Independent Industry Figures is a weekly column at IMP where we do a feature on a different music industry figure every week who defines the independent music ethos and try to better understand what they’re all about. With each installment we try and get a better sense of what it means to make a living in the music industry and how people can get involved. After all – what can we do but work hard and try to help each other live the dream?
Tomás Doncker is a longtime IMP client, his entire label has always been extremely kind towards us, and he has always impressed us with his clearheaded comprehension of the music industry. With an incredible pedigree and a history playing with legends like Yoko Ono, Madonna and Bonnie Raitt he has learned a lot in his years of hard work. It only made sense then that we would pick his brain about his label, True Groove Records, one of the most hip and happening independent record labels on the New York City scene right now.
He also fronts a successful band of his own, bearing the name Tomás Doncker an the True Grove All Stars. Though we don’t get into the record in the interview, it’s certainly worth checking out. It stands as a highly educated and refined statement on the status of race relations in America and the struggles we are going to have to face if we wish to move forward as a society.
So what’s up Tomás?
It’s an honor to get to talk to you guys and be interviewed by the legendary Matt Bacon, AKA the Baconator. Obviously I am an Independent Music Promotions artist and IMP handles all the PR stuff for our label and they are excellent. Oh and happy new years man!
What’s going on in the world of True Groove Records?
Lots. I recently read an article that you wrote about the value of labels in today’s music industry. I understand why an artist might feel that a label isn’t necessary because the money is hard to find these days. Still, we try and distribute, promote and develop artists like any good label should. Of course a lot of modern labels have stopped developing talent. I never really understood that, I thought that was what labels were for.
Nonetheless, True Groove Records isn’t just a label, it’s an entertainment hub if you will, a beehive of activity. WE don’t just develop artists and release music. We put together shows. We do a lot of work in theater and films now and developing musicals and plays. We are finding new ways to incorporate music into the world of entertainment. It became very clear to me about six years ago that the actual dollar value of music was going to disappear.
Vince Gill put up a post about a year ago about how he had a new single out and his label was telling him he literally wasn’t selling anything. This is Vince Gill! He’s not only an amazing artist, iconic and a hitmaker and he was like “What do you mean no one is buying it?” and they told him, “It’s really great but people just don’t buy music anymore!” He ended up writing this really great post about how an app that creates fart sounds was selling more than his new single and I saw that very well written and thoughtful piece, he was not bitching and moaning about it, but at the end of his post he said ‘We live in an interesting time.”
So I realized years ago that the value of music was going to become nil. However, as soon as you interface with it and connect music to something else, a TV commercial, a video game, a movie, a cartoon, a play, whatever, all of the sudden the power and value of music is immense. True Groove has always been about that, finding ways to connect our music and our artists to other kinds of entertainment medias. For the past two years or so we’re starting to see some really great successes in those areas that make it possible to keep making music.
It costs money, no question about it. Just existing costs money. Nothing that’s worth anything is for free. There’s a whole lot going on though!
One thing that I’ve always admired True Groove is that you only want the best of the best and you’re not willing to cut corners, how did that attitude come to be?
To be honest with you man, without naming any names or pointing any fingers, the catch all conversatin that people have been having is ‘Why isn’t music good anymore?’ and that’s not really true. If anything if you don’t stand for something, then you will fall for anything. We love music, it’s that simple. As Frank Zappa said music is the best. It is the international language and great equalizer. Without going int oa whole discussion about where the world is going we just figure that for our own entertainment what if we were about quality and integrity without question or fail. No excuses. What if.
That’s how we developed our platform. We get a lot of enjoyment out of it. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Everyone on our team works extremely hard to hold up their end and to encourage, support an enlighten the rest of the team. People come into contact with us about that without fail. If you’re not about that then you’re not True Groove. When I came up with the name I thought, “If I had to stand behind a shield, a powerful brand name, then True Groove is what it is.” It’s that simple. All of our records, all of our artists, there are no wholes. We don’t release anything or associate with anything that has holes. It’s that simple.
