The Other Side with Paper Garden Records Founder Bryan Vaughan
Paper Garden Records founder Bryan Vaughan shares what it's really like to run an independent label, explains why bands don't need to land a two-page spread in Rolling Stone to ink a record deal, and sheds light on the dos and don'ts of label shopping in this week's Other Side.
Bryan Vaughan was born in the sprawling countryside, where the number of cows greatly exceeded the human population, in a small Nebraskan town known as Broken Bow. Although Vaughan’s initial exposure to music was through French horn and piano lessons before picking up the bass guitar and tuba (which he played in jazz band and marching band respectively), he notes that as time passed, “[musicianship] admittedly became something that more or less fell by the wayside.”
Upon graduating from high school, Vaughan traded cattle for America’s country music capital and began taking music business and entrepreneurship courses at Nashville’s Belmont University. Vaughan explains, “I got my first taste of the music industry when I began working as the manager of a student-run record store on [Belmont’s] campus. Shortly thereafter, I landed internships at Sub Pop Records and Saddle Creek Records.” With the vision of running his own record label one day, Vaughan began piecing together his ideas for Paper Garden Records on a small scale during his time at Saddle Creek.
By 2005, Paper Garden Records had begun to grow slowly but steadily through Vaughan’s remaining years of college and into his first few years as a resident of New York City, where he worked at Interscope Records and The MuseBox. In 2009, however, it was time to “go big or go home,” as Vaughan recalls. “That’s when Paper Garden really got on its feet and became a full-time gig where I was able to move my focus away from other jobs and work at Paper Garden Records one hundred percent of the time.”
Since the label penned its first record deal with Eagle Seagull, Paper Garden Records has expanded its roster with the inclusion of Peasant, Darla Farmer, Emanuel and the Fear, and Mighty Tiger. More recently, Paper Garden has transitioned into a multi-faceted company with the addition of their Paper Garden Publicity wing and the label’s Lovely Hearts Club, a media outlet designed as a collaborative space where independent artists can connect with record labels, managers, publicists, music supervisors, distributors, lawyers, booking agents, producers, events companies, filmmakers, visual artists, and other bands.
We managed to pry Paper Garden Records founder Bryan Vaughan away from the label long enough to tell us what it’s like to be on The Other Side:
Green Light Go: As the founder of Paper Garden Records, what was the turning point that caused you to shift from solely being an appreciator of music to becoming the president of an independent label?
Bryan Vaughan: It was a combination of finding a band that I truly loved who stood out in a way that led to new ideas brewing in my head and beginning to deal in entrepreneurial music ventures throughout college, where I could actively pursue my ideas in innovative, creative, and fun ways.
GLG: Since label representatives typically work behind the scenes, many people have preconceived notions about what this career actually entails. What is the day-to-day really like for you on the job?
BV: I’m not sure there really is a day-to-day anymore! Since the label has progressed and started to build a name for itself, we have hit the tipping point of having more requests and opportunities coming our way, instead of having to cold-call or pitch to other [bands] or companies. So essentially, that leaves us with a lot of reactive work, in addition to proactively engaging new opportunities and ideas that come to mind.
GLG: In the past, Paper Garden Records has worked with DeVotchka, Eagle Seagull, and The Wooden Sky. More recently, the label signed on Dad Rocks!, Little Tybee, Mighty Tiger, and The City and Horses, to name a few. Who might you want to work with in the future?
BV: Our upcoming fall and winter release schedules are looking amazing right now. We’ll not only continue to sign acts whose music is great, but [we’re bringing on those] who have already proven themselves by establishing a career and fan base on their own. This doesn’t mean [that a band we sign] needs to have already toured with Weezer, or have had a two-page spread in Rolling Stone, but we’d rather [work with] a band that is proactive with their own career and can build their own social network presence, book their own tours, and sell their own merch. For our new signings, we’re looking to make another jump in the same direction, in order to create a plan of attack that is strategic, creative, and ultimately successful. Many of the ideas we put into action for our bands are outside of the normal realm of marketing, so we want to make sure that with our new signings, the artist has an outside-of-the-box way of thinking that aligns with the record label's overall goals.
GLG: As an independent label representative, I’m sure you come in contact with dozens of independent artists per week. What characteristics or qualities separates the artists who are “just another indie band” from those you’d love to work with?
BV: Filtering bands is one of the most difficult processes these days, especially as the market becomes oversaturated. As for the characteristics and qualities that separate the artists that are ‘just there’ from those that we’d like to work with, I’ll throw out a few key adjectives: realistic, unique, creative, hard-working, social, and awesome.
GLG: What advice would you offer an independent band that was about to shop their first record to independent or major labels?
BV: This question may be better answered by a list of DOs and DON’Ts:
1) Keep it simple – Send a link of where we can find everything related to your band on one page. We look for a quality band photo, song, video, and press quotes.
2) Support our acts – One of the main things we look for is the support of the label’s other acts. Post something on Twitter or Facebook and tag the label and/or current bands. This initiative shows us that you’re interested in us directly and that you actually know something about the label, instead of just [sending over an e-mail] mentioning that you’re shopping to labels in general.
3) Be human – Hand-written notes or e-mails addressed by name are always a delight.
1) Tell us you’re desperate.
2) Send us a bad band photo.
3) Direct us to a Myspace page.
GLG: How do you know that you are a good match for a band? What things do you have to keep in mind before agreeing to work with an artist?
BV: As we’re a small label, there are several key factors we look at. First, if a band is looking at a massive budget for no reason other than to want to spend money, that’s not going to work for us. If there is a real reason [for spending money coupled with] a well thought out plan for where this money is going and why it’s so crucial, that’s a different story. Secondly, is the music something that is different enough from the rest of the artists on the label to have its own angle and story, but not so different as to be something that we have no working knowledge of, or cannot properly market? Thirdly, do we get along with the current team that’s in place, from the booking agent, to the manager, band members, and lawyers? If there are major disagreements from the beginning, these are likely to hinder the overall progress of the band’s career.
GLG: Outside of the Paper Garden roster, what records have you been listening to lately?
BV: Beirut, GIVERS, Of Montreal, The Morning Benders, Snowmine, and a few new favorites from Brainlove Records in the UK – Napoleon IIIrd and Gazelle Twin.
This week’s Other Side feature is brought to you by: Lauren Mercury Roberts