Singer/songwriter Danielle LoPresti waited as the man behind the desk listened to her demo CD. When the last song came to an end, the man leaned forward, looked Danielle in the eye, and said he would sign her in return for sex. "You're kidding, right?" Danielle gave an unsure smile. She brushed off the comment as humor. "You're married," she said.
"I'm as serious as a heart attack," the man said. "My wife does what she wants and I don't ask her any questions. I do what I want and she doesn't ask me any questions. She showers before she comes home. I shower before I go home. Now, what's your answer to my question?"
Disgusted, Danielle left the man's office, never to return.
Four years later, Danielle, whisked away to solve one crisis or another, left me to stand alone behind the black curtain that separated the main floor from the backstage of the San Diego Independent Music Festival. It was November 5, 2005. I was two hours into a six-hour gig as emcee.
I abandoned the stacked chairs and stashed purses, went upstairs to where the alcohol was kept, and ordered vanilla vodka with a splash of something carbonated. Plastic cup in hand, I checked out the vendors hawking original clothing designs and accessories on both floors of the Abbey, a historic church-turned-rentable-venue on Fifth Avenue in Hillcrest. Outside, the sun had set. Inside, sections of stained glass artificially lit from behind cast yellow and blue patches from opposite sides of the church.
Hornswaggled, a heavy-metal punk band from Poway, performed energetically for the growing crowd. The lead singer, backed by a drummer and flanked by two long-haired, head-banging guitarists, toggled between harmonies and roars, reminding me of Tool's Maynard James Keenan.
In about five minutes, just before the band finished their set, I would make my way downstairs through the crowd and grab a microphone from the sound booth. In my black rubber corset cinched tight with red laces, and with black-and-red plumage crowning my head, I'd lead the audience's attention from the main stage to the acoustic stage, where the next performer was ready to go.
Behind the Curtain
Danielle tried to break into the music industry in Los Angeles, but her obstacles began long before she got there. In 1991, prior to moving to L.A., she joined the Mar Dels in San Diego. "They weren't paying the two female lead vocalists what they were paying all the guys," Danielle says. "We were being paid between $150 and $200, and the guys were getting between $200 and $300."
After discovering the discrepancy, Danielle got together with the other female vocalist in the band. At the next band meeting, they brought it up. "We said, 'Hey, we feel we're valuable enough to make as much as everybody else who is essentially our equal,' like the drummer, bass player, and sax player. Who would be in front for everybody there to look at? The two pretty girls. So it was ridiculous." The bandleaders "growled and grumbled," but in the end, they gave in, and the female band members saw their paychecks increase.
Alicia Champion, Danielle's business partner and fellow band member, had also attempted to make her name in the L.A. music scene. Born in Singapore in 1981, Alicia moved to San Francisco with her mother and younger sister in 1991. "My parents brought me to Disneyland when I was eight years old, and it was, like, 'Wow! This is like nothing we have in Singapore!' And when we were going to move to the States, I thought, 'I get to live in Disneyland!' " But, Alicia remembers, "People were so much harder, almost the exact opposite of the whole fantasy I had."
Alicia learned to play guitar freshman year of high school. On a visit to her musical mentor's office, Alicia first heard the Indigo Girls. "I heard Amy Ray's voice, and I was, like, this is amazing. I always thought a woman had to sound like Whitney Houston; I'd never heard a woman with a low, husky, rich voice like this. Then I discovered Ani DiFranco, another woman singing about dirty, real truth, and I thought, 'Oh! I can write this!' "
Alicia performed her first gig at the Sacred Grounds Café in San Francisco in 1997, when she was 15. The open-mike manager, who had seen her perform on amateur nights, booked her show. For nine months following her professional debut, while she was still in high school, Alicia was courted by an artist and repertoire representative from Capitol Records' San Francisco office who was interested in signing her. She soon discovered two things that worked against her. "They didn't like my hairstyle, which was short in front, shaved in the back." According to the representative, Alicia's look, in line with the grunge era, with loose-fitting, hole-ridden jeans and a leather motorcycle jacket, was too masculine. "They also wanted me to narrow down the genre of music. They said, 'What are you? You need to be either rock, folk, or pop. Right now you're all three of these things.'" Meanwhile, Alicia was accepted to Boston's Berklee College of Music, and she moved to the opposite end of the country.