It’s not complicated at all. Is it hard? No. It’s not hard because it’s what we do. I invite anybody to check out our roster and know that across all the different genres there is nothing that has a real hole. I don’t think you can find any artist on our label that you can say is not well done. I really believe that.
You mentioned team members a couple of times, what are you looking for in a team member?
Obviously a skill set is important, a unique skill set, something that crosses over different areas. A forward thinking brain is the most important thing though. A member of our team does not need to be an expert or have a long resume, I don’t really care about that. They just need the ability to take information, and I do highlight that word information as opposed to content, because not all content has information. People nowadays often make that mistake. We try to take information and fuse it into our ethos
For example, not to get too long winded or broad skulled but I can watch a Martin Scorcesi movie and find information that I can use towards writing a song or making an album y looking at how he did it and what kind of elements he brought in. We look at all kinds of art forms as a singular experience. It’s all part of the same conversation and we should be able to fold all of this hopefully useful information into something that will make us grow Unless your point is something completely valid, like if you want to erase thought from your brain well there’s plenty of that out there. For the most part whatever you take in should be good.
It’s like McDonalds. Why would you ever eat McDonalds? There is literally nothing good about it. Yet people do it all the time. They don’t even think about it and then tey wonder why they are overweight and don’t feel way and why their kids are obese and the answer is obvious! They eat McDonalds four times a week! A team member needs to be able to take specific information and bring it into whatever their skillset might be.
Integrity is paramount as is work ethic. It is without question even. It is probably the most important element. Odds are, whoever it is in any endeavor doesn’t necessarily come to the table knowing everything. So what do you do at that point? You start bullshitting your way which will only get you so far, or you dig deep and figure out how to do it properly. Those are the two choices you have, not just at True Groove but in life. It’s not for the faint of heart. Digging deep is a painstaking process. We do our best to only associate closely with people who roll like that and of course enjoy it. You’ve got to love it. As you said in your article about labels there isn’t a whole lot of money in this game. There are better get rich quick schemes. That doesn’t mean there isn’t money out there to be made, but you’ve got to really love it. Those are the prerequisites to join our team.
Why do you think that in the music industry and the world at large we see a lack of a work ethic, and furthermore, how does this lack of a work ethic impact you and how do you deal with that?
Like I said before, if you don’t stand for something then you fall for anything. Part of the mess we made on this planet comes from this lack of work ethic. Life is hard man, life is hard. So what? Since before Jesus Christ life has been hard, but life is also beautiful. One of the things that we in the music industry know is that you get out of it what you put into it. There is no pretending that you don’t know that. Every one in a while fortune smiles on you, you step in shit but then bam something great happens. Then the next day you get hit by a car. It’s called life.
One must at all times put their best foot forward. I have found that finding like minded individuals and institutions, who truly believe in that and don’t just say that are few and far between. That’s not a problem, I’m not complaining When I was a kid my mother said, “By the time you’re grown if you can count all of you real friends on one hand you should consider yourself lucky’. Now here I am a middle aged guy and I know exactly what she meant by that. Not everyone ins that kid of individual or institution. That’s okay fr them, for us it’s not okay, its inexcusable. We do not operate that way. Why Because we love music and appreciate is power in so many ways. I could go on for two hours about what music does.
Therefore, anyone who doesn’t feel this way and doesn’t display this sensibility, we do our best to stay away from like the plague .I mean that literally. Sometimes you meet someone who says something because they think it’s cute even though they don’t have the means or the will to execute. People say all kinds of things that they don’t mean, lately more than ever. Just look at the presidential race. Guys are saying stuff that’s just like, really? Do you really mean that? Or do you just think it’s a nice thing to say?
It’s not just the music business, it’s across our entire existence perpetuated by the growth of media. There is at least the same amount of disinformation as there is real information! You can google something and find results for just about everything on our planet. One day coffee is bad ,the next day it will make you live forever. In this day and age we seem to think that everyone’s opinion is valid. I don’t think that way, I am going to call bullshit. If someone, a person or institution is willing to walk the walk and have fact as and show results no matter what their opinion is whether I Want to interface wit them or not I will respect that fact that they did the work.
