The year 2005 wasn’t exactly an auspicious time to launch a record label. Music sales were declining worldwide, and widespread piracy created an existential crisis in the industry.
But when Barclay Crenshaw told his wife, Aundy Caldwell Crenshaw, that he wanted to launch an electronic music label called Dirtybird, she didn’t think twice. “I was basically like, ‘I will support you for one year, and if you can do it in that one year and you are good, you can keep doing it,’ ” recalls Aundy. “I wanted to make sure he gave it his all. And he did.”
Fifteen years later, Barclay is celebrating the release of his sixth album as house and techno luminary Claude VonStroke, and Dirtybird has established itself as a pioneering tastemaker brand and collective known within the world of dance music for its distinct, self-described “tech funk” sound. Since helping break producers like Justin and Christian Martin, J.Phlip and Kill Frenzy, the indie label has expanded to include the beloved Campout festival series, a clothing line and the subscription-based social platform Birdfeed, which offers fans exclusive releases, ticket discounts and artist meet-and-greets.
If Barclay is the creative face of the brand, it’s Aundy’s dedicated vision as COO, chief marketing officer and head of business operations to which Dirtybird owes much of its enduring success. “I’m nonstop pushing the team to do new stuff and try crazy ideas, and Aundy is really great at looking at it, telling me to run the numbers and what we can actually do,” he says. “It’s almost like my balloon is floating away and she’s grabbing the string and grounding me.”
A Prince devotee who grew up in Minneapolis, Aundy exudes an almost Zen-like focus and resolve, honed by a career in marketing helming multimillion-dollar campaigns for brands like Kodak, Mattel and Jim Beam. Today, a typical afternoon at the Dirtybird office might see her shifting seamlessly from a call with her label manager in San Francisco to scheduling a playdate for the couple’s two children, running down tour schedules and delegating tasks to the eight-person Dirtybird staff that operates from the back house on the Crenshaws’ Woodland Hills property in Los Angeles.
“Sometimes hiring people is harder than doing it yourself,” says Aundy of Dirtybird’s all-in-the-family approach. “That’s how you keep it authentic.” That authenticity has been central to retaining — and growing — Dirtybird’s rabidly loyal fan base over more than a decade of shifting tastes and trends in a saturated dance music market. Since joining the company full time in 2015, Aundy has applied her marketing experience in data gathering and audience relationships to understanding Dirtybird’s fan base, building out its expansion into a clothing line, live events and a community unto itself.
“As everything was moving away from physical to streaming, we needed to make sure that we had a connection with our fans,” she says, explaining that Dirtybird’s expansion is less a business strategy than a response to fans’ growing appetite for engagement. Birdfeed, for example, gamifies the fan experience with a point system, leaderboard and collaborative playlists designed to encourage sharing. The Crenshaws also stay connected behind the scenes, with Aundy regularly taking phone calls, exchanging emails and conducting Q&As with fans.
“The more that they know that they’re valued, and that I’m hearing them on certain things, the more active they will become and talk about us to others,” she says. “If you’re not listening to them, they’re going to go away. It’s not about thinking about [the business overall] as a product. It’s about thinking about it as a person.”
That’s not just marketing-speak. When Dirtybird’s 2018 Campout East in Florida had its permit revoked due to noise complaints, Aundy personally visited courthouses and rallied fans to call senators, bringing — and winning — the case before the U.S. Senate. The festival was shut down for all of three hours.
“When there’s a cop banging at the door, and you’re totally toast, and there’s someone that is just never going to give up on trying to make it work,” says Barclay, “that’s what Aundy does.”