Matty Steinkamp has been one of the Valley’s driving forces behind uniting its music scene for almost the past decade. The 33-year-old Phoenix resident founded Sundawg Records, which represented bands including What Laura Says, The Wiley One and A Life of Science, a label that was active from 2005-2012. Now, he still helps market bands through his Sundawg Media, whose services include everything from creative concepts to music video direction, and is the marketing director of live music venue Last Exit Live, which opened this past April in central Phoenix. Steinkamp is known for his enthusiasm and love for music, and he’s a trained musician himself, in voice and piano, having performed acoustically and in bands and in a barbershop quartet, having sung everywhere from Japan to California. Steinkamp promises a great mix of local and national music will hit the Last Exit Live stage, and he talked about his view of the local scene, as well as five reasons why he loves living in the Valley, below.
What brought you to Arizona?
I was born and raised here. My grandparents moved out here in the early 1900’s, and my parents and whole family grew up here. I was born in Phoenix, went to North Canyon High School and Paradise Valley Community College and to ministry school before going to Northern Arizona University.
What’s your first memory of being interested in music?
I grew up with music. My grandfather was manager for ABC Radio in Phoenix and wrote music for children’s choruses and started them for a harmony foundation. My father was a music major at ASU and taught music at Marcos de Niza High School and directed ensembles. My mom directed choruses and is in the church choir.
Where did your passion for marketing come from?
I love the Super Bowl. I love football, I love the biggest bands in the world playing at halftime, and I love the commercials in-between. I love being around my family and grilling, and it’s one of the events that makes me the happiest. Images like that relate to advertising and marketing, and I was attracted to what makes people want something.
What was running Sundawg Records like?
Sundawg Records was a very fun adventure for 7 years. It was very pricey, and I think for people who want to start their own record label, maybe they shouldn’t unless they have a million or 500 thousand dollars. The record label side of things needs to support the artists. Otherwise, it becomes very stagnant.
When we had The Wiley One, the very first event we booked for them was the X Games, a huge event you’d think would be the best platform in the world for the band to start on. Then you realize, it’s going to cost you at least $5,000 just to get what the promoters want done. They want a better version of the song, or another music video, or another album, or new pictures, or to fly the band out. We had a great amount of savings to start Sundawg Records, and we had amazing professional advice from everyone from a multiplatinum producer, to other local label owners, who helped us get discounts. The problem is how much money it is to get out of Arizona. Running the business here is inexpensive and easy, but getting the music and running the business in every state in the country so they know about the artist, that’s something I’m now pitching a $50,000 budget for, when I was budgeting $50,000 for a total of 3 years on a band.
What did you learn from having your own record label?
I learned you need a lot of people and a lot of friends in the music business, and you can’t settle or stop. Every experience is a great experience if you make it that way. If I was going to start over now, I would do it again and a lot differently, spending more years developing the company as opposed to the artist. I probably wouldn’t spend any money to start with. I just went to my first South By Southwest, and I have more connections to record labels and TV shows than I’ve ever had. Now I can help bring more bands to Arizona to play at our venue.
Why should people come see music at Last Exit Live?
It’s a very comfortable place. We have high walls on our patio. When you get here, it’s a family culture, where everyone wants to meet you and talk to you. We have a beer and wine liquor license, so everybody is much happier than if they’d be doing shots of Jager. Our sound is also amazing. When people come here, they think it’s going to be a really loud room because it’s small, but it sounds so beautiful and crisp, almost surround sound-ish. Plus, we have great music.
What do you look for when you’re choosing bands to play here?
Really great music. We listen to the music, then check out their marketing and touring efforts. We feature music ranging from country to folk to indie to bluegrass, to rock to reggae to jazz to acoustic to experimental. We’ll do shows with just two local bands, and they’ll play longer sets and sell the show out. The experience is smaller and more intimate than other venues, and the sound is so great, people get the feeling of, “Wow, I’ve never experienced this band like this in town.”
How would you describe the Phoenix music scene?
Growing and amazing. There’s so much quality music in the scene, and we have a group of music enthusiasts around town, and blogs and the radio station and promoters. It didn’t used to be the way that it now is, where we’re all talking to each other and trying to get each other out to each other’s shows now. It’s a very awesome growing community you don’t see in other cities.
How long do you think it’s been buzzing for, and what was the catalyst to get people to start supporting each other?
It probably started around 5 years ago. When Stateside Presents and Lucky Man Concerts started booking big shows together, and when First Fridays in downtown Phoenix started really developing, and The Sail Inn in Tempe opened up, there was this music “thing” going on. Phoenix New Times and local radio stations KWSS and The Edge all helped. When The Edge was changing formats (from independent and local music to Top 40), they focused a lot of their time on trying to help local bands, and I think that boosted bands’ mentalities.
I also think about a year after 9/11, the country made a conscious decision to try to get back on our feet, and I think in those times, people relied on music and art as a release to get away. More people started playing music on their front porches, more people wanted to get out and go dancing, and it’s cheaper to go to music shows than to clubs. I think those things caused a growth and surge.
What do you think still needs to be improved in our music scene?
I don’t know that we’re lacking anything. I think the country and the major companies don’t know about how many quality bands are here. We’re in the “It’s happening” stage. We don’t need help, we need time. We need time for three more venues to open. We need time for Mill Avenue to get its stuff back together. I think it needs major marketing funding. If this was LA, you’d have 25 companies downtown spending $25,000 a day recording and filming things for their companies that need music. We don’t have that kind of metropolis right now, and I think that’s what makes LA, New York and Chicago so powerful. They have companies spending thousands of dollars, which allows those local bands to get their music out to the entire country. Sports entertainment is a major factor in bringing that, and when the Super Bowl comes back to Phoenix (in 2015), you’ll start to see major surges in the music scene. We hosted the Super Bowl recently (in 2008), and that could be a contribution as to why things have improved.
Who is your current favorite local band?
I love KONGOS, but they’re like family to me now. I booked their national tour for their album release, and I think they have some of the most amazing songs, but I also love The Wiley One, who is also like family. Same with Mergence and decker., but I work with all these bands because they’re my favorites.
What are your professional goals?
I want to throw the biggest music festival in the world or get to the point where I’m asked to go help one, such as Coachella or Bonnaroo. I want to have a very successful music venue, which we’re working on right now. I want to have my own TV show and produce shows, and I want to own an island. I want my family to be able to go to the island if they want to.
What advice do you have for someone looking to own their own record label or get into the music promotion business?
Don’t own a record label. Let somebody else spend that money when your artists are big enough. When it comes to music promotion and marketing, find your style. I think people like working with me because of my style, more than what I do or who I am. Learn your trade and what characterizes how you stand out.
Why should people support local music?
It is the heart of America and the heart of the world. There’s no more gratifying thing than saying that your friend made it. When you support local music, you’re supporting these people who could become the Jim Adkin‘s or the Roger Clyne‘s. If you meet those people, they’re amazing. You could become Roger Clyne’s friend and walk up to him at a show, and he will shake your hand and have a shot of tequila with you. You can’t do that with Bono on stage or with The Postal Service and Ben Gibbard. You can’t walk up them and say, “I’ve been listening to your stuff for 20 years.” With local music, you can have that connection with the musicians and tell them, “Your music changed my life,” and they will love you for it.
How is Last Exit Live helping to support the local music scene?
It can be anything you want it to be if you’re an artist or a band. You could have themed shows — we have a masquerade ball tonight — and we’re open to work with you on your idea.