In 1994, while still in high school, Darcie and I founded Polyvinyl Press, a photocopied fanzine which mainly covered the DIY music scene we loved in the Champaign-Urbana, IL area and the greater Midwest. We sold zines at local record stores, at whatever ramshackle tables we could find in the back of basement shows, traded zines with other zine writers, and sent them out one-at-a-time via mailorder. We made countless friendships with bands. Our philosophy was to spread the word about bands we loved. Furthering that idea, we decided to release a split 7″ with the third issue of the fanzine. Within a year we’d issued Braid’s first 7″ Rainsnowmatch and a 20-band compilation called “Direction”- and Polyvinyl Records was born.
Our business structure was (and still is) very simple: we’d work on a 50/50 profit sharing model with our artists. We admired Dischord and Touch and Go for championing this business model. It was a true partnership between the label and the band, instead of an adversarial relationship based on one side trying to get more than the other. Darcie and I came from a background of loving music and bands. A partnership model was the perfect fit.
We never wrote a business plan or decided that we’d “become a record label.” We dropped out of college. We scraped together whatever resources we could to put out records. We worked hard and we learned a lot. We kept our DIY mentality and we always tried to match the level of work and commitment that our bands had. We put out over 200 records. And somehow, 15 years passed. Polyvinyl is still Darcie and me and now a staff of eight. Six of us here at HQ in our cozy downtown Champaign office, three at our satellite office in San Francisco, and one in New York. We still work hard every day to tell the world about bands we love–and we are proud that we still maintain the same 50/50 profit sharing model with them. Oh, and the internet happened.
We are commemorating our 15th anniversary with nine Polyvinyl bands, playing an all-day/all-night show two blocks from our office at the High Dive in Champaign. We’ve also curated a sampler of 30-songs from throughout the past 15 years, which we are giving away as a free download. I’d like to openly thank anyone who has ever bought a Polyvinyl release, gone to see one of our bands, booked a show for them, or given them a floor to sleep on.