Home Uncategorized Back To The Future: Lessons From 20 Years Of Signature Sounds

Back To The Future: Lessons From 20 Years Of Signature Sounds



When Jim Olsen founded
Signature Sounds
in 1995 with Mark
, he had no idea the changes that were ahead of
him –  and no idea that he’d be running a successful,
national label with over 100 releases twenty
years on. But he did… and he still


Guest Post by Jim Olsen of
Signature Sounds Recordings

Like the rest of the industry, we’ve looked back to
find ways to thrive in the future.

The idea of being a part of a community that led to the
formation of the label has sustained us over time. Initially,
that meant recording artists from the vibrant western
Massachusetts music scene. Even as we became a national label
with acts that toured the globe, we have strengthened those
ties. As CD sales plunged, we opened a live music venue. In the
back room is our office and in the front room is The Parlor
Room, our 60-seat BYOB listening room. We present artists from
our label as well as others from the folk and Americana worlds.
Now, as downloads have peaked, we’ve taken that
approach two steps further in taking over production of the
Green River Festival
, which sold out last year, and in
presenting non-label concerts around town. It also gives us a
platform for which to have our developing acts open for
national artists and gain exposure and for the public awareness
of the label locally. 

addition, we’ve backed artists over long periods of time.
We’ve watched act after act develop musically and grow
its audience.
Lake Street Dive hit it big on their
third Signature Sounds release ‘Bad Self Portraits,’ which
reached #18 on the Billboard Top 200 last year. We were
committed to them long-term from day one and that underscored
their ambition and drive to make the best music they could
possibly make. We’re about to release our fourth Eilen Jewell
album, the wonderful ‘Sundown Over Ghost Town. She’s grown her
fan-base since the first release, recently selling out shows in
NYC and Washington, D.C. Our artists have often
collaborated with one another, forming side projects and we’ve
supported those artistic impulses.
Two of our longtime
employees, Flora Reed and Phillip Price, formed a band called
Winterpills that is so good that we’ve released six albums on
them; and they’re still with us both as artists and as staff
members. We’ve focused on just a few releases at a time to make
sure that we could sustain interest in our artists beyond the
near term. 

Now, having a back catalog of over 100 releases has
made us a great resource for music supervisors and radio
Building that community over time has
paid dividends on the ledger. I certainly couldn’t have built a
label this successful without a lot of help from friendly DJs,
places like the Americana Music
that have worked to bolster interest in
acoustic music, and many others who’ve supported us over the

None of this is revolutionary but we have evolved into
something more holistic than a straightforward record
which was not far from how Mark and I started
this whole thing anyway. Former Van Morrison sideman John
Sheldon & The Blue Streak stepped into the studio to make
the album ‘Boneyard,’ and James Taylor joined them on a duet in
the summer of 1994. We released it in January, 1995 and
Signature Sounds was born. We put it out on cassette and CD.
We grew slowly—on step at a time, not overreaching our
The label didn’t become my full-time job until
1997 and we didn’t have an office outside of my home until

I’ve immensely proud and humbled that we’ve thrived over 20
years, with our twentieth year our most successful to
Most of all, I am thankful to be surrounded by
such dedicated and wonderful artists, staff, and fans.



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