Our original intention was to revise and update the article and interview Ray Chelstowski did previously, to make it current for Deko’s activities in 2023. That updated article appeared in Issue 200. However, in the process, I wound up talking to Deko’s Charlie Calv and Bruce Pucciarello at length, about a variety of topics we thought would be interesting to readers. Here then is Part Two of Copper’s interview series with Deko Entertainment.
As Ray noted in Issue 200, “Deko was launched with the intent of providing a home to legacy rock artists who were continuing to make great music but couldn’t capture the attention of any major label. These are artists that they felt continue to have a vision and a story to tell.
Partners Bruce Pucciarello and Charlie Calv have focused on traditional artist development and a more evolved approach to marketing and promotion, helping Deko quickly grow into an enterprise that very well might be the model for music moving forward.”
Bruce Pucciarello: I think so far we've been true to what we said about trying to really revolutionize the industry. We keep attracting more and more talented partners and it's an important part of the adventure. Artists should be able to make a living. Today, many legacy artists are told to be happy with very little, when 20 years ago they were packing stadiums night after night and moving a reasonable amount of physical product. Somewhere in between there's a successful business model we need to define.
Frank Doris: What really struck me was the statistic you brought up that indicates that rock music is the strongest-growing category. You'd think it would be hip-hop or country.
BP: Just using 2022 numbers from the US Census Bureau, 48 percent of the US population is over 40 years old. The over 40s are the largest music buying group and their overwhelming choice of music is classic rock according the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) Consumer Profile 2023. Because of that, as an individual genre, rock drives tremendous revenue across all platforms. Add to that a growing group of brilliantly talented young rock players: a good example might be Deko’s Dino Jelusick and his band Jelusick, and a core group of young, dedicated rock fans. Many in this group of younger people enjoy physical products – vinyl, specifically.
FD: I noticed you have the new Black Box record player on your website.
Charlie Calv: It's something we're going to try to do to introduce people to vinyl or give 'em their starter vinyl collection. I think for the holidays we might do a bundle with something like three albums plus the turntable for 99 bucks, or just price the turntable at $59.99, so it is affordable and helps folks restart their vinyl collection.
FD: You’re doing some product releases that go outside the realm of releasing just music or albums by artists.
CC: We have a multimedia show that Bruce and I created called Maze Landing based on three songs I wrote with Dave Anderson (Atlanta Rhythm Section, Brother Cane) that are interwoven with videos, narrations, and an original Maze Landing comic book. Then, we have an Imaginos comic book tied to the Reimaginos album by former Blue Öyster Cult founding member Albert Bouchard. As you read the story of Imaginos, you'll come to QR codes that take you to the songs from the album reflecting that part of the story.
The cover of the upcoming Imaginos comic book. Courtesy of Deko Entertainment.
FD: A lot of the artists on your roster are well-loved, from Tiffany to Albert and Joe Bouchard to Kansas vocalist John Elefante.
CC: They are well-loved, and we just need to let folks know that they are still making new music, and good new music. A lot of these artists have been self-releasing, which anyone can do these days; you don’t necessarily need a record company. What you need is a team. That’s what we are here for, to let them be creative and find new delivery systems for their music. We’re just trying to find different ways to help musicians.
FD: People think that musicians are these mystical, untouchable rock stars. But unless you’re Taylor Swift, the economic reality is that it can be tough to get people to buy your records and come to your shows.
BP: It’s constant work. It is a battle. We joke about it, but the audience for legacy artists is, quite literally, dying every day. COVID influenced how many and how often people come out of their houses. As we see tours getting smaller and smaller, what's left? That's why we are trying to be technologically and artistically more creative than the typical indie label.
FD: Forgive my ignorance, but has anything like this interactive comic book been done before?
CC: Not the way we’re doing it. We are developing our own original technologies to give our artists an advantage. Bands can even take that comic book and use it in the live show, where the images will appear as part of the stage presentation. Imagine what you can do with something like the Sphere in Las Vegas.
BP: We are lucky we get to chat with Lee Abrams regularly, and he is the ultimate media guru. Are you familiar with him?
FD: The name rings a bell, but I can’t place him.
BP: He was the dude that introduced album-oriented rock to FM radio.
FD: Right. The programmer.
