The music industry is changing and with each new step, one thing is certain: major labels are becoming less and less relevant. In someways, the old fashioned way of word-of-mouth, is making a comeback among indie artists. An artist no longer needs MTV to air a music video in order to get exposure outside of their home town. An artist no longer needs consistent play on radio to get people to listen. An artist no longer needs a major label to drop millions of dollars into press to spread the word. Any artist can upload a track onto iTunes and make money just as some of the mainstream’s biggest stars.
Just like the old fashioned way of word-of-mouth, another trend has picked up steam with indie artists. Vinyl. Sales of vinyl records have surpassed sales of cds at such a rate, that it’s becoming the ONLY way some music buyers (including myself) purchase physical copies. Tapping into that niche market, are hundreds, maybe thousands of indie labels. With these indie labels, artists can now have the luxury of putting out their new music on today’s hottest format! After reviewing two of the record’s his indie label put out this year, I got the opportunity to sit down with Harry Portnof, the owner of Greenway Records and ask him a few questions about running his DIY label based out of NYC, but also the love of the format that so many artists and fans are so excited about.
Aaron: Tell us about Greenway Records. what kind of music do you specialize in?
Harry Portnof: Greenway Records is a small DIY record label, based and operated in NYC. We specialize in limited run Rock & Roll vinyl pressings. To me, Rock & Roll is more of an idea or lifestyle than a musical sound. I’ll put out anything that I like or speaks to me, which can vary drastically in “genre.” If a band sends me their stuff and I find myself humming one of their songs a day later, I’ll agree to make a record.
Aaron: At what point in your life did you say to yourself "Hey, I want to start an indie label"? How did that go?
Harry Portnof: The first time I had the idea to start Greenway Records was in college and it basically lingered in mybrain for the next 4 years after I graduated. There always seemed to be reasons why I should wait, but one day I decided I didn’t want to keep saying “next time.” My friends, The Young Rochelle’s, had justt finished recording a bunch of new tunes and I told them I wanted to make a 45. They put their trust in me and that 45 became GWY-001, or “Know The Code.” The record is a real rocker (I highly recommend you check it out) and it’s already in its second pressing
Aaron: Do you seek out artists or do they seek you out? How does it work generally?
Harry Portnof: Both. Like I mentioned, the first record came about while working with a band I’m friends with from my hometown, Long Beach, NY. I actively make offers to bigger bands I love, with the idea that you never know what can happen if you try. Bands also submit new material to me all the time now, which is really cool – that’s how the second record, “Frankie Road ” from Italian band, Biffers, came about. It takes a lot for a person or band to put themselves out there andsubmit to a label. I respect the hell out of that and listen to everything I get sent. The only thing holding me back from putting out new records nonstop is the green monster: money. I can’t work with every single band I like because it costs a nice chunk of change toput out a record. Nonetheless, I try my best to find bands I love who are committed to the cause.
Aaron: Vinyl has come back in a very big way in the industry. what do you feel is the appeal?
Harry Portnof: I really believe it’s the love of having something you can physically hold and cherish. There’s something really special about picking up a record and looking at the grooves and thinking, “how is the music in there?” I find it funny. To me, it’s almost like vinyl is something from the future, with everyone so used to clicking buttons on their phone or computer to hear music. For the younger generations, records seem like a technology we just discovered. When I try and explain my love of vinyl to friends who don’t listen to records, the looks on their faces would suggest I’m trying to convert them to some alien technology. Luckily, I have converted a few.
Aaron: To me, owning an indie release on vinyl seems very personal and maybe even a little ‘exclusive’. do you think that aspect is the reason we are seeing this new resurgence of indie vinyl labels? thoughts?
Harry Portnof: I think the “exclusivity” element is definitely one thing about small releases on labels like Greenway that’s most special to fans. There is a collectability factor, which is personally what drew me to love indie releases; knowing you have a copy of a record when only 100 exist in the world is special, almost like a little club. I think another big reason we’re seeing a resurgence of indie labels also has to do with the Internet. The ability to use the Internet to find communities of people who really care about vinyl and show them you have something cool they can enjoy is incredible. It’s a whole new era now, where you don’t have to rely on distribution to get a record all over the world. You can use social media to spread what you have and, if you do it right and have something interesting, it will sell itself.
Aaron: What’s your thoughts on the whole ‘streaming’ aspect of the music industry that’s happening with Apple Music and Spotify?
