BillboardPhoebe Bridgers’ third annual package highlighting the independent music industry opens with a look at Phoebe Bridgers’ Saddest Factory Records label.
Just before the pandemic, when the indie-pop singer-songwriter Claudius had coffee with Phoebe Bridgers to discuss signing Bridgers’ new label, they talked about Nickelodeon iCarly. In a 2008 episode of the show, about a teenage girl with a popular web series, a high-powered network executive picks up his agenda and, bit by bit, changes it beyond recognition. Claud wanted to know: “Are you going to do this to me?”
Bridgers had little interest in this approach. The first time she heard a Claud song, she was so captivated by the music that she texted her manager asking if Claud had been signed before the track was even finished. “The weirdest part of having a label is thinking, ‘What you’re doing is so great I want to ruin it! Let me fix something that’s not broken for you. !’ “, jokes Bridgers. In the end, his pitch to Claud was simple: “I think I could amplify what you are already doing.
This philosophy underlines Saddest Factory Records, the Bridgers label unveiled in October 2020, with Claud as its first signer. A standalone label within Secretly Group â home to Secretly Canadian, Jagjaguwar and Dead Oceans, who signed Bridgers in 2017 â Saddest Factory marks a new chapter in the career of one of indie rock’s brightest rising stars and success stories. pandemic. Since its debut release in 2017, Stranger in the Alpsthe 27-year-old has regularly created word-of-mouth buzz with her intricately detailed and quietly devastating writing that, post-2020s Punisherresonated deeply with a somber national mood â paced by four 2021 Grammy nominations and a performance in February on Saturday Night Live.
Now with its own label, Bridgers offers artists a chance to grow at their own pace, with little interference and all the resources of the Secretly Group team. “If I had released my first record on a major label, I think I would have been dumped immediately,” she says. “Dead Oceans had to twiddle their thumbs until people laughed at my music – and they weren’t going to give it up. That’s how I would describe it [with Saddest Factory].â
The label’s roster â which also includes alt-pop trio MUNA, chamber rock project Sloppy Jane (fronted by Haley Dahl) and singer-songwriters Scruffpuppie and Charlie Hickey â also benefits from Bridgers’ creative savvy. , highlighted in her inventive, early-pandemic remote performances, during which she transformed a skeleton jumpsuit into a fashion staple and tongue-in-cheek merchandise. (One sweatshirt features the hand gesture for a certain uncommon sex act.) “He’s a marketing genius,” says MUNA singer Katie Gavin, who compares Bridgers to Lil Nas X.
That’s part of what motivated Dead Oceans to sign Bridgers in the first place. “We loved the music, but there was something more to it,” says Phil Waldorf, co-founder of Dead Oceans and head of global marketing at Secretly Group. “It’s how Phoebe knew exactly what she wanted and how she wanted to show it to people. She had a very clear approach to a 360 degree presentation.
And while Bridgers says “a lot of labels have become totally irrelevant” in the Bandcamp era, she notes that looking at the work Dead Oceans has invested in their own projects – “The five-hour marketing meetings, where everyone world comes up with a trillion ideas, are a big selling point for meâ â showed him that having dedicated support in areas like distribution and promotion can elevate the careers of even the most determined. Exact terms vary, but Saddest Factory deals typically cover three albums as part of a profit split, and the label only has the rights to the recordings; it doesn’t take a publishing or revenue cut. live, for example.
Those resources were important to MUNA, who signed with Saddest Factory in May and later collaborated with Bridgers on their new anthem single, “Silk Chiffon.” (When asked what kind of professional help they were looking for with Saddest Factory, Gavin Deadpans, “Money.”) After releasing their first two albums on RCA Records, the band appreciated the lack of paperwork and willingness to Bridgers take risks. âThe main thing we wanted in a partnership was a more creative relationship in that we had an idea and that idea was implemented and fully executed,â says Josette Maskin of MUNA. (Even silly ideas â the band announced their signing with a funny press release and a photo of Bridgers handing the band a giant $10 million check.) “We just wanted to feel like we mattered.”
“We’re proof of how much you can do just by bringing things to people’s attention when you have a platform,” teammate Naomi McPherson says of Bridgers’ support. “It’s just a really cool vibe of leveraging your rig and not pulling the ladder behind you.”
And while Bridgers is in her element helping artists with music videos or wacky promotional ideas, she’s perhaps most vital when acting as a kind of artist-to-executive translator. “I’m not talking to [Secretly Group staff] just as much,â says Claud. “I’m like, ‘How did they just to know that’s what i thought and i didn’t even tell them? But now I realize it’s because Phoebe told them.
Bridgers speaks of his leadership as almost haphazard – each signing was “oddly serendipitous”, the sheer number of LGBTQ+ and non-binary artists on the roster is “a total accident”. (“Queer people are making the coolest f-king music by leaps and bounds, for me,” says Bridgers, who is bisexual.) But her self-deprecating comments about not reading spreadsheets or understanding budgets belies the very intentional community it has created â a place where artists are free to be themselves and can focus primarily on creating art.
Before signing with Saddest Factory, Claud, who is non-binary, had met with labels from time to time, but nothing seemed right. “I think they were a little scared, maybe, of my queerness or my transness,” they say. “Phoebe was really one of the first people to seriously look at my project and say, ‘I see this as something you can do for a long time. “”Gavin calls out the ‘Silk Chiffon’ video shoot – a tribute to the queer cult classic But I’m a cheerleader â one of the highlights of his professional life thanks to the inclusive atmosphere on set; during other video shoots, she says, the group sometimes received “comments about our physical appearance, and you wonder if it’s about whether or if a certain demographic is going to find you attractive.”
Now that Saddest Factory is just over a year old, Bridgers is relieved to see that all the hard work is starting to pay off: Sloppy Jane and Scruffpuppie are preparing new albums, while Hickey released an EP in February which will be physically released in november ; Claud is on tour with Bleachers (frontman Jack Antonoff tweeted that they are “one of the best new artists”), and “Silk Chiffon” recently became MUNA’s first hit on BillboardAirplay Alternate Reading Chart.
“We haven’t even had a proper label party yet,” Bridgers says. “I can’t wait to get everyone in the same room.”
This story originally appeared in the October 23, 2021 issue of Billboard.