10 Questions with ... Hannah Carlen
July 25, 2011
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
My career began (where else?) in college radio. I was Music Director at WSPN/Skidmore College Radio for three years, served a quick stint interning at McGathy Promotions, and then spent six years with SPECTRE/Distiller before starting here with the labels in January of 2011.
1. What got you interested in the record business?
I really don't know! I started going to smaller venue concerts in about the middle of high school, and pretty quickly I started booking shows for a friend's band. I loved music, but I don't think I had a heady reason for being interested in "The Business;" I'm pretty sure I saw my friends working on stuff for their bands and I thought, "I can do this."
2. What was your favorite station to listen to when you were a kid?
My first radio memory is of scanning the dial looking for whichever station was playing R.E.M. at that moment. I know I listened to Z100/WHTZ, too, because I went to a Jingle Ball in the mid-'90s where (get this) the Indigo Girls, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Bon Jovi, Hole and Green Day all performed. The Gin Blossoms might've played, too. I was most excited about Toad the Wet Sprocket and Hole.
3. Is it much different doing promotion for a label as opposed to an indie firm?
It's VERY different, much more than I realized it would be. Indie promo has the advantage of a lot of breadth -- different labels, genres, artists -- and I liked the diversity of artists we worked with and, by extension, the diversity of the campaigns we put together.
Working at the label group now, though, there's so much depth to working with each artist and release ... and I absolutely love it. Here, I not only have the freedom to craft an efficient, meaningful plan for each artist, but I have the lead-time and resources to execute it in a way that benefits everyone, and that engages my bands as much as possible. People don't usually think of promotion as a creative field necessarily, but from an in-house chair I'm able to make it one. I miss some of my former artists and labels for sure, but I'm completely sure this is the better fit for me. That the bands (and my co-workers) are this good makes it the best.
4. What may surprise people the most about Jagjaguwar Records?
There are more colorful surprises I could share, but I know some people are still confused, so I can't resist reiterating this: Secretly Canadian + Jagjaguwar + Dead Oceans = three labels, one label group. We are a label group, ladies + gents!
5. Where do you get your greatest pleasure in doing record promotion?
When I hear stations and bands get genuinely excited about one another. Sometimes it's a skeptical MD calling me after a killer in-studio, or a surprising first listen to a record. Other times it's a tired, worn-out band performing at a station they're too tired to visit, and they call me afterward to say how much fun they had, how much they enjoyed meeting/working with the station staff. Watching that relationship take root is just the best.
6. What is the toughest part of your job?
Agreeing to disagree.
7. Who do you see as the next breakthrough artist for the label?
Yeasayer (on Secretly Canadian) or Sharon Van Etten (on Jagjaguwar), depending who finishes an album first. Sharon's songwriting is about the most elegant and breathtaking I've ever heard. I was a major fan before I started working here, and she was signed a few months after, so I'm extra excited about it. And Yeasayer pack more imagination into every song than most bands bring to a whole record.
8. How does your label group increase exposure of your artists outside of traditional radio promotion?
One thing I've noticed is the effort we make to connect our bands to one another. To call this one big family is sort of cheesy and unrealistic, but a lot of them are genuine friends and fans of each other. I don't think I've been backstage for any of our bands' shows without encountering another of our bands back there as well, and the result from a wonky, marketing-minded standpoint is a "rising tide lifts all boats" effect. In addition to being effective, it's really touching, actually.
9. What would surprise people most about you?
I really am at a loss! I'm a pretty straightforward sort of person, though maybe that in itself would surprise some.
10. If you were to leave the record business today and you could choose any other occupation, what would it be?
Honestly, I think I'd stay in radio! If I couldn't advocate for bands or music, I'd hop a new fence and try to do PR for a station like WHYY or WNYC, somewhere with really spectacular news and culture reporting. If that answer is ruled too close to home, I'd love to own a small bar.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time away from work?
I love restaurants, football (the Giants), basketball (the Blazers), and radiolab. I'm also so happy to be back in New York that just re-exploring the city has become a hobby unto itself.
Last non-industry job:
Waitress at the now-closed Miss Ellie's Homesick Bar & Grill on the Upper West Side. They had amazing key lime pie.
First record ever purchased:
Not counting my "Flashbeagle" cassette, I'm pretty sure it was Janet Jackson 'Rhythm Nation 1814.'
Billy Joel at Yankee Stadium in what must've been 1989 or 1990. Not cool, but something I'm immensely proud of anyway.
Favorite band of all-time: