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Sub Pop is a record label founded by Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman in Seattle, Washingtonmarker in 1986. Sub Pop achieved fame in the late 1980s for first signing Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney and many other bands from the Seattle music scene. They are often credited with taking the first steps toward popularizing grunge music, and have continued to achieve critical and commercial success in the new millennium, with popular bands such as The Postal Service, Flight of the Conchords and The Shins on their roster. In 1995 Poneman sold a 49% stake of the label to Warner Bros. Records.

History

Formation

Sub Pop began not as a record label but as a fanzine created by Bruce Pavitt in the early 1980s called Subterranean Pop. Pavitt worked on the fanzine, which focused exclusively on American independent record label, to earn course credit while attending Evergreen State Collegemarker in Olympia, Washingtonmarker. By the fourth issue, Pavitt shortened the name to Sub Pop and began alternating issues with compilation tapes of underground rock bands. The Sub Pop #5 cassette, released in 1982, sold two thousand copies. In 1983, Pavitt moved to Seattle, Washingtonmarker and released the ninth and final issue of Sub Pop. While in Seattle, he wrote a column for local newspaper The Rocket titled "Sub Pop U.S.A.", a column he ended in 1988.

In 1986, Pavitt released the first Sub Pop LP, the compilation Sub Pop 100, which featured material by artists including Sonic Youth, Naked Raygun, The Wipers, and Scratch Acid. Seattle group Green River chose to record their Dry as a Bone EP for Pavitt's new label in June 1986; Pavitt couldn't afford to release it until the following year. When finally released, Dry as a Bone was promoted by Sub Pop as "ultra-loose grunge that destroyed the morals of a generation". Also in 1987, Jonathan Poneman provided $20,000 in funding for Sub Pop to release the debut Soundgarden single "Hunted Down"/"Nothing to Say" in July 1987, followed by the band's first EP Screaming Life that October. Poneman soon became a full partner in the label. Pavitt focused on the label's A&R aspects, while Poneman dealt with the business and legal issues. Both men decided they wanted the label to focus on "this primal rock stuff that was coming out," according to Pavitt.

The "Seattle sound"

In early 1988 Pavitt and Poneman quit their jobs to devote their full attention to Sub Pop. Raising $43,000, they incorporated that April. "Of course that was spent in, like, thirty days", Pavitt recalled. "We almost went bankrupt after a month". That August Sub Pop released the first single by Mudhoney, a band featuring former members of Green River. Sub Pop released the Mudhoney single "Touch Me I'm Sick" in an intentionally limited first pressing of 800 copies to create demand. The strategy was later adopted by other independent labels.

Pavitt and Poneman studied earlier independent labels ranging from Motown to SST Records and decided that virtually every successful movement in rock music had a regional basis. The pair sought to create a cohesive brand identity for Sub Pop. The label's ads promoted the label itself more than any particular band. The label also sought to market a "Seattle sound", which was accomplished with the help of producer Jack Endino, who produced 75 singles, albums, and EPs for Sub Pop between 1987 and 1989. Endino recorded cheaply and quickly; in order to operate this way, he utilized some consistent studio techniques, which gave the records a similar sound.

In November 1988 Sub Pop released "Love Buzz", the debut single by Aberdeen, Washingtonmarker band Nirvana, as the first entry in the Sub Pop Singles Club, a subscription service that would allow subscribers to receive singles by the label on a monthly basis by mail. At its peak in 1990, the club had two thousand subscribers. The club made Sub Pop a powerful force in the Seattle scene, and effectively made the label's name synonymous with the music of the Seattle area—much in the same way Motown Records was to Detroitmarker—and helped to secure the label's cashflow. The original series was discontinued in 1993, followed by Singles Club V.2, launched in 1998 and discontinued in 2002.

Mindful that garnering the attention of the American mainstream music press was difficult for all but the largest indie label, Pavitt and Ponemen took inspiration from alternative bands like Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers, and Dinosaur Jr. and sought to publicize the label via the Britishmarker music press. In March 1989, Pavitt and Poneman flew Melody Maker journalist Everett True to Seattle to write an article on the local music scene. As Pavitt had anticipated, the British press became enamoured with Sub Pop and the grunge sound. Pavitt said, "I really felt that the Brits and the Europeans wanted to see something that was unruly and that was more of an American archetype -- something that was really primal and really drew from the roots of rock & roll, which was very American." Poneman explained the label's success:"It could have happened anywhere, but there was a lucky set of coincidences. Charles Peterson was here to document the scene, Jack Endino was here to record the scene. Bruce and I were here to exploit the scene."

When Nirvana moved to Geffen Records, Sub Pop received royalties from sales of Nevermind that kept the label going for years afterwards. After the mainstream success of Nirvana, many successful grunge bands had left Sub Pop for major record labels. Soon afterwards, a joint venture was formed with Warner Bros. Records, thereby ending Sub Pop's status as an entirely independent label.

Pavitt's departure

Poneman and Pavitt had a disagreement about the direction the label should take, with Poneman wanting the label to become larger and make more money. In 1996, unable to take the new corporate culture following the Warner partnership, Bruce Pavitt left the label and was able to spend more time with his family. The split between Pavitt and Poneman was not amicable, and they did not speak for seven years.

The label opened offices worldwide and began major investment in new artists, but without achieving great commercial success, prompting a scaling down and a return to Seattle.

In 2006, Sub Pop Records became the first Green-e certified record label. Through work with the Green-e program and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Sub Pop "greened" their label by purchasing enough renewable energy certificates to offset 100 percent of the electricity they use in their office, showing their commitment to putting renewable energy in the mainstream as a way consumers can take action to do something about global warming.

In early 2007, Sub Pop started a sister label by the name of Hardly Art. This label is also partially owned by Warner Music. In August 2008, Sub Pop relaunched the singles club for one year to celebrate its twentieth anniversary.

Commercial success

Sub Pop has two platinum records, Nirvana's Bleach; and Flight of the Conchords's Flight of the Conchords, as well as two gold records, The Postal Service's Give Up and The Shins' Wincing the Night Away. The Shins' "New Slang" has gone gold, and The Postal Service's digital single for "Such Great Heights" has gone platinum. On January 31, 2007, Sub Pop announced that The Shins' third full-length for Sub Pop, Wincing the Night Away, debuted at number two on the Billboard charts, reporting first week sales of 117,991 (35K in digital sales). This is the first time any album in Sub Pop history has ever charted in the top ten or broken 100,000 in the first week of sales.

See also



Notes

  1. http://www.tripzine.com/listing.php?id=pavitt Tripzine
  2. Sub Pop Oral History: "Going Out of Business Since 1988!" from Blender.com
  3. Azerrad, p. 413
  4. Azerrad, p. 414
  5. Sub Pop USA - The original articles by Bruce Pavitt from the Sub Pop website
  6. Azerrad, p. 420
  7. Azerrad, p. 422
  8. Azerrad, p. 423
  9. Azerrad, p. 423-24
  10. Azerrad, p. 425
  11. Azerrad, p. 426-27
  12. Azerrad, p. 436
  13. Azerrad, p. 439
  14. Jelbert, Steve (2008) "Labelled With Love", The Times, August 2 2008
  15. Azerrad, p. 441
  16. Sub Pop Launches New Label, Hardly Art | Pitchfork
  17. Sub Pop Launches Hardly Art Imprint


References



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