Jonathan Lee Gonzales
With more than a dozen bands already signed to the label, the Texas A&M junior has found success through his untraditional approach to music business.
By August Wright, College of Charleston
You wouldn’t expect a student of graphic design to also be the owner of a record label, but that’s just everyday life for Jonathan Lee Gonzales, a junior at Texas A&M, College Station.
Between his classes, his job in IT and his internship at C3 Presents—an event production and concert promotion company—you have to wonder where Gonzales finds the time to run his own label. If you ask him, the answer is likely to be a combination of pure determination, stellar friends, an extremely supportive girlfriend and, of course, just a dash of luck.
The Label’s Humble Beginning
The inception of Sunday Drive Records began when Gonzales was just a high school student in San Antonio. At 14-years-old, he knew he wanted to one day have his own record label, a desire that he attributes to his love of emo, punk, hardcore and alternative rock, as well as his background as a musician. Already a drummer in a band himself, Gonzales understood early on the numerous obstacles that musicians face as they fight to get noticed.
After graduating from high school, Gonzales decided to attend Texas A&M to pursue a degree in Visualization, a choice that required him to move from his home in San Antonio to College Station (about three hours away). Because his band mates were going down their own paths, the band took a brief reprieve.
Focused on his first year at college, the creation of the record label was placed on hold, but Gonzales’ passion for it never died. During his freshman year, he came across an article about Jeff Casazza, who began Run for Cover Records from his college dorm, and turned it into a successful label. Having confirmation through Casazza that a record label could successfully operate from the space of a dorm—or apartment—Gonzales knew it was time to create and brand his label.
In May 2015, Sunday Drive Records was born.
The Early Success of Sunday Drive Records
Frontage was the first band Sunday Drive Records signed and, since then, the label has acquired 14 more bands, and has just released their 21st record—all in only a little over a year.
When asked how he came to sign Frontage, Gonzales cites the network of musicians and bands he became acquainted with during his days as a drummer. He also gives credit to his friends and band mates, who helped him find other bands and build his list of contacts.
While Gonzales still seeks out bands—usually using the bands he’s signed to find other talent—many musicians come to him and his label for a chance at being signed. Sunday Drive cannot take everyone, but Gonzales takes as many as he and his handful of dedicated volunteers can handle.
Although their operation is small and their funds are limited, Gonzales spoke with excitement about the 2016 Sunday Drive Summer Showcase. The pop-up—which he intends to make an annual event—provided the label and all its signees the opportunity to show off their hard work. Gonzales attributes part of the showcase’s success to the exclusive merchandise he created, such as the compilation cassette tape, which features songs from bands both on and off the label.
In addition to the Summer Showcase, Gonzales hopes to do more pop-ups in the future. He expressed his sincere appreciation and deep gratitude for his close friends and band mates, Jacob, Garrett and Junior. Working the San Antonio scene while Gonzales is away at school, the trio has held pop-ups for the label, and their continued effort has allowed the label to expand the its reach. While his friends are taking care of business in San Antonio, Gonzales has been able to travel to Houston and Austin to hold separate pop-up events.
With an eye for professionalism and a mind for business, Gonzales is probably the most honest businessman a musician could ever hope to cross paths with. Aside from offering free graphic design work for the bands that are signed to his label, Gonzales also strives to pay his musicians as much as he can for their art. Because Sunday Drive operates with limited funds, their current method of operation is a bit like bartering.
Bands that sign with Sunday Drive Records don’t have to pay for the release of the physical copies of their music. Instead, the company covers the cost of producing the cassettes and vinyl. From there, the band receives 20 percent of the physical copies to sell for however much on whatever platform. The record company sells the other 80 percent through their website, sundaydrive-records.com, and each entity keeps their sales separate.
Because Gonzales wants to put more money in the pockets of his musicians, his record label doesn’t—and won’t—take a percentage from the band’s digital music sales. In Gonzales’ own words, “I don’t own the music, so I don’t want to take the money for it.”
His attitude about money extends beyond his musicians, too. A strong advocate against hate, Gonzales believes in using his label for charitable work. Right after the election, he began a fundraising campaign, currently on-going, to raise money for the charity KIND (Kids in Need of Defense). The bands associated with Gonzales’ label also have a similar mindset, which, in his opinion, makes their philanthropic work possible.
Plans for the Future
Because he’s a student with other responsibilities outside of the label, Gonzales cites time management as one of his biggest problems. Between running the label’s social media accounts, finding new musicians and promoting the current bands, setting up pop-up events and doing graphic design work (both freelance and for his signees), Gonzales is busier during his summer and winter breaks than when he’s at school.
However, knowing he has limited time during the school year inspires him to do as much as he possibly can during his breaks. Next summer, Gonzales is hoping to expand the Sunday Drive Showcase. He wants to get a larger venue for it, and he also wants it to be the kick-off to the Sunday Drive tour.
It’s a tentative plan, but it’s a plan centered around what’s best for his musicians. Not every band is based in Texas, and Gonzales wants the tour to act as a showcase for those non-Texas-based bands. His hope is to have the tour travel throughout the country and pick up bands along the way. In each band’s home city, the group will have a chance to promote themselves through a showcase like the one the label hosts in San Antonio.
For Gonzales, the purpose of the label is to promote its musicians since, without them, the label wouldn’t be able to sustain itself. His plans for the future—tour dates, more pop-up events, charity work and building each band’s fan base—are centered on furthering the success of his musicians. Favoring the bands and artistic creativity over raking in cash for the label, Gonzales is on a fruitful path that’s sure to draw more talent to Sunday Drive Records.
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