When Gene Simmons of the band KISS said that “Rock is dead” in 2014, it sent shock waves throughout the industry. He later clarified his comments by saying that new bands “haven’t taken the time to create glamour, excitement and epic stuff” and that they lacked the ability to develop a real legacy. Recently, he added to these thoughts by commenting on how the current music business model is really stacked against the artist.
The team at Deko Entertainment would probably agree with most of what Simmons has said. That in part is why they founded their label. 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. Their business has quickly grown from a handful of vinyl projects to full-on representation of existing and emerging acts, with a variety of offerings. Their roster includes bands and artists like Ten Years After, The Guess Who, Albert Bouchard and Joe Bouchard (formerly of Blue Õyster Cult), Sass Jordan, legendary drummer Carmine Appice, and now Tiffany among others.
Charlie Calv. Courtesy of Deko Entertainment.
New platforms have been launched which promise to take things to another level. In the process, Deko Entertainment might not only change the label business, but it just might transform radio, streaming and every other outlet designed to help you discover great music.
We caught up with the team and talked about the label’s origins and where they see things going forward. The energy they bring to the conversation was simply infectious.
Ray Chelstowski: How did Deko get its start?
Bruce Pucciarello: Deko really started about 25 years ago when the amazing mastering engineer, Alan Douches created it to help some of the artists that he worked with. Unfortunately, he was so busy with other projects it wasn’t often used. About four and half years ago, Alan brought Charlie Calv aboard to relaunch Deko. Charlie had it growing quickly the first year and asked me to join, at which time we reincorporated as Deko Entertainment. Since then, Charlie and the team have done an amazing job assembling and managing over 80 artists and over 140 releases in four years.
Bruce Pucciarello. Courtesy of Deko Entertainment.
Charlie Calv: Alan was an old friend and gave me the wonderful opportunity to help resurrect Deko and it was pretty amazing how quickly it took off. We were first just looking at doing a couple of vinyl-only releases and next thing you know the phone just kept ringing – actually e-mail; not many people pick up a phone anymore. Anyway, it just has not stopped. We have yet to [actively] look for an artist; they just keep coming to us. I would like to think we are doing something right, and that is probably because the artist always comes first to us. We work hard in helping new artists find their audience, and help older artists reinvigorate their existing audience and grow it by trying new things and introducing new ways to deliver their music.
RC: Indie labels like Wicked Records seem to be focused on a specific kind of sound. Deko seems more open to variety. How do you determine who belongs on the label?
Bruce Pucciarello: Deko is an entertainment community, and our commitment is to be open-minded and supportive of all music and art. The “institutional” approach is fine for some, but we aren’t looking to corner a market or focus our artists to leverage a specific fan base. Maybe it sounds antithetical to the typical business model, but we are just building a positive artistic community, and in our community, we love all different kinds of music. We want to [put] our artists [in a place] to create, and then it is our job to get [them] out to the public in a fair and equitable way and make enough money to invest in their next project. We meet with our artists constantly and we are available to all of our artists whenever they need us. We are not a record company. We are a partner for our artists.
Tiffany. Courtesy of Erika Wagner.
RC: Have you found that there is a sweet spot for pricing a bundle?
CC: We try to keep everything under $100. Then there’s shipping costs as well, which can become expensive. We did a 25th anniversary [edition] of the Guitar Zeus [album] with Carmine Appice. That’s a heavy-ticket item. It’s four LPs, three CDs, a booklet, and a piece of jewelry that has Carmine’s logo on it. And the quality of this stuff is really good. Most stuff is around $55 – $65 and we try to make it unique to the band and something that the fans will enjoy.
RC: Can classic rock radio become part of your future?
BP: When we saw this question, both Charlie and I thought, “we need to ask [veteran music executive] Lee Abrams if he would answer it for all of us.” We are lucky enough to count him as an associate and friend and this was Lee’s answer:
“Possibly, but not counting on it since Classic Rock [radio] rarely plays new releases and the format will eventually age out. The better plan is to focus [on] online rather than terrestrial radio, though airplay on more eclectic formats is possible. In the big picture everything is headed online rather than terrestrial radio.”
RC: With so much music being consumed through new channels, how are you looking at technology as a tool to drive the business forward?
BP: The best businesses come up with smaller pieces of effective technology to accentuate their specific business model. That leads to a flexibility they have that the larger companies can’t duplicate. I don’t think anyone else is doing that as much as we are.
CC: We are starting to integrate more digital media components with our releases, such as the interactive comic books we will be releasing. This will start with the first installment of Imaginos, bringing to light the story first created by [writer/producer] Sandy Pearlman coupled with the album trilogy recently completed by Albert Bouchard, founding member of Blue Öyster Cult. We are also planning on releasing our first multi-media project, Maze Landing (www.mazelanding.com) in 2024. This is something folks will want to check out, our own twisted dystopian tale.
RC: Which artists in your portfolio are you most excited about?
BP: I would have to name them all. We don’t sign any agreement unless we believe the artist needs to be heard. This month I am particularly stoked about the Jelusick release, Follow the Blind Man. This is Dino Jelusick and an amazing band pushing kick-ass rock to its limits, so I’m super-excited about that. And this may be the first we are going public with this, but I am really excited about Albert Bouchard’s Imaginos comic book. I can’t share the new artists we are talking to, but they will be my favorites next month. It’s like being asked to pick a favorite child. Can’t do it.
CC: So much great new stuff coming up and so much cool stuff we have already put out. I really enjoyed the new Plein D’amour release from The Guess Who, and the live Sass Jordan album, [which] really captured her in the heyday on the “Rats” tour. Coming up, I think everyone is going to dig the new Dictators album and the new band Supafly fronted by Ray West of Spread Eagle; that is one heavy kicking album!
RC: Record stores seem to be reimagining their spaces. How can a label help music get back to a place where the connection to the fan is more intimate?
BP: “Farm-to-table” aptly describes a future vision and repurposing for the “record store.” I think labels need to take ownership and build community for each of their artists locally, with the record stores and the local independent [musical] instrument and [music] lesson centers. There is a natural synergy here that is often underutilized. One of the greatest record stores, Factory Records in Dover, NJ, has that kind of total synergy with Deko. They have a stage in a lounge in the middle of a massive record store in a picture frame factory building. We held a concert series titled “Up Close and Personal” there and fans were thrilled.
CC: We were able to put some of our acts like Kasim Sulton (Utopia), Carmine Appice, and Tiffany in this intimate setting where they would literally just hang with the fans, play music, sign stuff, take pictures. It was like having a concert in your living room. People loved it!
RC: In addition to the new technology and broadening the artist roster, what’s next?
BP: Five or six comic books in production, two documentaries, one full blown live multi-media dystopian adventure being finalized for next year, the [new] Deko Black Box record player we just brought into stock, and we’ll typically add three to five artists to the roster each month.
CC: We are ever expanding our reach with new partnerships in distribution, on-line delivery systems, and working on coming up with new creative ways to deliver music and the use of new media as it becomes available. We even now have our own turntable that we have recently grown here at Deko, and we are bringing it to you “farm to turntable”; yes Deko is housed in the middle of a farm in rural New Jersey. You never know what crop we will be harvesting next.
Header image of Ten Years After courtesy of Rob Blackham.
This article has been substantially updated since being first published in Issue 135.