference.