By Marvin Dotiyal, Features Editor
Meet Fredo Fosco and Michael Mangan—two music-loving friends starting up a DIY, emo/indie label from the suburbs of Chicago.
Mangan, a college freshman studying business, wanted to create a site to post and share musical content, which was inspired by Making New Enemies, a collaborative media blog and record label. Fosco, a senior in high school, recently went viral through Reddit’s r/Emo community with his musical project under the name “fredo disco.” Fosco consistently uploaded demos on Soundcloud and self-promoted his music on social media, reaching number one on Soundcloud’s New & Hot Alternative Rock Charts and number five on Soundcloud’s Top 50 Alternative Rock Charts in the first week of releasing “Ghost of Mariano’s”.
Fosco and Mangan’s vision to recreate an online platform like Making New Enemies was in the works, and it so happened that Fosco was looking for a record label to release his third EP, School Spirit. Accordingly, Tested by Thomas Records was born, and the two are currently scraping the surface, working through its early stages.
As young entrepreneurs dipping their toes in the shore of the music industry, starting up a record label is not exactly a walk in the park. In fact, it is arguably harder for Fosco and Mangan who are still in school, dealing with their own lives. As expected, there are limiting factors like financial barriers and age restrictions, but the inability to meet each other in person is their biggest setback.
“I’d say the main problem is the fact that Fredo is a senior in high school while I’m a freshman in college, and we live approximately 150 miles away from each other,” Mangan said. “It’s hard to be on the same page when we can’t work things out in person.”
It’s difficult to fulfill the label’s maximum potential when there are academic responsibilities and personal distractions at hand. “The biggest thing is that neither one of us have been able to put all of our efforts into it at the same time,” Fosco added.
The main objective is simple yet demanding—to provide a medium for promoting small bands while building a welcoming community that encourages young musicians. Most record labels aim for the big bucks, but this is their core ambition.
“We obviously don’t want to lose money, but the goal isn’t making money,” Mangan said. “The goal is to get your name(s) out and into the industry because both of us want to be involved with music for the rest of our lives.”
The two are still crisscrossing different trails and maneuvering through occasional waves—searching for a definite direction and learning from obstacles. “We’re just kind of figuring things out as it goes right now,” Mangan mentioned. Even if things don’t take off as planned, this still remains a rewarding experience for them.
Likewise, the upbringing of Boston-based independent label Run for Cover Records also had its humble beginnings. “I started the label when I was 18 and finishing up high school in 2004,” Jeff Casazza, founder and owner of Run for Cover Records, said. At the time, Casazza’s main goal was to release a few 7” singles or demos for local hardcore punk bands. Just like any business in its early stages, obstacles were lurking at every corner for Run for Cover Records.
The biggest struggle for Casazza at the time was finding bands who were both willing to work and good enough to warrant a deal. The label steadily grew over time, but that compiled more work for Casazza.
“In 2010, the label finally lined up some full-lengths and LPs, our bands started getting more attention and things got increasingly difficult to handle by myself,” Casazza recalled. “The real issue became staying on top of 12 to 15 releases a year, handling all the mail order, distribution, production and maintaining an online presence by myself.”
It is indeed a daunting task to manage a record label at a young age, performing all the necessary duties on your own, all during life’s turning point. “There were definitely a few year periods where I didn’t know if it was salvageable, and for a while, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep going,” Casazza expressed. After Casazza finished school, he hired a few employees and moved the company out of his bedroom… and then it was official.
As Run for Cover Records rose to the scene, the label had a good number of bands on its roster that contributed to the overall growth of the label. For Casazza, Title Fight’s The Last Thing You Forget, Tigers Jaw’s self-titled and Two Worlds, the Basement LPs and Fireworks’ early releases really bolstered the label’s recognition. Casazza also mentioned that Citizen and Turnover grew with the label over the last 6-7 years and were the first two bands that had to officially sign a contract.
In a similar vein, marketing director Cahil Bhanji of Berkley-based punk rock label, Pure Noise Records, also acknowledged that their label has grown over the years with its roster. “In the early years, No Bragging Rights, Man Overboard, Transit, The American Scene and everyone else was fundamental in our development,” Bhanji said. “We all learned about the business side of music together and sincerely appreciate the chance we’ve been given to work with an amazing roster.”
Selecting a band from a sea of choices is unquestionably difficult. Looking for the ideal band to sign doesn’t happen overnight, but for Casazza, it is all in the name of good faith and music. “We’re truly just looking for good people making interesting music. It’s really that simple; there’s no formula or even anything specific we’re looking for. A large majority of it is just based on my personal taste and the people that work here.”
On the other hand, ensuring an artist’s momentum is another story. Bhanji addressed that supporting an artist varies from band to band. “We’re here to facilitate whatever our bands need; for bands like Seaway and Four Year Strong, their releases benefit from a good gig cycle so touring is key.”
Pure Noise Records also reached out to different promotional platforms to maximize the band’s provisions. “Stick to Your Guns just put out True View, and to help support that release we partnered with a local burger spot, Grill ‘Em All, for a vegan burger as well as some special acoustic performances, Q&As, a Stick to Your Guns special coffee at James Coffee in San Diego and more,” Bhanji described. It ultimately comes down to forming and maintaining a positive relationship with people and firms, whether they are representative of the music scene or not.
The hardest part, however, is connecting music with potential fans. “Obviously, our goal as a label is to get our artists heard by as many people as possible via marketing, promotion, play-listing, press, word of mouth, the band touring and a consistent stream of content, but even when all of these things are perfectly executed, it still comes down to whether or not people connect with the music,” said Casazza. This “connection” is not only between the music and the listener; it lies in the symbiotic harmony between the label, the artist, the music and the fans—and how well they react to one another as separate entities.
Evidently, starting up a record label and driving it to success is one hell of a journey. With thousands of small record labels in existence today, many get lost while only a select few rise above the horizons. Tested by Thomas Records doesn’t have a long-term goal as of now, but Mangan and Fosco’s aspirations and efforts will mark some kind of milestone in their journey.
It’s crucial to make wise, efficient decisions in the beginning, but at the end of the day, it’s always for the music. “Start small, reduce monetary risks as much as possible, release small runs of cassettes, take advantage of Bandcamp as a platform and a community and don’t give up until people care,” Casazza advised. “And then, of course, keep doing it once they do.”
In the end, fame and success should only flow naturally when the spirit of music meets the heart of the fan and penetrates through, only to intertwine its sinews together closer than ever.
fredo disco’s School Spirit is available now via Tested by Thomas Records.