School’s In: In April of last year, Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre told us that BK was nothing like as popular when it was first around as it is now. Speaking to us just before a show at the Greek Theatre, Hanna reminisced about sweaty basement shows and meatheads shouting sexist shit at them.
Clearly, there’s plenty of work to be done when it comes to smashing the patriarchy and muting misogyny. But it is great that bands such as BK, Le Tigre, L7 and others from in and around the riot grrl scene are receiving the sort of adulation and attention that they should have been getting decades ago.
One of the people playing a part that you likely have never heard of is Sarah Avrin, who owns publicity firm Charm School Media. On the roster is Hanna’s bands, L7, Bratmobile, and a lot of younger artists, too. Avrin had already done a lot of great work with PR company Girlie Action, but a year ago she decided to go out on her own.
“My career in the music industry began with me being a DJ at my college radio station and eventually becoming the program director,” Avrin says. “I switched [my course] to music business, and then did some internships. Through interning at Shorefire Media, and then Girlie Action. I just loved all of the bands that were at Girlie Action. Their roster very much spoke to me and my feminist punk heart. I kept interning there for, I think, almost eight months, until there was an opening.”
Avrin worked her way up at Girlie Action, soon spearheading the new media divisions (what we now know as online, where pretty much everything is). Things were great, but eventually she had a hankering to go her own way.
“I left last year,” she says. “I was just ready. I had been there for just about 15 years. I was treated very well, and I got to do and experience so many cool things, and really be mentored by a lot of great people, including the owner. But I was just really ready for a new experience, a new challenge. I felt like I was ready to stand on my own two feet, and I was excited about the idea of starting my own firm. I’m very excited with how it’s going now. I’m grateful that people were there to support me.”
It was important to Avrin to make sure she left Girlie Action on good terms, and then she gave her clients a choice of going with her or staying put.
“Some stayed and some came with me, and I’m just so grateful for the artists that felt that connection to me, and knew the hard work that I had put in with them, and wanted to continue working with me,” she says. “It’s that and then, weirdly, the business side of the things were not too difficult to set up. There are websites that almost look like text messages where you’re like, ‘Hey, I want to start an LLC’ or ‘I want to start an S-Corp.’ It takes like 10 minutes and boom, you have everything that you need. It’s crazy.”
With all of the dull stuff – the accounting and admin – sorted out quickly, Charm School Media was off to the races. Then Avrin could focus on the good stuff – her amazing roster.
“Initially, it was Kathleen Hanna, so Bikini Kill, Le Tigre and I’m also working on her book,” she says. “L7, Palehound, Ron Gallo and a handful of others. In terms of developing my roster for Charm School, it was just continuing what I had been doing already [at Girlie Action]. I’ve developed some really great relationships with artists, managers and labels over 15 years, so a lot of them, especially initially, reached out and I’ve just been doing some really cool stuff with them. It’s just growing from there through word of mouth. It’s just an organic thing. It felt organic then, and it feels like it’s going into hyperdrive now, which I couldn’t be more excited about.”
Avrin continues to enroll stellar talent for Charm School.
“I am now working with Grandaddy, which I’m really excited about,” she says. “I’ve been a fan for a really long time. I also started working with Bratmobile since I started Charm School, and that has been insanely exciting for me as a young feminist punk at heart. I’ve also been working with, not Mac DeMarco but Mac DeMarco’s label, so I’m working with Tex Crick, and then I’m in talks about other possibilities there.”
While Crick and the members of Grandaddy are male, it’s vitally important to Avrin that she continues to champion female artists.
“I think it’s just, business-wise, important to have a diverse roster so I don’t exclusively work with women,” she says. “But I want to make sure that I’m supporting art across gender, sexuality, etc. For me, growing up, that’s what I liked to listen to. I always go back to this story of remembering being in junior high driving around somewhere with my dad, and when we got there, realizing that I had not heard one female voice on the radio. It started something in me, and that’s when I realized that I needed to subscribe to Bust Magazine and Spin Magazine, and see what else I could find. Of course, there was Alanis Morissette and No Doubt on the radio, but that was about it. Once I found myself at a place like Girlie Action, where there were a lot of other female voices and female artists being supported, it opened up that world to me and it’s really important to me to continue supporting those voices.”
With relatively new acts such as Big Joanie, Palehound and Phebe Starr under Avrin’s wing, the future looks bright for Charm School. Hanna has a memoir coming out and Charm School will be working on that campaign, and Avrin is hoping to further stretch into podcasts. Times are good for a company that was actually named by Hanna.
“I had all these different ideas and I was sharing them with her, and I was unsure about all of them and when I shared them with Kathleen she was like, ‘Yeah, I don’t think so,’” Avrin says. “Then she was like, ‘What about this?’ and I immediately loved it. The next time I talked to her, I was like, ‘I think you named my company.’”
School’s In: Visit charmschoolmedia.com for more information.
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