Alicia graduated from Berklee in 2003, at the top of her class after being hand-picked by the school's "elite production team" to perform at the two biggest concerts of the year, one for the convocation in fall of 2002 (for which she played guitar and sang "The Book I'm Not Reading" for honored guest Patty Larkin) and the other for commencement in May 2003 (for which she sang "Jaded" and "Livin' on the Edge" for honored guests Steven Tyler and Dianne Reeves). Professors recommended Alicia go to either New York or Los Angeles to pursue her music career. She decided on the latter and secured a job as a scout at a talent agency in L.A. "I had a few companies headhunting me, and this one had the highest pay at 90 grand a year," she recalls. "I was supposed to be scouting for new musical talent, but I ended up working as a stylist -- not hair or makeup, but dressing people. I'm talking about 15-year-olds with straws way too big up their noses and 14-year-olds who take too many trips to the bathroom to throw up. These little trays of coke were kept in the receptionist's desk. No one was eating -- not the 40-year-olds, not the 12-year-olds. Everyone knows what's going on, but no one's going to say anything about it." She quit after three and a half weeks.
The Industry "Old Boys"
Prior to beginning work on her first solo album in 2000, Danielle had written and sold songs for movies, including The Nutty Professor (performed by Brandy) and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. "The first chance I got to write my own song for my own project, the subject I chose was racism." Danielle had seen the television drama Roots when she was eight. "I had no idea what slavery was. It was then that I decided, 'Okay, I'm going to marry a black man and my whole family is going to be different colors.' " The first verse of her song, entitled "Call Me Sister," reads: "Eight years old, eight p.m., Roots, part one, channel ten. I never ever will forget that day I first felt the shame of my color, my face."
While living in L.A., Danielle often visited a friend she'd gone to school with at United States International University in San Diego. Eric Bishop (who has since changed his name to Jamie Foxx) rented a room at Studio 56 on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood.
"I was the only female hanging out and doing work with them, being a part of the music. But, as with nearly every studio in L.A., and even with those guys, your worth as a woman was largely determined by how sexy or fine they thought you were," she says. "When an A&R person says, 'Hold off until you lose a little weight and change your hair color and then we'll introduce you,' it often means getting a boob job and dropping 25 pounds." The A&R agent who shopped Danielle's record Balance under the band name Stone 7 to MCA, Hollywood Records, and Interscope from 1996 to 1998 told the nearly 6-foot, 140-pound 27-year-old that she would have to lose weight if she wanted to be taken seriously.
Earlier, in 1994, another A&R rep had attended one of Danielle's performances in San Diego. "He was one of those flashy business guys who knew people in a million places," Danielle says. "While I was onstage, he said to a friend of mine in the audience, 'You know, Danielle would be absolutely perfect if she'd just get her tits done. She's pretty and she sings her ass off, but she's got no boobs.' The only people who didn't tell me I had to lose weight were the black folks, because they like curvy women."
According to Danielle, "Ashlee Simpson is a good example of someone -- gorgeous in terms of the airbrushed-looking people that L.A. loves -- who by most people's standards is not a good singer at all. Many people would think the same thing about Britney. She's very flashy, but she's not a musician -- she's a pop star. Milli Vanilli is another classic example. Two beautiful guys who knew how to dance but couldn't sing."
Not long after she fled the office of the man who'd proposed sex in exchange for a record deal, a music producer/ writer Danielle had become friends with advised her that studio executives will "work ten times as hard if they want to fuck you." This was in 1996, while Danielle was living in Van Nuys and shortly before she completed Balance. Because the statement hit a nerve, she wrote a song called "10 Times as Hard." The chorus goes: "You're tough, you can do this, just stay cool, they'll work ten times as hard if they want to sleep with you. So I closed my mouth and wore my boots, and I tried to memorize this new rule: they'll work ten times as hard if they want to screw you."
One of Danielle's notable encounters was with Tony Ferguson, the artist and repertoire agent at Interscope Records who had signed No Doubt, now a multiplatinum-selling band. In 2000, Ferguson had gone to see Danielle perform and scheduled a meeting with her in his office. "He sat across from me at his desk, complimented the music, complimented me, he was a total gentleman. In terms of all the major labels, he's the only one I can say that about. Then he looked at all of the songs I'd submitted and said, 'I would like to know, Danielle, why are you so angry?' "
Danielle considered the question, then said, "First of all, because my eyes are open. And, I've been living as a woman and as a female artist in L.A. for a few years now, and I'm not afraid to write about what's happening to me."
"I'm just not convinced people are going to want to hear that," Ferguson said.
"The reason he didn't sign me was that he wasn't looking for an artistic performer, he was looking for a commercial success," Danielle says. "He was looking for something that was a little edgy, pushing the envelope, but still a slam-dunk in terms of commercial viability." In other words, the agent had hoped for the intensity of Alanis Morissette, with the safe familiarity of her woman-scorned lyrics. Danielle's songs, however, covered child abuse, racism, plastic surgery, and the foibles of the record industry. Topics, she says, that nobody likes.