CC: And then he was the very first programming guide for XM Radio that got XM way out ahead of Sirius at first. Quite a bit of what we do is inspired in conversations we have with Lee.
FD: You noted that the biggest group with buying power is older people.
BP: Charlie and I did a boatload of research; it was the fire that lit a match, made us really look at the music industry holistically and note: well, the numbers are there, but is anybody really paying attention to 'em? It was that simple. Lee kind of stoked that, right? He said to go and figure it out.
FD: On maybe a related note, I wonder if it's going to get to the point where bands are like baseball teams, where you will have no original members but the band will just keep going on.
BP: It's the brand. When you build a strong brand and the original guy moves on, his kid or step kid or a longtime loyal employee, his wife, if they have an acumen for business and they know what they're doing, and they've paid attention to the guy who built it…they’re inheriting the original artist’s environment. Then they’re going to be able to take it to the next level as a business. Most legacy bands do a wonderful job of representing how strong the core work is and a strong brand will design new products while continuing to represent the strongest products from the brand’s past. If you run a business, and it doesn't prosper when you leave, you probably didn't do a good job.
FD: Pop music has shifted from being disposable to something classic. Everybody seems to be interested reissuing anything and everything. Maybe it can go on forever.
CC: Not that the fans don't care, but people like the music, and if someone doesn't keep it going, then it's not there for anyone to enjoy anymore in a live atmosphere. I went out a couple of weeks ago with the Sweet and there's nobody original left in that band, but people like [songs like] “Fox on the Run” and “Love Is Like Oxygen.” And they're passionate about keeping that legacy alive for the guys that aren't here anymore.
BP: Charlie is right on point. As original band members move on, they can root for what they leave behind either to fail or to continue successfully. To me, if I have pride in my work, I root for those that come after me to succeed because then my work will live on through others. Isn’t that the most accomplished kind of success?
FD: There’s always been the dichotomy between there's the “artist’ and the “music business.” You get used to the fact that it's a business, but why can't the two coexist, especially in today’s world?
CC: I think they can now. That's kind of what I hope we bring to the table.
FD: You guys are clearly fans. You're coming from this from an enthusiasm for the music.
BP: We're passionate about it and we want to help the artists. We don't need to take advantage of the artists. We want to find success together. A lot of the artists are amazed that they actually get paid when the record comes out.
FD: They should be. That really irritates me as a musician. As a magazine editor, my whole feeling is to promote the enjoyment and the knowledge of music and of high-end audio. If people knew about this stuff, they would like it. Who wouldn't? But artists have been so devalued, even way before streaming. I think the artists provide a more valuable service to society than almost anybody. If you need a neurosurgeon to operate on your brain, yeah, that's pretty high-value. But society doesn't value music and art it the way it should.
BP: I agree with everything you said. What the music industry needs to do is mix it up. Deko’s mantra is, “Art Has Value.” Music is one small picture in a world that consumes big pictures. Everything's multimedia oriented. So unlike other record companies that are “record companies,” we decided to be purveyors of many types of art, with music being the common theme. If somebody writes a book, paints a picture, or whatever it is, if the music is a part of it, we bring our resources to help create a bigger presentation. That'll be what our upcoming Maze Landing project will be like and Albert’s Imaginos project is already.
CC: We produce stuff, we get involved. Bruce and I both write music and play multiple instruments, and we have a ton of connections, so when we're needed, we help. A lot of the artists that are with us want to continue to do projects other than just music with us. We've never picked up the phone to recruit artists. In four years, we have an amazing roster built through referrals and a dedication to honoring our commitments.
FD: I like the fact that you're not a reissue label per se. You guys are working with legacy acts, but the material is new.
CC: We dabble a bit in the reissue thing if it makes sense to us. We did the band Union. And to be honest, sometimes it’s to compensate the artist. They don’t own those records, but we can license and reissue them. They technically don't even have the rights to say anything about it, but we try to involve them in it. We'll be doing the reissues for the band Trapeze, and we got original member Glenn Hughes involved. We wanted to make sure he was compensated and that we felt good about what we were doing.
FD: What about working with difficult personalities? I think we've all worked with divas in our time, and I don’t want to work with divas anymore.
