The Beatdown

Usually, the Morning After is all about regret. This one is filled with optimism.

Dan Rutherford is positively glowing. It's a steamy afternoon on the Minturn Saloon's rooftop patio, and my man can't stop talking about the Morning After. Granted, I've been probing him for the better part of an hour like an eager frat brother seeking every detail of his latest conquest.

Settle down -- it isn't that kind of conquest. I know I can be pretty salty from time to time, but this isn't Hustler.

Actually, if there's any hustler around here, it's Rutherford. At 23, I didn't know my elbow from my a-hole, but this kid's sharp. As we talk about Morning After Records, the imprint that he and Adam Lancaster from Curious Yellow are about to launch, Rutherford makes liberal use of terms like "brand awareness," "AD," "commercial specialty" and "key markets." And just as I'm about to crack the code -- after pretending that I have even the remotest idea what he's talking about -- Rutherford weighs in on the difference between buy-ins and add-ins. Like I said, this kid is sharp.

But while Rutherford talks a good game, he's not dreaming about becoming the next Clive Davis or David Geffen. He realizes that the music industry needs another record label about as much as Jacko needs another trip to the nip-and-tuck. All the same, he's confident that Morning After will help some deserving Mootown acts finally break on through to the other side. "God, you can't count on even two hands how many amazing Denver bands there are," he says between pulls on a clove cigarette.

And so few of those bands were represented in Austin this spring. "Morning After started almost as a South By Southwest fantasy thing," he explains. "So many bands were there, and it was like, 'Why did you guys get here again? And why did every band from Denver, pretty much, get rejected?'"

While that frustration got Morning After moving, Rutherford had been considering it for a while. "Starting last December, I had been saying I wanted to start a label," he remembers. "And a really good friend and I got together, and we talked about how we should be basically building bands that we love, injecting the money that we need to and utilizing the services we have -- distribution and promotion."

The first two bands to benefit from their efforts will be Hot IQs and Filmstrip Series, which John Commonfounded after leaving Rainville. Rutherford is on the payroll at Indiego, a PR firm that does print and radio promotion for artists like Heart and Wu-Tang protegé U-God, among others, and has worked with such white-hot acts as the Dresden Dolls; he's arranged for Morning After's roster to take full advantage of those services. Synergy, Indiego's sister company and distribution arm, will take care of the distro, another priority. "I mean, how many local bands do we know of that have their CDs in stores that aren't consigned?" Rutherford points out. "Everyone's consigned in. And it's like, okay, it's time that you get your stuff actually done through a distributor so it's trackable. So that when you go to these labels and say, ŒHey, you should sign us, we're really cool,' you have something to hand to them."

But wait -- why should Morning After bands be approaching other labels?

"I don't say that I ever want a band to go away," Rutherford replies. "But if Hot IQs were offered a deal with Polyvinyl, I would just fall to my knees and welcome them to take it, because more than anything, the real goal of the label is to advance the community -- you know, the Denver music scene and the people who are in it that I honestly give a shit about."

Altruistic as that sounds, Rutherford can be practical. While he says he'd like to keep everything "as close to a handshake as possible," he's also had a lawyer draft contracts. Still, even those are pretty open-ended. If a label wants to buy a band out, he says, Morning After would just ask for enough cash to break even on the manufacturing. And Morning After will hold on to the master recordings of albums for only two years before returning them to the band. (Most indie labels keep masters for seven years.)

At the same time Morning After is giving bands exposure, it will also educate them. "I think there's genuine talent that's not being seen," Rutherford says. "Unfortunately, right now I think the biggest problem is naiveté and, well, just a lack of knowledge."

No one could say that's Rutherford's problem. He's spent countless hours crafting a marketing plan to ensure the label's success. Although part of that plan involves getting the bands on the road, he's also got a handle on the retail side. "A buy-in is where you purchase a listening station," he explains. "In most record stores, they have a few listening stations that are discretionary, but in a lot of cases, you have to shell out money for a month to be put on that end cap. And we already have that set up.

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