Shun the Handshake
"We're not business people. In fact, we don't really know what we're doing."
Dirk Michener had no real intention of starting a label. When he and longtime friend Smokey Farris formed their first band at age 12 in Cypress, Texas, just outside of Houston, it was two friends jamming. The name Business Deal came about in 1993, and it grew as Michener went to school in Denton, Farris went to school in Austin, and more folks were drafted in. Over the last 10 years, it's grown into a collective of many friends jamming that's included anywhere from 10 to 20 members. That strength-in-numbers mentality remains at the core of Business Deal's quirky success.
"There's ended up being about 50 different bands from, like, 15 combinations of people," the 31-year-old Michener says. "It's a very tight-knit group. We don't let just anyone in ... unless we need a drummer."
Business Deal's groupthink is more a democracy than a label, which helps to explain its idiosyncrasies. There's the ironic name, a riff on the sweaty power-handshake types; then there's the gnarled Business Deal family tree, a tangle of local acts that's included (past and presently) Cavedweller (Michener's band), Zom Zoms, Teenage Dog, Gene Defcon, the Charles Potts Magic Windmill Band, Fishboy, Count Dracula's Weed Smuggling Jam Engine, Yellow Fever, the Carrots, Pataphysics, the Old-Timerz, the Prima Donnas, and, very tangentially, Vietnam and Trail of Dead, among many others.
"I actually drew a family tree once, and it got really ridiculous," Michener laughs.
He describes democracy thusly: "We propose ideas and gather consensus upon which we review the funds at hand and distribute the various tasks to members of the collective." Bands put out albums, then hand the reins over to the next group ready to record or play out or promote. Screen-printing T-shirts and posters, making stickers, and recording are done by various BD associates, so the circle is self-sufficient. Parallel to the egalitarian vibe of the label is a sense of humor.
Take 2005's Business Deal Top 40 (see "Texas Platters," July 2005), which featured 40 associates of the label – the songs counted down in a Top 40 format, complete with jingles and featuring one-off groups like La Junta High School. It's a perfect example of BD's reproduction cycle. Accordingly, Michener jests that Business Deal is a "money-losing venture" but stresses that the important part is "getting together and writing a song with people you wouldn't normally get together with. And then it's like, 'That band's called this, and that's it.'" And so the tree continues growing.
"There's a right- and left-hand way of looking at Business Deal," explains Michener, pointing out the label's balance of pop and psych with the more dancey punk and comparing the collective's map to the shape of a pentagram. "We're a democracy, but we're also like a gang. There's no 'Fuck you; I'm going over your head.'"
And everyone's usually cool with that?
"No. But then we have to remember not to take it so seriously."
Kingpins: Dirk Michener (owner) with rotating members of the collective
Number of releases: "I suppose this century we've released and co-released with other labels about 30 recordings."
Notable releases: The Prima Donnas; Gene Defcon, Come Party With Me; Fishboy, Little D; Zom Zoms, Yellow Rainbow; the Telephone Company, The King's Surprise, The First Annual Business Deal Company Picnic; Cavedweller, The Best Version of "Gloria" Ever There Was
New & upcoming: The Charles Potts Magic Windmill Band, Pataphysics, Cavedweller, the Carrots
Average print run: 1,000-2,000 pressed CDs, 100-500 CD-Rs, 50-100 cassettes, 300-500 vinyl 45s.
Distribution: Crystal Clear, K Records, Kill Rock Stars, Happy Happy Birthday to Me