An Interview with GetGo! Records' Mike Brannan
BJM Studios/GetGo! Records' Mike Brannan talks about how a Big Fish
became a big player in the local music scene, and what it takes to make it
in the big time.
by tim mcmahan
Lazyeye: Nov. 30, 2000.
Above, GetGo! recording artist
Pomeroy at K-Rockfest June 4, 2000.
"These are the bands that are
in it to win it. We don't want to get involved with hobbyists; we
want to see one or all of our bands get to the next level."
The bands in question -- Pomeroy, Clever, Lower Case i, Five Story Fall
-- are represented by GetGo! Records, and the guy talking is Mike Brannan,
the man at the label and behind the knobs at BJM Studios where the bands
Brannan always cuts to the chase. A very opinionated guy, he has the
luxury of having the history and knowledge to back it up. As a guitarist
in one of the area's renowned bands, a recording studio owner and now the
operator of one of the top locally owned independent record labels,
Brannan has seen all sides of the music business.
To be honest, this wasn't supposed to be Brannan's story. The interview
with Brannan, conducted just before Labor Day, was merely supposed to be
background for a profile of Omaha entertainment kingpin Matt Markel -- the
owner of GetGo!, BJM, The Ranch Bowl, former owner of 93.3 FM KROCK,
and one of the primary music promoters in the city. Getting the interview
with Brannan was the easy part. Scheduling an interview with Markel, on
the other hand, was a challenge because of his busy schedule. After a few
months, it became obvious that Brannan's interview was a story on its own.
While Markel might be Omaha's All Great and Powerful Oz, Brannan is most
definitely the man behind the curtain, pulling the strings and levers that
influence a large chunk of the local music scene.
BJM Studios, located in the southwest
corner of The Ranch Bowl entertainment complex at 1600 So. 72nd St., is
pretty much what you'd expect to find in any top-flight recording studio
-- a glassed-in performance area tucked inside a high-tech control room
with a massive sound board, recording equipment, computers and CDs stacked
here and there. At home behind the gear is Brannan, a punk-ish,
hipster-looking guy with smart glasses and a confident look to match. As
head engineer of BJM, he's also top-dog at GetGo!, two enterprises that he
says are "one and the same."
"The studio's been here for two years. Where we're sitting used to
be a parking lot," Brannan said, kicked back in one of the cush
control room chairs. "It's a long way from the first studio I had
with my partner Dan Crowell, called Big Fish."
Big Fish recorded some of Omaha's heaviest hitters of its day,
including The Kind, Snakey Billy, Grasshopper Takeover, and one of the
biggest of them all, Blue Moon Ghetto, an alternative rock phenom that
scored a ton of local air time with their hit, "Shine All the
Brannan and Crowell's relationship goes back even before the
studio, to their full-time rock band Guerrilla Theater. Crowell played
drums while Brannan handled lead guitar chores. Though the Guerrilla
Theater had its share of regional touring, they never netted a big-time
record deal and eventually parted ways. But before they did, Brannan and
Crowell launched Big Fish.
"The studio business is a stupid business, but we did all
right. We recorded a lot of records," Brannan said. "Blue
Moon Ghetto's self-released CD was our biggest seller. Who knows
how many they actually sold, but they say they got paid for 13,000,
which is huge when you consider a band like Creed will sell between
10,000 and 12,000 units in this area. Unfortunately, that record
wasn't very good. It wasn't as good as the band ended up being.
From a record-label perspective, they probably garnered a little
too much attention too early."
Big Fish made waves for three years, Brannan said, eventually recording
a project for Matt Markel called The Big Fish KROCK Born in the Barn
compilation that included tracks by The Kind, Ritual Device, Shed, Shovel
Head, No Left Stone and others. It was a perfect introduction for Big Fish
to Markel's world.
"Matt knew we were into it and got to know us over a long period
of time, to the point where he was comfortable dealing with us,"
Brannan said. "The bottom line was he had just sold his radio station
and was bored."
