Your New Favorite Label: New Professor Music
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NEW PROFESSOR MUSIC
Founder: Greg Katz
First Release: 2011
Location: Los Angeles
Artists with recent releases: Changing, Cheekface, Rosie Tucker, Ramonda Hammer
New Professor Music claims to be “the world’s greatest record company”, but their roster makes that claim seem less grandiose. Owner Greg Katz has collected a unique sonic mix of artists. The eccentric but lush songwriting of (our 2019 Album of the Year award winner) Rosie Tucker, the razor sharp and sludgy Ramonda Hammer, the relevant slacker-rock-with-a-wink of Cheekface all feel at home together along with the rest of the New Professor family not because they sound similar, but because they all seem sort of off kilter in a good way. I spoke with Greg about what inspired him to start New Professor Music below.
What made you want to start a label?
I think like a lot of labels, I started because I was inspired by one particular artist that I thought was screaming out with greatness. For me, that was a visionary loop-based singer-songwriter, David Shane Smith. I would see Dave playing shows around L.A. to just a few people and he was always so captivating. When I got laid off from a job in the music industry in 2011, I felt like my way to stay involved was starting my own label, and what better artist to start with than someone whose music really moved me?
Despite the amazing music, Dave’s stuff didn’t sell that well, but the second release I put out, a vinyl EP from the band Gothic Tropic, sold pretty strong. So with those couple of releases we got up on our feet. It’s our 9th birthday in a few days.
The label has served a few purposes since I started it. At first it was a sandbox to play in and explore, and a way to stay involved with artists I liked while I was out of work. Then it was a music industry calling card – labels, publishers and managers got to know me because I was developing bands they liked through the label, and as a result I got other jobs because I had taught myself the A&R, artist development and product management process. Now, in most ways, the goals of the label are pretty traditional: empower unique artists to achieve their career goals, serve as a creative and business sounding board, and along the way help them earn as much money as we can to help them sustain and grow.
What are some labels that inspired you?
At the outset, Merge was one because of their simple 50-50 deal structures. One of the challenges of starting a label is figuring out how to do the business basics. Their system made it seem simple and possible for anyone to do – even me.
As we moved along, I started to get inspired by labels that had a really strong sonic identity, like Daptone, Stones Throw and Matador. It makes sense that if you’re working with new artists that have no name recognition, that no matter how good they are, you’re relying on the audience’s understanding of the label’s brand to sell those first few copies and get the first few streams. Those labels have that strong identity, where to some extent you can predict what a record will sound like just because it’s on that label.
I’m also inspired by labels that started around the same time as we did, like Exploding In Sound and Father/Daughter, because those labels put out great records, are run by great people, do business in ways that are respectful of their artists and partners, and have hit some of the same hurdles at the same time. And I’ll be honest, since I think of them as peers, I also have an internal sense of competition, where I see them do something cool and feel challenged to pull off that same thing or something better.
If you could go back in time before you started and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
You have to be humble when it comes to your predictions for a record. There have been a couple lightning-in-a-bottle records we’ve put out that just did not sell, which usually means I spent too much on them (because I was too excited) and didn’t make anything back (because the records didn’t get anyone else excited). And there have been a few releases where I was unprepared for them to succeed, which meant I didn’t have the resources on deck to help those releases grow even faster once an audience started to form around them. When you’re working with new artists it’s especially hard to predict what’s going to do well since they have no history. The lessons I think are, first, as a label you have to put out a big enough quantity of releases for some to have a chance to succeed, even if you don’t know which they are, and second, watch for the signs that a record is starting to succeed and be prepared to do whatever you can to help it keep growing if it starts taking off organically.
Spotify Playlist of Recent New Professor Music’s Releases:
Jami Fowler // @audiocurio
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