Melvin Dillon (E&H ’06) is a musician himself, and used to play at venues in the Emory area while a student to make a little extra money. But as he got to know the industry, there were things that bothered him about the business of music. Says Melvin, “Soul Step Records is known because of our unwillingness to do business that serves our bottom line. We do everything in service to our artists. I think that’s why we’ve grown in such a short time.”
According to the Soul Step Records website, Melvin’s goal was simple; he wanted to give artists the ability to make vinyl records (so that music can be “listened to the way music should be…”). The thing that sets him apart from other music companies is that Soul Step pays all the upfront costs, and then profits are split evenly between the company and the band. “Our number one goal with each release is to have enough to fund another record. I have yet to take a dime from sales; every profit for Soul Step goes back into building up for another release. …Our relationship with our artists is paramount to us.”
And his good intentions are resulting in good business.
One of his current artist/clients is starring in Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway, and most of the music he is recording is currently featured in TV and film. Another client is Holy Ghost Tent Revival, and he says getting to know them years ago, and seeing the struggles they had with traditional means of recording, served as much of the inspiration for his company.
Because he loves the artist aspect of the music business it allows him some great opportunities, including the fact that with each release they do 100 vinyl records in a special color – while the rest of the run is in the traditional black vinyl. One album garnered particularly interesting success with the cover art. “When I was releasing my third album, Matt Duncan’s Soft Times I saw the artwork that was done by Robert Beatty. It was this psych-tarot card freaky artwork. Truly beautiful …After seeing the tarot card artwork - I went to the pressing plant I was using and said I wanted to put a tarot card INSIDE the record. After much trial and error, and even going as far as accidentally setting a pressing machine on fire, we were able to conjure a way to make this happen. The results were stunning and we had mentions from tons of music and vinyl publications. These 100 records we made for that project will pop up on eBay – typically going over a hundred dollars. Crazy.”
Melvin says his time at E&H helped prepare him for a business model that breaks the mold. “The big keyword is service. It’s hard to be a student of Emory and not have service of others instilled into you. The heart of this company is service. I think that Emory helps you understand the value in giving back. Many of my fellow alumni who are in position to do so find some way to give back. It’s something that I’m proud of. I’ve been very fortunate to find a job with a phenomenal company that puts me in the position to do this. I feel that it’s my duty to find a way to give back. I’m happy that Soul Step fills that need.”
Melvin spends only part of his week with Soul Step, and is also a manager for Apple Computer.