Business

Sylvan Esso Teams With Secretly For Psychic Hotline Label

Sylvan Esso
Nick Sanborn & Amelia Meath*

Sylvan Esso

Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn, the artists behind the electro-pop band Sylvan Esso, have never had a bad label experience. Sanborn calls Partisan Records, the band’s first home, “the dream of an indie,” and Loma Vista Recordings, the group’s current label, “a safe place,” one that has allowed the duo to “explore a different level of the business than we had before.”

Now they are looking to pay it forward with the official Aug. 4 launch of their own label, Psychic Hotline, with manager Martin Anderson and Kris Chen, formerly of Nonesuch Records. “We are benefitting so directly from having people who really advocated for us really early on in our careers,” Meath tells Billboard, “and we wanted to create a label that was as independent minded. We wanted to be able to re-gift that to artists that we believe in.”

Though the label has quietly released music since 2018 from artists in and around the group’s North Carolina community, Psychic Hotline now has a distribution partner in Secretly Distribution, part of the Secretly Group, and a vision for expansion that involves artist-centric deals.

“We’ve always been really lucky to have a management that has negotiated really aggressive, very artist-centric deals for us, which I think is one of the reasons why our experience with labels has been relatively less painful,” Meath says. Those artist-friendly negotiations involved securing short-term deals with labels, which is why, for example, the band already fully owns its 2014 self-titled debut album.

Courtesy Photo
Psychic Hotline

Meath and Sanborn plan on offering similar short-term, flexible deals to artists who sign with them. “We don’t ever want anyone to be in a situation where they’re stuck with us,” Sanborn says. “All of our deals are organized around consent and autonomy. If it’s not working for them, we want them to be able to walk and take their work.”

Psychic Hotline will not seek to own any masters, and Meath and Sanborn say that the goal will always be to work out the best deal for the artist, rather than the label. “In every situation that we possibly can, the artist will be making more money than the label,” says Meath. “The idea is basically to neutralize the idea of a record label, and to be able to give a band an offer so that they can use it to get better offers from other labels.”

The label’s official launch happens at a time when independent labels and artists are continuing to transform the industry. Despite the pandemic challenges and subsequent revenue losses of 2020, independents still grew by 6.7 percent, with much of that coming from streaming, where they were up by 27 percent, according to a MiDIA Research report on 2020 revenue.

While there is no official roster for Psychic Hotline, the label will be focusing on a special singles series in the coming months that will be available on DSPs and in limited runs on vinyl. The series debuts with Meath and Blake Mills’ "Neon Blue," as well as an instrumental version of the same song from Sam Gendel. Sylvan Esso’s debut album will be reissued Oct. 8, and a special Mountain Man reissue is slated for later this year.

Meath and Sanborn are also celebrating the label’s unveiling with the Psychic Hotline Block Party scheduled for Aug. 14 at Cat’s Cradle in North Carolina. The venue is a short drive from their Chapel Hill recording studio, Betty’s, named for Sanborn’s grandmother.

“To us, the label feels attached to this space in a way,” says Sanborn. “The whole point is to provide a space to enable artists to make work that might not be able to get made any other way. Whether or not it’s profitable doesn’t really matter. It’s just been this absolute joy, especially during the pandemic, of having this haven to go to, and we want that feeling to be the guiding feeling of the label.”