How Lizzy Plapinger Created a Record Label Out of Her College Dorm
Whoever said you had to wait til you graduated from college to start your career has clearly never met Lizzy Plapinger. The New Yorker is the co-CEO and founder of Neon Gold Records, the music label she started in her Vassar dorm room alongside her longtime friend and UVA student Derek Davies. (True story: I met Lizzy the first day of freshman year.) Fast-forward just a few years, and the label has produced some of your favorite electro-pop acts: among them Passion Pit, Ellie Goulding, and Icona Pop. But you probably recognize her as one-half of MSMR, the smoky pop duo who burst on the scene in 2013 with hits like “Hurricane.” After all, why have one dream job when you can have two? See how Lizzy got there below.
What were you like as a teen?
I was loud, extroverted, obsessed with music, made friends with everyone... pretty similar to how I am now.
As an adult, what do you wish you could tell your teenage self now?
I had A LOT of teen angst. On the surface my social world and high school experience was pretty peachy, but truthfully I was pretty blue. I wish I could go back and tell myself to let go of some of that darkness and that everything gets better after high school.
How exactly did you get to where you are now, professionally?
I always knew I wanted to work in music but it took me a while to figure out what exactly I wanted to do. I interned at as many different places as I could to explore what I liked and didn't like. I worked at radio stations, venues, PR companies, and labels. Each outlet gave me experiences with different kinds of bands and the relationships I made from those internships gave me a good network within the industry. In the back of my mind, I think I half hoped one of these internships would lead to a job out of a college. It actually ended up making more sense to dive headfirst into starting my own label (with my best friend, Derek) and use what I had learned from my experiences in the industry.
We started as a 7" vinyl singles label and ran it out of our dorm rooms. We made handshake deals, did all the promotion and distribution ourselves, and used it as a way to begin building a reputation and kind of public resume for the brand and ourselves. The day after we graduated, we signed a joint venture with Columbia Records, which allowed us to sign artists for proper album releases. We spent three years absorbing as much information as we could.
During that time I began recording music in secret with a friend from college, Max Hershenow. After months of writing, we released our music anonymously online through Bandcamp as well as through homemade videos. From there we garnered some online attention and signed a record deal, also with Columbia. We've since released two albums and toured all over the world.
After three years, Neon Gold parted ways with Columbia and made a new home at Atlantic Records—where the label remains. Having learned the ropes at Columbia with acts like Magic Man and St. Lucia, we came to the new venture with a greater understanding of what we were capable of and also what we wanted and needed in a partner. Soon after the move we released the Charli XCX and Marina and the Diamonds records, which gave us experience at a top-tier pop level. We're currently working with artists like Tigertown, The Knocks, and Christine and the Queens.
What have you learned since starting your own company?
Ultimately, I think we're still two creatives figuring it out along the way through firsthand experience. We know to always ask questions and we know who to turn to if we're ever lost. But in the end, we believe in our own creativity and vision and put all our faith, handwork, and dedication into the artists we sign. We're still exploring other avenues within this industry; more and more we see how they build and work off one another, and what a gift it is for us to be able to have all these outlets to grow and work with as many different artists as possible. There's something really modern about how we've adapted our business model to be more than just the conventional setup of a label and instead have the beginnings of our own working empire.
What's one thing you wish had known then that you know now about having a career?
That I'm capable of more than I know and I can make my own opportunities as opposed to waiting for someone else to hand them to me.
What work advice do you have for teens or for young people just starting out?
Be respectful, kind and appreciative of whoever you're working with. You never know what role that relationship will play in the future. Especially other interns—I can't tell you how many of the people I worked with coming up continue to be my peers in the same industry. Don't get distracted by how quickly your friends may be rising around you. Keep your nose to the grindstone and be serious and diligent about your passions. It will come in your own time.