Danielle's song, "Say It," is an autobiographical song about being molested as a child. The incident occurred when she was six years old and lived in Clairemont. Her mother was working in the home office, and her father Frank (owner and captain of the famous sportfishing boat Royal Polaris) was out at the docks. "I was riding my bike in the cul-de-sac, and he called me by name," Danielle says. "He" was a teenaged neighbor a few doors down. "He said, 'Come here, I need your help.' As people know, once [a sexual predator] gets a child behind a closed door, you may as well kiss that child's innocence goodbye."
Danielle remembers the man showing her his penis and asking, "Do you know what this is?" She did not answer. "I literally forgot the word for it and then remembered the word, but it was so ugly to my mouth that I couldn't possibly say it. I was totally stricken by shame. It was terrible, awful," she says. " 'Say It' explores the fact that I lost my voice, that I wasn't able to speak, and I take what he was saying to me, 'Do you know what this is? Do you know what this does?' and I place it back to him and the whole male gender. Do you know what this is? Do you know what it does? This misogynistic objectification of women that runs rampant throughout our culture? From just the tiniest age, Barbie dolls, the way they're made, what they look like, makeup and little baby gifts -- do you know what this is? Do you know what it does? Do you know what you're doing?"
Afterward, the six-year-old Danielle found her mother and, with difficulty, explained what had happened to her. Even though she begged her mother not to say anything, Danielle's dad was promptly told. "I have a recollection that my dad, who was and still is a huge tree of a man, a tough-ass Sicilian fisherman who has a total reputation for being a ball-smasher of a guy, walked over there and had a little talk with Kenneth -- that was his name, and I have hated that name ever since." Danielle doesn't know what became of the boy and can't remember ever seeing him again.
"Say It" earned a nomination in 2000 for a Los Angeles Music Award in the "Best Female Singer/Songwriter" category. The awards ceremony, which takes place in Hollywood, was held at the House of Blues. Producers of the show dubbed Danielle the "Say It Girl." "The saddest and sickest part of that whole thing is that they found the song sexy," Danielle says. When the producers called to inform her of her nomination, they gushed about how provocative her song was. "All they listened to was the tone of my voice, like that whisper-talk tone right up close on the mike; they didn't even pay attention to the story." Danielle informed them that the song was about child molestation and abuse, and one of the producers said, "Girl, I just want to hear your voice whispering to me, I don't care what the song's about."
The producers referred Danielle to Todd Cooper, an attorney known for brokering the best deals. They told her, "Listen, your stuff is so hot all you need is this guy on your side and all speculation will go away and you will be signed." Danielle never met the man face to face, but he was the inspiration for the song she would pen after their first and only phone conversation, called "Dear Mr. Penishead."
The attorney listened to Danielle's CD. Then he called her at her home in Van Nuys and asked, "Can I be straight with you?" His next words stopped her: "Quit music." He continued, "You're an attractive woman, you seem to be reasonably intelligent, so quit music and find something else that you're really good at, now, while you still can." Danielle tried to end the conversation, but he cut her off and launched into a 20-minute diatribe.
In her song, "Mr. Penishead," Danielle sings: "It was so kind of you to take 20 of your very busy minutes to tell me what you could have said in 2. All that expert advice, are you sure there's no charge? 'Cause when I write it out the list is so large."
Now, as she remembers the phone call, Danielle sounds irritated. "It takes less than two minutes to tell an artist, 'Listened to your music, hate it, thank you very much.' But he just went on and on. He said, 'You're writing adult music. And there's no market for that. Teenagers are the ones who move the units. The business of music has nothing to do with music, nothing. It has to do with one thing and one thing only -- money. Hear me and hear me good. Your music will not sell units. If you are writing music that does not appeal to teenagers, which is what you're doing, you are wasting your time and you are wasting my time. You cannot be pretty. You have to be gorgeous. You cannot be smart. You have to be genius. You have to be the most amazing, incredible, awe-inspiring creature to have walked planet Earth in order to make it in this business.' "
Danielle called a friend. "I told him about the whole thing, and I told him, 'I am so mad that I feel like killing somebody or something or myself. I want to break something, I want to hurt something!' These are the broken-record responses that you hear from the A&R people -- you're not thin enough, or sexy enough, or coquettish enough, 'You don't fit the image,' and 'Your style is too diverse; you need to be all angry or all sad, all poppy or all sexy."
