Interview with Dan Zanes
Founder of Festival Five Records
Dan Zanes began his career as a member of the
Del Fuegos, signed to several majors throughout the '80s. When his daughter
was born, he began Festival Five Records in 1999 to create children's music.
Dan puts out a CD every fall.
[Daylle Deanna Schwartz] Why did you decide to do kids music?
Dan Zanes My daughter was born and I went to
the record stores expecting to find updated versions of the music I grew up
with - the homemade folk sound that would reflect the times we're living in
now. Seemed like 80 or 90% of what there was very corporate and tied into
movies or TV. That was pretty discouraging. I wanted to make an alternative.
I made a cassette tape to give out to kids in the neighborhood. People were
more excited by this cassette than they were by the solo record I had put
[Daylle Deanna Schwartz] How did your label get started?
Dan Zanes I got a call from Ryko Disc. Someone had
passed them a cassette and they asked if I wanted to put it out. At that
point I'd made five records for other labels and didn't own the masters for a
single thing. At the end of the day I was left holding very little. I knew I
had something good. I felt protective of it. Someone said, 'Why don't you
start a label.'
[Daylle Deanna Schwartz] Why did you create special packaging?
Dan Zanes I knew from my daughter that when
she got a record, she wanted to have something to look at. I had an
environmental issue with the jewel boxes . . . We came up with a design for a
board book. It's full color, 16 pages and recycled paper. A lot of stores
looked at the packaging and would buy it without even listening to it. I
feel so proud of it!
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[Daylle Deanna Schwartz] How did you get started?
Dan Zanes I read a bunch of business books. I found
mentors. In the beginning, I did everything myself from the trunk of my car.
Now we go through MRI, which takes us into the Ryko/WEA system.
[Daylle Deanna Schwartz] Where did you market your music when you started?
Dan Zanes I went to places that
sell things that have to do with kids - clothing, books, toys, kids'
furniture stores. My CD looks different - it's a little more handmade so it
can fit into places. I've found that for a lot of people, children's music
can have a bad reputation. This is something that looks different. I put on
a clean shirt and carried a messenger bag. I'd get in the subway and go from
store to store. Word of mouth started getting it outside of town.
[Daylle Deanna Schwartz] How did you promote your music?
Dan Zanes I really believe in playing live to spread
the word. I've done a lot of performing since this came out. In the
beginning, if I knew someone at a school, I would offer to do it for free if
we could sell CDs. That was the starting point. I performed for families at
fundraisers on weekends. The school charged what they wanted and kept the
door. We'd sell CDs. I was giving them away as fast as I could, which was
good at the beginning. I had total faith in what I was going out there with.
My idea was to get it into as many people's hands as possible and trust it
would create some momentum for me. The first sold over 20,000."
[Daylle Deanna Schwartz] How do you feel about being independent?
Dan Zanes Very, very happy. I've spoken to
all the kids' labels by now. The minute I say I'd like to license and retain
ownership of my masters, the conversations come to a screeching halt. I got
a call from someone I know at a major. We talked about licensing my label
through their machinery. It seemed like an exciting possibility. But as soon
as it got into business affairs, my stomach started hurting and I was having
trouble sleeping. All those things that had been clear in conversations were
suddenly retracted. I couldn't have been happier to walk away from the
business machinery. I had a renewed appreciation for my situation. Slow and
steady is right for me. As it grows, I learn about it. I heard Richard Foos
from Rhino Records said because he did it all himself, he was able to
understand how the business really worked. And he was able to understand
every aspect of it. That's been my case. I never ever wanted to know
anything about the business part of the music business.
Dan Zanes is happily recording children's music and running his Festival
Five Records. www.festivalfive.com
Reprinted with permission from Issue #8 of “Daylle’s News & Resources,” a newsletter supporting indie music. www.daylle.com/monthly.html.