On June 29, 2018, I participated in an open mic showcase at Slim's in San Francisco, California. After my set, I was approached by Mike Glendinning, a fellow guitarist and singer-songwriter I had met whilst performing at the Hotel Utah open mic back in 2013.
Mr. Glendinning told me he was starting a new record label called Zoester Records.
In February of 2019, and again that April, I went to Mr. Glendinning's residence in the East Bay to record some material, including an original song called "Charlie's Gone" and a version of the traditional murder ballad "Betty and Dupree."
Perhaps my naive optimism caused me to overlook that though Mike Glendinning fancied himself the boss of a record label, his equipment consisted of a beat-up old laptop that was on its way out and a pair of headphones with a broken frame that didn't fit my head very well.
Though we were able to achieve a decent rough mix on "Charlie's Gone," Mr. Glendinning cost the project in terms of efficiency by laying out all these ideas he had in terms of producing the content, which weren't necessary, as I was going for a simple recording. During a conversation we had at the Hotel Utah on May 16, 2019, I repeatedly told him that I wanted simple percussion overdubs on Charlie's Gone and that should be that.
However, on May 19, Mr. Glendinning posted a video of himself overdubbing guitar on my track while his young daughter clapped in time to the music, which was absolutely not what I asked for.
The link to the video is below, but there is a possibility that it may be deleted after this report is published.
On May 22, he texted me to keep me in the picture about how the work was progressing:
"I'm doing a rough mix of your s### now. I'm probably going to send 3 versions of it...It's f###ing t**s...Don't quote me on this but you keep writing like this you could end up with a Grammy."
Shortly afterwards, our communication broke down, as shown in the text message correspondence below, which I edited for the benefit of clarity, conciseness, and to protect the privacy of the innocent and the guilty.
May 24, 2019
Mike Glendinning: How about Dynamics (sic). I'd really like to see you put more effort into dynamics on songs
James Conrad: In my own time.
MG: I don't care but it really need (sic) some type of element of surprise
JC: Let me decide what the songs need
May 25, 2019
MG: I think maybe you should go ahead and find other ways to record. I'll put the quality MP3's up on the digital distribution. I produced Charlie's gone (sic) so that will be released as soon as possible. I urge you to get onto if filling out an SR form from the library of Congress.
JC: Well, I still want to do some electric tracks after June 1. That way we can add drums and do vocals later.
Also, maybe I should have been clearer about my vision. I'm not necessarily interested in making Star Wars for the ears. I just want an honest capture of my songs.
MG: Star Wars for ears? Okay, I'm not going to explain this to you again. You need another place to make your recordings. I'm hear working on yours right now. I spent a lot of time on it, it's mostly my fault because I let you keep an eye on some details that any good musician mastered and now I'm dealing with trimming issues not to mention intonation. So don't insult my good will and intentions James.
JC: I am not insulting anyone's good will and intentions.
MG: I'm just going to strip it and release it your way.
JC: Well, have you sent me anything?
I am still awaiting mixes.
And again. I don't mean to insult or indict you or your skills, intentions or anything like that.
It's just that the approach I intend to take is more minimalist than you might have accustomed yourself too.
MG: Record it for someone else. You already call me recording music the bottom of the barrel. Yeah dude you haven't heard the mixes yet because I was trying to make them really good.
I don't work well with people that I make the slightest suggestions to and it's followed with "I'll decide what the song needs" um, you want me to promote it on my label maybe you should be open for suggestions. Just saying
JC: I didn't call you bottom of the barrel.
I don't know where that came from.
It's just that if I am writing songs, I don't want to be told what to write or how.
And I am open to suggestions. That doesn't necessarily mean I will take them. Moreover, I don't want to be molded in anyone else's image. I simply am me.
MG: First off not tell you how to write. I'm telling you how to not make it suck. I've been dealing with people long enough to know what keep s### captivated. Would you experiment I'm gonna take your song I'm gonna put on YouTube under a different name under a different artist. And I'll put it on the net and will see how long people listen to it. Will that help make my point. And you did call my s### the bottom of the barrel dude
JC: When did I call it that?
Also, to be sure, did you start this label to help artists reach a wider audience or to have them sound more like you?
