This month is all about living the entrepreneurial spirit.  Outside of the restaurant industry, the music industry might be the hardest to live that spirit.  However; for the few, the proud (no, I’m not borrowing the Marines tagline), Dave Davis—partner of the music placement and design company The All Night Party—is proof that it can be one of the most rewarding as well.

The All Night Party is entering its fourth year of licensing and marketing the music of regional artists. They have been lauded most recently for producing a tour-de-force of local bands from Cincinnati to Austin and back for last year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) festival. They called the tour, Midwest by Southwest.

As they self-proclaim, they are “four musicians, a Grammy-nominated engineer, and a marketing chick.” I’ll let you smart gentlemen figure out which one Dave Davis is.

Profile: How did you get started?

Davis: Professionally I worked as a designer and video guy through the 80s and 90s, but had always played in bands. When John Curley (bassist for the Afghan Whigs) moved to Cincinnati he had an apartment across the hall from me. John and I are both gear sluts, so we’d constantly show off and talk tech. Eventually, we opened Ultrasuede (recording studio) as a commercial facility kind of as a hobby, after being run out of John’s house by angry neighbors. At that time, I discovered mastering when I heard the CD of the Afghan Whigs’ Gentlemen, after listening to the unmastered mixes on DAT – it sounded like a different record! I realized mastering (the final assembly and balancing of a record, in preparation for manufacturing) was the difference, and dove in. I had begun hoarding mastering gear at Ultrasuede in ’94, and by ’96 I had a dedicated mastering facility called UltraInteractive to author enhanced CDs, DVDs and other advanced music media. Suddenly I was a full-time media designer and mastering engineer. And I loved it. Making records sound great became my passion, and there was no shortage of work for an engineer with good ears and credits. Best job I ever had!

The All Night Party markets local music to the masses

Profile: So with the music industry being so hard to break into, what made you decide you wanted to go from being an engineer to business owner?

Davis: Insanity? A business truism is “buy low, sell high,” and in 2008 it appeared that the music industry had to be at or near its nadir. I had sold my interest in Ultrasuede in 2000, and we’d closed UltraInteractive in 2005 as it became clear the industry was in decline. After 9/11 things never quite came back, so I cashed out and moved to a commercial studio in town. While there, I met my current business partner, Monika Royal-Fischer. Admittedly, I was a bit freaked out by her intense positivity at first, but I soon realized this was a critical element missing in all of my previous business ventures. Near the end of 2008 Monika left the place where we were working, while I was laid off by the same company. To me this signaled the end of the “old way” of doing business in music, licensing and recording. I knew it was never coming back. At that same time, my experiences with the band The Sundresses (2008 CEA Album of the Year winners for Barkinghaus) and eventual partner, Brad Schnittger, led me to a conclusion: More great music is being made than ever, it’s easier and cheaper to make and distribute music than ever before, yet there was no viable business model for artists to make a living. As ye olde industry obsessed over technology, crippled its products and attacked its customers, I saw new opportunity.

Profile: Although The All Night Party (ANP) is entering only its fourth year of existence, has it been worth it?

Davis: Yes, although ANP is a much tougher path, because our vision is bolder. We’re focused on music placement (licensing) and design in order to change our industry and create new prospects for music and artists. First we had to get a catalog of the great music together. Then we had to introduce that music to a much bigger audience. We’ve spent the past 3 years introducing bands to new audiences, like Pharoahfest at the Museum Center in our first year, getting artists placed in ads for companies, not just locally but with international agencies, like Creata. We were attaching The Sundresses music to Northslice pizzas years before Taylor Swift thought of it. We’ve helped secure rights for Midpoint Music Festival to use big-name artists in their videos because we speak fluent Band-ish. We had the opportunity to introduce the Bunbury Music Festival to the world, by way of SXSW and Austin with our Midwest by Southwest tour. We’re all about making and delivering music. In doing so, we’ve discovered that non-profits and small businesses share many of the same challenges as bands. So now we offer our marketing and design services in new places.

Profile: Finally, What advice would you give to readers who are thinking of starting their own businesses (not necessarily in the music industry)?

Davis: Two things. First, forget “differentiation” and focus on real “difference” in your products and services. Disrupt your space/industry, aggressively and constantly – the iPod turned my industry upside down, but the iPad is beginning to reset the table in new ways. Change is scary, but good when you embrace it instead of avoiding it. Second, pay bills immediately. I began paying our bills immediately rather than carrying balances on credit. This changed everything fundamentally, requiring constant awareness of both sales and expenses. It led to our profitability in the teeth of a recession in just our second year, and is probably why we’ve survived to see our fourth year. We’re essentially debt-free, which gives us a lot of freedom in the future.