Getting The Right Mix

Independent record label finds success by representing a diverse group of artists

The fact that Lunden De’Leon truly loves what she does has helped her skip over any obstacles on her path to success. “I just use every stumbling block as a stepping stone,” says the 30-year-old founder and CEO of Dirrty Records in Beverly Hills, California.

Dirrty Records, an independent record label that represents artists in genres including rock ‘n roll, dancehall, R&B, and gospel, came on the scene in 2002. De’Leon has been busy ever since, signing acts like heavy metal band Athanator and former Dead Kennedys drummer D.H. Peligro.

“I refuse to limit myself to being just a rap or rock label. We’re a mixture of everything,” says De’Leon, whose firm has 12 employees and earned $3.5 million in sales in 2004. The company’s most recent additions include a multiplatinum hip-hop artist whose name De’Leon can’t yet disclose and several emerging artists who are “in the studio working on their albums right now.”

De’Leon learned the ropes of representing bands from legendary publicist Warren Cowan, who handled public relations for Paul Newman, Kirk Douglas, Elizabeth Taylor, and Liza Minnelli. But De’Leon, ready for a new challenge, began representing independent musicians who couldn’t afford to shell out the $3,000 to $6,000 that major PR firms demand.

“Most of these artists were great to publicize but didn’t have a record deal,” says De’Leon. “I took $20,000 of my own money to start Dirrty Records.” The money — used for leasing office space, buying recording equipment, and launching early promotional efforts — went quickly, leaving De’Leon wondering if she’d done the right thing.

“I was used to getting paid on the first and the 15th of the month,” says De’Leon. “When I started my own company, I had to create the CDs, get them into the stores, and hope for some kind of return.”

The return came sooner rather than later. By the end of her first year in business, De’Leon signed a lucrative distribution and publishing deal through which Dirrty Records placed its artists’ music in shows such as MTV’s Wild Boys and the movies The Four Horsemen and Undercover.

Ken Curtis, a Web developer in Phoenix, creates Websites for Dirrty Records’ artists. He calls De’Leon “one of the hardest working people I know” and says her ability to follow through on projects sets her apart in the competitive music industry. “When she says she’ll do something,” says Curtis, “you can chisel it in stone.”

Dirrty Records, which is a member of the Los Angeles chapter of The Recording Academy, handles everything from album recordings to selecting cover artwork to distributing the CDs. The firm revels in its independent status in an industry where small labels go out of business regularly.

“We don’t have joint-venture agreements with anyone, like many other small labels do, so we’re free to do whatever we want,” says De’Leon. “Our artists maintain full creative control of their own work.”

That tenacity attracted Ian Lawes, who recently invested $20,000 in Dirrty Records to help fund continued growth. “The company is growing in leaps and bounds,” says Lawes, president

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