From Indie to Majors & Back Again: Two Local musicians go from Major Deals to Self Release & Keep the Fire Alive

Dave Smallen (Photo by Anna Larina)

It’s every young aspiring musicians dream to get signed to a major label and make records for the rest of their life–at least it used to be. However most will never get there. People give up hope, they get beaten down by the music business, their songs or haircut don’t fit the times, no one cares enough about their music, they just miss their opportunity, and on and on. Whatever the reasons most musicians don’t end up playing Madison Square Garden, they end up playing their acoustic guitar to their kids as they fall asleep or hammering out a couple of Christmas tunes around the holidays.

But alas, someone has to “make it”. Someone of us has to somehow cut above the rest and finagle their way into the bedroom of the record execs–whether through creating incredible art or through connections–and score that elusive deal.  I want to focus on 2 Bay Area local musicians Dave Smallen and Ronnie Day who’ve done just that. These two musicians both scored some major record deals in the mid-2000′s to much acclaim and excitement, released their major label debut albums and relatively soon there after were dropped from their record contracts.

Now I’m not going to go over the gritty details of their individual rise from relative musical obscurity and quick (in terms of the music world) fall back into the shadows of the indie music world. You can dig up your own stories on them both. It’s all out there on the interwebs. Instead I want to talk about the art that these musicians continue to create after the dust has settled, egos have blown up and begin to mend and of course the songs keep coming out.

Let me start with Dave Smallen. Dave is originally from Oakland. He released his seminal record “Charmingly Awkward” in November of 2005. It later got picked up and rereleased by Capital Records. Dave has released 2 other albums since being dropped by Capital including his latest, “Happiness” which was released yesterday totally independently. His new album is filled with images of pain being turned into something positive. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect to write about if you’d been seduced and then kicked around by the music industry for a couple of your most formative years. I’m sure this album is just the tip of the iceberg beginning to tell Dave’s story. It’s the “I’m on the other side of the mess that was signing to a major and I’m bruised and battered, but healing and still making music throughout it all” kind of album and for that it has it’s redemptive qualities that anyone can relate to. We’ve all been through some shit. We can all relate. Here’s to almost having it all, things slipping away, only to pick yourself up and keep on trucking.

Check out Dave’s new album “Happiness” and pick it up the pay-what-you-want way on his Bandcamp page.

Ronnie Day

Now onto Ronnie Day. Ronnie is originally from Redwood City. He self record and released a record from his 16 year old bedroom in 2005. He leveraged the power of the then burgeoning online market (Myspace and Purevolume) and sold the shit out of that record. It landed him a deal with Epic records and a subsequent full length album was produced and released called “The Album“. Similarly to Dave, after a short stint on the road supporting the album Ronnie was dropped by his label. His life spiraled. He was only 20 at the time and however grown up he may have been at the time he was not prepared to be dropped from his rapidly rising music career. I mean who is ready to be dropped, ever?

After 5 years Ronnie just released his first official set of tunes since “The Album”. The new EP is called “Night Owl” and he self produced and mixed it as well as played everything on the record. The EP is 5 songs, a little preview into what’s in store for Ronnie coming up. It’s one of the best self produced albums I’ve heard. The attention to detail, mixing and songs are superb.

Ronnie is battling his demons in this EP. Songs like “Birds in a Storm” recount his rise and fall in the music industry as he sings “We never got older, we just lost our dreams/we will learn to fly again, we will learn to try again“. He’s telling his story of falling apart and putting the pieces of his life–musically and personally–back together again. His sentiments are clear as day, his words pronounced, his message transparent throughout. He’s going to make a life of this whatever crazy twists and turns may happen along the way.

Check out Ronnie’s new album “Night Owl EP” at his website or on Itunes.

If you’re looking for new albums about redemption from two of our local troubadours, look no further than Dave and Ronnie. Their stories serve as a cautionary tale and at the same time as inspiration. You can make it. The adventure may sweep you off your feet, take you for a ride and spit you out the other end. You may be left alone with all your doubts and fear and it may feel impossible to get back on your feet and walk straight again. But, it’s possible. Your art can survive and the journey to get there, the journey that continues regardless of contract, music videos, high praise or the approval of millions of online “supporters” can be cathartic. As I write the last sentence I’m listing to the “Night Owl EP” and Ronnie’s singing out over swelling drums and piano on the song ‘Better Days’, “Hold on, there’s better days around the bend/You believed in love the first time and you’ll believe in love again

-Doug Streblow

Doug Streblow from Buckeye Knoll
I write and play music. Listen for yourself at: http://www.buckeyeknoll.com/

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One Response to “From Indie to Majors & Back Again: Two Local musicians go from Major Deals to Self Release & Keep the Fire Alive”

  1. J says:

    Great writeup.
    Great artists.