What happens when an ambitious woman gets frustrated with the "old boys club" in the music management industry? She starts her own company, creates a badass roster of undeniable musicians, and earns herself a spot at the round table.
That, at least, is what ambitious woman Cathy Pellow did—and with resounding success.
As a band manager, Pellow realized she'd had enough of trying to work with male-centered, bureaucratic label companies to get her artists represented. So she changed the game by founding Sargent House. The company serves as a two-in-one band manager and label for hand-picked musicians, promoting their work while giving them artistic freedom.
I've been following Sargent House since 2010, and am always impressed by the quality of music the label consistently produces. Sargent House fights the good fight for talented artists and the consumers who love them, and I personally could not be more thankful for it.
Pellow chatted with Ravishly about how she can tell if a band is great, the problem with Nicki Minaj ass talk, and why it's OK to love an underground band that makes it big.
You started your label, Sargent House, in 2006. What do you do differently than other labels? What about your company sets it apart?
What’s nice about the label is that it grew from the perspective of managers and artists. As a manager, I was finding that there was often a lot of disconnect with the labels. Essentially, what’s different is that we remove as many middlemen as possible. We really try to keep a direct connection between the people that we’re doing business with and the artist. We remove that whole barrier, and that makes it pretty effective, to be honest.
How did you come up with the name “Sargent House”?
I have an old 1920s house in the hills in Echo Park. That is historically called "Sargent House." So it’s literally named after the house from which it came.
Sargent House EU, the label's European branch, is relatively new. Was that always in the game plan? What set off this leg of your musical journey?
We’ve always been worldwide, so it’s just another way to service our bands. It isn’t separate; it’s very united, so there’s really no reason to have social platforms or websites separately for them anymore.
Your label has a strict ‘no submissions’ policy. Each artist that is on the label, is also managed by SH. How do you discover and choose the artists that you sign?
I don’t have a ‘strict’ no submission policy. I just don’t want everyone and his brother sending me music. There’s a whole lot more than just hearing some tunes that would make me sign a band. Where are you in your career? How driven are you? How many people are in your band? Is it a hobby band? You can make great tunes but if you’re a six piece and you live in Peru and you all have wives and kids, I can’t help your band. The best bands, the ones that are truly above the rest, get noticed in their first and second shows—it’s that fast. Only about 1% of the bands are really the full package. They’re fucking undeniable. Those are the bands I sign.
My entire career has been choosing people who want to do the most sought-after jobs on Earth. I’m a slave to torture, but it’s inspiring. There are millions of people out there doing it, but there is a small percentage that are just absolutely better than everyone else. I specialize in finding the people with "the gift." It’s my thing, babe.
Sargent House proves time and again that good music exists in the world, but step into any restaurant or grocery store or go to a dance party and you hear the mainstream radio hits that just aren't good. In your opinion, when did music become something that needs to be 'catchy' instead of something that forces us to stop what we’re doing and feel it?
You mean, how do I feel about the fact the Chelsea Wolfe isn’t as big as Lorde? Sometimes it bums me out. Actually it bums me out a lot. What I can't understand is, we do have music that is artful and experimental but still very accessible to normal people. They would like it if they just try it, and it sucks that they’re all so busy discussing Nicki Minaj's ass—even though, bless her booty. I mean, whatever, I’m not a fucking snob and I don’t hate on anybody. It doesn’t bum me out that mainstream music exists. You know what depresses me more? When we make incredible leaps, like the Game of Thrones thing for Chelsea, and to hear her fans give her shit instead of being happy for her. That’s been a problem with some of our bands becoming more mainstream, because people don’t want to tell other people about it because they don’t want them to become more popular. Anyone who is a true fan should be happy when they see an artist that they loved early on gain notoriety, because it means we’re winning the war against shit.
If you had to boil your musical mission down into a single sentence, what would it be?
Keep helping to enable artists that deserve to be heard and who deserve to make a living from their work.
The crowds that your bands bring are true music lovers that have sought out Sargent House shows specifically. What does it feel like to see your dream of bringing people good music actualized?
That’s my favorite part, the live experience. It’s like, “Wow! This is working!” It’s really rewarding to go to shows to see these bands who are my kids and to watch them evolve and know there are people out there who are stoked about what we’re doing. It makes me speechless.
The SH brand is a family and it seems like you’re always up to something new, whether building a music farm or putting out a podcasts. What can we expect to see from Sargent House in the near future?
We’re actually launching thefarmfamily.com, which is a big deal but we haven’t made a big fuss about it. I really like having a place where I can talk about things that are great. I don’t live in a bubble of just music. It’s music-based, but it's a community that transcends just being a record label or a manager.
The Farm Family is a physical location in the desert surrounded by the mountains. It’s a really magical place and we’ll be shooting and recording tons of stuff out there. We’ve been covering “behind the scenes” in our way. Which is very organic and cool, and for true music lovers it’s way more interesting. We’re putting up content that no one else has access to with artists that we really believe in no matter what genre of art they make. I really like to encourage the building of community.
Music management and distribution is a pretty male-dominated industry. Do you bump up against gender expectations in your work? And how do you handle it?
Own your own company. No one can boss you around when you’re the boss. I’ve always owned my own company because I’m a woman. If men are going to treat me like I’m a fucking idiot, then I’m not going to be in the same room and I’m going to start my own game. At 22 I started my own company and I’ve never worked for anyone since.
I came out of film; I didn’t get the boys club in the film industry the way I did in music. But now I’ve earned my spot at the boys table even though it can all be so boring, so I choose not to sit there very often.
What's the best advice that you've ever received?
I guess to respect those around you, and when you do, incredible things will happen. I live in a total belief of karma being real. Even if it isn’t, it is to me. Have manners—it's that simple. Say thank you, be kind and be a human being, and good things come back to you.
What advice do you have for other women who are trying to get into the music management/label game?
The same. Be kind and don’t take any shit, but don’t have a chip on your shoulder about being a woman either. Be careful of bitterness. If you truly believe yourself to be equal, be equal. Don’t make a fuss about being treated equally, earn it.
Don’t let people get in your fucking way, help other people, and don’t be a jealous cunt. I can say that because I have one, and I’ve been one.
A lot of the SH bands release vinyl records (thank you, by the way!). What is your favorite way to listen to music?
I like my music loud. I listen to music mostly on my iPod. I love that people love vinyl again, it’s more of a ritual and an appreciation of music. But I’m not one of those crazy people that’s like, “I only listen to vinyl."
Do you play music yourself?
No. I always joke that if I played music I’d be off trying to play music. I’m as tone deaf as they come. Being a musician can be like being a mathematician. I tell my bands that I would hate to be them because I hear music with unadulterated baby ears and don't know to analyze it all so deeply.
Photos courtesy of Chelsea Wolfe and Sargent House