Sub Pop Records cofounder Jonathan Poneman will be honored by the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM) with a Lifetime Achievement award at the organization’s Libera Awards show next month. Over the past 30 years, Sub Pop has become one of the most vital independent labels in the world. The 2019 Libera Awards (presented by SoundExchange) will take place on June 20 at the Ziegfeld Ballroom in New York City.
Poneman began his musical career as a volunteer/DJ at a college radio station in Seattle before taking on a brief (and admittedly self-imposed) gig as the manager for Soundgarden. In 1987, he partnered with Bruce Pavitt to found Sub Pop Records. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the label became synonymous with the “grunge” sound created by so many of its early artists — including Soundgarden, Mudhoney and of course Nirvana, whose debut “Bleach” remains Sub Pop’s best-selling album — but has expanded into multiple genres since Pavitt retired in the late 1990s. Successes over the past 20 years include the Shins, the Postal Service, Band of Horses, Fleet Foxes, Flight of the Concords, Beach House, Father John Misty, Weyes Blood and even a hip-hop act, Shabazz Palaces.
Sub Pop has weathered many financial ups and downs over the years — it once printed T-shirts that read, “What part of ‘We have no money’ don’t you understand?” — yet it recently celebrated its 30th anniversary and remains one of the world’s most vital independent labels, with over 50 million global record sales, over $2 million donated to many nonprofit organizations, and even a Sub Pop retail store in the Sea-Tac International Airport terminal in Seattle.
“I want to thank A21M and Libera Awards for this great honor,” said Poneman. “It’s kind of like having a bar mitzvah without having to memorize anything.”
“Jonathan Poneman was critical in the evolution of the company, the establishment of grunge, and the development of the Seattle sound. From Sub Pop’s beginnings as a fledgling, Seattle-based independent record label through its growth into one of the most influential recorded music companies of all time, what Jonathan did at Sub Pop changed the direction of rock music, and his relentless commitment to authenticity re-affirmed the necessity of independent labels,” said A2IM President and CEO, Dr. Richard James Burgess.
The Libera Awards serve as the crowning event for Indie Week, A2IM’s annual four-day conference.