An Interview with Don Giovanni Records

by Beck Macey

An Interview with Don Giovanni Records

In early June I got in touch with Joe Steinhardt, owner of Don Giovanni Records based out of New Brunswick New Jersey, and Professor of Music Industry at Drexel University. Joe’s label is not only incredibly impressive and diverse but also very forward thinking and progressive. We talked about the challenges of running a label during COVID-19 and the current state of the music industry. Before ending our conversation we briefly discussed how the music community could do a better job at listening to artists of color. Joe is a wise voice for many young adults breaking into the industry and incredibly professional. Please enjoy our interview!

Beck: If you were to describe Don Giovanni how would you encapsulate it?

Joe: I would just describe it as an independent record label to be honest

Beck: How did you label start?

Joe: I started the label in college with my friend Zach to release our own band's records and then started helping friends with theirs and in some ways that's still what it feels like I am doing.

Beck: What are some of your favorite aspects of owning a label and what are some of your least favorite aspects?

Joe: The artists I work with inspire me so much, I love getting to talk to them about their projects, about how they think about the world, I learn so much from them. What I love so much about independent music is being able to build something with those artists completely on their own terms and mine, outside of whatever structure the mainstream music industry has worked to standardize and normalize. Which segues into my least favorite aspect of owning the label. As we have grown, but to a greater extent as the music industry has become increasingly dominated by tech companies, we are forced to operate on their terms in more and more situations. I am forced to interact with people I don't respect at companies that I don't respect in ways which I never had to before and which independent record labels before me never had to before.

Beck: As an older more experienced voice in the music community, what advice would you give to college students and other young adults about to enter the industry full time?

Joe: I've got a few. First, know why you are doing what you are doing and then don't forget that as things grow or change. Figure out what your values are now rather than wait to be confronted with a decision where you have to decide them. Whatever your values are, if they are purely financial that is fine, and let that guide you, if they are purely cultural let that guide you, and anything in between the two. I cannot tell someone what the right things for them to value are or the right balance of culture and capital is for them, but if you put the time into figuring out your values now, and then follow them, you will always be happy. Next, treat everything you do with a long-term mindset. When putting together a project remind yourself that it will live in for 10-20-30 years and beyond even if you personally aren't in the industry any more. Finally, and perhaps most importantly and related to the first point, don't be afraid to say no to things. Don't be afraid to pass up a record that you know you can sell well if you don't care about it or if it doesn't fit with what you are doing. Don't be afraid to pass up a gig because you worry if you don't you won't get another one. If you focus on being the best version of yourself there will always be gigs, and if you focus on making your company the best version of itself there will always be great artists to work with.

COVID questions

Beck: How has COVID-19 effected Don Giovanni?

Joe: It has certainly been a challenging couple of months and my answer to this question has been changing by the week. It has certain affected our sales, which has meant slowing down our release schedule slightly so we have enough money to pay for new releases, but I think the bigger effects on the label will be long term. I am very worried about what will happen when things re-open and many independent stores and venues close for good. Independent music is a community and it needs all of these different parts to keep moving.

Beck: What are some ways you have adapted since March?

Joe: Mainly just slowing our release schedule down for the future. We have had 6 new releases come out between March and now that were previously scheduled and they have all sold better than we expected. I am not sure when or if things will ever feel like Feb. 2020 ever again, and so we are back to scheduling everything we would normally be scheduling, and working on ways with our artist to be able to sell their records without touring and record stores being open and so far its been sustainable, which is all I'm really ever looking for.

Beck: Given the recent events in relation to the death of George Floyd, what do you think the white music community can do to lift up voices of color?

Joe: It seems like the best thing people like me can do is listen to people and work to support them as best as possible without centering ourselves in that support.

An Interview with Don Giovanni Records

by Beck Macey

An Interview with Don Giovanni Records

In early June I got in touch with Joe Steinhardt, owner of Don Giovanni Records based out of New Brunswick New Jersey, and Professor of Music Industry at Drexel University. Joe’s label is not only incredibly impressive and diverse but also very forward thinking and progressive. We talked about the challenges of running a label during COVID-19 and the current state of the music industry. Before ending our conversation we briefly discussed how the music community could do a better job at listening to artists of color. Joe is a wise voice for many young adults breaking into the industry and incredibly professional. Please enjoy our interview!

Beck: If you were to describe Don Giovanni how would you encapsulate it?

Joe: I would just describe it as an independent record label to be honest

Beck: How did you label start?

Joe: I started the label in college with my friend Zach to release our own band's records and then started helping friends with theirs and in some ways that's still what it feels like I am doing.

Beck: What are some of your favorite aspects of owning a label and what are some of your least favorite aspects?

Joe: The artists I work with inspire me so much, I love getting to talk to them about their projects, about how they think about the world, I learn so much from them. What I love so much about independent music is being able to build something with those artists completely on their own terms and mine, outside of whatever structure the mainstream music industry has worked to standardize and normalize. Which segues into my least favorite aspect of owning the label. As we have grown, but to a greater extent as the music industry has become increasingly dominated by tech companies, we are forced to operate on their terms in more and more situations. I am forced to interact with people I don't respect at companies that I don't respect in ways which I never had to before and which independent record labels before me never had to before.

Beck: As an older more experienced voice in the music community, what advice would you give to college students and other young adults about to enter the industry full time?

Joe: I've got a few. First, know why you are doing what you are doing and then don't forget that as things grow or change. Figure out what your values are now rather than wait to be confronted with a decision where you have to decide them. Whatever your values are, if they are purely financial that is fine, and let that guide you, if they are purely cultural let that guide you, and anything in between the two. I cannot tell someone what the right things for them to value are or the right balance of culture and capital is for them, but if you put the time into figuring out your values now, and then follow them, you will always be happy. Next, treat everything you do with a long-term mindset. When putting together a project remind yourself that it will live in for 10-20-30 years and beyond even if you personally aren't in the industry any more. Finally, and perhaps most importantly and related to the first point, don't be afraid to say no to things. Don't be afraid to pass up a record that you know you can sell well if you don't care about it or if it doesn't fit with what you are doing. Don't be afraid to pass up a gig because you worry if you don't you won't get another one. If you focus on being the best version of yourself there will always be gigs, and if you focus on making your company the best version of itself there will always be great artists to work with.

COVID questions

Beck: How has COVID-19 effected Don Giovanni?

Joe: It has certainly been a challenging couple of months and my answer to this question has been changing by the week. It has certain affected our sales, which has meant slowing down our release schedule slightly so we have enough money to pay for new releases, but I think the bigger effects on the label will be long term. I am very worried about what will happen when things re-open and many independent stores and venues close for good. Independent music is a community and it needs all of these different parts to keep moving.

Beck: What are some ways you have adapted since March?

Joe: Mainly just slowing our release schedule down for the future. We have had 6 new releases come out between March and now that were previously scheduled and they have all sold better than we expected. I am not sure when or if things will ever feel like Feb. 2020 ever again, and so we are back to scheduling everything we would normally be scheduling, and working on ways with our artist to be able to sell their records without touring and record stores being open and so far its been sustainable, which is all I'm really ever looking for.

Beck: Given the recent events in relation to the death of George Floyd, what do you think the white music community can do to lift up voices of color?

Joe: It seems like the best thing people like me can do is listen to people and work to support them as best as possible without centering ourselves in that support.