The Eyes of the Entrepreneurs series is dedicated to empoweringartists to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset in takingresponsibility for their art and their career. More than ever before,musicians are their own businesses. Each week we feature notable guestartists, who will discuss the paths they took in developing theirvision and life in music, as well concepts like authenticity andintegrity, skill development, community building, networking, andmore.
Neal Sugarman grew up in Newton, Massachusetts and played saxophonefor punk rock bands Boys Life and Black Cat Bone during the 1980s. Hemoved to New York in the early 1990s to pursue jazz. After a stint inNew Orleans playing with musicians including Eddie Henderson and MikeLongo, Sugarman returned to New York and formed a funk band withorganist Adam Scone and drummer Rudy Albin. The trio, named TheSugarman 3, were influenced by artists such as "Brother" Jack McDuffand The Meters.
The story of Daptone's first decade is one of struggle andperseverance and, ultimately, one of family. Though it was formallylaunched in 2001, the foundation was laid by Roth's previous label,the now infamous Desco Records, on which saxophonist Sugarman hadreleased his first two LP's under the name Sugarman Three. Roth andthen-partner Philip Lehman had developed not only a reputation forgritty, idiosyncratic soul and funk records, but more importantly thebeginnings of what would become the family of musicians at the core ofthe Daptone story. After Desco closed it's doors in 2000, Roth bouncedfrom one fruitless temp job to another, unsure of his next move butcertain starting another label wasn't it. "I knew that I liked makingrecords - that was fun - but I'd had my fill of the record business."
Meanwhile, Sugarman had come to Roth to produce a third Sugarman Threealbum, Pure Cane Sugar, and had been similarly frustrated byunfruitful negotiations with independent labels to release it. "Atsome point Neal and I sat down and said, 'Let's just do thisourselves.'" The new partnership came with a caveat: "I told him,'Look man, I don't like the record industry,' Roth remembers. "'I'mdown to be partners with you, but it'll have to be your job toactually sell the records, because I do not enjoy that." Sugarman washesitant initially, unsure of his ability to make the transition frommusician to business owner, but eventually he assented, and the twosteadily set about navigating the industry by following their owncompass. Their first releases were proper issues of Dap-Dippin' andPure Cane Sugar, accompanied by a flurry of 45's from the samesessions, all sold from the kitchen table of Sugarman's Brooklynapartment.
"I want people to know, when they buy a Daptone record, that it'sgonna be something that makes them feel good," Sugarman says, "andhave a certain feeling and a certain sincerity and a certain rawnessyou need to make good music." This is Daptone's legacy: music made forlove, not for market pressure or trend-hopping. But, by relentlesslyoperating outside a structure they saw as alternately absurd orcorrupt, Roth and Sugarman have set a template for succeeding on one'sown terms. "I hope people get inspiration from the spirit of it – theidea of doing stuff independently and doing it on your own way, andnot falling into any of the prescribed rules and formulas," Gabe Rothsays.
At the mark of a decade in business, Daptone Records has remainedproudly independent: weathering financial hardships, industrypressures and fickle trends, and emerging stronger and more reliablethan labels four times their size. To hear Roth tell it, the secret issimple: "We were able to stay rooted in this idea that people want tohear good music. And that's our business plan: We're gonna try to makereally good records. Period."