A&R Reps on who they'll sign, who they won't

A&R Reps: Who They'll Sign--Who They Won't


Portia Sabin, Owner - President
Submissions: Website

One of the few female-run independent labels in the United States, Kill Rock Stars (KRS) has a long and colorful history. It was founded in 1991 by Slim Moon who ran it until 2006 when he became Sr. Director of A&R at Nonesuch Records. Portia Sabin then took over operations. Known for its eclectic roster and indie spirit, KRS has released tracks and records by Nirvana, Elliot Smith, Sleater-Kinney, Deerhoof, the Melvins, Bikini Kill and the Decemberists.

Does your label have a musical focus?
Although many of our acts are rock-based, our roster has a lot of diversity–we’ll check almost anybody out (except EDM or metal). I have noticed that some of our biggest successes have been bands with women in them. We seem to have a strong chemistry with those acts. We are also attracted to artists that have something to say, no matter what genre–especially if it’s political.

What’s your label’s philosophy?
Our mission is to put out exceptional records by important artists, and to continue our tradition of being queer-positive, feminist and artist-friendly. Additionally, we believe in doing it yourself, and see our job as helping artists realize their vision. In a culture that rewards mediocre music with a quick buck, we feel lucky that we get to work with artists who challenge mediocrity on a regular basis. Plus, we love the music.

What type of acts attract you?
We like artists who are willing to work as an artist. They must be serious about a career. In fact, if they want to be successful, they must treat it like a job. So, I like self-sufficient acts that are in it for the long haul. Acts that understand the business and have put in work already are no brainers. What I won’t sign are acts that feel entitled.

How important are social media numbers?
They’re important if they’re zero, or extremely low. The first thing I do is Google an act. I need to see that they have an online presence. I look for fan engagement and evidence that they are working at it.

How important are live performances?
They’re vitally important, especially today. I don’t like signing acts I haven’t seen play live. If you don’t have a great live show you’re not going to find fans.

What kind of deals do you offer?
We’re old-school––we don’t do 360 deals. We offer a Net Profit 50/50 deal. We only share in sales; the artist gets to keep everything else. I think it’s the right thing to do. We tend to work with acts at the beginning of their career, so we keep costs low so they can recoup and start making money quickly.

How do you promote your acts?
We talk with them to see what they need. We try to put them on tour as soon as possible. I also have a podcast, called The Future of What, that plays music from our roster. (killrockstars.com/thefutureofwhat) and explores the business. •

1 2 3 4 5