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Self Aware Records: The Charlotte Music Record Label Keeps On Spinning

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Self Aware Records
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Since 2009, Self Aware Records has released records, CD's, tapes and beyond for more than 30 artists.

In 2008, Self Aware was an “indie zine” highlighting the rock, punk and alternative scenes of Charlotte music. While its mission hasn’t changed much over the course of a decade, Self Aware has now grown to become an award-winning independent record label that helps market and release records for more than 30 regional musicians. In the words of Self Aware co-founders Josh Robbins and Sarah Blumenthal, the keys to the label’s success are the same as the keys to the Charlotte music scene’s success: working with good people, making good music, and sticking around (through the ups and the downs).

"I've never really separated what I do as a person versus what I do as a record label, because I feel like it's all to fit the same goal: elevating where I live... which is Charlotte."
– Josh Robbins, co-owner of Self Aware Records

Interview Highlights:

On the origins of Self Aware:

Self Aware started as a zine. That started in 2008, about a year before the record label began. And there was an interview with a band called Lowbrow at the time, and we asked them what their future plans were.T hey said, “Well, you’re going to put out our record.” It was just kind of a joke in the interview, but me and Sarah talked about it. And we thought, “Why not!” And so we did it! And that was our first release… on a dare.

On the need for an independent record label in Charlotte:

We needed to highlight music in our area and give it the same platform as music in Richmond and D.C. or the bands in New Jersey and New York. We just didn’t have anyone saying, “Hey! This is here in Charlotte.” We would go play shows in some places, and they would excuse us from being from Charlotte. We would even go to Greensboro and places in North Carolina, and they were like, “Oh, you’re from Charlotte. But you’re good.” And we were like, “Why is that always a caveat with being from Charlotte?”

That was the story of a lot of punk, emo and hardcore labels that we idolized growing up. Essentially, they saw a need for something, and no one else was going to do it, so they just did it. We thought we could highlight our area in the same way.

On indie record labels creating a talent pipeline to major record companies:

I think that a lot of the bands that we think came out of nowhere and are all of a sudden superstars, actually started somewhere. And you’ll find that a lot of those bands, if you really dig into their history, were on an independent label. And it’s just a great starting point. It makes a big difference.

A lot of Self Aware’s bands have gone on to be on a bigger label, which is amazing. And we’re really happy for them and excited for that. And that’s what we want. We realize the limitations of what we can do financially and the things we have access to, and it’s success for us when a band that puts something out with us goes on to do something bigger. And hopefully they’ll keep getting bigger and bigger until they’re on a major label like Warner Brothers.

On scouting for talent for Self Aware Records:

Send us your demos. Both of Self Aware’s founders have been in bands, so whenever one of our personal bands records, we’re going to send the demos to every single label we want to be on, from a small record label to a major label like Merge and Sub Pop. It doesn’t hurt to try. And if the right person hears it and likes it, that’s all that you need. So send us your record. Send every label your record. There’s no reason not to.

Things we like to see as a label… for bands, we want to see bands do it on their own without us. So when I get a sense that a band is going to tour or a band is going to book their own tours and put out a release without speaking to us, that’s the kind of band I want to work with. I like knowing that, even if Self Aware’s not a part of the picture, they’re already poised to succeed on their own. So if we can give them a little push in that direction, that’s what Self Aware’s here for. Petrov is a great example of that. So if you’re making steps forward, we can help make those steps bigger.

Music featured in this #WFAEAmplifier chat:

Lowbrow - “Broken Speech”
World Champions - “Seen Bitten”
Junior Astronomers - “Slow Beat”
Andy the Doorbum - “The Great Spirit”
Petrov - “Sleepwalking”
Alright - “Reel Me In”

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Joni Deutsch is happy to call Charlotte home as WFAE's manager for on-demand content and audience engagement, where she's led the first Charlotte Podcast Festival (named one of the “best podcast conferences” by Buzzsprout) and helped produce such podcasts as FAQ City, SouthBound, Inside Politics, Work It and the Apple Podcast chart-topping series She Says. In addition to being an NPR Music contributor, Joni is also the creator and host of WFAE’s Charlotte music podcast Amplifier, named “Best Podcast” by Charlotte Magazine and honored for excellence in arts and music podcasting by the local Edward R. Murrow Awards and The Webby Awards (called “The Internet’s Highest Honor” by The New York Times).