There are music lovers, and then there are music lovers. The thing that separates the casual vinyl buyer from the collector with 50,000 records. It’s that deep love that pushed Cheryl Pawelski to leave her first job in advertising to work in a record store.
She had such a curiosity about how records are made — both physically and figuratively — that she left Milwaukee and headed to Los Angeles to find out. Pawelski started as a temp at Capitol Records. She went on to spend 12 years at Capitol, became Vice President of Catalog Development at Concord Music Group, and then became Vice President of A&R at Rhino Entertainment.
The three-time Grammy nominee learned a great deal as a producer, saw the music industry change, took the lessons, and then built her own monolith.
“Labels are caught in a technological interruption. The scale is such that the labels can’t sustain as big as they are. I wanted to reduce the scale and be a conduit to the fans,” she said.
Starting a record label seems like an overwhelming task — the talent, the manufacturing, the contracts — even for a seasoned pro. But Omnivore Recordings is about examining what the market needs, meeting all the needs, paying attention to where industry pitfalls have happened, and remembering why you got into the business in the first place. It’s about keeping something alive.
Together with three partners — Dutch Cramblitt in sales and marketing, Brad Rosenberger in publishing and product, and Greg Allen in photography and design — the label was formed in 2010.
Without question, the music industry has changed — we are reminded of this all the time, as other industries look to the giant to figure out what went wrong and how they can avoid it.
“The music business was kind of co-opted by other businesses for their own profit. There’s a misnomer that ‘iTunes saved the music business’ or ‘Spotify is saving the music business.’ To me, they are just using the end product of the music business to sell hardware or subscriptions. That’s no longer the music business to me. The music business was about selling records and music, not about selling iPods,” Pawelski explained
“Our goal really is to sell music.”
Omnivore is not your father’s record company. It’s a multiple revenue stream enterprise with a publishing arm, an effort in music documentaries and films, and a consulting service that helps estates preserve and catalog their assets. Omnivore recordings are available on CD, vinyl, and digital. You can get their music directly from the label, at a record store, in iTunes, or on Amazon.
“We’re everywhere that you need to be, which is what you need to be,” she said.
Omnivore seeks ways to be unique. For instance, in honor of Record Store Day (an industry effort to drive traffic back into indie record stores) — her label is putting out two limited edition products: a vinyl 10-inch by the band The Knack, and a vintage Buck Owens coloring book that comes with a four-song flexi disc and a download card.
Artists on the label tend to be musicians she has worked with for a sustained period of time, or reactions to fluctuations in the marketplace. Musicians currently on the label include: Big Star, Alex Chilton, Jellyfish, The Knack, The Motels, and Buck Owens, among others.
“My job for a long time at big labels was to look for the holes in the bins. I ask myself: What’s the next chapter of the story I can tell for this artist?”
With less bottom line pressure and less overhead, her own venture has afforded Pawelski all the benefits entrepreneurs want — she’s able to be a lot more creative, take more chances, surprise fans, and produce high quality work every time.