The IMI 16th Jun 2022

‘If I'm able continue to release records the way I want to, I am succeeding’

The A2IM Libera Awards return next week, on June 16. In the lead up to this year's ceremony, The IMI will be sitting down with the people behind the nominees for Best Small Label. This time, meet Don Giovanni Records…

Founded in 2003, by Joe Steinhardt and Zach Gajewski, Don Giovanni Records originally specialised in New Jersey punk rock, focusing particularly on the New Brunswick basement scene.

Steinhardt and Gajewski started the label while playing in bands at Boston University, and moved back to Steinhardt’s home town after graduation to go full time.

Over the years, the label has also established a reputation for working with female-fronted and LGBT artists including Screaming Females, Waxahatchee, Lavender Country, Laura Stevenson, Downtown Boys, Aye Nako, Moor Mother, she/her/hers, and Alice Bag.

Today, Don Giovanni Records operates out of Philadelphia, PA.

With the label nominated at this year’s Libera Awards, which take place on June 16, The IMI spoke with Steinhardt about perspective on the biz, and life as an independent in 2022.


Tell us about how the label started. What was your ambition/vision at the time?

Once it started being a proper label, the goal was to provide a serious alternative for artists to the major label system and the independents who operate under their same model.

How do you define success from one release to the next?

Peter Stampfel once told me to define success through perseverance and I haven’t looked at it the same way since. If I’m able continue to release records the way I want to, I am succeeding.

"They've stretched the definition of independent so much to allow for a compelling but false narrative of independents gaining market share and power."

Why do you think you’ve been nominated for this award (don’t be modest)?

It’s going to be hard not to give a cynical answer to this one but, for whatever reason, I am genuinely honoured and humbled to be considered.

Where do you see the label in five years?

On a hotter planet, in an even more tightly consolidated music industry, hopefully still existing.

How much power do you feel independents have in 2022?

Almost none if were talking about music that is independent of the major label system, but they’ve stretched the definition of the term so much to allow for a compelling but false narrative of independents gaining market share and power. All we’re seeing is more things being defined as such that don’t fit a useful definition of what it means to be independent. And this, of course, is a problem.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

It’s going to be hard to pick between breaking up the major labels and ending the DMCA safe harbour, but that’s only because a reliance on streaming is really an issue of how people want to consume music at this point and has to come from listeners and not industry.

What advice would you give to other independent labels at your level?

Don’t give up. What you do is important.