Like many other blogs and web sites on the internet, I wrote about the sudden closing of Miles of Music with a tone of sadness. As I said at the time, I always felt better about myself after buying cds from M.O.M. and had even grown to view their notoriously slow shipping as an endearing trait. As many posts on ninebullets tend to do, my eulogy to M.O.M. slid off the front page with little more than a few other people chiming in to express their sadness about the closing. Then a week or so after the initial posting a funny thing started to happen. Bands started commenting on the post and, like me, they weren’t too happy about M.O.M.’s closing but, unlike me, they weren’t exactly mourning it. Then as a week turned into a couple of weeks, and then into a month, the comments and emails went from a slight trickle to an unignorable stream. It finally became apparent to me that M.O.M.’s business practices as of late may not have all been above board and that there was definitely an underside to this story that nobody was telling. With that in mind I took it upon myself to start talking to these artists with the intent of telling their story. As the stories started to file in I started feeling worse and worse about having ever spent any money at Miles of Music and started to feel as angry as these bands I was talking to. Wanting answers, I did some basic internet sleuthing to uncover Jeff’s (Mile of Music’s founder) email address and reached out to him. To Jeff’s defense, he was quick to respond and very up front about what happened with Miles of Music from its inception all the way up to its sudden closing. As we continued to exchange emails my anger gave way to understanding.
Did Jeff make some mistakes? Yes. Are the bands catching it in the ass? Yes. Was this Jeff’s intent? No. Is he laughing all the way to the bank? Pretty much the exact opposite.
I am writing what follows in an effort to help the bands and artists who were doing business with M.O.M. get some answers and maybe find some closure in whole deal. Miles of Music’s reputation is gonna be soured forever, and it’s probably rightfully so, but it’s not for lack of effort or good intentions.
When Miles closed I didn’t even think about the fact that it had boxes and boxes of cds in inventory that bands had mailed to them, nor did it occur to me that right up until the week the site was shuttered it was taking orders (and, as a result, payments), so there was a lot of money owed artists and labels. What was happening with all of this? I think Evan from The Whipsaws and E.S.P. summed it up pretty well:
“miles of music owes us over $3000. over the last year they told us they were either sending us checks (that we never received), or that they would be sending us checks soon. Meanwhile, they continued to sell our records, and lots of them.
For me, the kicker is that 2 weeks before miles of music folded, they sold 50+ Easton Stagger phillips records. I believe that they never intended to pay us for these…”
This was a running theme in emails I was receiving and I started wondering if M.O.M. had settled up with the labels he dealt with prior to closing and was just leaving the solo artists out to dry, so I email Virgil from Suburban Home. Turns out it was a universal abandonment. Nobody, be it artist or label, had gotten paid, nor had they received any indication that the site was closing. In all actuality, in the weeks leading up to the closure it all looked like it was business as usual as the folks over at WeeWerk told me in an email:
“Aside from not paying us one red cent for 3 consignment orders – Jeff had the gall to ask me for a bunch of our new releases for consideration…why would someone do that if they were going out of business?”
That’s a fair question and even though I ultimately got an answer, I do feel that Jeff was a little reckless in this point. A lot of these artists are sinking everything they have into getting these cds pressed. Losing a couple hundred is gonna sting a lot deeper than finding your cd on SoulSeek, so while I understand the events leading up to the closing, I do think Jeff could have been a little more sensitive in the final months of the site to the bleeding edge some of these artists live on.
The funniest thing about the whole deal was how willing the bulk of the artists are to forgive or forget and move on, they just wanted some form of an explanation. One came in the form of a blog entry from Jeff, but it was quickly deleted (lucky for us Google cached it). This silence was the real source of most of my respondents’ anger. I think Steve Robinson‘s comments summed up the general consensus from the artists stuck in the M.O.M. limbo:
“What gets me about the whole charade is the silence. If I’d have gotten an apology with a simple “we’re busted and can’t pay anyone” I’d be happier. At least then I could’ve put it behind me.”
It was this sentence that prompted me to try and track Jeff down. What follows is an overview of a series of emails we exchanged about the situation.
AN EXPLANATION (OF SORTS)
Why Jeff chose to respond to me instead of any of the (I’ll assume) mountain of emails he was/is getting from confused and angry artists is beyond me. I’d like to think that the power of ninebullets.net prompted him to tell his version of the story to me rather than letting me paint him and M.O.M. from the point of view of the jilted artists. Regardless of why he decided to reply to me, the point is that he did.
When I first reached out to the email address I had tracked down, I just mentioned that I was putting together a story about the M.O.M. closing and its affect on the artists and that I’d like to get his side of the story. About an hour later I got the following in a reply:
“I’ll be glad to tell you my side of the story but, it is little more than a case of a company that lived on thin margins, gave a it everything we had and then failed from a combo of business choices that didn’t work out, an industry segment that has been collapsing for years and, finally, an economy that has been in slow collapse for some time…
…Everyone will be getting official paperwork from our attorney as we sort through the process. That won’t happen until after the first of the year at the earliest.”
