The magazine scribes and middle managers who've accused the millennial generation of being lazy have never met John Kruse, founder of Mine All Mine Records. The fifth-year UW-Madison student started the label in 2006, as a high school student, adding a band, a radio show and a double major as the basement project grew into a global enterprise.
The band is local synth-pop outfit Pushmi-Pullyu, the radio show is WSUM's Saturday-night staple "Bridges and Balloons" and the majors are linguistics and Scandinavian studies. Kruse is even considering grad school in Iceland so he can study Scandinavian linguistics in its natural habitat. This isn't the garden-variety sports-and-student-council success formula, but it's proof that Kruse knows how to make things happen.
The funny thing is, Mine All Mine didn't begin with a business plan, or even an entrepreneurial impulse.
"At first, it was just a name to put on my own self-released music, so it really was 'mine, all mine,'" Kruse says. "After that, I started contacting other artists about releasing and rereleasing their stuff online for free."
Kruse says the concept of releasing music this way came from other labels he liked, but it wasn't until he moved to Madison from Oconto Falls, Wis., that the idea became a reality. The university's immense social network introduced numerous possibilities for local collaborators, and Kruse quickly found a partner in roommate and bandmate Corey Murphy, who's helped the label's local artists organize shows at housing co-ops and the Frequency.
Activities that might seem frivolous to an outsider became business tasks for the pair. Listening to mp3s wasn't just for entertainment, and scouring MySpace between classes became purposeful, not procrastination.
"I'd find one artist who was interested in doing it, then go through all of their friends on MySpace," Kruse recalls. "It really worked."
Tovarisch!, a one-man project from Scotland, was the first to sign on. Meanwhile, friends near and far sent Kruse their songs, and then friends of these friends would get in touch. Before long, the team had built a roster of 75 musicians, including Germany's Given Willingly, England's Wild Dogs in Winter, and Australia's Electric Sea Spider.
Partnering with Mine All Mine gives international artists more exposure in the United States, while having a global reach helps the label attract a diverse and innovative pool of talent. About 15 of these artists regularly release albums through the label and its website - mamrecords.com - and the Mine All Mine team unveils one of these tuneful treats there each Tuesday.
Though the offerings are hardly "mine, all mine" to Kruse anymore, the label's moniker has taken on a new meaning as its list of artists has grown.
"You can go on the site and download things for free, and it's all yours. Yours, all yours," says Murphy, a music education major who fronts local electronic music project K. Wilhelm and hip-hop group Fambly Fun.
Of course, there are many musicians whose songs don't immediately strike a chord with Kruse. That's just one reason it pays to have Murphy as a sidekick: He talks Kruse into giving some good albums a second chance.
What doesn't pay is the give-it-away-for-free model, as it is practiced elsewhere on the Internet. Many times, an mp3 that's free for the downloader is anything but for the artist. Kruse has become frustrated with the popular music-sharing site Bandcamp.com - Mine All Mine shares tunes there as well as on its own website - for this very reason.
"Bandcamp doesn't have ads, so it's hard for them to make money. They've decided they should have their users pay, but it's the artists, not the people who download, who have to do it," Kruse explains. "If an artist wants to be able to have people download their music for free, Bandcamp now wants to take a cut, like three cents per download. That doesn't seem like a lot, but it can easily end up being $75 a month to provide 'free' downloads."
While the Mine All Mine crew isn't ditching Bandcamp entirely, they're using the service more sparingly. They're also contemplating adding paid downloads alongside the free ones to help their most loyal and popular artists - including their own bands - make some cash and build their careers.
"We have accumulated a jar of change so far," Kruse says. "But more often than not, it's for tipping the pizza guy."