Major Victory for Indie

How a little label and a little-known emo band hit the Top Ten

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Who are Taking Back Sunday, and how the hell did they manage to sell 260,000 albums in three weeks, without any major-label support? Behind the success of the punk-pop band's second album, Where You Want to Be -- which debuted at Number Three earlier this month and remains in the Top Thirty -- is tiny Victory Records, an independent that has found big success championing music that the majors miss.

"We're like Castro when he had the revolution," says Tony Brummel, 33, who launched the punk label in his Chicago apartment in 1993. "He was in the mountains fighting with sticks, and he won! He may not be the most liked guy in the world, but people are loyal to him."

Victory employs just thirty-two full-time staffers and has a roster of twenty bands, all of whom Brummel personally signed. Punk-metal act Atreyu recently landed in the Top Forty with their second album, The Curse, despite little video or radio airplay.

A grass-roots marketing plan, combining heavy investment in touring with volunteer street teams who pass out fliers and sampler CDs, has paid off. "Tony is a great business dude," says Taking Back Sunday lead singer Adam Lazzara. "The way the label gets so many copies of the albums into stores is unheard of in the indie world."

Alan Becker, an executive at Victory's longtime distributor RED Distribution, points to the label's willingness to promote albums for years as the key to its success. "Tony's relentless," Becker says. "He worked with us on the first Hatebreed record for four years. He worked closely with retail, made new videos, kept the band on the road. And they were selling better four years later. Same thing with Taking Back Sunday. He worked their first record for two years."

Brummel's cost-effective ways and aggressive business strategies have earned him detractors. Some of his biggest artists, including Hatebreed and New Jersey hardcore act Thursday, have left the label with less than kind words for him. Nonetheless, several majors have reportedly attempted to buy Victory. "Tony knows how to build brands," says Warner Music Group chairman Lyor Cohen, who was running Island Def Jam when that label picked up Thursday. "His hard-charging indie attitude is something I admire."

Victory actually sold a twenty-five percent equity stake to MCA/Universal in 2002, but less than a year later Brummel canceled the deal and returned the money. "When you're in bed with someone, you learn some things you don't like," he says. "Like that I'm not a fucking team player."