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Chances are, Dallas solo Robert Jenkins gets a lot less sleep than most lawyers his age. While most 35-year-old professionals are in bed, Jenkins patrols the dark corners of Dallas, where aspiring rock bands make music until the wee hours of the morning. “I really sleep about four hours a night,” he says. But it’s in these small clubs that smell of cigarettes and stale beer that Jenkins hopes he can help a band no one has ever heard of become heard a little more. In between his first and second years at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law in 2000, Jenkins started the appropriately named Summer Break Records, a small music label that produces and promotes CDs for a cadre of six talented Dallas indie rock bands — independently-produced music geared toward college students. The label is so small that Jenkins is its sole employee. “I can’t write or sing, and I always wanted to do something with music,” says Jenkins of his decision to start the label. Besides, Jenkins jokes, “in law school, you don’t have enough to do.” Starting the label was something Rhett Miller, the lead singer for Dallas band the Old 97′s, had encouraged Jenkins to do since they were both 17-year-old high-school students at St. Mark’s School of Texas. “He has a knack for recognizing talent before other people do,” Miller says of his longtime friend, whom he says made Miller homemade mix tapes that introduced him to the music of hundreds of influential bands. Jenkins saw how long and hard the Old 97′s struggled to find success with their brand of twangy, accessible pop music before the band was signed by Elektra Records in 1996. Jenkins thinks he can make that process easier for the bands on his label, Miller says. After years of working restaurant jobs and touring with the Old 97′s — “He never worked, but he was always fun to have around,” Miller says of Jenkins — Jenkins entered law school with a music career in mind. He wanted to be a music entertainment lawyer in a town that had practically none. “People said I could go to law school and you’ll make enough money to be in this business,” Jenkins says. But that’s tough to do in Dallas, where rock bands — and entertainment lawyers — have a tough time making money. To start his label, Jenkins partnered with friend Richard Winfield, a Dallas restaurant and club owner who owns a small bar and rock club called the Barley House. Together they scraped together $30,000 to launch Summer Break Records. It was an unusual move for a law student to make: His classmates were concerned about grades, while Jenkins was concerned about music. But Jenkins was an atypical law student, says professor Linda Eads; Jenkins was a student in her trial advocacy and evidence classes. “He didn’t let law school normalize him,” Eads says of Jenkins, who was older than most of her students. “He maintained his own identity, and I liked him for that.” Becoming an entertainment lawyer was a goal Jenkins eventually abandoned. Music company executives who Jenkins knew through the Old 97′s told him that to be an entertainment lawyer he’d have to move to Los Angeles and start off as an assistant making $35,000 a year at a major label. “And I can’t live on 35 a year,” Jenkins says. To pay the bills and keep putting out CDs, Jenkins had to change his plans. Instead of negotiating recording deals for shaggy-haired rock gods, he now can be found representing criminal defendants in plea deals at the Frank Crowley Courts Building. CRIMINAL LAW The music business and criminal law have one thing in common — who you know is often as important as what you know. That’s how Jenkins got started in criminal-defense work, a difficult profession for a newly-minted solo practitioner. Chris Mulder, part of Jenkins’ circle of friends for about 10 years, says in 2004 he invited Jenkins to study for the Texas bar exam in an empty law office next to his. “I said, ‘If you need a quiet place to study and plug in your computer, you can come up here,’” says Mulder, a criminal-defense solo. Jenkins took him up on the offer, and before long, Jenkins was tagging along with Mulder to the courthouse and learning the ropes. After he passed the bar exam, Jenkins knew immediately what he wanted to do with his law license. Because Mulder’s father, Doug, is also a criminal-defense lawyer, the “eat what you kill” office where they all work independently has no lack of business, Chris Mulder says. The Mulders, and Jenkins by association, don’t even have to advertise, they say. Complicated, high-profile matters that could rack up a lot of fees are handled by Doug Mulder, while Jenkins handles clients embroiled in smaller scrapes with the law. Jenkins spends between 30 to 50 hours a week doing legal work and 10 to 20 hours a week working on the label. “Getting with the Mulders, apart from meeting my wife, has been the best thing that has ever happened,” Jenkins says. Jenkins has proven to be a good guy to have around the office for a variety of reasons, Mulder says. Jenkins, who can remember that Irish singer-songwriter Gilbert O’Sullivan had a U.S. hit in 1972 with “Alone Again (Naturally)” is also pretty good at keeping all the office’s clients and their problems straight, too, Mulder says. And he’s the guy to know if you want to attend a rock show in Dallas. “Anyone can take you to see the band,” Mulder says. “But if you want to meet the band, Robert is the guy to call.” MUSIC BUSINESS Of all the bands on the Summer Break Records label, Sorta may be the most poised for success. The band has released two CDs on Jenkins’ label and is preparing to release a third, “Strange & Sad, But True,” which includes a beautiful but dark ballad titled “Eighty Five Feet and Falling” based on an actual murder-suicide that occurred on a North Dallas overpass. “Summer Break has allowed us a lot of opportunities. They’ve facilitated a lot of success,” says Trey Johnson, the lead singer and guitar player for Sorta. The label has allowed the band to put out CDs as fast as it can write the songs. Just getting a CD made and released into music stores is half the battle. But the most difficult part of producing a CD is marketing and promoting it. Promotion is especially hard in Dallas, which historically has had plenty of good local bands but not enough audiences that want to hear them. But Jenkins has had some luck with marketing and promoting Sorta, a band whose musicians have day jobs. As a result, the group has never toured. In 2001, while at the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin — a huge industry showcase where hundreds of bands play — Jenkins met a man at his hotel who needed a ride to the Austin Convention Center. The man happened to be the music coordinator for MTV’s “The Real World” and “Road Rules” reality television shows. While driving the man to the convention center, Jenkins mentioned that he owned a small label in Dallas. He sent MTV some CDs and reviewed the contract before the band signed it. That was all it took to get four Sorta songs played on “The Real World,” Jenkins says. Another Summer Break Records artist, I Love Math, has had a song played on “Popularity Contest,” a game show on Country Music Television, Jenkins says. Every time a song by a Summer Break artist gets played on the television show, CD sales spike, Jenkins says. Jenkins’ label now sells enough CDs — mostly through local retailers and the Internet — to break even, he says. Each time an indie band releases a CD, it usually sells about 5,000 copies; 10,000 copies sold is outstanding, Jenkins says. Since he started his label, it has sold about 30,000 CDs, he says. If a Summer Break artist were to get an offer to sign with a larger label, Jenkins says he’d be happy for the band’s success. Summer Break could become a launching pad for Dallas bands, Jenkins says. “It would really help both of us,” says Jenkins, who explains that attention from bigger companies would raise the profiles of his label and the bands on his label. But one Summer Break artist says money is not why Jenkins started his label — a cash-draining enterprise. “It was his love of music that is propelling him forward. And if he ever made money that would be the icing on the cake,” says Salim Nourallah, whose band The Happiness Factor was the first to sign with Summer Break. “Robert’s a dreamer,” Nourallah says. “And the world needs dreamers, because the music world is so full of people that aren’t.” However, huge success could be around the corner for Jenkins, as big labels are becoming less relevant in the music world because of the explosion of file-sharing and downloading songs off the Internet, Jenkins’ friend Miller says. “It’s a good time to be a small record label owner, because the floodgates are opening,” Miller says. “You can really have a hit record without being on a major label.” Miller hopes that happens for Jenkins. If it does, and the money starts rolling in, Jenkins knows the first thing he’ll do: hire a good entertainment lawyer.

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