Katie Garcia’s brand new record label, Bayonet Records, focuses its energies on brilliant songwriting and passionate and intense artists. As the HBIC, Katie searches the world for new and interesting artists, liaises with vinyl pressing plants, and does the day-to-day tasks that are part of managing the New York–based label. But she focuses the bulk of her attention on the needs of the artists she works with, and brings her overwhelming generosity, and kindness, to the job.
Katie founded Bayonet with her husband, Dustin Payseur of the band Beach Fossils, after four years working as the label manager of Captured Tracks. Bayonet is already building a diverse roster that makes groups like Warehouse—with their sparse, no wave guitar parts and guttural vocals—seem right at home next to Frankie Cosmos, famed for her impassioned bedroom recordings.
I sat down with Katie to talk about about the daily routine of a record label owner, how she got into the music industry, and how you might go about starting a label of your very own.
MEREDITH: What role did music play in your life when you were a teenager?
KATIE GARCIA: I recently went to my 10 year high school reunion and when I told everyone what I did, their reaction was the same, like, “Oh, duh, of course that’s what you’re doing.” I remember sitting in the halls of my high school in the morning, blasting music on my headphones, zoning out to certain songs and bands and feeling a really strong connection to them.
My uncles, who are 20-ish years older than me, were teenagers when I was a little kid. They had framed posters of the Stone Roses and this awesome picture of them with skateboards on the beach with Robert Smith, and I was like, “Who is that guy with the crazy hair and the makeup? Who is he?” Being around them really sparked my curiosity for that kind of music. That’s when I decided to check out the Cure and the Stone Roses and the Smiths. One of their friends, Johnny, made me an indie mix. It changed everything. That mix introduced me to Broadcast and Stereolab, who to this day are two of my favorite bands.
Once you discover one genre, you keep diving deeper and deeper. I started listening to psych and punk and new wave—my musical education is forever expanding. You tap into different parts of yourself when you listen to different types of music. I think that’s why, being a highly emotional person, I connect with it and feel passionate about it. That’s why I’ve chosen to do this with my life.
When did you decide that you wanted to be part of the music industry, and what did you to do prepare for it?
I studied film in college, but I realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I kind of took a step back and asked what in my life have I always felt passionate about? I’ve always been passionate about music. I emailed a couple of labels asking if they needed interns—I even called Matador Records on the phone! The response I got was funny, they chuckled and kind of said, “Uh, no, we don’t need any help right now.”
Captured Tracks was located two blocks away from where I was living [in Brooklyn], so I emailed them asking if they needed help and telling them I’d love to be involved in any way. I went in to interview and ended up staying the whole day and helping out. After months of me begging Mike [Sniper, founder of Captured Tracks] to hire me in whatever capacity, he offered me the position of label manager. I could not have been happier. I did that for four years. Mike and I went on this journey together where we learned how to run a record label from the bottom up. We didn’t know what a UPC was, we didn’t know what ISRCs were, we didn’t know what marketing was. We learned about it all through experience.
What does a day look like in the life of a label manager?
A label manager does a lot—they keep everything afloat. From checking up on the project managers to make sure all their projects are on time, to making sure everything is in production, talking with the bookkeeper, figuring out when to pay out royalty reports to artists, having good relationships with artists and reaching out to them, making yourself available in every and any way possible. There isn’t much difference between being a label manager and running your own label. The only difference is that now, both Dustin and I get to decide who to pay and when. Now he and I have the ultimate say, whereas before executive decisions would have to be run by someone else. It’s different in that way, where we have a little more control. And it’s nice to have that freedom.
When did you decide to split and start your own label?
Well, Dustin would always jokingly say to me, “Wouldn’t it be great if we did a label together and you managed it, because you already know how to do this?” Then a few things lined up and it seemed like it could become an actual reality. I’d just discovered Frankie Cosmos, whose music I really love and felt passionate about, and I wanted it to be something I did—something that he and I put out together. That was the turning point. We started seeking out bands; we asked a bunch of our friends for recommendations. Mac [DeMarco] told us about Jerry Paper. Dustin found out about Red Sea in his practice space. A guy was in there mixing their record [and] Dustin just turned around and said, “What is this?” Warehouse are an amazing band from Atlanta—some of the members live with Red Sea. Then there’s a bunch of Dustin’s side projects. It was really good timing.
If you want to start your own label, where do you begin? What are the early procedural steps?
Coming up with a name and logo are actually the two hardest things. It is so incredibly hard to come up with a name and logo! But even before you do that, figure out what your goals are for the label: What do you want your label to stand for? Our goal with Bayonet is to put out music by really interesting songwriters across all genres. People who have really singular, amazing voices.
Then, going on to the more technical boring aspects: registering yourself as a company in whatever state you’re in, [deciding] whether you want to be an LLC, or a sole proprietor, or a partnership—all those things you look into for tax purposes. Then, registering to get a tax ID. All those things that are not incredibly exciting.
Of course you can do without those things if you want to be really on-the-fly DIY. A 15-year-old can 100 percent start a record label. It depends on how big you want to go. Maybe you start off doing it all yourself: ripping cassettes one by one on whatever cassette duplicator you have. Then your label grows. Then you want to take the next step and do those tax things—that’s totally cool, too. Captured Tracks went through a similar process and look at them now.
Finding bands is a mix of a few things—mostly hearing about bands from going to shows or friends telling us. Then, once you get the wheels going on the label, getting demos through email, which is really nice and easy.
What are the strangest, least pleasant aspects of doing this for a living?
You have to tell a lot of really nice people no. Sometimes you get a great demo, or you get a decent demo but it’s not exactly what you’re looking for, and you have to say no. I usually write an encouraging response, you know, “This isn’t what we’re looking for but I hear that you’re a good songwriter, try this.” Or, “Keep at it.” It’s definitely important to encourage people and to let them down easy, to not crush someone’s dreams. It’s hard. It’s hard to say no, that’s the hardest thing about this job.
If someone came to you and said, “Katie, I want to start my own record label,” what’s the most honest advice you’d give them?
To be sure that they’re 100 percent passionate about it. It’s a lot of work, and if you’re doing it solely because you think it’s trendy or cool, don’t do it. You have to be in it because you feel really passionate about music and because you want to help artists. It’s all about getting people’s music out there who you believe in. You really have to believe in it, and you just have to remind yourself of that the whole time. Everything else will fall into place if you’re passionate about what you’re doing. You will figure it out as you go.
Just be smart, be frugal, ask for advice, don’t be afraid to ask for advice. I did. I asked so many of my friends that run labels for advice when Dustin and I were starting Bayonet. It’s a scary decision sometimes, to go out on your own, especially in a situation like ours where this will be our livelihood. Being nice and maintaining relationships with people, especially in a work setting but also on a personal level, is so incredibly important. There is no way our label would be doing what it is right now without the help of all the people involved. People remember when you’re kind to them and they also remember when you’re unkind to them. Be kind. ♦