Moreover, I must admit that I am frustrated that I expressed very specific ideas about the song we cut no less than three times, and from what I see, these ideas were ignored.
Which leads me to the question: is this supposed to be a James Conrad album or a Mike Glendinning album?
MG: This is what I'm going to do. I am going to take the demos that we already did and I'm gonna have a bunch of blues people listen to them and see what their comments are and then I will give them back to you. Is that cool with you? You're missing the bigger picture or you don't give a s### about the bigger picture here James. You are not only representing a label that I run but also the artist that are on it. I spent 10 hours a day on this label. Trying to make sure that everyone gets their name out there and they're out there the best I can get them out there. If you cannot meet me halfway this is not your thing. Play guarantee you go out to get another label you're a be more pissed it's gonna be more down on you.
JC: Here are my terms.
I will consider your suggestions, but if I don't have the right to say no, then it isn't a suggestion
Second, if I have specific ideas about how these songs are done, we hew to these ideas. There is no reason to make more work for you or for me. It's blues. Not brain surgery.
MG: You have to meet me half way
I'm not asking for much
JC: Neither am I
MG: Let's look are what you put on the net. Did you get feedback from that?
JC: Hell, I even suggested working electric on the next batch of songs to make overdubs, especially vocal overdubs, easier. Less bleed-through.
MG: Let's talk in a few days.
May 26, 2019
MG: You do what you want. I have to run this label. You go right ahead and record them anyway you want.
JC: Still want to get together next week and cut some electric backing tracks?
MG: What I'll do is help you view your options on doing it on your own. Show you hacks that I know.
But why don't you want to do the recording?
MG: I don't want to argue any longer. I have to turn some kind of profit and that takes time. And my personal life isn't all that great right now.
JC: Well, to be fair, it's funny you say that, because you started the argument, as opposed to listening to me about what I wanted for *MY* songs.
MG: I was throwing ideas out. I wasn't starting an argument. You want things a certain way and I don't feel like arguing.
JC: And I certainly didn't feel like arguing. Then again, I didn't feel like having my instructions for my song be disregarded.
MG: What do you want me to do?
I know you told me.
Okay come after June first and record another song.
JC: For Charlie's Gone, simple percussion played on beats 2 & 4 of every measure.
MG: I've done that already
I feel like I'm not being listened too here (sic).
Janes please don't make this An unpleasant experience (sic)
JC: It won't be as long as I have the final say in terms of how my songs are arranged.
MG: Let me ask you somethings. How much money you think your going to bring into the label with what you are demanding? How many people came out and saw you at a gig recently? What have you done to promote (redacted, band name removed). I keep a close eye on numbers with every band. How much are you responsible for that bands numbers?
JC: I definitely plug (redacted, band name removed) on Facebook when I can.
MG: And how much is that? And what have you done for the label as a whole?
JC: I did run the playlist to get us hours of listens.
MG: You pressed repeat on Spotify?
JC: I don't believe I did, but I do remember the playlist still running when I woke up.
MG: I'll tell you what! Because I'm over here busting my balls for free right now with no pay at all (in the hole from this right now not to mention money I have invested into promotions for your video) I'm going to take s look at everything with this band that you and Ryan share. When I get back you tell me what part of your numbers (that are very small) you have contributed to.
JC: I have the playlist on shuffle, generally. It's the only option I get.
MG: That did not bring in fans. That brought us a little royalties. And it wasn't every night. I don't recall it being a full weeks worth. Nothing close so I can pay the bills to sustain this label. Do you understand where I'm going with this?
JC: Do you understand that I didn't twist your arm and make you establish this label?
And I understood you didn't want to argue anymore. What happened to that?
MG: I have let people go for making demands, not giving a s### about the label as a whole and hasn't made...... wow! I don't think Zoester is the best choice for you James.
You just text that your not twisting my arm. I'm inviting you to resign
JC: First of all, I don't know what unreasonable demands I have made.
Please tell me. I'm all ears.
MG: Now your all ears. I need some time James.
JC: Meanwhile, you didn't send me any mixes after the last time you said you would.
MG: I don't think I like working with you. I'll tell you what, I'll give them to you as a friendly gesture.
