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The Self-Made Man: Greg Ginn

ginn2TSB understands that risk is an important element of successful entrepreneurship. Whether it’s financial risk, personal risk, or some combination thereof, practically every self-starter worth their Forbes profile has rolled the dice and started their own business or brand, knowing that they could fail and be sent back to square one with little to show for their efforts.

I’m willing to bet that not every entrepreneur has had their offices under police surveillance, though. That’s one thing that sets this week’s Self Made Man—SST Records founder Greg Ginn—apart from other men we’ve profiled here.

Greg was one of those mogul-from-birth kids, but not because he was gifted, or that his parents were rich or well-connected; Greg made his mark based on pure determination. He got interested in ham radio as a kid (nerd alert!) and started his own business selling modified World War II surplus radio equipment by mail. He called it Solid State Transmitters, or SST for short, and kept at it from age twelve to his early adulthood, when he repurposed the business’ acronym to put out his first band’s record.

SST evolved into a record label when Greg realized that records didn’t just fall from heaven; he could raise a little money and take his band’s recordings to a record pressing plant. It wasn’t much different from printing catalogs for his ham radio business, so Greg ran SST full-time while also touring full-time with his band, the seminal hardcore punk group Black Flag (whose roadie was fellow Self Made Man Steve “Mugger” Corbin”).

Greg’s work ethic has been described as “relentless,” and he was no stranger to 8 or 9-hour guitar practice sessions that left his fingers bleeding and bruised. He ran SST the same way, throwing as much time and effort and money (he and his bandmates lived on $5 a day for months to build up enough capital to go on tour) into promoting the bands on his label (Black Flag, Husker Du, the Minutemen) as he could. Homestead Records owner Gerard Cosloy has said that, at one time, “SST was the label everyone wanted to be on…SST was funnier and cooler and it also had the machinery.”

Around this time, due to escalating violence at punk rock shows, police tapped SST’s phones and sent undercover officers to pose as homeless people near the office, just to keep an eye on what they thought was some kind of anarchist threat to the city of Los Angeles. Pretty sure Mark Zuckerberg has never dealt with that problem firsthand.

SST has had its ups and downs as a label for sure (read about some of them HYPERLINK “http://centeroftheindielabeluniverse.blogspot.com/2009/03/sst-records.html”here), but Greg is still active and ambitious, and there are few people on this planet who can match his effort. As Minutemen bassist Mike Watt put it, “he believed if you try, you can get things beyond your little group.” Thanks to some very lucrative distribution deals on his part, Greg has kept SST’s back catalog alive and in print while he works on new stuff himself.

Here’s a recent Literati Records Podcast interview with Greg Ginn, in which he talks about starting independent record labels and the issues he faced throughout.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.

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