The term “safe space” might be used as a pejorative at times — a device for mockery by the right. But fuck them, what do they know? It’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy anyway — to attack trans and non-binary people’s very right to exist, and then attack them again for seeking safety. Again, fuck them!
Weird Sister Records — an indie label and collective founded in Brooklyn in 2021 by Deanna DiLandro and Madison Hetterly — provides such a safe space for women, trans, and non-binary artists who are sick to death of the misogyny that still infects the music industry. They’ve taken matters into their own hands.
“I think considering just how new we are, I’m extremely proud of all we’ve accomplished this past year and a half,” says Hetterly. “We’ve definitely had our fair share of hard times and disappointments but we always make it to the other side and our community reminds us daily why we are doing this and to keep pushing forward!”
Prior to this, Hetterly had gained experience in artist management, press, and editorial at an indie label and at a venue. DiLandro had worked with other indie labels, press companies, radio stations, record stores, and music venues, as well as developing her own music.
The germ of the idea for Weird Sister was born early in 2020 when DiLandro left a job that wasn’t proving to be as satisfying as she needed.
“It’s no secret that throughout entertainment industries (and all industries) women, trans and non-gender conforming people are unrepresented and misunderstood,” DiLandro says. “I was personally sick of combatting misogynistic viewpoints and a general lack of desire to make room for diverse identities. When considering the idea of starting a label, I immediately thought of Madison because she had started her blog, Indie Witches, while we worked together at The Wild Honey Pie, so I knew she had similar desires to spotlight women and non-gendering conforming musicians from all over the world. I wanted to help out in any way I could when she started the blog and was interested in starting a label that intentionally carved out space for the same demographic. So, in March 2020 I reached out to Madison and pitched her the idea of a companion entity to Indie Witches over tacos after we attended a BLM protest together in Brooklyn. At first she was hesitant since she was juggling several jobs at the time, but after she thought about it, she called me a week later and said, ‘Let’s fucking do it!’ From that moment, Weird Sister was set in motion.”
The first artist signed to Weird Sister was the Philadelphia-based Sug Daniels, an individual that Hetterly describes as having “a spark of light and effervescent joy that is contagious.”
“I had worked with Deanna in the past and had always had warm, professional, and friendly interactions with her,” says Daniels. “When she told me about Weird Sister it aligned with who I am as an artist and person. I was, and still am, honored to be working with an organization that IS the change we want to see in the industry.”
Daniels is a great example of what the label represents — artists that have a clear vision for themselves.
“The best work gets done when all parties involved are passionate about what we are trying to achieve,” says Hetterly. “We never want to force things on an artist so working with folks who already know who they are and what they want is key.”
Now, there are 15 artists on the Weird Sister roster, 13 of which are signed for single releases.
“In 2022, we ran a single series called the Zodiac Series where we released a single for each zodiac season,” says DiLandro. “The latest release from our Zodiac Series was the Sagittarius single, ‘Wheel of Fortune’ from NY-based singer/songwriter, Raechel Rosen. Our final single from the series will be from the NJ-based queer, WOC band, Valentine’s Day out January 13th. Sug Daniels, our first artist, was signed for her EP, Franklin Street, and we released Heather Cook’s latest full-length, Quick! No One’s Looking, this past year as well.”
“Weird Sister is special because they are not just about releasing music but want to create a community where artists feel safe to share their ideas,” adds the aforementioned Heather Cook. “Being on their roster has given me the chance to express creative ideas that I probably wouldn’t have felt comfortable sharing on a male-dominated label. It’s rare to feel heard in this industry but Weird Sister prioritizes their artist’s voices. On top of that, they have an effortless but well-curated aesthetic that breeds this feeling of fun and divine femininity.”
That feeling of comfort, of freedom, is a theme with the Weird Sister signees.
“It’s no secret that there’s a shortage of women-run labels, so that in and of itself makes them special,” says musician Syd Silvair. “I think most women in music, on both the industry and artist sides, have experienced sexism in one way or another, so it was really refreshing going into a partnership with Weird Sister knowing that wouldn’t be an issue.”
Fellow Weird Sister artist Enny Owl notes that, “I love that it’s run by two women and it’s all about giving power to the artist. They let artists thrive in their individuality and guide them in the direction that benefits them. I was very intrigued by their equinox solstice series because I feel very connected to intentional releases according to the seasons and what they symbolize. Also as a black queer woman in this industry, it’s just so refreshing to see a label that takes inclusivity seriously.”
Their mission and motives are clearly magnificent. When all is said and done though, Weird Sister is a record label and, like every other record label, it has to find a way of selling product and generating income for its artists in the streaming age.
“[It’s] extremely hard and sometimes nearly impossible,” says Hetterly. “The market is so saturated and people have gotten so used to on-demand that getting people to purchase music feels inconceivable but that’s part of the challenge is figuring out unique ways to make our artists money and get audiences excited about what we’re doing.”
Hetterly and DiLandro are planning plenty of releases in 2023, as well as hosting events in New York and L.A. They have a launch party at the Goldfish in L.A. on January 27. It’s all a part of their growth.
“I hope we have a strong, loving, vibrant community of artists and creators in both L.A., NYC, and beyond,” says Hetterly. “We hope to keep throwing live events that expand across the globe to bring other like-minded folks together and give them a night where they feel they can be their truest selves while also continuing to release music that brings people joy. We’d also love to have a multi-hyphenate physical space where we can provide resources to artists of all types.”
There’s nothing weird about that!
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