How do you start a record label from their bedroom? It turns out the thrift store isn’t a bad idea.
At least, it hasn’t been for Colorado State University student Jesse Sanders who founded Plotline Records. With the equipment he’s collected second hand, Sanders has turned his small living quarters into a recording space for artists.
“I have my futon, my record player, shipping labels and cassettes all piled up in there,” Sanders said. “My 24-track recorder, my microphone setup, piano and instruments. Everything is in my room.”
Sanders says his setup gives his label a “genuine do-it-yourself vibe,” which stems from his love of low-fidelity, rough-around-the-edges production. Independent artists like Elliot Smith, Sufjan Stevens and the Microphones have inspired him as a musician since he was 15-years old.
“For some reason, I just love shitty quality music,” Sanders said. “It’s the weirdest thing, but that’s what I’ve always wanted my label to be.”
Sanders and his friend Kelly Harthan came up with the name for the label during a late-night meal at IHOP in December. “Plotline” came straight from a Death Cab for Cutie song that the two heard in the car before sitting down to talk logistics.
“It came from a song off their second LP,” Sander said. “We heard the lyric, and we both agreed that was it. That’s totally the name. So Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie helped us come up with the name.”
Sanders remembers the two enjoying their Christmas special pancakes, praying and pondering at what was to come from the freshly founded Plotline Records.
“It was a really optimistic send-off point and then everything just went downhill from there,” Sanders said.
A week after deciding the name of the label over pancakes, Sander contracted viral meningitis and nearly died.
“That night that I got sick was really weird,” Sanders said. “I don’t remember most of it but my roommate told me that I was trying to give him my Bible and that I told him I loved him.”
Sanders was unable to play music for two months and dealt with neck strain for half a year as he began to fall behind academically, financially and socially. Harthan eventually moved back to Denver and fell out of close contact with Sanders.
“It was a really stressful time, but I started reading a lot more and began to write music on my own,” Sanders said. “I’m just glad to be alive.”
As Sanders started to write more songs and record them on his 24-track recorder, the idea of reviving Plotline Records kept coming up. When Sanders met Macy Wagner after her performance at an open mic night, he knew he wanted to sign her to the label.
“She played one of her original songs called ‘Too Weak,’ and I just thought it was awesome,” Sanders said. “I sent her what one of my songs sounded like to show her what my production is like, and she luckily wanted to record.”
As the two’s collaboration began, Sanders and Wagner bonded over the fact they were two musicians who have overcome stage fright to perform.
“He has just accepted me and my art completely, a hundred percent,” Warner said. “I am so grateful for that. Most people in this industry wouldn’t take me very seriously because I’m so young.”
At 16-years-old, Warner has already achieved her goal of having one of her songs published on Spotify, something she wanted to accomplish before graduating high school. As Plotline Record’s first signee, Wagner believes she is closer to being able to share her music with the world.
“My music has been a form of therapy for tapping into the pain and aggression that I’ve had to deal with in the past,” Wagner said. “It’s been a healthy way for me to turn all this into something beautiful and all I’ve wanted is to present it on a platform in the most genuine way possible.”
To Wagner, Sanders has been the mentor she has always wanted out of her peers. It’s the type of mentorship she hopes to show someone else one day.
“People like him are really far and few between,” Warner said. “When you find someone like him you need to take their best qualities and show them to the rest of the world and to the people you love.”
Collegian reporter James Wyatt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jameswill_I_am.