Get SF Weekly Newsletters
Pin It

Upstreaming Without a Paddle 

Take me to the river

Wednesday, May 22 2002
The local music scene's all abuzz with the rumor that tiny S.F. rock label Future Farmer has been bought by (or, as they say in industry parlance, "partnered with") music giant Sony. Inquiring minds want to know if this means that Future Farmer troubadour Yuji Oniki, who seldom snags even a headlining spot at the Bottom of the Hill, will soon be opening for Celine Dion at the Rose Bowl. Maybe the country-rockers in Granfaloon Bus will get to make that video with the "little people" they're always yammering about. And Future Farmer honcho Dennis Mitchell will soon be sporting a diamond-encrusted nose ring.

As you might imagine, the truth -- and its consequences -- are a lot less sexy than the rumors. In November of last year, Future Farmer got caught up in the whole Distribution North America imbroglio, in which the giant record distributor's parent company, Valley Media, filed for bankruptcy. Future Farmer and other indie labels like Devil in the Woods, Barsuk, and K Records, which had used DNA to get their albums into stores, found themselves in a bind, as the company's inventory was confiscated by DNA's bank. Scheduled Farmer releases by Oniki, Kevin Salem, and David Dondero were now trapped behind locked doors, with the bank offering to sell them back to the label at $3 each, according to Mitchell. In other words, the label would have to buy CDs that it had never sold in the first place. (Future Farmer's deal with DNA was on consignment -- that is, Farmer had a 90-day waiting period before it received payment on CDs sold -- which is standard for labels of its size.)

Enter Sony, which on May 7 signed Future Farmer to its Red Ink label collective alongside country/folk imprints Eminent and New West. Under the deal, the industry heavyweight will distribute Future Farmer's releases (through Red Distribution, which it had originally sold, then got back last year after the buyer, Edel Music, defaulted on payments) and provide manufacturing, lines of credit, and an accelerated payment plan (a 30-day waiting period, which gives the label a quick cash boost). Sony will also supply money for independent radio promoters and give Future Farmer access to its marketing people. In return for all this assistance, Sony gets the usual distro sales cut of 24 percent, as well as the first right of refusal -- i.e., if a Future Farmer artist strikes gold, Sony has the initial crack at signing him and further promoting him, a practice called "upstreaming."

The deal couldn't have come at a better time, as Mitchell just agreed to distribute all the efforts of similarly minded local label Devil in the Woods, run by Mike Cloward (who also edits a music magazine of the same name). With the newly acquired muscle, Future Farmer plans to relaunch the Salem and Dondero albums, along with DITW's new KaitO record, Montigola Underground.

"They're saving our asses after that DNA thing," Mitchell says via phone from his San Francisco office. "It's a great deal."

Sure, the deal sounds fine, but will it get him a diamond-encrusted nose ring?

Numerous people have been writing to ask why our Best of San Francisco Readers' Poll didn't list a winner in the local band/artist category. Sadly, it seems that many readers think the music scene is bereft of talent, with the response "none" getting the most votes. Perhaps those finicky listeners should be forced to check out the sixth annual Mission Creek Music Festival, which shows just how blessed we are by offering eight days of cool music at five different venues, from Saturday, May 25, to Sunday, June 2. Unlike Noise Pop, Mission Creek still consists of 99 percent Bay Area acts, which may be what lends the event such a nice, communal vibe. Also, since festival organizer Jeff Ray, leader of experimental pop band Zmrzlina, doesn't feel the need to adhere to one particular genre or sound, he can book everyone from salacious garage-rockers the Coach Whips to acoustic storyteller Sonny Smith. Other highlights include a breakbeat big band led by Live Human and featuring such luminaries as DJ Marz and MC Eddie K from the Space Travelers; the peculiar punk-folk of Nate Denver; the classic indie-rock aggression of Caesura; the cheeky grrl rock of She Mob; and the sexy hip hop synth destruction of Crack: We Are Rock. For all festival show information, go to

About The Author

Dan Strachota


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"