Brannan said Markel in effect bought out Big Fish and took a year and a
half creating BJM Studios. "When our old studio's lease was up, we
got out of there and had about one month of down time before we cranked up
BJM," he said. These days Crowell, who has a full-time job elsewhere,
plays a limited role at BJM as a fill-in drummer or as a
writer/arranger. He and Brannan still play together in a techno project
Moon Ghetto's self-released CD was our biggest seller. Who knows how many
they actually sold, but they say they got paid for 13,000, which is huge
when you consider a band like Creed will sell between 10,000 and 12,000
units in this area."
Test Fest, Matt lost his ass, but he wasn't going to sit around and see
someone hit by lightning. He said it wasn't worth it. All those bands got
paid and left.."
leaves Brannan as the key person behind the studio and label, with the
occasional input by owner Markel. Brannan describes him as someone with a
short attention span and a strong work ethic, but ultimately a hands-off
owner. "We don't see much of him," he said. "He's off doing
his thing, promoting concerts like crazy. That guy has to sit and talk to
agents and managers all day long. Markel is definitely bringing a lot of
music to this city. And Omaha is not a great music town."
Brannan said though there's a good local band scene, the Council Bluffs
casinos have put a drag on the local economy. In terms of venues, the
Omaha music scene hasn't expanded in the last 15 years. On the other hand, there are
more bands than ever because of population growth.
"There are no new places to
play and no money to go around," he said. "When I was in
Guerrilla Theater, we went all over the Midwest and made money. The club
scene from '92 to '94 was healthy and we could go to Lawrence, Kansas City
or Ames and come back to Omaha and make good money at every stop, enough
so we didn't have to work day jobs."
Today, Brannan said most local bands on the road are paying to play
because touring costs are so high while money netted from venues and the
merchandise table is meager. "Grasshopper Takeover is the one band
that's managed to go on the road and stay on the road," he said,
"but they're still not getting paid."
Brannan said Markel has found a way to parlay minor projects into
larger ones. His work with The Ranch Bowl and exclusive deals at Westfair
and Sokol Auditorium has allowed him to take shows from smaller artists to
get to bigger artists handled by the same agents.
"Matt is the kind of guy who'll take a hit to put on a show or put
out a record," Brannan said. "He'll do stuff that isn't going to
make money. I'll hear hilarious stories -- bereft with inaccuracies --
that the bands don't make money while Matt does. Fact is, the promoter's
profits are limited to 10 percent, and big bands walk out of here with big
paychecks that promoters have to guarantee."
That makes for a risky proposition, such as last summer's Markel-promoted
Test Fest -- a multi-band, all-day festival at Westfair Amphitheater that
ended midway through the day because a vicious thunderstorm blew through
the complex, carrying high winds, rain and dangerous lightning.
"With Test Fest, Matt lost his ass, but he wasn't going to sit
around and see someone get hit by lightning. He said it wasn't worth it. I saw
a bolt hit the corner of the stage that somehow managed to dissipate. He
was down by the stage when it struck, and that was it. All those bands got
paid and left.
"You hope you make more money than you lose, that's what it
ultimately comes down to for a local promoter. Guys like Markel keep the
big national outfits like SFX (the world's leading promoter, producer and
presenter of diversified live entertainment) out because they have the
market locked up. He does this because it's fun and he enjoys working with
those people. At the end of the year, he's shrewd enough that he's had
more winning than losing shows. I'm always surprised that the economics
work out. The same is true with record labels; you're trying to get
records out that break even and hope one or two will do well."
Brannan said GetGo! Records was part of
the original plan when BJM was started two years ago. The first GetGo!
release was The Pat and Scott Project, a joke record made on a Sunday night
for the old Edge DJs, Pat and Scott. "We did a couple parody tunes, I
played bass and Dan played drums, and we put it out for Edgefest,"
Since then, GetGo! has taken a rather reserved approach, signing a
number of bands but only putting out a few CDs. The first release from the
label's current roster was Five Story Fall's Look and See last
"We're feeling our way into this now," Brannan said.
"For us, it's been predicated on what sort of talent we can find.
Most of the bands that we have aren't ready for the national spotlight. We
know that and they know that. We try to help them through that transition.
If we feel someone is really doing an amazing job and is going to have an
impact, we'll throw everything behind them."
