Interview with Record Label Manager, Aaron Meola

aaron-meola by effixx 2014.jpg

Field Notes Interview #87: Aaron Meola, Tender Loving Empire Record Label Manager

This week, we're celebrating our friends over at Tender Loving Empire and the amazing work they do for independent artists and musicians. For this installment of Field Notes, we're getting the label's perspective by chatting with producer, promoter, band manager and Tender Loving Empire's record label manager, Aaron Meola, about the inner workings of the music industry and what he looks for when signing new bands.

This Thursday (May 26), from 2:00PM - 3:00PM PDT, Aaron will be taking over our Twitter account and will field any questions you may have. Here's a chance to learn more about Aaron -- from his favorite kind of cat to his vast knowledge of the music industry. All you need to do is follow us on Twitter and start your question with the hashtag #MarmoAMA.


A victor of vinyl.

It's safe to say that Aaron Meola has had a role in every aspect of creating a record -- from producing it to releasing it and getting it out into the world. From the inception phase of writing the song as a producer, to being a band manager, and working as Tender Loving Empire's record label manager, he knows the complex intricacies of the music landscape. We got a chance to talk to Meola and dive into his deep reservoir of knowledge about what it's like on the label side of the music industry. Check him out in his own words. Enjoy.

Marmoset: Are you a musician? If so, was that your starting point in the music industry? If not, how did you find yourself working in music? Tell us your story.

Aaron Meola: I’m not much of a musician myself, but have always been surrounded by artists. I’ve been more on the business side of things, helping creative people reach their audience. I helped form a DIY electronic record label and collective called Dropping Gems around 2009, which had some relative success for a number of years. Along with that, I promoted underground electronic shows in Portland, Seattle and Olympia, put together compilations that had some international attention, and was just generally a music head and record collector, which led me to my first “real” jobs in the music industry.  

M: What’s your most memorable experience from working in music?

AM: There’s so many! But, overall I’d say getting to meet new people, traveling, and seeing new places because of music has been a highlight. One thing that will always stand out to me was having an artist I work with play at The Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. I’ve been to a ton of venues, but to be in a place with so much history, and to get to see the inner workings of the building was quite special for me. I also really enjoy getting to attend festivals in various cities, and observing/absorbing how people interact with music in other places -- it really helps put things into perspective coming from the music utopia of Portland.

M: When/how did you first come to TLE?

AM: I started at TLE back in March of this year, so pretty recently. Jared Mees, one of the founders of TLE, had been running the label before me since 2005 and is still involved in the label side of things, but has recently taken a step back to focus on the bigger picture of company as a whole as we grow. Before joining the team, I had been in tune with TLE and their artists through the Portland music scene, but had been in non-intersecting parallel circles for the most part. Prior to TLE, I was doing artist management for a company called Hard Land Management, working with acts like Gossip, Lower Dens, Yuck and Saintseneca. Before that, I worked for another agency in town called Autonomous Music that focused on electronic booking and management.

M: Tell us a little about your role as the label manager. What does your day-to-day look like?

AM: As a label manager, my main duties are working with artists and their teams to release music in the most successful ways possible. Each project takes a little bit of a tailored approach -- there is no exact way to do it or a set formula. I really enjoy working directly with artists to help them realize their vision and translate their ideas into a presentable format. Once the actual music for a release is finalized and mastered, there is a lot of work acting as a liaison between an ecosystem of project stakeholders including PR, radio, vinyl and CD manufacturers, and our distributor in addition to the artists team of management and booking agents. It’s important to have a steady hand and help guide things along while managing everyone’s expectations. Compared to other jobs I’ve had in the music industry, being a label manager is much more of a nine-to-five-type gig -- which, after years of being on call 24/7 in the management and touring world, is actually quite nice. At the current moment, I’m mostly focused on shepherding along a few projects due out later this year -- including a new album for Y La Bamba -- which I’m very stoked on -- and our annual Friends & Friends of Friends compilation. In conjunction with that, I’m scouting and signing artists for 2017. I spend several hours a week listening to demos and digging for new projects to work with.

M: What’s a common misconception about your role, as well as about record labels in general?

AM: I think a common misconception is that labels are less relevant than they have been historically. It’s true that over the past decade as new technologies have become available, it’s easier than ever for artists to self-distribute their music to some digital service providers, like iTunes. That being said, labels provide a framework and support structure, and it’s much easier to have long term success as a musician when you have the co-sign and funding from a label, especially if you are trying to tour. They provide a built-in fan base, plus resources and connections. Having worked with a number of unsigned artists self-releasing, compared to working with signed artists on a label, it’s much easier to grow outside a local market, or regionally. When you have the backing of a label, the difference is night and day.

M: What’s something you wish more people knew about TLE?

AM: TLE is a multi-genre record label, but that is just one component of the company. For those who only know about TLE through Marmoset, or who are not located in the Northwest, they might not know that we have three retail stores in Portland: Downtown, Hawthorne and NW 23rd. At the heart of TLE, we are curators, both of music and handmade goods. The stores sell crafts and DIY goods primarily from local artisans, in addition to music. We have about 20 employees, most of whom work on the handmade and retail side of the business.

M: When looking into potential new artists to sign, what are some of the qualities that you find exciting?

AM: There’s a few key things we look for when signing a new act. They need to be at a place in their career where we as a label can truly help them, and we have something to offer them. It’s also important that there is a unique story behind the artist -- something that makes them stand out to fans and listeners. It’s always a positive when we find an artist who is on a nice upward trajectory, even if they are starting out from the bottom. More than anything though, the music needs to speak for itself and be undeniable.

M: When you sign a band, do you tend to get involved in the choice of producer, or do you leave that up to the band?

AM: For the most part I like to let the band work with whoever they want to work with. Sometimes we’ll have a conversation about it, and as a label we can help point them in certain directions. Working with a producer is a very personal thing, so it’s best for there to be a natural connection between all the creative minds. There is a lot of producer talent in Portland and the Northwest as a whole. The options are diverse and there’s a great pairing for everyone out there, if working with a producer is the road they want to go down.

M: Do you have any advice to offer up to incoming artists/bands?

AM: Let your music speak for itself, and always stay true to what made you get involved in music in the first place.

Posted on May 23, 2016 and filed under Music.