D.L. Miller

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Producer and entrepreneur D.L. Miller masterminded the long-running easy listening series 101 Strings, essentially creating a budget-line retail market that continues today in Wal-Mart outlets, convenience…
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Producer and entrepreneur D.L. Miller masterminded the long-running easy listening series 101 Strings, essentially creating a budget-line retail market that continues today in Wal-Mart outlets, convenience stores, and truck stops across the U.S. According to the Space Age Pop Music webpage, Miller was born David Leonart Kleiber in Germany in 1925. Little is known of his formative years, but at some point during the 1930s he emigrated to America, later claiming he launched his career in the music industry with money he earned while serving with the U.S. military during World War II. In 1951 Miller acquired the Philadelphia-based Palda label, home to R&B and gospel acts including the Four Aces and the Blind Boys of Alabama; a year later, he founded Essex Records, releasing Bill Haley's "Rock the Joint," one of the first rock & roll singles and so much a favorite of Cleveland DJ Alan Freed that it earned Haley a contract with Decca. Miller would go on to repackage Haley's Essex sessions multiple times over in the years following the singer's breakthrough hit, "Rock Around the Clock," and in 1955 Haley even filed a cease-and-desist suit, citing the "inferior quality" of Miller's releases.

In 1957 Miller launched a new label, Somerset, which capitalized on the novelty of stereophonic recording technology and the growing popularity of the long-playing 33 and 1/3 format to release budget-priced albums that seemed to promise consumers enormous value at bargain prices -- often as much as two dollars cheaper than releases from major labels. But Miller slashed production costs at every turn, using the cheapest vinyl and cardboard he could find. At first Somerset manufactured its releases at a Capitol Records pressing plant in Scranton, PA, but ultimately Miller built his own plant, guaranteeing full control of the production process. He also shunned licensing fees and royalties, using public-domain songs whenever possible while keeping a small stable of staff composers on the payroll, administering publishing rights through his Chesdel Music subsidiary. Miller even claimed songwriting credits on Chesdel's originals, establishing a series of aliases (among them Dick L. Miller and Leo Muller) to cover his tracks. Most important, he refused to work with union musicians, instead traveling back and forth to postwar Europe to pay the continent's classically trained orchestras a fraction of their value. More often than not, he employed the Orchester des Nordwestdeutschen Rundfunks Hamburg, which appeared on literally hundreds of Somerset releases through the years.

With the 101 Strings, Miller sought to re-create the success of "mood music" records then in vogue thanks to conductors like Mantovani and George Melachrino. Sold dirt-cheap at department stores and other retail outlets, the records flew off the shelves, and Somerset would go on to release over 200 additional easy listening collections under the 101 Strings banner. In time Miller expanded the label's horizons with knockoff rock & roll and country albums, even forgoing his own rules to hire crack session musicians like Alvino Rey and Pete Candoli; he sold Somerset and its holdings to record distributor Al Sherman in 1963, but remained with the company (renamed Alshire) as a producer for about a year prior to returning to Germany and founding Miller International Schallplatten GmbH, applying to the German music market the same businesses practices that he honed in the U.S. Miller's Europa Records made a mint, but in 1975 the European Commission levied an antitrust ruling against the company. Several other budget imprints followed, and Miller's Damil Music firm continues flooding the Western European market with inferior product even today, despite his death in London on May 24, 1985.