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In 1994, while still in high school, Darcie and I founded Polyvinyl Press, a photocopied fanzine that mainly covered the DIY music scene we loved in the Champaign-Urbana, IL area and the greater Midwest. We sold zines at local record stores, at whatever ramshackle tables we could find in the back of basement shows, traded zines with other zine writers, and sent them out one-at-a-time via mailorder. We made countless friendships with bands. Our philosophy was to spread the word about bands we loved. Furthering that idea, we decided to release a split 7” with the third issue of the fanzine. Within a year we’d issued Braid’s first 7” Rainsnowmatch and a 20-band compilation called Direction—and in 1996 Polyvinyl Records was born.
Our business structure was (and still is) very simple: we’d work on a 50/50 profit sharing model with our artists. We admired Dischord and Touch and Go for championing this business model. It was a true partnership between the label and the band, instead of an adversarial relationship based on one side trying to get more than the other. We were artist-friendly because we were, well, friends with our artists. A partnership model was the perfect fit.
We never wrote a business plan or decided that we’d “start a record label.” We dropped out of college. We scraped together whatever resources we could to put out records. We worked hard and we learned as we went along. We kept our DIY mentality and we always tried to match the level of work and commitment of our bands.
Today, we are proud that Polyvinyl is still a 100% independently owned and operated company. We’ve grown steadily and organically: our catalog consists of more than 300 releases from more than 100 artists. We’re proud of our Midwest roots. Polyvinyl HQ is located in downtown Champaign, Illinois with satellite offices in Berkeley, California and New York City. We still work hard every day to tell the world about bands we love.
--Matt Lunsford, Co-Founder, Polyvinyl