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The Side Man 

Wednesday, Nov 8 2006
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LEANING BACK INTO A MIDCENTURY COUCH in the Atwater Village storefront office of his independent label Everloving Records, Andy Factor is talking about what a lot of people are talking about these days: how things in the music industry are changing, and how they are also staying the same.

“Everyone wants to figure out the future . . . It’s coming,” says the 43-year-old, who now considers himself on “the sidelines,” as he calls it, making albums with his friends.

Factor spent 14 years learning his trade in the fast lane at Virgin Records, first in the mailroom and later as V.P. of A&R, before he and his partner JP Plunier, who is also Ben Harper’s manager/producer, started their own label six years ago out of Factor’s garage.

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Surrounded by shelves of art books, his Motorola Q phone and two of his four employees, the Southern California–raised Factor, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, talks about how, as the record industry seems to crumble around him, he believes his small-crew business model is the key to creating a career in music. Factor and his acts may not be making millions, but they’re all doing what they know and love, and he says that is the idea behind the label.

“Our manifesto is, if we’re not enjoying it, we aren’t doing it. ’Cause we’re spending our own money.”

EVERLOVING STARTED BACK IN 2000 with a bang (and another happy name, Enjoy, which was changed after they discovered it was already taken). Factor, who’d recently been fired from Virgin, and Plunier decided to make an album with a then-unknown singer-songwriter, former surfer Jack Johnson, whom they met while Factor was still Ben Harper’s A&R guy at Virgin.

“No one else was gonna sign Jack,” Factor recalls of Johnson, who approached them because he was a Ben Harper fan.

“JP wanted to make it, and I trust JP. I thought if I made a record and had JP produce it — and if it was good — I would be able to go get another job as an A&R guy, ’cause I had just been fired. That was my plan. A&R guys make records. Get a record made.”

They made Brushfire Fairytales for 25 grand. Ben Harper played on the album and gave Johnson some opening dates on his tour after the CDs were pressed and sent to Factor’s garage. They started selling the CDs at the gigs and at surf shops. But after a couple of surfers walked into Lou’s Records in Encinitas and asked for a copy, things started to change. Lou found Factor and asked for a box of CDs. Three weeks later, he asked for another. Eventually, Lou introduced Factor to a friend who ran the small distribution company Hepcat. And as Factor, who also surfs and skateboards, explains, “It was on.” To date, Brushfire Fairytales has sold more than 2 million copies.

When the CD’s sales hit a hundred thousand copies, Universal stepped in and signed Enjoy — now Everloving — to a distribution deal. They also gave Johnson his own label deal, Brushfire Records.

Factor never went back to the majors. By the time Johnson left for Universal, he’d already signed another couple of acts that he’d tracked during his A&R days. Michael Andrews, a producer-singer-songwriter who played in a couple of bands, and Joseph Arthur had both been dropped from their deals. But Factor believed in their music.

Meanwhile, Factor and Plunier have released 13 CDs, and there are six more on the way. They continue to follow a fairly simple formula: make quality, inexpensive albums and use producers they trust. Which is usually Plunier, who produced their Grammy-nominated soundtrack for Dogtown and Z-Boys and their latest, Piers Faccini’s Tearing Sky, or else Andrews, who has produced five albums for the label: Metric’s Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?, Inara George’s All Rise and his soundtracks/scores to Me and You, and Everyone We Know and Donnie Darko, which included the Gary Jules cover of Tears for Fears’ Mad World.

They’re currently on their fourth distribution deal, but Factor seems to have a relaxed attitude about that.

“When there is demand, distributors will come, and when there is no demand, distributors will go away,” he says. “We just keeping printing our art and moving our production, doing it over and over again. ’Cause the point is, we are making great songs and getting great recordings of them.

“Whether [the albums] chart or not, it’s all good. We made them. We’re here making money somehow. [The artists] are making money somehow. And everybody has got the opportunity to create. That’s the reward and the privilege.”

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE INDUSTRY collapses in a few years? What happens to people like you and the artists?

“I think this music needs to exist in a vacuum, not aware of the outside world. These are our roles in life, and this is our part of the system. When there are no more record stores and everyone can just have a MySpace page, then our function will definitely be very different. I am in the record business, where my job is quickly becoming more and more irrelevant. Either I will find a new job or a new aspect of the job, so I can fit in.”

Then, he asks rhetorically, “What is a professional in the record business? What does a professional artist mean, versus a hobbyist? I would say a repertoire that accumulates over time and becomes substantial.”

It must be frustrating when acts move on to more lucrative deals? Joseph Arthur, Metric. I mean, it’s exciting, but . . .

“It’s rad, but it’s frustrating. It depends on my mood,” explains Factor, who understands that being a part of a quality artist’s catalog has value, as does creating a quality catalog for Everloving.

“With any of our artists, they’re left kind of exposed out there because we’re not a big company with people ushering them in and out of everywhere. They’re out there selling themselves. Everyone is a roll-up-your-shirtsleeves artist — [that’s] the Everloving vibe,” he shrugs.

“Too much is changing to be concerned with how the music business is changing — the world is changing. It’s not that the music business is gonna crash and that’s it. The whole world is gonna crash, in the same way, at various times. Songs will still be important to the world.”

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