- Associated Press - Sunday, September 25, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Guitarist Chad Wesley has spent enough time on the road to know that the average day on tour tastes like a breakfast of vending machine complex carbohydrates and smells like a “shower” in a gas station bathroom.

In more than a decade as a working musician, both in cover bands and with original material, Wesley said he has been swindled by every type of predatory agent, manager and snake oil salesman while on his quest for musical glory.

Wesley is hoping to take the lessons he’s learned from the road to help build an infrastructure for independent musicians in the Jackson area through a variety of business services and the founding of Karma Records.

“Business and art make strange bedfellows, but these days you can’t do one without the other,” Wesley said.

Since the digital music proliferation of the turn of the 21st century, the margins for making money have forced musicians to put an onus on live shows and merchandise. Wesley’s experience designing logos, running sound at venues and selling T-shirts after shows over 10 years made him realize he was a business owner and didn’t even know it.

“I sat down with my CPA and realized I was on the verge of several businesses,” Wesley said. “I was renting sound equipment, paying for studio time and for merchandise - why not look at what we already own and formulate it into a business?”

Wesley partnered with sound engineer Paul Babineaux and high school friend Vanario Youngblood on separate business ventures that operate under one holding company that Wesley hopes can provide full-service support for aspiring musicians.

Babineaux and Wesley combined equipment to found Surreal Sound live production and ScreenCo Printing, while Wesley and Youngblood founded Karma Records, which uses Youngblood’s already-established entertainment company as the booking arm of the service.

“Recorded music doesn’t make money; it’s more of an advert for the show,” Wesley explains. “I want to focus on being a label that directs artists on how to be great live bands, help them build their shows, develop their merchandise and branding.”

Wesley envisions a record label without contracts. The infamous 360 deal offered by major music labels is one where labels act as “glorified loan agencies,” eating up chunks of the revenues from touring, merchandise and endorsements, plus nearly all the profits from record sales.

“You’re paying them back, but the interest is your soul,” Wesley said. “A lot of people don’t know that an artist will see about five cents from an album that sells for $10.”

Founded in October, ScreenCO and Surreal Sound have already become moneymakers for Wesley and partners. The label, which Wesley launched earlier this month with the debut of his first LP, “The Liberation,” exists as a customer of his two companies.

“When it came time for my album release, I had built up so many (screen printing) customers it was like, ‘Where do I even fit in my own shirts?” Wesley said.

Wesley earned Pop Artist of the Year at the 2014 Jackson Music Awards, and his debut LP is a return to his Scott County blues roots. He earned comparisons to Jonny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd early in his career as a teenage blues guitarist.

He envisions a future for the label that will offer services that include studio recording, merchandise, booking and even website development in bundle packages for an up-front price.

“If artists and bands know that there is a place they can get a service from, it will restore morale,” Wesley said. “I had 15 years to screw up and make every mistake known to man and trust every snake and hustler out there.”

The collection of businesses owned by Wesley and partners has employed as many as 10 people, from sound engineer to artists and designers, on a per-job basis. Will Brooks, owner of Jelly Donut Studio in Midtown, works as an artist representative for ScreenCo.

“Being a musician, (Wesley is) an artist, so he doesn’t just want to print stuff,” Brooks said. “He’s had to buy shirts on his own end, he’s been a customer, so he wants to be nice to customers. He lets me have my creative freedom.”

Karma Records is headquartered with ScreenCo and Surreal Sound under one roof in an office complex in Ridgeland near Main Street, but Wesley is looking to move into Jackson and dreams of a downtown office.

“Living in Mississippi, we’re all a lump of coal, and there is so much pressure on us with the poverty and the bad history, but … the pressure does take some of us and mold us into diamonds.”

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Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, https://www.clarionledger.com


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