The Start of Something Good
In 2001, Danielle started her own label, Say It Records. "When it's all told, to establish the record company and get the first real quality piece of music done, it was about $20,000." She funded the project with her savings. To get started, Danielle read All You Need to Know about the Music Business, by Donald S. Passman, and obtained a DBA, or "doing business as," for the name Say It Records. She then acquired a post-office box and hired someone to help create a website, all of which cost around $800 and "a lot of time and energy." Fifteen thousand dollars went to three producers. "You write a song and bring them your chords and your lyrics and melody, and producers make it sound gorgeous by adding organ and a kick-ass drumbeat and arranging it and so on. Basically, the song comes naked, and they dress the song," Danielle explains. The last step of creating a record is called "mastering," which cost Danielle $1000. Finally, it cost $2000 to reproduce the CDs, not including $500 that went to a man named Xavier for art direction.
Once her label was set up, Danielle moved back to San Diego. On September 28, 2003, while playing a gig at the San Diego Dyke March, she met Alicia, who was also booked to perform. Danielle watched Alicia's set and asked for her contact information. A few months later, she called Alicia (who was still living in Los Angeles) and asked if she wanted to come down to San Diego and audition for Danielle's new band, Danielle LoPresti and the Masses. Alicia agreed and arrived to the audition prepared. "She had every song I had sent her memorized and played without a note in front of her," Danielle says.
In March 2004, Alicia, Danielle, and Kelly Bowen (who had been playing with Danielle since she was referred by a friend in 2001) produced a show in celebration of Women's History Month. Because it was a positive experience, they decided to produce another event, one that focused on independent music. They scheduled the event for November of that same year. A small team was established. It included Alicia, Danielle, Kelly, an artist's manager, and two old college friends of Alicia's who were still living in Los Angeles.
An additional team member became involved after she saw Alicia perform and inquired about managing her. At one of their first meetings, this woman, who worked as an artist's manager, promised Ani DiFranco as a headliner. "She was so confident about it," Alicia says. "She'd keep telling us, 'She's going to give us an answer in a month,' or 'Okay, Ani said another two weeks.' It just kept getting pushed back and pushed back, and before we knew it, we were in June and we didn't have a headliner yet. It kept being stalled, and in the end, Ani didn't come through."
Danielle and Alicia decided to try and book Jonatha Brook. "Compared to the struggle of going back and forth trying to get Ani, it was really easy," says Danielle. It took one phone call to Brook's agent, who was located in New York, and three days of waiting after they faxed a proposal before the women received confirmation. "We made one price offer [of $5000], and they took it immediately. Now we realize it's hard to get someone for $5000. We had tough negotiations for Veruca Salt [the headliner for the following year's event in 2005, whose agent is located in Los Angeles]."
"Leticia" was one of Alicia's college friends and a musician who had majored in music business. "She was very savvy when it came to language, business, and sales, and she offered to handle the fundraising," says Alicia. Danielle recounts, "She'd say, 'Don't micromanage me, I've got it!' She too was confident and just had this whole 'I've got my shit together' aura. She seemed really on top of it. So we said, 'Okay. Go ahead.'"
"So," says Alicia, "August rolls around, and we don't have a penny, not a penny. And this person says, 'You know what? I don't have it.' " Danielle and Alicia had been so concerned with upsetting the woman who'd offered to raise the funds that they backed down each time she became offended by their tentative inquiries.
Danielle had just bought her first house in City Heights for over $400,000, after taking out the first loan of her life. "I went into a total panic because I realized: I could lose my house." Now the trio had the additional responsibility of finding money, fast. "I had no savings left, because everything I'd saved since I was five went into my house."
For the next two weeks, Danielle, Kelly, and Alicia hardly slept. They learned in the first week of September that the fundraising facet of their team had not raised a dime. The show was scheduled for November 11. They were also crunching for their September 14 deadline to inform all the artists as to which of them had been chosen to perform. "We made phone calls all day, and when it was too late to call people, we brainstormed more people to call, more businesses to elicit for help."
They needed at least $10,000 to cover the initial costs for the venue, sound equipment and crew, programs, and headliner. The women tried to think of ten people they could call who would be willing to get involved for $1000 each (by either paying for ad space or donating). At the end of those two weeks, they had met their goal. The majority of the money did not come from businesses but from private patrons who were either family, friends, or friends of friends.
The endeavor wore Danielle down. In the weeks after the money was raised, she came down with bronchitis and coughed so hard during a performance at the Prado that her back spasmed, leaving her debilitated for four days. "I couldn't even get up to go to the bathroom. It was about six months before I could even think about exercising."
