Behind every major talent stands some invisible support system—or so the untrue saying goes. In reality, many New Orleans musical acts count only their band’s members as advocates. And most musicians simply can’t pull triple duty as artists, business managers and PR flacks. This is part of the reason why music has become so monetarily devalued in modern society. And it is the entire reason for the existence of New Orleans record label Bubble Bath Records.
“I was working in various studios, playing guitar and doing some production work, and meeting many of our city’s incredible musicians, in particular younger musicians from NOCCA, who were making original music,” says Bubble Bath Records co-founder John Maestas, who moved to New Orleans from Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2012.
“We had a music scene going, but the bands would sometimes be playing on the same nights in different areas of the city. We decided we needed to connect more, so instead of each artist pushing their thing, we put all the original bands under one umbrella and we push the umbrella. Everyone agreed we could all use a little help and support.”
Maestas longed to serve as his peer group’s support system, and he began working to help his musical comrades and collaborators. Quickly, however, he realized the support system that he hoped to provide also needed its own support system. He decided to assemble a team. “The first person I reached out to was [New Orleans native] Alex Peña,” he remembers. “We started reading all these books on management together, everything you’d need to know about the music business. We even went through my notes from music business class, and that all became the foundation and infrastructure of what would eventually become Bubble Bath Records.”
The duo went on to include Violeta Del Rio from Spain as international head of operations. “Each of us has like three or four bands that we represent. I handle the European bands,” says Del Rio, who also plays keyboards and sings in bilingual Bubble Bath bands Biglemoi and Juan Tigre. “While focusing on international business, I’ve been studying the licensing program, and building relationships overseas in hopes of bringing our bands to Europe next summer. Goal number one is to bring the music out, so that people who are not from here know about the community vibe that Bubble Bath is bringing.”
Del Rio’s cousin Patricia Moscardo, who moved to New Orleans in 2014, became Bubble Bath’s in-house graphic designer and, soon after, Elijah Carroll moved to New Orleans from San Francisco, where he’d spent several years working with indie record labels.
New Orleans native son Max Moran’s progressive funk ensemble Neospectric dropped its debut album in October. “People usually think of New Orleans music as traditional jazz or funk like the Meters, and this label has a little of everything,” attests Moran. “It’s provided a platform and a spotlight for our sort of improvisational fusion—if you want to use that term. And then they put us on bills with great bands like Nebula Rosa, who is kind of a rock band and do not sound like us. But the great thing is they can put us on a roster with any of their bands, and we all have similar tastes and can play together.”
Moran says he is thrilled with the many ways Bubble Bath has freed him up to just worry about being an artist. “It is kind of stress-free; they handle the technical side,” he says.
This music business education bent is an important part of Bubble Bath Records. “We teach our artists what they need to know so that they can succeed and set themselves up for a lifetime career,” says Maestas, who explains that the basic Bubble Bath contract is essentially a distribution, licensing and promotional agreement. But then the label also sends their artists to classes and workshops on these subjects. And while the label does not provide monetary support to their bands, “We do bring this community of 20 artists who support one another,” which means members of the Bubble Bath community get special discounts at some local recording studios, and access to classes in publishing, copywriting and other subjects pertinent to working musicians. “This way, when a major label or some bigger opportunity comes around, they know what they’re getting into,” says Maestas, who admits, “We are the incubator label.”
The five partners are always on the lookout for new bands. Maestas qualifies that his crew is open-minded but also picky: “People send in submissions, and we all decide together what will fit with the catalog of music we have now. Along with this democratic vetting process, we also reach out to bands we’d like to sign on. But we’re all music makers and that’s how we came to it,” Maestas reminds me, “so it’s very important that we have heartfelt relationships with each of the bands on our label.”
Find out more about Bubble Bath Records here.