Sub Pop Records is a record label founded by Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman. It is Seattle's most famous label, and was notable for being the leading label in the Seattle grunge scene. Most of Sub Pop's fame comes from the signing of Nirvana for their album Bleach, early Soundgarden releases, and the first Mudhoney releases. Although they no longer specialize in grunge, they have met with more success from modern bands such as Washed Out, Fleet Foxes, Father John Misty, Sleaeter-Kinney, Flight of the Concords, Foals, and The Postal Service.
Pruce Pavitt started a college project at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. He wrote a short-lived fanzine called Subterranean Pop, later renamed to Sub Pop, a fanzine that focused on independent labels. At the time of remaining, Pavitt had begun releasing compilation tapes of music from underground bands. The #5 set sold over 2,000 copies after its release in 1982. In 1983, Pavitt moved to Seattle where he wrote a column for newspaper which was titled "Sub Pop U.S.A."
Sub Pop was becoming a label when Pavitt released Sub Pop 100, a compilation album consisting of many songs put together from bands who were underground at the time. This release did not go unnoticed, because there were bands who wanted to sign on the new Sub Pop label. Sub Pop was to soon become a grunge label when grunge band Green River recorded their second EP, Dry As a Bone for the Sub Pop label. However, as expected from a new label, the album was not officially released until the following year, when it met with great acclaim. It was starting the grunge sound when it was described as "ultra-loose grunge that destroyed the morals of a generation". However, Pavitt still had financial issues. Thankfully, he found a business associate with the co-founder Jonathan Poneman, who provided $20,000 for Sub Pop. This money was used in 1987 to release the debut single and EP of Soundgarden. Since the the releases were grunge, it was decided that the label would focus specifically on grunge, because it seemed to be a new fad that was just then coming out for new bands. It was decided than Poneman would handle legalities while Pavitt handled releasing the artists.
The "Seattle Sound" Edit
In 1988, Pavitt had stopped writing his column for the newspaper, and he focused on Sup Pop, which was growing in popularity. They signed the bands Mudhoney and Nirvana onto their label, and released their debut singles, EP's, and albums.
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. They decided Sub Pop would become Seattle's signature label for their signature style: grunge, which they would market as the "Seattle sound." They succeeded with the help of their popular bands, and the producer, Jack Endino, who was ironically signed to C/Z records, a label that his bandmate Daniel House ran. Despite this, he produced over 70 releases for Sub Pop.
In 1988, Sub Pop started the Sub Pop Singles Club. "Love Buzz" by Nirvana was the first entry in the club. The club had over 2,000 subscribers in 1990, thus giving Sub Pop more credibility as Seattle's signature label. It also helped evolve the Seattle Sound into a major local scene. The club discontinued in 1993, and was revived as Singles Club V.2. This revival lasted from 1998 to 2002. It was relaunched again for a year in 2007 to celebrate Sub Pop's 20th anniversary.
The Seattle scene had grown so much that Pavitt and Poneman flew Everett True, a journalist from Melody Maker, to Seattle to write about the emerging scene. Thankfully, the British magazine wrote very kindly about this new scene.
Sub Pop was later experiencing financial difficulties in 1990, and rumors had spread stating that Sub Pop would be signed to a major label. Sub Pop also received loyalty sales from Geffen Records for the release of Nevermind, which was written by Nirvana, a band who had switched from Sub Pop to DGC in fear of the rumors. Due to the worldwide success of Nevermind, the royalties Sub Pop received help counteract the financial issues they went through. A stipulation was also implemented where selected future Nirvana studio LPs were required to carry the Sub Pop logo alongside Geffen's.But many bands left Sub Pop for major labels, due to Nirvana's success. Sub Pop met with difficulties again, and they jointed with Warner Bros., who sold MCA Music Entertainment Group their label Geffen Records.
Poneman wanted the label to get larger, yet Pavitt was against the idea. This disagreement lead Pavitt to leave so he could spend time with his family. Sub Pop then began investing in new artists, but the lack of widespread success put Sub Pop through minor setbacks. Sub Pop returned to Seattle. However, they did become the first Green-e certified label, purchasing enough renewable energy to offset all of the electricity they used in the office.
In early 2007, Sub Pop started a sister label by the name of Hardly Art. This label is also partially owned by Warner Music.
Sub Pop has now singed many artists of different styles, attempting not to have one signature sound. These artists include folk groups like Fleet Foxes, pop groups like Beach House, and hip hop artists like Shabazz Palaces. Other artists include Washed Out, The Shins, Foals, and Sleater-Kinney.
- A London band named themselves "Subterranean Popular," after Sub Pop's original fanzine name: "Subterranean Pop." They are an indie grunge band claiming to be compared to Sonic Youth, Nirvana, and more.
- Sub Pop is famous for its blunt letter to aspiring artists informing them that they would not be taken on by the label. The letter opens with "Dear Loser."