Two Big Letdowns
Despite the hardships, the 2004 show attracted an audience of 600. The lineup of 25 performers included Jonatha Brook, Julie Wolf (of Ani DiFranco's band), and Erika Luckett (a Latin artist). The show was broken into two phases, only the second half of which provided alcohol. Tickets ranged from $17 (student price) to $30 (the full-day price only available to those over 21). The team broke even financially and, convinced they were now equipped to foresee major setbacks, they began planning for the next show, scheduled for November 5, 2005.
For the admittedly not-fundraising-savvy musicians, raising money was the single most stressful aspect of planning the show. To avoid the mishap of the previous year, a marketing rep was brought in to handle the task in March 2005. "She was referred to us by a well-trusted friend, and that referral was enough for us to excuse what seemed like a few warning flags," says Danielle.
Danielle and Alicia first met the woman for drinks at the Prado in Balboa Park. Alicia recalls, "We called her up, and it sounded like she was just supercaffeinated. She was, like, 'Oh yeah great I've downloaded all your stuff and I'm really excited and want to meet you right away!' She talked way too fast and had her big ol' rolly suitcase with her big laptop and her flash presentation, which we didn't understand, but it looked really pretty, and she had all our materials and had done her homework."
Danielle describes the marketing rep as tan, thin, fit, well dressed, well coifed, sharp and businesslike, yet hip. "She was determined to impress us -- she was 'serious about this gig, and Goddammit, she was going to make Indie Music Fest huge!' "
After their meeting, the rep sent Danielle and Alicia a 50-page contract. Reading it, they came across one clause that specified indefinite exclusivity. "We laughed," says Danielle. "We told her, 'We're going to do one year and we'll see how it goes, and then if it goes great, we'll do two years, and then five,' and she agreed to that."
Deadlines were set, and the rep was confident she could bring in $300,000. "Her first deadline hits [June 10], and we don't see a single penny, so we call her up, leave a message, don't get a return phone call. In a couple of days we send an e-mail -- nothing. Two weeks go by, and we've been calling, and she calls us back and says [on voice-mail], 'Sorry, my mom took a turn and just fell really ill. She's terminally ill and I need to go be with her, and I won't be able to commit as much time to this project as I would have liked.' "
At the end of June, Danielle and Alicia went to San Francisco to perform at the Gay Pride Festival. "We decided to hit the Dyke March on Saturday to hand out flyers to people for our show," Alicia says. "San Francisco Dyke March is huge; there are 70,000 people in Dolores Park. Literally, in the middle of the sea of women, I turn around and give a flyer to someone, and guess who it is? It's her -- her, who's been avoiding our calls, with a beer in her hand, in San Francisco."
Upon returning to San Diego, Danielle received an e-mail from the flaky rep. "She said, 'I'm sorry that everything didn't work out, but I'm really happy I got two new friends.' I e-mailed her back and said, 'You are completely delusional. And your idea of business and what you have done to us by wasting our precious time on a timeline like we are on for the past three months, it's unspeakable. Not only will you not be having dinner with me, I never want to see your face again.' "
The concert organizers suddenly found themselves in the same position they were in the year before. "We contacted our friend who had referred us to this person, and we're, like, 'Yo, your referral? Bad --"
"Sucked," says Danielle.
"She felt really bad and came to our aid and said, 'Here's someone else who can help you, and I really trust this woman.' "
In appearance and demeanor, the second marketing rep was the exact opposite of the first. "We were, like, 'Thank you, God, Buddha, Jesus, Jehovah, and everybody else up there, thank you, Mother Mary!' We just knew we'd found our person."
The new, older, experienced rep set up a meeting with associates for radio station KPRI.
Feelings were good all around, and the new team moved forward. A contract was drawn up for the new rep. It was already August, and an appointment was set to get the contract signed on a Tuesday. "She didn't come back to verify what time she wanted to meet, and we thought, 'That's not like her at all.' And so we called again and again and the next day and the next day, and now we start to freak out."
"We couldn't understand," Danielle continues. "This person could not be more different than the first woman, I mean austere, no makeup, just bookwormish, talks really slow, listens. The next thing we know it's, like, a week later and we get an e-mail: 'Girls, I'm very sorry to have to give you this news, but my father's health has taken a turn for the worse, and I simply cannot abandon my family at this time. I have to fly back East to help them. I don't know how long it will take. Therefore, I cannot be involved with you and the festival anymore, my apologies.' "
Danielle remembers thinking, "We are so fucked, because it's too late to cancel." Submissions from bands wanting to perform were coming in from Egypt, India, Iceland, Brazil, China, and Japan. In August, Danielle and Alicia turned to a good friend for advice, and he referred them to "Steve," a friend of his. "He's in his 50s and had worked in Vegas with some big artists. When we met him he was starting his own marketing company. He was a dear friend of a big gay-community leader who had a reputation for doing a lot of philanthropic work and raising a lot of money." The only information they were given before meeting their third marketing rep was that "He can be a little rough around the edges, but he's great at what he does."