Nowadays there are so many people who are famous for doing nothing. I’m not going to name any names, but you know who I am talking about. There is one family in particular that trends twenty four hours a day and they don’t do anything. The patriarch of that family was a famous lawyer, he did something. The rest of his family didn’t. They can generate large amounts of money though on the fact that their dad was a great person. I don’t get it. When I was a kid I thought you had to do something to be respected and well known, anything form being a guitar player to being a doctor or a garbageman. IF you do it well people in our community and sometimes outside of your community then people will respect you for the work that you do. Nowadays that doesn’t seem to matter.
We at True Groove do our best o not have anything to do with that. I don’t know if it’s cost us money, power, fans or whatever, I don’t care. I can sleep at knowing tat we are about the right thins. I hope that answers your question on some level.
Their is a quote of yours that I use relatively regularly, “Everyone is full of shit until they are not.”
Right. Everyone has their elevator pitch, a thirty second sound byte that they use to hopefully get someone to engage with them. In our times there is more work being put into a pitch than the actual thing that you are pitching. It’s part of our existence now and that seems to be okay. Thats not okay with me. It’s just not. I have developed a radar if you will. I won’t say that I have a hundred percent chance of sniffing out but I still have a good sense of it. The most valuable commodity that we have is our time, at any price. If I consider you someone I want to spend time with doing something then there is nothing more I can give you. When I commit my time I commit my time heart and soul, I’m not counting the dollars. I have agreed to do whatever it is because I think it has value. Whatever it is that we are working on ultimately has value as well and that’s a good thing. Whether it makes money or not is not the point, good is good. People know that. I don’t know why they choose to act like they don’t but they do.
There’s a massive amount of poison poured into the collective kool-aid of our consciousness and I’m not afraid to stand on it. I’m not selling a million records. No one will call me up from the label threatening to drop us. Fuck you, I am the label. Me and my team give blood to push it out onto the world. I can do whatever I want because I believe in integrity. We all need to be different. Regardless of how I was raised and the values that my parents instilled in me early on. I dont want to seem like a dinosaur, fuck it. We will base everything off of integrity.
Could you name some of those?
The first that comes to mind is Daptone. I think they are a good organization. The have some really good stuff that they’ve done and they have grown it. It doesn’t matter if you like it. It is what it is. it’s a solid organization. They deliver quality entertainment their way.
Bill Laswell should be first, he does things in his own way. He does his thing without question.
And of course IMP. We got involved with IMP almost four years ago. My partner and fellow artist on the label Marla Mase were brainstorming. I had jt been robbed by a publicist which is for the most part what happens. You give them a lot of money and then they go out in the world and if you’re lucky you pull down an interview or two. Finding a good publicist willing to help you move forward in a real way is the holy grail in this business. That’s what we felt that we wanted and deserved and we weren’t going to spend any more money until we found that person.
Within a week or so though, she got a great review from this guy James Moore in Skope Magazine. She was writing back to him to thank him for the review and she researched him and saw that he ran a PR company and had written a book. She contacted him and basically tried to engage his services and he said, to paraphrase, “I could take your money to promote the record but you could get more bang for your buck with a new release!” He walked away from money! That’s unheard of in this business! We were ready to give him money because we liked him, but we were blown away. He said “Call me for the next thing you put out, let’s do it in advance and do it properly.”
So we went back and did a deluxe edition of the same album Speak and out of that we ended up going to China and touring Europe! James blew that up. Every True Groove artist since then has been handled by IMP. That’s the example of an individual with integrity who walks the walk and talks the talk.
To head towards the end, do you have any words of wisdom for me?
Live long and prosper! A really smart guy with pointy ears once said that!
I just think that coming into this new year 2016, I have always believed that there is magic in new beginnings. We have a chance to start over every day. The fat lady hasn’t sung yet. We can back up and do things the right way if necessary. To give one another and ourselves a fresh start is important in order to contribute something vibrant and positive to this world.