Here we are with the second interview in our seven-part series of label profiles – Shawn Dorsey, founder of Know Hope Records.
RL: Hey Shawn! Thanks for taking some time to do this interview. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
SD: Hey! Thanks for having me. A little bit about me…I was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA where I still live today with my wife, Erica, and our dog, Rocky. Outside of going to college I have lived in Philadelphia pretty much my whole life and the city’s music scene has influenced me heavily. Outside of music I am a pretty big hockey fan (go Flyers), I enjoy discovering art and traveling with my wife and friends.
RL: What ignited your passion for music?
SD: I have an sister who is ten years older than me and she was pretty into music, so I got into music at an early age. When she was in high school and college the grunge scene had completely taken over the mainstream, so I got into bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, etc at a pretty young age, and then eventually discovered bands like Green Day and Blink-182. At that point I was pretty hooked and was constantly seeking out new bands. When I was in fifth grade I moved to a new school and became best friends with JD Perry and George Ciukurescu (both of whom were in the band Valencia) and we all shared a passion for music and we ended up forming a band later that year and we all ended up staying involved in music throughout our lives.
RL: Before you launched KHR, you were a performer – did you ever think that was something you’d do for the rest of your life, or did you know that eventually you’d be doing something else?
SD: I played in and toured with various bands through college and for a little bit after I graduated. I never really thought that I would be doing that for the rest of my life, or even as a career, though. It was a blast and there’s times where I miss it, but I always thought that it would come to end and I would get a “real job” someday. For me, though, once I did get into a 9 to 5 life of what most people would consider normalcy, it just was never for me. I absolutely hated it and I always found myself being drawn back towards music.
RL: Out of all the different avenues in the music industry, what made you decide on founding a label?
SD: That’s a good question. I was always a big fan of record labels, even going back to a young age. I am 33 years old, so the internet existed when I was younger, but obviously not in the same capacity as it does now. You weren’t really able to get full albums via downloading, at least not that I remember, and for the most part discovering new bands via the internet was a slower process than it is now, you know? Back then I remember being a fan of certain labels and just trusting them and checking out whatever they were releasing. Labels like Epitaph and Fat Wreck Chords putting out comps were a huge point of music discovery for me, and then later on Drive Thru, Vagrant, Equal Vision, Revelation, etc. we’re all huge influences. I was always drawn towards the community feeling that revolved around independent labels, so that was a big part of it.
On another note…I was out of music entirely for a few years. I wasn’t playing music at all and the extent of me being involved in the community was just going to shows. In late 2012/early 2013 a friend of mine had a new project that had a small label backing it, and that label ended up backing out at the last minute. I ended up helping them put them record out and it went pretty well. From there I kind of just thought that maybe I could formalize that, start a label and help bands out and that could be a way that I could get back into music without playing in a band and/or touring, which wasn’t really in the cards for me anymore. That’s basically where the idea for KHR came from.
RL: To build off the previous question, why an independent label?
SD: Well, once the idea came about I just started to work towards starting the label on my own…I tried to save as much as I could so that when we did start there would be some funding available to do multiple projects and I just did whatever I could to pursue officially starting KHR. I never really thought about pursuing working at a major label or anything like that. I guess also, like I was saying earlier, I was always drawn towards the community aspect of independent labels, so that was definitely a factor as well. Even though things are much different these days for labels than they were in the era that I referenced earlier, that community aspect still exists with labels and there are a ton of current labels that I admire and aspire to be like that have that same sort of community feel, ethos, etc. Labels like Polyvinyl, Run For Cover, Topshelf, Tiny Engines are all an inspiration to me in the same way that others were when I was younger. So yeah, that was definitely a driving factor as well.
RL: Given that you went into the indie business instead of a major record label, you must see a benefit to operating under the former instead of the latter. Can you expand on that?
SD: I think that independents and majors are technically working towards the same things, but in very, very different ways. In operating as independent label we’re obviously working with less money and resources than a major, but I feel like the goals are different…or at least the steps that go towards getting to the end goal. Majors aren’t really (at least in most cases) looking to develop acts. To me the model of a major is to put as much into a funnel and the stuff that comes is going to be making so much money and impact that the rest of it just doesn’t matter. On the independent side of things we’re often working with bands that are just starting out or just starting to tour and really get going, and we’re looking to help them develop into whatever they’re going to grow into. Sometimes that can be a quick process and a band will just take off, but more often than not it is a developmental process that takes time, effort and work. The benefit of operating independently, to me, is that you have the flexibility to measure results over the long term and in different ways rather than just a singular, monetary version of “success.” I also feel like independent labels work with their artists as partners and your success is ultimately attached to theirs, so it creates a better relationship.
RL: What is one of the highest points to date of KHR?
SD: There have been a lot of high points for KHR. We started off technically in 2015 and our first release was in 2016…we’ve grown considerably every year. If I had to pinpoint one high point, though, it would definitely be working with Vinnie Caruana (The Movielife, I Am The Avalanche) on his upcoming solo record. We’ll be releasing that on October 4th of this year. I was a huge fan of both The Movielife and I Am The Avalanche, so even when I just got to meet Vinnie for the first time I had to try and stop myself from being a fanboy. That Vinnie thought enough of KHR to trust us with this record and work with us is such a huge honor, and that’s definitely been a big high point for the label.
RL: There are people out there who question the relevancy of record labels today. So, what makes them so important?
SD: It’s certainly a valid question. I think that labels are still important because balancing every aspect of your or your band’s career can be a really daunting task. Today’s reality is that anyone can release a record and get it to every single major digital service provider, bandcamp, etc. The fact also means that there is a lot of noise out there and it can be very tough to break through it. On top of that there’s getting your album out on physical mediums, getting it to press folks who have the ability to take your release to thousands of eyes and ears, touring, etc. If you can do it all on your own, which in 2019 some are able to do, that’s great. The reality is still that it is very tough to do everything on your own, and labels are able to help facilitate at least some aspects of that. For me and KHR our goal is to facilitate as much of that as we can while also constantly being an advocate for our artists…in my eyes its always a good thing to have more people in your corner advocating for you.
RL: Where do you see the music industry ten years from now?
SD: That’s a really good question and a tough one to answer. Obviously streaming has become most dominant medium over the past number of years, and I think that it’s going to continue to become even more dominant. I just hope that the streaming platforms/companies can come up with a system that pays artists fairly. I’ve read a lot of interesting ideas and proposals about how to do that, so I just hope that those conversations continue and ultimately we can arrive at a place that pays the artists better, because streaming isn’t going anywhere and its just going to continue to grow in my opinion. I do think that physical mediums, especially vinyl, are going to continue to be important. You’re already starting to see the growth in those numbers plateau a little bit, but I think that there are a lot of people that passionate about music and that unless there’s some sort of revolutionary new medium (like the introduction of CDs in the 90s and downloading in the 2000s) that vinyl is going to continue to be important moving forward.
RL: At the beginning of 2020, Know Hope Records will be…
Continuing to do what we’ve been doing since we started…absolutely whatever we can for our artists. We’re well into working on our 2020 release schedule already and doing more things than we’ve ever done. We have gotten involved in booking for our bands that need help with that and in general just taking on more and getting involved with anything that we can to help our artists grow. We did a charity comp that released on bandcamp in 2017. I hope to do that again in 2020 but on an even bigger scale, and my plan is to do an annual charity comp. We’d also like to maybe to a Know Hope Tour or a Know Hope Festival/Showcase at some point. We’re also working on putting together a KHR event at SXSW in 2020 as well.
Thank you for having me!