Countdown to Catastrophe
Upon their first meeting with Steve, the women were horrified. "He was so unbelievably rude," says Alicia. "He wouldn't let us finish a sentence before putting his hand up in our faces with his cigarette. He was the [stereotypical] flamboyant queen with the hand and the cigarette and the glasses down to the tip of his nose."
"But we were so desperate we finished the meeting," says Danielle. "Once, I told him, 'You need to stop interrupting me, and you need to let me finish this sentence because I am really getting ticked off right now,' and I almost started crying right there at the table, and I remember thinking, 'I'm losing it.' I was so tired and so stressed. I felt like I was being slammed up against a wall -- we had no one else."
"The next meeting and the next one and the next, he was hilarious, he had us in stitches," says Alicia. "He was sweet, funny, charming, he was the fruity gay queen of America and we were laughing and we thought, 'Oh my God,' I guess he was just a real pricktoramus until he decided to work with us, and now he's showing his sweet side. And you know what? His ideas were really smart."
One of Steve's ideas was based on Danielle's oft-repeated definition of "indie": "It's the difference between getting your coffee at Starbucks or going across the street to the Living Room or Twiggs or Claire de Lune or Reds, and supporting independent business." By supporting independent artists, musicians, and businesses, Danielle insists, residents promote originality and diversity. Steve's idea was to elicit sponsorships from local independent coffeehouses and call the show "Indie Coffee Presents Indie Music."
"On so many levels it was a brilliant and doable idea," Danielle says. "But he didn't have the staffing or -- now we know -- the professionalism to follow through with that great idea."
With Steve at their side, Danielle and Alicia went back to KPRI before the end of August. A contract was signed with the station. "It was a whole list of stuff, and everything we said we would do for them, we did," says Alicia. "And they were about a third of the way through everything they said they would do for us."
As November 5, the date of the show, approached, Steve failed to acquire the advertising he'd promised for the station, and Danielle and Alicia ended up paying $2000 of advertising money out of their own pockets. "We did this, and [KPRI] is livid with us, because it's only $2000 and not the $6000 Steve said he 'thought' he could buy," says Danielle. "They said, 'We're not going to do any of the artist interviews that we promised you.' "
According to the promo schedule created on August 31 with two representatives from KPRI, the station was to make promotional announcements directing listeners to their website, where, once registered, they could have a chance to win tickets to the show. Ten pairs of tickets were to be donated by Indie Fest organizers for the promotion, and five pairs were to go to KPRI "staff and personal guests." On air, there were to be 30 ten-second promotional statements each week from the station's show hosts, airing between 6:00 p.m. and midnight. A note on the contract states that the plans for the station to broadcast live from the event were "confirmed" by two senior executives.
After canceling promotional announcements and interviews, KPRI canceled its plans to broadcast live from the festival, though a stage remained named in its honor. Danielle and Alicia speculated the cancellations were due to Steve's unfulfilled boasts that he could sell thousands of dollars of ads. Though they were aware of Steve's ambitious claims, the women were not concerned, for nowhere on the contract agreement did it mention the purchase of advertising on behalf of Indie Fest or any of its organizers. Regardless, Danielle and Alicia purchased with their own money a quarter of the amount Steve had promised the station. When she learned of the cancellations, Danielle called the "new bigwig" at the station and said, "You've got to be kidding, this is what our agreement is, it's in writing." Danielle was appalled at the man's reaction: "He started yelling at me on the phone -- 'I do not have the time to be talking to you about what we should be or have to do, you can't tell me anything. I don't care what you say, I don't care what the agreement says, the answer is no, do you understand me?' I got off the phone and called 91X and explained what had just happened with KPRI and how pissed we were and said, 'We know that you're independent again. Can you help us?' " Within the hour, the newly independent radio station's logo was posted on the Indie Fest website. "We heard that the guy at KPRI was pissed, but, like, what did he think? We were just going to lay down and take it?"
Meanwhile, things were beginning to fall through on the performance end. Earlier in the year a band called the Bellrays had been booked. Alicia remembers: "The first conversation we had with their agent, Michael Dutcher, we got off the phone and thought, 'Wow, this agent really cares about his band and independent music, what a good guy,' and I told Danielle, 'You know, after the Indie Music Fest is over, let's contact Michael Dutcher to represent us.' "
After discussing terms, it was agreed that the agent would send a Bellrays contract to Danielle and Alicia. "He said we could expect it in about two weeks, and we said great and gave him our address. Two weeks came, no contract. I let another week go by, still no contract. I called him up and said, 'Hey, Michael, we haven't received that contract yet.' He said, 'Oh, I'm sorry, I just spaced it. I'll have it out immediately.' Another two, three weeks went by, still no contract."
