by Craig Young

In this day and age where it seems every label is in the process of being bought out by some larger shark, it's very difficult to run a truly indie company that's in the business of recording, promoting, and otherwise marketing music and related services. If you happen to be one that is based out of Seattle it's even more difficult; at last count there are over three dozen independently owned labels all vying for a piece of the local market pie. For Jeff Magnussen and Derek Allyn, the two-man team behind the Seattle independent label Pentapus, trying to get people to stand up and take notice of their bands and other related endeavors while not getting lost in a very large sea is a daunting task.

I recently caught up with Jeff and Derek and sat them down over beers and calzones (all three of us have a thing for good calzones) to see if I could find out what it is exactly that keeps them pushing the boulder up the mountain every day. I shouldn't have been surprised by how the thankless work of running a label has soured their opinion of the business; it's easy to lose sight and your devotion to something whose returns you can't date stamp. There are no easy answers on how to navigate the music business. For them, it's simply the motivation and determination to keep active in the struggle in the hopes of seeing one of their interests come to fruition. That, they later confessed, and maybe some luck.

Why a record label?

Derek: Yeah, very good question.

Jeff: Heh. Yeah, we've been asking that very same question ourselves. Originally it started because I had friends who I thought made really good music that needed some exposure. Needless to say, lately we've been reassessing our status as a record label and have decided that we have gotten out of it what we had originally wanted to do--which is do something creative--and have now become lost more in the marketing end of things.

How long has Pentapus been around?

Jeff: It was originally formed in 1997.

How did you get involved, Derek?

Derek: I'd known Jeff a long time and he'd offered me the opportunity because I had a little background in the music industry, having worked for a local booking agency. Since then my role's changed a little bit. I've been focusing more on publicity; getting the door open a little wider for us.

Who is on the label?

Jeff: Well, it started with Easy Big Fella. They wanted to re-release the Easy Listening cd so we re-did the artwork and dropped one of the songs. I did the artwork for the original album. Heh. To this day I'm still embarrassed by it.

Maybe it will become a collector's item.

Jeff: Yeah, maybe.

Twelve-Thirty Dreamtime seems to be the label's golden child. What are they up to now?

Jeff: I talked to Tony [Reed - vocals/guitar] not too long ago and I think he's getting cabin fever with what's going on with the band. Sick of nothing happening for them. It's hard for him and it's hard for us because we don't have teams of people working for us to get them publicity. They don't have a booking agent and Tony doesn't have the money to pump into it.

Is it a money issue or is it a motivational issue? The crux of doing anything indie is that you realize going into it that you're on your own and that you don't have the monetary resources or the personnel to do it for you.

Jeff: I think a lot of it is time, really. He's got a family and a house to take care of first and foremost. I hate to admit it, but I thought we could do more for him than we have. The thing with independents is that you think you can do everything yourself and then you start to hit all these walls people put up for you.

What are the walls?

Jeff: The realization that there's a lot of people out there doing the same thing as you. There's so many record labels in Seattle. Getting on the phone again and again trying to sell what you do is a hard thing.

The Rocket recently published their indie label issue. In it there's a good three dozen or so labels all looking for their own niche in the market, looking for some notice. Do you think it's all just the competition? Do you run across elitist attitudes at all?

Derek: I think it's a combination of a few things. If you're an indie, even trying to get established locally is hard enough. I don't want to make it out like it's too difficult because I still believe that if you have the right product and the right plan then you can do something with it. It's that timing thing.


Derek: Yeah, persistence and having the proper thing at the right time. Sometimes when you take a bite of something--when you have a vision and try to imagine how you want it to turn out--you get caught up in the day-to-day aspect of it and you don't realize how much it gets changed or how much it gets manipulated because of where things do or do not fall. But that's life.

At the same time, it's hard. When you're not established, when you don't have any kind of background or haven't spent any time working for some of the majors, it can be difficult. You don't have a pre-established name or pre-established contacts to fall back on. And that's the reality of it. Where this takes us we'll see.

It's been interesting for me--essentially being in the same position you are--trying to build a presence as a webzine. Where I expected there to be a line between all the people and players who would support me and all those who would shrug me off or ignore me, there hasn't been as big a one as I expected. At least not a linear one that made sense. I've gotten some really positive response and feedback from people who don't owe me anything. It's made me feel really good and has shown me some promise in regards to what I can do. I guess what it comes down to is if that is enough drive or not to get you over the wall.

Derek: Yeah, I can see what you mean with that.

What's the typical day like for Pentapus?

Jeff: Our typical day? Usually I wake up and hit the snooze alarm.

Ha ha! I figured out mine shuts off after about two and a half hours of endlessly hitting the snooze button. Every nine minutes...*smack* What a lazy bastard I can be sometimes!

Jeff: Usual day is we'll show up, grab some coffee or tea, talk about what we need to do for the day and then pick up the phone and start the whole marketing end of it.

Derek: A typical day varies. It depends on the media list and what we have to do for that day. There will be days where you make progress and start to see something happening, and other days where you just don't get that. We're a small indie label and we're at a point where we're learning as we go. It's variable; there will be good days and there will be bad days.

The other half of Pentapus is Music Multimedia. I believe you're currently working on filming a documentary, or some kind of teaching aide, on those who are involved in the business end of the local music scene.

Jeff: It's hopefully an attempt to create a resource for people to learn more about what exactly is going on behind the music. It's interesting to find out all the other different people who are as frustrated with it as we are. You get so caught up in selling the music that you lose the point of why you got involved in it in the first place.

You sound frustrated with it all. You got married, the sex has become lackluster, you've got mouths to feed other than your own...what do you do to keep the passion alive?

Jeff: We love making records but we hate the process that's involved with selling them. We're trying to get more involved and do more creative things with the multimedia aspect of the albums we put out. My major motivation is being able to do something creative with the cd other than the marketing aspect of it, because that definitely is not what "creative" is to me.

Derek: It goes hand in hand with trying to enhance the quality of what we represent. Taking music that we like and are trying to market, and take it up to the next level. There's no simple answer to this business. You just have to keep your perspective. You have to remember why you got into it and what you want to get out of it. Be realistic about your expectations. Keep focused on what you do well and don't try to grab too many straws.

On the web:
Pentapus Records

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