Harry Portnof: I think it’s both good and bad. It’s great that bands can gain exposure for themselves from anyone who looks them up. But for the listener, I find it to be pretty bland. You can die and that shit will still be playing for the next 10 years – I personally don’t think it’s a very intimate listening experience, which is why I don’t use any streaming services. I prefer getting up and flipping a record and being apart of it all. With that being said, I do have an insanely large iTunes library I’ve put together and I’m really anal about it being super organized. Ironically, if I died tomorrow my iTunes would still be playing for the next two years.
Aaron: I absolutely in love with the transparent green Biffers’ EP. I want to hang it on my wall just as much as I want to listen to it! What’s the relationship like between you and the artists you’ve worked with? How much involvement do each of you have when it comes to design?
Harry Portnof: It’s a mutual experience. I’m also finding every band is different. Some bands are completely down for me to do what I want design-wise when it comes to the record’s appearance, while others basically have everything already planned out. Most have an idea ofwhat they would like and I try my best to fulfill their ideas and make them happy. Thankfully, it’s been pretty easy so far. With all of the records Greenway’s put out so far and is planning to put out in the near future, I like to make a limited version of the record with alternate covers that my buddy Dan Curran designs and hand-prints. Dan’s incredibly talented. All of the limited versions we’ve collaborated on have been the most popular, which makes all the extra time and effort worth it. Dan’s limited-edition cover actually ended up being the “standard” cover for GWY-001 because the band loved it so much.
Aaron: Is there any upcoming projects on the way you arereally excited about? tell us about that!
Harry Portnof: I’m really excited about everything coming up on Greenway! It’s looking like I’ll have 3 or 4 more records come out in 2015 and 2 more records come out in early 2016, all varying music-wise. There’s a lot of really toe tapping rock, some more punk, a singer/songwriter and some psych thrown in the mix.That’s what’s in the pipeline right now and I’m stokedfor what’s to come. I can’t get into specifics about the records just yet – I like to keep an element of surprise. But I can mention my next record, the vinyl debut by Chicago’s The Holy Motors. They’re really great and it’s a rocking 45 I can’t wait to put out. It’s a co-release with my friend over at Jett Plastic Recordings in Detroit and we’ll both have exclusive versions with sweet inverse handmade covers by Dan Curran.
Aaron: Building an indie label from the ground up isn’t an easy task and I see plenty of music lovers out there trying to get their very own labels started. what would advice would you have for someone trying to start their own, or trying their hand at the music industry in general?
Harry Portnof: Be open-minded to all types of bands and know that a lot of it is gonna fall through (sorry to be depressing, but it’s the truth). But if you’re determined and persistent, you’ll find bands that believe in you and want to be apart of your vision and there’s nothing better than that. It also helps to be good with visual art or to have a friend who is, which is what Dan Curran’s done for me at Greenway; he takes every artistic idea I have in my head about what I want Greenway’s aesthetic to be and turns them into a reality. If it was just me, there would be a lot more stick figures.
Aaron: If I were a musician and interested in getting my music printed on vinyl, how would I get a hold of Greenway Records? Is there a certain criteria (aside from making good music) to get a project going with you guys?
Harry Portnof: The best way to contact Greenway Records is by emailing your stuff to firstname.lastname@example.org. As Imentioned, I really do listen to everything I’m sent and I try my best to get back to everyone in a timely manner. Making good music helps, but there is no real criteria and I’m pretty open to anything. I also list my contact info on GreenwayRecords.com and all of our social media accounts and encourage bands to send in submissions.
Aaron: What’s the end game with Greenway Records? Are you trying to stay relatively grass-roots or are you poised to take over the music world? What are your ambitions from a business standpoint?
Harry Portnof: At the moment, building the label and a grass-roots following is my priority. I do have a lot of “bigger picture” ideas and plans, including turning Greenway into a physical location in NYC and making it an awesome and innovative place for any music lover to check out. So be on the lookout for that in the future and be on the lookout for some great new vinyl coming at you right now.
Aaron: Where can we find your stuff?
Harry Portnof: You can find everything for sale on GreenwayRecords.com. You can also “like” us on Facebook Facebook.com/greenwayrecords and follow us on Instagram (@GreenwayRecords) and Twitter (@Greenwayrcrds), since social media is the best and fastest way to find out news these days.
Aaron: What’s the Greenway Records mission statement?
Harry Portnof: Greenway: The Only Way.
I would like to thank Harry for taking the time out for our conversation, but also for also being passionate about indie music and providing an outlet for artists to get their records out. I own two records from the label, and they are not only cool to listen to, but cool to look at! Streams and downloads may be the way of the future in the music world, but nothing compares to having a physical copy on vinyl. Indie labels like Greenway aren’t ‘keeping the scene alive’ they are the scene! Head on over to the site and purchase some high quality rock n roll on some high quality wax!