There again is where Markel plays an important role. "Matt's very
hooked up," Brannan said. "We haven't gone out and shopped any
of these bands yet to major labels or managers, but we will. It's
grooming. You want them to develop naturally and stay out of their way.
It's organic. At the same time, we want to help them with some of the
For Look and See, a CD Brannan produced, Five Story Fall's
momentum was hampered by the band's inability to tour. "Our
philosophy is simple: We will promote the band as far as they are able to
tour," Brannan said, "and they weren't able to tour very far.
They have families and day jobs. We got plenty of returns on that one from
the regional distributor, but the record did well locally -- in the
5,000-unit area -- thanks to the fact that they got out and played a lot
of good shows."
Is touring outside the Midwest crucial? Brannan says for bands to get
to the next level, they need to conquer markets, but they don't need to
play CBGB's or The Knitting Factory. "They need to develop a fan base
in multiple areas," he said. "The record labels are just banks
now. They're a lot less artist-driven and there's a lot more public money
in play. The emphasis toward consolidation makes it tougher and tougher
for bands because the labels need solid returns, just like fund managers
in the stock market."
What's that mean for your run-of-the-mill local band trying to make its
mark and grab the attention of the Sonys, Warners and Atlantics of the
music world? They better be very good, very professional and very ready to
make the move to the next level. Major labels are looking for the band
that will give them the best return on their investment almost
"I talked to an A & R guy from Geffen who said the process of
signing a band takes a year to a year and a half from when they first see
them to when they offer a deal," Brannan said. "They want to
become comfortable with them as people as well as musicians. It's a
different business than being a sports star or an actor, which are both
better paying, easier professions in which to become rich."
The music industry is unique in the entertainment world because rock
bands are the only ones who don't get paid up front and only for what they
produce. "Kobe Bryant was a millionaire before he stepped on the
court," Brannan said. "The same goes with acting. That kid from
Millard North (Chris Klein of Election and American Pie
fame) made $250,000 on his second movie out of the box. I'm happy for
those people, but the music business is much tougher than that because
even if you're a fairly well-respected group, you can have a bad period of
productivity or sales and be out on the street overnight."
Brannan said bands have to do a better job bringing people into their
musical realm, and that demands a more professional, intense and
disciplined approach. "It's a brutal business where a band like
Slipknot can record with a label like Roadrunner, sell a decent number of
units and still not make any money because of their management structure.
On the other hand, there's 311, who has done well apparently managing
their money. Those guys are all well-off financially, they make big bucks
on the road and are on the cutting edge of merchandising. They've had
business heads on their shoulders since before they were signed."
"The record labels are just banks
now. They're a lot less artist-driven and there's a lot more public money
"I've never been a
big 311 fan, but I always understood why they do so well, and Clever has
that same ingredient."
So what kind of artists is GetGo! looking
for? Brannan said their stable -- Pomeroy, Clever, Five Story Fall and
Lower Case i -- are all bands that both he and Markel believe have the
right stuff to make it to the next level. "We watch all the tapes
sent in from regional bands for gigs and talk to bands that play the
circuit to find out who's doing what where. From that point on, it's all
about the music," Brannan said. "It's kind of a conspiracy
between Matt and I."
On the money side, Brannan said, the label advances different bands
different things depending on what they need. "Obviously I have to
make it add up to zero at the end of the day to keep Matt off my
ass," he said. "Matt doesn't seem interested in who's profitable
and who isn't, as long as we can break even."
Each GetGo! act, however, has two common traits -- a commercially
viable sound and a reputation for putting on a good live performance.
Those were the calling cards for Clever, a power pop, funk-rock,
4-piece band formed in late '97 out of the ashes of two well-respected
local bands. Vocalist/guitarist Bruce Coddington, formerly of Blue Moon
Ghetto, matched up with former Secret Skin bassist Clint Thomas. Clint
recently left the band, replaced by Kevin Wagner. Rounding out the
current line-up is Clint's brother, Kevin, on guitar, and former stage
manager for The Urge, Ben Maxwell, on drums.
