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Acquisition Deep Dive: Sub Pop


This article will examine Sub Pop’s acquisition strategy for permission-based contacts and offer possible methods for improvement.

Background of Sub Pop

As a label, Sub Pop has been responsible for the release of many notable albums from grunge bands in the 1990s as well as indie bands in the 2000s and 2010s. However, the label’s origins actually began as a college credit fanzine run by Bruce Pavitt. In the early 1980s, Pavitt released nine editions of his Sub Pop fanzine which he alternated with compilation tapes of underground rock bands. Of these, the Sub Pop #5 cassette sold two thousand copies. As a result, Pavitt attracted the attention of bands like Green River, which allowed him to begin a record label under the same name in 1986. A year later, Jonathan Poneman provided the funding for Sub Pop to record the debut single and EP for Soundgarden. Poneman became a partner in the label, focusing on business and legal issues, while Pavitt continued to focus on the label’s artists and repertoire (A&R). With the label’s official formation, Pavitt and Poneman decided to focus on marketing a “Seattle sound.”

In June 1989, Sub Pop released Bleach, the debut album from Nirvana. The debut single from the album was also used as the first release in the Sub Pop Singles Club, which was a subscription service that sent customers singles released by the label on a monthly basis. The Singles Club was a success, with two thousand subscribers at its peak. Consequently, Sub Pop became synonymous with the “Seattle sound” as they had intended. In 1995, Sub Pop sold a 49% stake in the label to Warner, partly due to Nirvana’s move to the latter. This sale led to friction between Pavitt and Poneman, and Pavitt split from the label a year later. Since then, Sub Pop has seen continued success over the years, releasing albums from bands like The Postal Service, The Shins, and Fleet Foxes.

Sub Pop’s “Dear Loser” rejection letter.

Notably, Sub Pop has also created a distinct personality, often being self-deprecating and snarky. The motto appearing on their website is “We’re Not the Best, But We’re Pretty Good” and their Instagram Link in Bio headline reads “Going out of business since 1988.” This personality also extended to Sub Pop’s interactions with artists. The label used to send form letters for demo rejections in which they referred to the artist as “Dear Loser.” The “Dear Loser” branding has remained with the label and they run a scholarship program called “The Sub Pop Loser Scholarship” in which applicants must discuss what being a “Sub Pop Loser” means to them.

Sub Pop’s Current Acquisition Strategy for Permission-Based Contacts

Sub Pop’s current acquisition strategy is almost entirely focused on directing contacts to the artists on Sub Pop’s label.

Sub Pop Newsletter from February 17, 2023.


On Sub Pop’s main website, permission-based contacts are acquired through a simple email submission form. When a user enters their email address, they become signed up to Sub Pop’s daily newsletter. This newsletter is essentially an RSS feed of the Sub Pop blog. There is no option for personalization of types of emails received nor is there the ability to add other input like a subscriber’s name. For MegaMart, Sub Pop’s merchandise store, users are provided with more customization, allowing contacts to provide names and choose from three types of emails: updates on shop additions, new music, and/or touring schedules.