JC: That is not what I asked.
And what unreasonable demands have I made?
MG: I'm going to review everything right now and that means taking me away from doing s### for the label as a whole
I can tell right now I'm not going to like working with you after the way you are communicating with me.
JC: I'm listening...
MG: You might want to think if you want to be on this label and if you do if your going to promote your music and it worth while dealing with this stress. As for twisting my arm, you might think it's best with your original idea that you told me last Halloween.
JC: Which was?
MG: You need to remember that s###. He (sic) just kept going on and on and on about it interrupting me when I was discussing s### you should remember exactly what you said. No I'm a go check those numbers out (sic).
JC: He who?
And you still haven't told me what my unreasonable demands were.
All you have been doing this whole discussion has been galloping from one topic to the next and blaming me for something in between.
I mean, yeah, I got a bit snippy with you for giving me unsolicited advice about MY work. But wouldn't you have?
JC: What's the problem?
MG: I'm not even going to waist any note time with this (sic). You want me to delete your track or you want to pay me (sic). I'm not working with you.
JC: What is going on here?
I am confused
Anyway, I have dirt on you that could possibly screw up your cushion if a certain person heard it, so let's figure out a way forward, huh?
MG: Excuse me
JC: You read right.
MG: What dirt James (sic)
JC: "You want a shot of Jim Beam? Don't tell (redacted, name removed to protect person's privacy)."
See, I'm not going to stand for any power trips. I'm not going to stand for my intellectual property being held to ransom. I'm not going to stand for any bulls###.
MG: Tell her.
I'll tell her for you.
I welcome you into my home and you pull that s###?
JC: Well, you're pulling some s### on me. A fair exchange is no robbery.
Maybe I should have responded more gracefully to your unsolicited advice. I'll grant that.
MG: I'll keep s### to myself. I'm not dropping s###.
JC: Well, you know, ever since you invited me to join this label, I just wanted to do my job, and lately, you have gone out of your way to make it difficult for me.
Am I wrong?
MG: But it's honor among thieves James.
I'm saying honor among thieves and that where I'm leaving it with you
JC: You are not holding my intellectual property to ransom over petty s###.
I'm not having that.
MG: Okay, I'll give you your s### out of good Will how's that (sic).
JC: I cannot believe that all this is because you got butthurt that I had the balls to snap back at you with good reason. What a bunch of unnecessary bulls###.
MG: No problem. I'll send the raw files to you as long as no hard feelings and I don't catch wind your talking shot (sic)
I was about to apologize and then you threatened me. No, no hard feeling James? (sic)
I'll have your raw files to you as soon as my computer is up? (sic)
JC: If we squash it, let's work together again soon, but just remember it's a James Conrad album, not a Mike Glendinning album.
MG: Do you always go to peoples houses who are trying to help you out and try to blackmail them? I hope not. It's all under the bridge huh James. (sic)
I don't work with people who threaten me James.
JC: Giving me unsolicited advice is not helping me out.
MG: Recording you on my dime was. Now honor amount thieves right James? (sic)
Though no money was exchanged between myself and Mr. Glendinning, the whole endeavor turned out to be a waste of time and BART fare between downtown San Francisco and El Cerrito, California, which costs nearly ten dollars round trip. There is no way I will ever get any of that back.
Moreover, I feel particularly underserved as a client. Mr. Glendinning, reckoning himself a Quincy Jones/Berry Gordy-type character, ignored my ideas about how I wanted to record my song and constantly told me my material wouldn't get any traction online because "it needs dynamics/element of surprise, 'Betty And Dupree' is too long," etc. He also more or less claimed that because he was spending the dollars per kilowatt hour to run a laptop, he had the right to dictate to me how I write and record my songs. This leaves me with the impression that he viewed Zoester Records as a vehicle for his ambitions as a producer and nothing more at the expense of the creative control that I deserved to have over my intellectual property. Unsurprisingly, I have still not yet received any audio files of the tracks I have recorded.
Ironically, two people who also left the label due to differences with Mr. Glendinning told me that he had had the same sort of problem while working with a producer many years prior.
In the end, I was pushed off the label, but that's probably for the best. Zoester Records is an unmitigated s###show of a scam.