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Square Productions learns from successes, failures

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WENATCHEE — Run by Darren Reynolds, Square Productions brings the newest beat to the Wenatchee Valley music industry. The 1-year-old company, specializing in live productions and sound recordings, traces its roots back to 2006 and the early days of Reynolds’ Caffé Mela.

We always knew music would be a part of what we do,” he said. “We just didn’t know the direction it would take or how it would unfold. We learned as we went along.”

Caffé Mela began hosting two, sometimes three, shows a week — some rock, some blues, some solo guitarists singing only original songs. “At first, we’d have shows with just five people in the audience. It took a few years for interest to grow.”

A turning point came in the fall of 2007 when Mela hosted solo singer and acoustic guitarist Korby Lenker from Nashville. “Tickets sold out within the hour,” said Reynolds. “We couldn’t believe it — 60-plus people at $10 a ticket.”

All of a sudden, Reynolds could pay the artist, meet concert expenses and still have 50 bucks profit. “It was our first time to realize that what we were doing felt like a real concert, a money-maker, and that there might be a future in it for us.”

The next few years brought a string of successes — the Seattle-based indie rockers Pickwick and Ravenna Woods — and lots of less-than-successful bookings. Recent disappointments included singer Mark Broussard and experimental country-folk band Blitzen Trapper, which played during months crowded with events. “They were learning experiences for us,” said Reynolds. “They helped teach us the best times to book and the best ways to promote.”

Then just last year, Reynolds booked the Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Mattson, better known for his stage name The Tallest Man on Earth, who’s an international sensation for his Bob Dylan-like style and the production of his own records.

It was a huge step for us,” said Reynolds. “We learned to work with big-time booking agents, how to negotiate, how to estimate a larger crowd.” He moved the Tallest Man booking from Mela — “way too small” — to the 600-seat Wenatchee Performing Arts Center for a near sell-out crowd.

It was at that point that we learned we could attract bigger artists,” said Reynolds. “It was the show that told us Square Productions could be a success.”

Square Productions now has a few more big shows under its belt with plans for more in 2014. Last November, the production company filled Pybus Public Market with 400-plus fans of Oregon-based indie band Typhoon, and last month Tacoma-based Vicci Martinez and young singing sensation Austin Jenkes pulled nearly a full house at the Leavenworth Festehall.

In June, Square plans to produce a 10th anniversary bash for the Chelan PUD’s Andrew York Lineman’s Rodeo at Walla Walla Point Park. And Reynolds hopes that sometime this year he’ll spearhead a community effort to build an amphitheater at the park — the central stage for a future music festival (no timeline yet) that could bring thousands of fans to Wenatchee.

All of this has been an incredible education for us,” said Reynolds. “One important lesson we’ve learned is that we can’t operate on dreams, vision and starry-eyed optimism. We’ve learned to approach production as a solid business — spreadsheets and hard figures — to make sure that all that great music still pencils out — that in the end, we make a little bit of money.”