Just a Small-Town Girl
Megan Birdsall and the Not-So-Lonely World of Don't Stop Believin' Records
"Yeah, it's from the Journey song." Megan Birdsall has a gold lip ring that hugs her bottom lip and chin-length black bangs that she sweeps out of her eyes when she talks. She's wearing blue plaid flannel over a worn black T-shirt. There's something about taxes scrawled on the back of her hand in black ink. She's 27 years old, and for just under three years she's been running a small, locally focused indie label out of her one-bedroom Seattle apartment. It's called Don't Stop Believin' Records.
"There was this tiny all-ages space on Vashon Island called the Crux where all the bands would play," says Birdsall, who grew up on Vashon. "When it closed down, we had one last show with all the local bands who'd ever played there, all the bands that kids from the island were in, and the last thing they played was 'Don't Stop Believin'.' All these kids were jammed into this crowded room and everyone was singing that song—it was a cool moment. That stuck in my head as something worth commemorating."
Birdsall moved from Vashon to Seattle after graduating high school in 1998 and enrolled in the acting program at Cornish. Not having as much fun with acting as she'd hoped, she moved to NYC to work in technical theater—set construction, stage design, lighting—for a couple years. She moved back to Seattle in the early '00s and cofounded chaotic local theater troupe Implied Violence.
In 2005, she founded Don't Stop Believin' Records, naming it as a tribute to the music community that she grew up with. Her first release was the full-length debut from the Pharmacy, B.F.F., which Birdsall paid for using the little bit of money left to her by her step-grandmother, Betty, as well as her own savings.
"I had a lot of fun at their shows," says Birdsall. "I just decided, 'They don't have a record label? I could be a record label!' It was pretty much that easy."
The one-woman label has gone on to release records by Yes, Oh Yes; the Terrordactyls; Dashel Schueler; Your Heart Breaks; Team Gina; Casy and Brian; and Pleasureboaters, who are the first band Birdsall signed from outside of her tight-knit circle.
The Pharmacy are releasing their second full-length, Choose Your Own Adventure, on February 26, and Don't Stop Believin' is celebrating with a weekend of shows. The first is an all-ages, advance-ticket-required event at Healthy Times Fun Club on Friday, February 29, with labelmates Pleasureboaters. The next day, they're playing a 21-plus show at the Comet with Holy Ghost Revival, Wild Orchid Children, and Das Llamas.
For 2008, Birdsall is also looking forward to full-length releases from TacocaT and Team Gina (who are in the studio right now with Radio from the Need), as well as a 10-inch by the Dead Science, which will be a concept record based on the Jonestown tragedy.
Asked how she's handling the business side of everything, with her background in acting instead of accounting, Birdsall laughs. "Clumsily," she says. "I just wanted to put out a Pharmacy record. In the beginning, I didn't know what I was doing. Now I'm keeping receipts and trying to remember specific days I drove to and from Bellingham, because I can write that off."
In a time when the music business faces serious recession, Birdsall remains hopeful about the future of her "tiny record label." Don't Stop Believin' caters to music fans who, like her, love to collect vinyl and support their local music community. Birdsall is excited about the label becoming a self- sustaining business—she'd love to give up her day job (freelancing in technical theater)—but she's realistically content doing it for the love rather than the profit.
And as much as Birdsall loves vinyl, she's in the process of adding digital download coupons to all her releases. "People still like to have physical copies of things in their hands," says Birdsall. "If I'm going to pay for something, then I'm going to pay for a physical thing, not just music files floating around in the ether."
Choose Your Own Adventure will be the label's first vinyl/digital release, and, for the collectors, the vinyl release comes wrapped in some pretty impressive packaging.
"It has foiled stamping on the cover and on the back and it's on creamy yellow vinyl," says Birdsall. "It's really exciting to look at finished records."
Birdsall still speaks with the same youthful enthusiasm that's helped fuel the label from the beginning—back when she just figured she'd help some old friends put out one record, back when she figured no one outside of Vashon Island or Seattle would ever hear of Don't Stop Believin' Records.
"I love doing this," she says. "Of course, if I had known this was going be this serious and go on for this long, I probably wouldn't have named myself something so sue-able."