Big Little Label
Jimmy Swan remembers burying his face in his hands when he got the word: The year was 1997, and Swan, then only 19, had just learned he'd lost $35,000 promoting Tooth and Nail Weekend 2, a music festival held only a few miles away from Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
Too bad for Swan that he didn't know before he set up his Christian rock fest that TMS was holding its own festival that day. You might have heard of it: Rockfest. Maybe you were one of the hundreds of thousands who turned out to hear Bush, Third Eye Blind, No Doubt and other chart-topping alternative acts for free. Jesus punk rockers like MxPx at Tooth and Nail didn't stand a chance in hell.
Fourteen years later, Swan still remembers the lesson: "Make sure you know what's going on in the city," he says with a laugh.
In his 17 years in the music business, Swan has hit a few other potholes on his drive to success. He laughs easily at all of them and still dives head-first into projects. His latest venture, The 720 Model, which he co-founded with Jacob Capricciuolo, acts as an umbrella over several companies including I Saw You On TV and Executive Music Group, a Dallas-based record label founded by Capricciuolo. It's a label Swan says is suited to navigate today's music landscape, in which staying light on your feet is key to survival.
"For us as a label, the things we've been able to accomplish are very unique because we don't have the corporate sponsors or big daddy watching us and paying bills," Swan says. "It's 100 percent me and Jacob."
The "big daddy" he's referring to are the major-label dinosaurs that once ruled the world of music, but are now threatened with extinction — a fact Capricciuolo knows all too well. He spent 12 years working for major labels like EMI and Universal and could see the change coming long before the majors crumbled. On the evolutionary scale, Capricciuolo and Swan are mammals: smaller, faster, more adaptable. The partnership works perfectly, says Capricciuolo, whose major label experience complements Swan's deep history in artist management and promotions.
"I'm a whole lot more happy now because the old-school model, no one wants to change their ways," Capricciuolo says.
What they've been able to accomplish so far has been impressive. Executive Music Group's 2010 release of the white-boy reggae hit "Lay Me Down (featuring Rome of Sublime)" by The Dirty Heads broke a Billboard alternative radio chart record for longest-running, independently released No. 1 single. The previous record was held by Everlast's 1998 "What It's Like," which held the top spot on the alternative chart for nine weeks. The Dirty Heads' stayed there 11 weeks.
Attaining such a feat was something Swan never could have imagined when he first arrived in Texas in 1994. The son of a missionary in Guadalajara, Mexico, he returned to the United States after 12 years to go to school at Dallas Baptist University. He received a scholarship designated for missionary kids that paid him a meager $115 a month in spending money. Broke, alone and suffering a mild case of culture shock, he was befriended by Jimm Varner, a member of the Christian rock band Between Thieves. Swan offered to help the band sell some CDs, and within hours he had moved more than 40 copies. Impressed, the band eventually made Swan their manager, and with his help they sold more than 10,000 copies of their debut alone.
Swan soon began promoting Christian rock shows in Dallas. After only two shows, one with Sixpence None the Richer that yielded a wad of cash that made his DBU per diem look laughable, Swan was locked in, eventually calling his business Jimmy Swan Productions.
Around this time, Swan met Capricciuolo, who was working as a hip-hop artist. This was a short-lived career for Capricciuolo, who quickly found out his strong suit was on the executive side of the music industry, hence the name Executive Music Group.
Swan, however, was just embarking on a career in concert promotions and artist management that would last for years to come.
"By the time I was in my second year in school, I was promoting shows nationally," he says. "I had 27 bands I was a booking agent for, managing about seven, and did about 200 shows a year, so my parents ended up moving up from Mexico and working for me full time, and I dropped out of school, and I've been full time ever since."
Times weren't always so fruitful for Swan. A few years after the Tooth and Nail fiasco, he trimmed his roster and focused all his efforts on the Christian rock band Rhythm, which made a good living touring the country. But when the band decided about seven years ago to cross over to the secular world and pursue some rock cred, they failed. Swan was broke yet again, unsure what the future held for him.
His saving grace was reality television.
Swan was watching Survivor with his wife one night and saw reality star Rupert Boneham. A big fan, Swan did a quick bit of sleuthing and gave Boneham a call to offer some career help. Before he knew it, he was managing Boneham, hawking Rupert merchandise at his many autograph signings and other appearances.
"Ten thousand people would show up in Binghamton, New York," Swan says. "The crowds would wait and stay there all night. I was like 'What if we had a stage out there where bands can perform?'"
The thought led to an idea to have reality stars record music. Swan called the business I Saw You On TV, and with that, he was back in the music industry.
Now that Boneham's 15 minutes have passed, Swan has turned his energy to EMG.
They aren't focused on releasing North Texas artists like local labels Idol Records and Kirtland Records, which is why they are still relatively unknown around Dallas. They aren't opposed to signing local acts, but haven't seen many that they feel have commercial potential.
"If we're signing up-and-coming talent, then I gotta like it," Capricciuolo says. "They do need to have a commercial sound though."
He and Swan say they are making a living with the label — but just that, and lean times have meant cuts to their operation. "We shut down our apartment in L.A. and fired people left and right," Swan says. "We had 11 people working for us." Instead, Swan says, the pair decided to "put 100 percent into it, build it, and that's when we got the hit with The Dirty Heads."
The hit song doesn't mean the difficult days are over. It has helped put EMG in a stronger position, but Capricciuolo knows that they have to keep working hard.
"It's still a hustle everyday," he says. "You can't let your guard down, not in this business. You have to stay on top of it all the time because it could be gone in a second."
Jimmy Swan|Executive Music Group|Jacob Capricciuolo|The Dirty Heads
Big Little Label
Dallas-based Executive Music Group squeaks by, one hit at a time.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.