"This went on for five months," says Danielle.
"As it got closer [to the show], his responses were like, 'My secretary didn't get it out to you? I'm so sorry, I'll do it myself,' " Alicia says.
Once, when Danielle called, the agent told her he'd mailed it himself the day before. "I was fit to be tied," she says. "I am 36 years old and I am tired. So we're driving to L.A. for a show, and I say to Alicia, 'Guess who we're going to visit? Michael Dutcher.' We're in our sweats, hair up, not a stitch of makeup on, and I am, like, in my Sicilian self. We had all this other shit that we'd been dealing with, so we were really mad."
When they arrived at the "quaint little trashy office" in West Hollywood on October 19, Danielle and Alicia were told that the man they sought was in a meeting. They identified themselves to the office messenger and added, "Tell him we are here for the contract, and we're not leaving until he comes out."
The woman opened a door through which Danielle could see several people sitting at a conference table, including Mr. Dutcher. After they made eye contact, he came to the door and said he'd be finished in 20 minutes. "In front of everybody in the room," remembers Danielle, "I said, 'You strung us along for five months. We need that contract today."
Twenty minutes later, they sat across a desk from Dutcher in his office. "We have a sound check to go to, we don't have time to mince words," said Danielle. "You've flat-out lied to us."
Dutcher responded bluntly, "Okay, here's the deal: I don't know if I can get the band there."
"We were, like, no," says Alicia. "We said, 'These are our flyers, this is our poster, we have spent over X amount already promoting your band, and you have lied to us. A couple of weeks ago when I called you and you said it's in the mail, what was that?' "
Dutcher, it turned out, had never drawn up a contract, but the organizers had brought one along. He signed his name. The morning of Indie Fest, the stage manager was called and informed that the Bellrays would not be coming. "They got tons of press, and that could have gone to a deserving band. So that's Michael Dutcher, Michael fucking Dutcher," says Danielle.
Disappointments mounted. SD Music Matters, a local magazine for local music and culture, backed out of its agreement to put an already-conducted interview with Danielle and Alicia on the front page in exchange for banner space, logo placement, and sponsor status. The news was delivered to Danielle via e-mail from the magazine's publisher. She had been trying to contact someone at the magazine for a status via phone and e-mail. "When you're confronting someone, you don't have to be aggressive. If you just tell the truth, it can be enough to make them very upset," says Danielle. As the date of the festival approached, Danielle sent an e-mail or left a voicemail every three days or so. "I was saying things like, 'This is Danielle LoPresti again, I've been trying to reach you, this is where I stand, we have an agreement and we fulfilled our commitment to you, we need you to fulfill your commitment to us.' " Danielle and Alicia had made the agreement with the publisher's wife and believe now that the publisher was "not okay with his wife, the editor-in-chief, making deals." Finally, in response to Danielle's persistence, the publisher responded. "He said, 'I've been in business for myself longer than you've been alive.' If I didn't stop harassing his staff, not only will I not have my story, but he would rip every mention of us out of his magazine so fast that my head would turn, and he said something like, 'You are narcissistic and self-centered.' "
Danielle says this attitude is endemic in the music industry. "I think people do not appreciate it when someone tries to hold them to their word, unless you've got big-ass bucks you're spending with said person. The industry is filled with flakes and hooligans and sharks. It all comes down to what Dear Mr. Penishead said -- 'This industry isn't about music, it has nothing to do with music. It has to do with money.'"
Speaking of money, Steve, the marketing rep, still hadn't come through with any. He claimed to have closed a deal for $2500 but had yet to produce the check. "We had nothing at this point, supposedly $7500, but nothing was in the bank," says Alicia. "We still needed more, but we knew that with this, plus our ticket sales, we were going to be okay."
The week of the festival came, and Steve was still empty-handed. Even so, says Danielle, "He said he had so many vendors he didn't know what to do and that he'd have to rearrange the floor plan. But we hadn't seen a single vendor contract. That's when I got on the phone to Alicia and said, 'I don't believe him, I don't think he has jack shit, and even if he does, he has nothing until I see the contracts proving his claims.' "
In the end, the majority of the funds, $20,000, came from a single, anonymous supporter of the arts. "We never met her in person, and she had never heard our music. She was a fan of a fellow musician friend who we'd booked in the past," Danielle explains. "We were told the couple [husband and wife] love to support the arts."