CC: We’ve been really lucky with that. And like I said, our relationships stick and grow. We’re on our third record with Tiffany. We just had Kasim Sulton out to Deko for a day. He has the longest, most storied resume. He’s always been in the right place at the right time – Todd Rundgren and Utopia, Meatloaf (Bat Out of Hell), Joan Jett, Blue Öyster Cult, Hall and Oates, Cyndi Lauper – and [he’s] a super stand-up guy. I am fond of our artists, professionally and personally.
Juno award winner Sass Jordan. Courtesy of Deko Entertainment.
BP: I get why some artists get upset and ornery. They know that they have an audience, but the people who control their art ignore it. Legacy artists are told rock is financially dead, but then the big entertainment companies use rock songs in almost every f*cking movie and commercial they make. Crumbs trickle down. It makes me angry. And doubling back to touring and the conditions and restrictions artists endure just to be able to perform can be not only unfair but demeaning!
CC: I don't know that anybody wants to admit it, but the audiences are getting smaller – where in the past, you knew somebody would sell 400 seats, it’s 300 now.
FD: A lot of older people simply don’t want to or can’t go out anymore.
BP: Look at us Zooming now. COVID taught a lot of folks to do more things on a screen.
FD: I live on Long Island and the local scene took a hit, which it still has not recovered from. So how do you cut through the clutter? To me, it's always been about having a good song, good music.
CC: A lot of artists have been self-releasing for years, which is great. You don't really need a record label anymore, but what you do need is a team of people that are going to work with you. Joe Bouchard of Blue Öyster Cult, Blue Coupe, and others, put out a bunch of records, but they never did any PR or anything. When we first started announcing new releases for Joe, even some of the radio folks and the magazine folks were like, we thought these guys were actually dead. So for us, it's kind of like reinvigorating those fans and letting people know, hey, these folks are still around. They're still making good music and this is why you should go listen to them.
BP: Four years back, undertaking the challenge to master a new part of the music industry, we realized we had so much to learn. But then again, we hate broken stuff, and we really detest clutter, so in an industry that is dying for change, what choice do we have?
FD: Sometimes if you don't know that you're not supposed to or “can’t” do something, or nobody's told you that you can't do it, then you just do it.
BP: Charlie and I have been friends for 40 years, and by nature we're disruptors. We try to be nice people, but we're disruptors. You can't tell us what to do. We must figure it out because if something's not working, we're not going to do what everybody else is doing. And that's how we approach Deko. It is trying to solve the fact that the industry isn't the way it was 30 years ago, 20 years ago, 10 years, five years ago. Can't do those same things. They don't work anymore.
CC: And to Bruce's point about the cannibalization in the music industry, it's like everyone's making money off each other. The guy who did the album cover for $25,000 20 years ago is still trying to get $25,000 to do an album cover, and he's taking advantage of the artist and then the booking agency is taking advantage of the artist, and this one's trying to make money from that one…
BP: …instead of everyone working together and understanding we need more customers. Artists might be surviving by touring, but as tours get smaller, more expensive, and harder to book, what's left? That's going to be a hell of a conversation.
FD: Maybe nobody knows the answer yet. I don't.
BP: Maybe it's going to involve reincorporating music into new packaging systems and delivering it differently. People still make albums based on a format that was developed a hundred years ago. We still make 10 songs that are 44 minutes or whatever. Why do you even need to make an album in that format anymore? The physical limitations are gone.
CC: For us obviously, if people want to just release singles digitally, it's very hard to spend money on promotion because you can't make any money on the digital release. But if you can do a nice lead-up, and you still got something to sell them in the end – some kind of physical thing that customers can purchase or be part of – that's what we're trying to do. We'd rather do three songs, three videos, a story, and a comic book, all attached to a release, and then deliver a multimedia presentation to be able to capture people’s multiple senses, because it’s hard to get people to just listen to an album anymore.
FD: Why not do those things? The technology is here.
BP: I am a computer nerd. I've always been well invested in computers, and I love technology as it comes out. I always used to say, it's only a matter of time, and I want to be the first. If they want to put a chip directly in my head so I don't have to type, and I could just think it…
FD: Maybe it’s coming to that.
BP: Then Deko will be the first to roll it out, connected to a song of course!
Header image: Kasim Sulton, courtesy of Deko Entertainment.