As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Special Edition 2022 – I Belong
Grimalkin Records has a mission and vision to support and provide a platform for trans and queer artists. Founded in 2015, Grimalkin is a non-profit organization/collective operated and led by trans and queer artists. Founder Nancy “Grim” Kells (they/them) envisions a world where all dedicated artists, especially marginalized artists, can make a living wage from their art and music and have access to the support and resources they need to create and live healthy and personally fulfilling lives. “We are forging alternative paths and systems of support and artist development and envision a world where these become the standard in music and art.”
Outside of being a mutual aid-oriented record label, Grimalkin provides massive amounts of love and support to its artists, creates and releases music, produces merchandise, hosts benefits shows, and provides educational workshops. Guitar Girl Magazine had the pleasure of speaking with Grimalkin Records Founder and Facilitator Grim about the importance of a non-profit centered on providing safe spaces and support for QTBIPOC artists to create and share their art.
What is Grimalkin Records? How and where did you all get started?
Grimalkin Records is a trans and queer-led mutual aid-oriented non-profit record label created to support and foster connections between queer artists (with priority to QTBIPOC), listeners, and their local communities. As a record label, we curate opportunities to support our artists directly. Sales from our curated events benefit the artists and grassroots organizations.
It started as a passion project around 2015/2016 when we curated several benefit shows in Richmond, Va. Initially, the name of the non-profit was “Friends For Equality.” We started using the name “Grimalkin Records” shortly after and then released our first project in 2018. We were growing over time, but I was also working a very demanding full-time job, so Grimalkin was not what it was then as it is now. When I lost my job, I went through a period of depression and challenging times. Eventually, I picked myself up like I always do and figured maybe the universe was telling me to try and make Grimalkin an established business. There is so much uncertainty in this work, and although I had dreams for Grimalkin, it wasn’t something I thought was possible until after I lost my job and started focusing all of my time and energy on making it a reality. We finally became an established non-profit at the end of February 2022, but it is still challenging to build something sustainable. Some folks donate their time, and I couldn’t do this without them, but the daily grind of building a sustainable business is always challenging, and we are growing more every day.
What inspired you to create a record label that celebrates QTBIPOC artists?
One of the biggest reasons is that I didn’t see enough spaces and labels that prioritized marginalized people; they did not provide support and safe spaces for people like me, and I wanted to play a role in creating supportive spaces. Most music industry spaces are run and owned by cis white men, even within the DIY space. Much of the music industry survives on exploiting artists that are used as a means for others to make money. Our survival and ability to make a living wage are rarely a possibility. Rather than supporting artists, the industry has created ways to exploit and profit from us. Grimalkin wants to create alternate support systems for artists to create the world they want to exist in. We believe it starts with community, mutual aid, and mutual support; that yields respect fueled by shared values, and by sharing resources and skills, we can build a community of like-minded people with the same values. During the process, I have gained a lot of transferable skills and knowledge over my years of experience. Grimalkin melds many of my passions and experiences and has yielded a platform that supports those like me.
What are some of your two-year and five-year goals for Grimalkin?
Within the next one to two years, we hope to offer pay to our current staff and bring more people to help us push this vision. This is critical to our ability to continue this work. Hopefully, within five years, we will be able to hire more folks or at least be able to pay freelancers frequently. Within five years, we hope to have a studio and recording space locally in Richmond where we can also host in-person events. Ideally, we would love to have spaces in both Richmond and Baltimore. We hope to secure funding through grants and donations to pay the folks that create educational workshops and provide production support to artists. In the meantime, we are fundraising to be able to pay artists for creating and hosting workshops and providing support to other artists. Another goal for the near future is to build our mutual aid networks with other organizations doing the same work so we can refer artists to get the support they need beyond music. It’s all a work in progress!
Does Grimalkin support artists from other disciplines (e.g., tech, conservation, finance, etc.)?
To be honest, none of us have been able to support ourselves from just music. Everyone that is part of the label has another job to make ends meet. Many of our artists have various skills and professions beyond music and the arts; several are music teachers or schoolteachers, and many are in retail and food service. We even have an artist who is a biologist and one that is a crisis counselor. Some are organizers and work in the non-profit sector. People work at call centers and offices. Some of us are disabled and unable to work. Most of us aren’t trying to be pop stars or huge artists, making experimental music in our different genres. Still, all of us would love to make a living wage from our music and from sharing our skills with others without having to work multiple jobs or depend on mutual aid or the government to survive. We want to be able to pursue our creative endeavors while being able to support ourselves and share our skills and resources with others.
