1 January, 2018Print
Meet David Haerle: Vitamin String Quartet's Founder & CMH Label Group President
In September 1990, David Haerle, then 24, faced a difficult choice. He could continue pursuing his career as a talent agent at International Creative Management, or take over CMH Records, the bluegrass and traditional country record label co-founded by his late father, Martin Haerle.
Martin, a German immigrant, had a lifelong passion for the uniquely American art of country and bluegrass music. Together with Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith he founded CMH in 1975 and recorded such legendary artists as The Osborne Brothers, Mac Wiseman, Lester Flatt, Merle Travis, Don Reno, Jim and Jesse, and Joe Maphis. Despite the quality of the label’s catalog of recordings, the company had been struggling in recent years. Between that and Martin’s sudden passing, reviving CMH would be a tough, risky challenge.
Raised in Los Angeles, David had links to country and bluegrass music on both sides of the family. His mother’s parents were owners of radio stations in the American South. This included WENO, the first full-time country music station in Nashville, Tennessee, which they started and co-owned with partner Cal Young.
David felt the calling. He decided to leave his coveted job at ICM and run with the family baton. Twenty-eight years later, CMH, now known as the CMH Label Group, is a multi-faceted company with an extensive catalog of recordings and a variety of individual brands and music series, all developed in-house, expanding far beyond what the label looked like in 1990.
His early days at CMH were tough. Even with his background, David and his small team faced a steep learning curve. In addition to taking on the leadership role and remaining true to the label’s vision, the nuts and bolts of running the company demanded immediate attention. Royalty systems needed to be computerized, debts settled, supplier bills kept current. More than anything, the label needed to become profitable again, and new products had to be brought to market.
Drawing from the wealth of recordings from CMH’s vault, David began re-issuing 15 years of LPs on CD. He and his team then began to expand their catalog by tapping into its rich bluegrass legacy creating the highly popular Pickin’ On Series. The series showcases ace bluegrass musicians performing the music of popular artists such as Metallica, The Beatles, The Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana and Modest Mouse, and has garnered combined sales, downloads and streams in the multi-millions.
As CMH enjoyed its hard-won success, a new phase began to expand and diversify the catalog. In 1999, Haerle and his then business partner John Lindland started Vitamin Records, a new label featuring imaginative tributes to some of the biggest artists in pop and rock history. Vitamin String Quartet became one of the label’s most successful brands winning over music fans by fusing the quartet’s virtuoso technique with the hits of Radiohead, Kanye West, Sigur Rós, Daft Punk, Adele, and many more. To date, VSQ has released more than 300 titles, developing a massive fan base. It has garnered critical buzz and Billboard chartings, while attaining more than 500 million streams, 3.8 million downloads, and sales of over 1 million physical units. The quartet expanded into live music with concerts in major markets, digital streaming shows, and special events.
In 2006, as the traditional music retail model was breaking down, CMH launched Rockabye Baby! an award-winning instrumental lullaby series that makes rock music baby-friendly and kids music adult-friendly. Conceived by CMH Vice President and Creative Director Lisa Roth and former CMH Art Director Valerie Aiello, the series consists of more than 85 releases to date, including lullaby renditions of Bob Marley, U2, The Beatles, Coldplay, Adele and Beyoncé. Overseen by Ms. Roth, CMH brought Rockabye Baby! to baby boutiques, specialty chains and digital retail with over 1.8 million CDs sold and over 450 million streams. The series appeals to parents, both moms and dads, with music they can enjoy along with their newborns. Rockabye Baby! is revolutionary yet reverential and has given CMH their greatest success to date.
Beyond its successful brands, CMH has released albums and projects by/featuring some of the most legendary artists in pop music. These artists include rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson, underground hip-hop icon Kool Keith, alternative rock godfathers Violent Femmes, hugely influential Parliament/Funkadelic founding member Bernie Worrell, Western Swing fiddle pioneer Johnny Gimble, and the legendary original lead singer of Van Halen, David Lee Roth. Special guests on CMH albums have included Johnny Cash, Elvis Costello, The Cramps, Willie Nelson, Vince Gill and Merle Haggard.
The key to CMH’s success is the creativity of its staff and its willingness to experiment. What began as a small family business has become a significant sized record company. CMH remains independent, and in part self-distributes its music. David, an artist in his own right who released his debut album Garden Of Edendale in 2018, is proud that CMH employs a large staff of in-house professionals, whose diverse viewpoints, talents, and eclectic imaginations are called upon to drive the company’s business forward. All employees are encouraged to contribute ideas and to help develop new projects. Fostering this collective creativity gives CMH its energy and innovative edge.
CMH Records continues to thrive in the rapidly changing, ultra-competitive music business. Tastes may change, technology may change, but good music is forever.