Jesse Raub recently talked to Seth Hubbard, Head of Publicity at Polyvinyl Records over email. The two talked about press campaigns, the limits of a small label and of course the drama surrounding illegal downloads. On that subject particularily Hubbard says:
I don't think people getting music for free is a new concept by any means. Granted it is easier now then ever before but I can remember as a kid getting tapes from friends, or even taping things off the radio. Then once CD burning started to happen I would get new music that way too. People have always shared music with friends and it is how a lot of people find out about new bands.
When Polyvinyl signs a new band, is there a specific way that you go about starting the PR campaign, or do you try to find an angle?
There is never a specific way to start, but things we do once we have a finished record to release is we find someone to write a bio about the band and the album, find someone online to debut the lead track from the album, and then we mail it out to a lot of people for possible coverage. Those are a few things we do for every release. Beyond that it varies from band to band on how we approach the PR campaign.
I think above all else I think we want to be known for putting out quality music no matter what genre or sub-genre it falls under.
Polyvinyl is known for having a distinct sound - most artists on your label mix well together. Is it hard to market bands like 31 Knots who don't really fit the mold?
I don't know if we have a specific sound. I would say that if we do have a sound, it might be accurate now, but in 5 years it could be very different. Just like how the Braid and Rainer Maria days don't really sound anything like the more indie pop oriented days we are in now with bands like of Montreal, Architecture in Helsinki, etc. I think above all else I think we want to be known for putting out quality music no matter what genre or sub-genre it falls under.
Polyvinyl has a really active PR department compared to some labels. Do you think the decision to do all your marketing in house has paid off compared to the bands hiring their own PR company?
We do have an active PR campaign. Matt, who started the label, decided several years ago that he needed an in house PR person so luckily I got the job. We still hire out for press for most of our big releases and we hire AAM for all radio promotions. So things aren't strictly in house. But I am the liason to all the publicists we hire as well as AAM for radio. Also, a publicist usually only works for 3 months or so, so after that it is up to me to pick up where they left off. But in the end I think all of the promotion we do inhouse is worthwhile. At least I hope what I spend my life doing is worthwhile.
Polyvinyl has made a name for itself over the years, but still feels like a small operation. How large is Polyvinyl, in terms of number of employees and how much space HQ physically takes up?
At this point, Polyvinyl has 5 full time employees, two part timers and usually 5 interns per semester. PV HQ is actually pretty big compared to a lot of other indies. We are located in Champaign, IL so the rent on our office space is nothing compared to trying to rent space in Chicago, NYC, or LA like a lot of labels. This is our first office that isn't in Matt and Darcie's house. We have room for several desks, a full mail order area, work tables, intern stations, and a pretty big stock room.
I wouldn't be able to work here if I thought we were limiting our artists careers in any way.
Are there limits to what Polyvinyl can provide to a band? Is there a point where a band's popularity can outgrow the label?
I am sure compared to majors, Polyvinyl has a limit to what we can provide. But I haven't felt like we have held a band back ever. I wouldn't be able to work here if I thought we were limiting our artists careers in any way. I hope that all of this continues to be the case as the label and our artists grow.
What are some of the challenges you've faced working with the label?
Our biggest challenge is taking care of everything that needs to be done. Everyone here is overworked. At a larger indie label or a major there would be 4 or 5 people doing all the things I am responsible for. Which means that because I am trying to do so much, not everything gets done as thoroughly as I would like. I think everyone here feels that way. So that is the biggest challenge I have had working for Polyvinyl. I am sure a lot of other labels will say the same thing.
With Amazon launching a new online service and iTunes leaning towards going DRM free, are you more excited about digital sales or does it worry you as an employee of a label?
We are more excited about digital sales now than ever before. Our digital sales increase year in and year out. It is pretty remarkable. Plus selling things digitally has no overhead costs like manufacturing CDs does so there is that upside to it too. I think the DRM free downloads is a brilliant idea. I always hated buying songs from itunes for that very reason. We don't want to alienate the people that want to buy our releases by limiting how and where they can listen to the record.
Are you bothered by illegal downloading?
Nope. It isn't the best thing in the world, but I truly think a lot more people hear about our artists because of illegal downloading. I don't think people getting music for free is a new concept by any means. Granted it is easier now then ever before but I can remember as a kid getting tapes from friends, or even taping things off the radio. Then once CD burning started to happen I would get new music that way too. People have always shared music with friends and it is how a lot of people find out about new bands.
As sales of music move more digital, what role do you see the record label playing in the process? Or do you think record labels are going to start focusing more on PR and promotions as the physical aspect of the medium disappears?
I think the role of the record label will always be necessary. Because no matter if it is digital or physical, artists want to worry about creating art and not worrying themselves with the business side of things. Artists should only have to concern themselves with writing great songs and playing great shows. I think as long as indie labels keep up to date with the ever changing marketplace that is the music industry there will always be avenues to survive and flourish. Also, the cd might be getting slowly phased out, but a majority of people still want to own a physical object when it comes to music ownership. With that, I think that is why we are selling more vinyl nowadays too.
People have always shared music with friends and it is how a lot of people find out about new bands.
What are you most excited about for the future of Polyvinyl Records?
I am really excited for our spring of 2008 release schedule. We have new records by Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, Headlights and Aloha all coming out around then. I think with those records each one of those bands will get the recognition they deserve. Especially Aloha.