"Clever have a unique take on a genre that isn't all that
unique," Brannan said. "Bruce has an interesting viewpoint, and
they have the ability to be very competent. They're a good live band. I've
never been a big 311 fan, but I always understood why they do so well, and
Clever has that same ingredient."
GetGo! put out Clever's latest CD, M39, last fall. It currently
sits at No. 6 on Homer's Records' top-20 local music chart.
Lower Case i has been around
for five years, playing heavy metal alternative and opening for the likes
of Powerman 5000, Static X, GWAR and Our Lady Peace. The band recorded a
4-song EP last summer at BJM. Frontman Dereck Courtney said Markel saw the
band play at K-Rockfest two years ago and approached them about doing a
"They have a couple talented guitarists with a unique voice and
something to say," Brannan said. "The EP we recorded will be
part of a full-length out this year before the band hits the road. We like
them as people and their work ethic, and I think they have a standout
drummer with Dave Collins (formerly of Row 8 Plot 30). He's really made a
Five Story Fall's relationship with GetGo! began when they contacted
Brannan about recording a demo. "Stan Tribble, their bass player, was
in Guerrilla Theater with me, and I like (vocalist/guitarist) Pat Gehrman,
who used to be in Shovelhead. They had a collection of tunes that were
obviously good pop songs, which is not my normal fare," Brannan said.
(Incidentally, Brannan says his taste in music runs all over the board,
from Miles Davis to Joe Strummer to Nine Inch Nails. "I'm primarily a
musician, but enjoy some of the sound-designing aspects of new
records," he said.) Five Story Fall recently underwent a line-up
change, rounding out the four-piece with former Ritual Device/Ravine
drummer Eric Ebers, and Bryan Elder on lead guitar.
"(Five Story Fall)
had a collection of tunes that were obviously good pop songs, which is not
my normal fare."
"With Pomeroy, I had heard their
single on the radio and then saw them play and thought their recording
didn't represent how good they were going to be."
Which brings us to Pomeroy, GetGo!'s most
recent acquisition. The 5-piece was formed in Manhattan, Kansas, in Spring
1998. After releasing their debut album, Inside the Shine, in April
1999, the band went on to tour 11 states regionally and distribute more
than 5,000 copies of the album. They moved to Omaha in October, and have
been working on their first GetGo! CD, slated for an early 2001 release.
Like Clever, Pomeroy has a lot in common, sound- and performance-wise,
with 311, sporting a commercial-friendly, radio-ready, aggro-rap style and
a strong stage presence.
Brannan said since Pomeroy signed with them, GetGo! has only "put
out a few things for radio. We're saving up for the full-length, which
will be a much more intense recording than its other release.
"With Pomeroy, I had heard their single on the radio and then saw
them play and thought their recording didn't represent how good they were
going to be," he said. "Pomeroy will be a national band. I will
lay even money that the band -- or parts of it -- will get national
Of the label's entire stable, Brannan sounds most confident of
Pomeroy's chances to make the big time. Why? Because Pomeroy has the drive
and the music to do it, though nothing is written in stone, Brannan said.
"The commercial realities are so stupid that you're naive
if you don't know what you're up against," he said. "It's
a crap shoot based on trends and all kinds of things a band can't
control. The one thing they can control is the music. If you want
to throw a disc out there and be successful next to major label
discs, you have to be aware of what it took to put out those other
"I meet a lot of bands that have a couple mediocre players because
they are formed out of friendships," he said. "Once you get past
the hobbyist phase and become professional, that means being good at all
positions. A lot of bands out there aren't going to get to that level
because they're not completely devoted to it. The bottom line, though: If
you're going to have to live and play together full-time, you want to
enjoy whom you're with. That's what it comes down to."
The same rule appears to apply to GetGo! and BJM Studios, two projects
that seem to value their love of music over money. "We're more of a
project than a commercial studio," Brannan said. "I have no
desire to be in the commercial studio business at all. It's got nothing to
do with putting out great music on a day-to-day basis. That's where we
want to take this. We want to get to where we can put a few acts on a
roster who are significant and take them to a national level, then secure
more funding for the studio and grow from there. I think we're off to a
Published in The
Omaha Weekly Nov. 29,
2000. Copyright 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.