Peek-A-Boo Industries, Austinite Travis Higdon's online business identity, is cheekily postured as a corporate megalith. In actuality, Peek-A-Boo is a struggling pop-punk indie label firmly grounded in rock 'n' roll reality. Higdon discusses some of the typical pitfalls of the biz, including inadvertent philanthropy and piles of unsolicited mail.
Anjali Gupta: What was your first release?
Travis Higdon: It was a 7-inch. The 1-4-5's Unsafe at 45 rpm in 1995.
AG: What were the circumstances surrounding that release? What made you go DIY?
TH: I never sent out demos or shopped around for a label or anything like that. Honestly, I was in a really crappy band at the time, and I just wanted something to remember the whole experience. I had no idea what I was doing and never had the notion that anybody would care about what I was putting out. I pressed a couple hundred copies and figured that was that. I never intended to start a record label. Somehow, against all odds, that 7-inch was a success — people really loved it.
AG: So when did things come together, as far as the label goes? Or have they?
TH: Well, the IRS would probably still call Peek-A-Boo a hobby. I have never shown a profit — it's more like a steadily growing sinkhole of debt. But I do put a lot of work into it, and I definitely run it as a business, but is not yet self sustaining. It is a daily chore. For the past six months, I've been unemployed, and it's been really great. I have finally had the time to put more effort into promotions.
AG: But you seem to have certain things much better wired then most DIY labels — like solid promotion and distribution. Most bands I know scratch together enough money to put out a CD and end up with several hundred really nice beer coasters, because they just can't move them. How did you avoid that scenario?
TH: I started taking the label seriously after I put out the first Silver Scooter LP. I took out a bank loan, hired a publicist, made promotional posters, did a press and radio campaign. I landed distribution through Revolver and I used Fanatic Promotions for radio.
AG: Distribution seems to be just as hard to land as a record deal. Radio promotion is like uncharted territory (no pun intended). How did you first hook up with Fanatic?
TH: Fanatic was just getting started when I was still doing 7-inches, and contacted me through my Web site. I was skeptical — the fees are pretty steep. It was a really hard sell, but eventually I saw the value of doing radio promotions, or rather, someone who specializes in it doing it for me. Fanatic has totally taken off in the last few years and luckily, have taken me with them. They have print and radio wired, and a full-time staff now.
AG: Most small labels shy away from large investments in promotion. Would you say it has paid off for you?
TH: I think so. I took a real gamble in trying to do everything the right way from the get go, and went into serious debt, but it eventually paid off. The Silver Scooter record turned out to be exceptionally successful. I broke even.
AG: You consider breaking even to be a success?
TH: Yes. Running a label is self defeating, financially at least. Every time I put a record out, I am always thinking that it may be the last thing I do. But then I happen upon something amazing like the Octopus Project. I bought their homemade CD-R after a show, took it home, and by the end of that weekend, decided I had to put it out. I also get a lot of demos in the mail. I don't listen to many of them because for the most part, they are pretty horrible. It seems like people don't even bother to find out what kind of label they are submitting to when they send out a package. I even get submissions from Christian rock bands.
Visit Peek-A-Boo Industries at www.peekaboorecords.com