A Show Unexpected
The day of the show, one of the best tables, reserved for Americans for Energy and Independence (a group Steve had signed), remained empty. The Bellrays were not coming, and a few other bands were late. The headliner, Veruca Salt, had not yet shown, and people behind the curtain were beginning to fear the worst.
When I arrived to relieve local entertainer Laura Jane of her emceeing duties, it seemed as if the first six hours had gone well. I was distracted, doing laps between the two stages, stopping only to read the introduction for the next band or pausing beneath a spotlight to chatter and promote the vendors while buying time for tardy performers.
Moments before Alicia took to the stage, I encountered her in the restroom. Her cappuccino skin was pale, as though it had been given an extra dollop of cream. Her eyes were wide, and her mouth was clamped tightly closed.
"Are you all right?" I asked.
She shook her head no. Then yes. Then no again. Her jaw appeared tense and her eyes grew wide. I thought perhaps she had butterflies, that nervousness most performers suffer before taking the stage. Again, she nodded yes.
"Okay, I've gotta run now, but Danielle's going to introduce you, not me." I said this slowly, reassuringly, as though talking to a frightened child who had lost her way. "You sure you're okay?"
One last, tight-lipped nod. I smiled apprehensively and left to join the large crowd before the main stage, everyone cheering for the band that had just completed its set.
Excitement was mounting. The festival was down to its last three performers, and word had spread that the headliner, Veruca Salt, was on its way. Alicia stepped onto the stage, and Danielle took her place behind a microphone to sing backup. Guitar in hand, Alicia found her voice. She roared through her first song, and the second, her long dark hair falling in front of her face, only to be flipped back as she whipped her head to the beat.
Alicia had not eaten or slept in days, two things she had relegated as unimportant when compared to pulling off the show. As she began her third song, Alicia closed her mouth, and for a split second, her eyes seemed to focus in fear on a distant object, well beyond the audience. Then she collapsed in a convulsing heap onto the stage. Alicia, who is not an epileptic, was having a seizure.
The only noise after the singer fell was the murmuring of voices pleading into their cell phones for an ambulance. Many of the festival's organizers were in tears. The crowd waited, watched, and eventually cleared a path to the stage for the paramedics, who lifted Alicia onto a stretcher, strapped her down, and disappeared with her through the front door.
A microphone was handed to me. Raylene, the stage manager, was at my side, just as she had been through most of the night. "Tell 'em not to go, Veruca Salt is here," she said. With feigned bravado, I strutted onto the stage and coaxed a loud, cheering applause from the crowd for Alicia and Danielle. I announced that Veruca Salt were on their way to the main stage and that another musician, Elena, would entertain everyone on the acoustic stage until the headliner was set up and ready to play. The show went on.
Doctors instructed Alicia not to drive until the results of her extensive neurological tests were in. Everything came back negative -- the only explanation the medical professionals could give was that stress, lack of sleep, and lack of food had contributed to the grand mal seizure.
The first time Alicia performed after the festival was at an Indie by Design event held at Humphrey's By the Bay on December 13, 2005. Drawing attention to the elephant in the room (everyone's memory of her public seizure), Alicia grabbed the mike and, right before she energetically launched into her first song, said, "You have to admit, it's kinda like the most rock 'n' roll thing I could've done besides dying."
Third Time's the Charm
The San Diego Indie Music Fest 2007 was held on March 3, in North Park. Danielle and Alicia decided not to hire a marketing rep. Instead, they formed a sponsorship team to help raise money. Of the ten fundraisers, it was only Danielle, Alicia, and Esta Browning, a friend and volunteer, who managed to raise anything. "The rest of the people were well-meaning but deeply disappointing," says Danielle.
At around $60,000, this year's festival cost nearly three times as much to produce as the previous year. The rental of the Birch North Park Theatre and additional stages, including the Indie Film stage at the Arts and Entertainment Center, contributed to the increase. To their relief, the organizers were in the black by the day of the festival. After the first two years, the festival had developed a reputation. Companies such as CSG Music Management, Netlivemusic.com, and Toadworks Guitar Pedals initiated contact for sponsorship. Two of the big headliners, Fishbone and Gingger Shankar, were also unsolicited, applying for their spots through sonicbids.com like most of the other bands.
Perhaps the shining moment came when Councilmember Toni Atkins, whose district is North Park, declared March 3, 2007, "Indie Music Fest Day," meaning the city has officially acknowledged the event. But, Alicia insists, "The real triumph is that neither of us ended up in a hospital."