Okay! I’d found him and he was responsive! So I sent him the Steve Robinson quote from above and asked him if the artists would be getting their products back. He replied:
“The objective is to send back as much product directly to the bands as possible until I am told by my attorney to knock it off.
Not only did the business go broke, but we personally went broke and will be losing our home as part of the bankruptcy. I tell you this not for sympathy, but more as an explanation as to why my response and efforts have not been totally focused on returning box-lots of CDs to bands.”
This reply kind of got to me. Up until now I felt like Jeff had fucked the bands and deceived me, the customer, but in one sentence I was reminded that there was another side to this. It had not occurred to me that M.O.M. really was a business and as with businesses in the regular world, when they fail there are real costs that have to be paid by the employees and owners of said business. Your home and fiscal solvency are a lot to lose for a cd shop, but there were still some questions to be answered so I sent him the following:
“1) Could bands pay to have their product shipped back to them?
2) Why did you remove the post you originally put up on blogspot?”
I mean, I know paying to have product returned after you paid to have it sent there is a real bummer, but it’s better than losing it, right? Jeff’s reply came about 10 minutes later:
“Bands could certainly pay the freight to get their stuff back. Typically it is not expensive.
I took down the post because I wanted to rewrite it with a more rounded explanation of what was going on. The draft has info for customers who are looking for other places to make purchases. For whatever reason on that day blogspot was giving me an error message about illegal characters in the URLs in the links to other retailers. Had to put it aside for other matters and haven’t gotten back around to it yet.”
Personally, I think this was a gross oversight by Jeff. The artists were/are owed an explanation, and while everyone will be getting official paperwork from the M.O.M. lawyers at some point in 2009, a brief explanation, regardless of how poorly worded, could have gone a long way towards preserving some of the good will M.O.M. had built up over the years.
The only thing that was still nagging at me after these exchanges was, why continue to ask for product? The writing had to have been on the wall. Was it that M.O.M. lived so close to the edge that they just continually expected to find a way to make it another week? So, I asked Jeff:
“There seems to be a reoccurring theme about you asking for product right up to shuttering the site. I would imagine you could see the writing on the wall. Were you just hoping something would break before you had to?”
What I received as a reply was far more than I had asked and in the interest of fairness I am gonna repost it here in its entirety:
“We lived on the edge for a very long time. We started with no capitalization 14 years ago, managed to grow the business from sales, pouring most of the revenue back into the business. Several times over the life of the business I used personal lines of credit to either finance an expansion (moving out of my first house and into a real warehouse, an office network, a new warehouse when the previous landlord sold the building from under us (we had a one year lease because we didn’t know how the business would do after moving from the inexpensive confines of the house to a “real” location), a new network when we took on fulfillment for several large labels etc. I had no clue how to finance debt.
Then the slow decline of the industry started. Business began to contract. Labels we had engaged to do fulfillment began closing or taking the work in-house. I started laying off employees (or not filling vacancies). Things stabilized for awhile.
In 2006 I decided to close the warehouse and move our fulfillment to a company in Illinois. The theory was that even with their fee structure I would save so much by closing the warehouse, laying off the rest of the staff, save one person, and again running the sales and marketing out of my home we would have a real chance to start catching up on debt.
We shipped everything we had to them at the beginning of 2007. The company in Illinois did a dreadful job chasing away dozens of longtime regulars. Despite having a three year deal with them we terminated the contract after 10 months and got back all of our stock.
My remaining employee and I struggled to get thousands of CDs put away (in my garage) so we could go back to work. More customers left. Christmas was, not surprisingly, underwhelming.
I poured yet more of my personal equity into the company to prop it up in an attempt to level.
We spent a good portion of early 2008 making money and sending out chunks to bands. make money, send it out.
Sales began to to stabilize in 2008. I had a sense of what was left of our customer base and what we could reasonably expect in sales. Then the economy went in the tank. Orders, except from the most hard-core, dried up. Incoming revenue plummeted.
To answer Evan’s comments, up until the economy sucked whatever life was left out of the company we had a reasonable expectation that we could make good on debt. It would be a slow recovery but the goal was there.
When the market crashed, vendors tightened credit, including my home equity line. I no longer had any means to prop up the company.
The closing happened in a very short period. I checked my sources for further investment into the company and they were all tapped. We had no cash. We had to close.
Over the years I had always managed to pull some rabbit out of my hat (or find a line of credit to tap), This time there was nothing.
I am sorry anyone lost money on this.”
I hope this serves as some form of closure for the artists who’ve been stuck in limbo wondering what happened and never got a response to any of the emails sent to Jeff. I still don’t understand why he’d elect not to reply to you, but I do think what he told me is true. I also think he put everything he had into M.O.M. and really did shutter the site when there was just nothing left to do. That said, I think he owes y’all your product. I also think there were plenty of errors made and that the blame falls fully on Jeff’s shoulders. I also think he’d say the same thing.
I guess that in the end I see both sides of this and I feel badly for both. In the end, the closing of M.O.M. and the resulting fallout is one big bag of suck for everyone involved. Other than that I have no other answers, nor do I really think there are any.
See y’all on Tuesday.