What resources do you provide for artists who are interested in being a part of the Grimalkin family?
Aside from being part of a supportive community that frequently interacts on our Discord and through monthly virtual hangouts and business meetings, we have quarterly open board meetings where we discuss ways that we can best provide support to our artists. Additionally, we offer the following services:
- SOCIAL MEDIA – regular promotions about upcoming releases, events, anniversaries, birthdays, etc.
- WEBSITE/BLOG – dedicated SEO development from our artist pages and blog posts
- BANDCAMP – each artist gets a pro account linked to our label
- PR – monthly releases sent out to hundreds of writers, music sites, radio and podcast hosts, and other connections
- LISTENING PARTIES – public listening parties that are hosted on our Discord channel
- INTERVIEWS – live and archived interviews on YouTube and Instagram
- SHOWS – booked in-person and online
- WORKSHOPS – artists can offer paid workshops through Grim Works to share their skills/knowledge with fans
- PRODUCTION NETWORK – connections with other artists in the industry and support for things like recording, production, mixing, mastering, visual albums, graphic design, etc.
How can artists join your collective?
People can learn more about how to join our collective by visiting our website at grimalkinrecords.com/join. Because we value supportive relationships in our collective, we encourage artists to take the first step in joining Grimalkin by getting to know us — reading about who we are, listening to our releases, and following/interacting with us on social media are great ways to do that. We also have a public Discord server (Minnie Mouse Club) where you can interact with current members, friends, and followers. “Joining” the collective just means you’ll have opportunities to get and give support that matches the energy and time you can expend; there’s no pressure to do anything you don’t feel led to do. Remember that you don’t have to be in the collective to release with us. We review submissions collectively, and you can also email submissions to email@example.com. Before officially joining, we ask that artists are active with us for a minimum of one year. This allows us to get to know people to ensure they share our values and are committed to helping Grimalkin reach our goals.
Lastly, we encourage musicians of all ages to join us, whereas most labels tend to work with younger artists. We actively support artists of all ages.
Do you think Grimalkin Records has positively affected the lives of artists that have been/are part of your collective? How has your record label helped bring awareness to the lack of exposure for underrepresented communities in the music industry?
Yes, absolutely. Our artists regularly write testimonials that we share on our blog, Patreon page, and social media. One of our collective members, Backxwash, blew up while releasing their music with us; one project won the Canadian Polaris Prize, which was pretty amazing! We’ve successfully gotten our artists’ press from publications like Bandcamp and Wire magazine. We are slowly bringing more awareness to the music industry’s lack of representation and financial and power structure issues. We hope to do much more for our artists through Grim Works soon.
How can people support your mission?
The best way is to join our Patreon, support our fundraisers, and share our social media posts. Tell your friends and family that we are always looking for volunteers. You can donate, buy our music on Bandcamp, and become a monthly subscriber. Lastly, we invite people to our workshops and events!
What challenges have you faced while establishing a record label that prioritizes and creates inclusive opportunities for marginalized artists?
Did I mention money? Haha. That is our biggest challenge. Additionally, we struggle with reaching new like-minded people to expand our fan base, followers, and supporters. Getting music writers and publications to open our emails can be challenging, as is marketing and outreach. We recently got a Google grant for non-profits, and I was advised on how to improve our SEO slowly. Still, we hope to hire folks with the skills and experience in things like marketing, promotion, and social media so that we can more broadly and efficiently do what we do.
What has your journey been like since starting Grimalkin Records?
It’s been challenging but inspiring and rewarding, and although things can sometimes be uncertain, I feel very grateful for what my team has accomplished thus far; It’s beyond anything I could have imagined from when we first started. I consider it a great privilege to have given this company my all, and I strive daily to make things work despite not always having the resources. It hasn’t been easy at all; running any type of business is a ton of long, hard, persistent work that often goes or feels unappreciated, unseen, or undervalued. Even if we fail (which I don’t believe we will), not many people can say that they get to pursue their dreams and do work with people that genuinely align with their values, passions, and dreams in this life. For that, I will be forever grateful that I was allowed to do this.
Meet the other Grimalkin board members below:
- Elizabeth Owens (they/them) | Board Secretary & Collective Member
- Anna Chua (she/her) | Board & Collective Member
- Savan DePaul (they/she) | Board Vice-Chairperson & Collective Member
- Berko Lover (she/her) | Board Chairperson & Collective Member