Jonathan Poneman

Biography by

Relocating from Ohio to the Pacific Northwest, Jonathan Poneman had dreams of becoming a pop star. His initial goals were derided, but in the process he became the co-head of a million dollar label, Sub…
Read Full Biography

Artist Biography by

Relocating from Ohio to the Pacific Northwest, Jonathan Poneman had dreams of becoming a pop star. His initial goals were derided, but in the process he became the co-head of a million dollar label, Sub Pop, and, along with partner Bruce Pavitt, founding father of a cultural revolution.

Poneman first entered the Seattle scene as a dj at the University of Washington's student radio station, KCMU. Along with fellow DJ's such as Kim Thayil, photographer Charles Peterson and future partner Bruce Pavitt, Poneman helped foster the growing scene through his local music showcase. Eventually he began promoting bands, among them a local outfit named Soundgarden. After befriending Pavitt and watching him release a cassette only release entitled Sub Pop100, Poneman borrowed money from friends and family to release Soundgarden's first EP, Screaming Life. The release solidified the partnership with Pavitt and Sub Pop Records was born.

Signing local bands such as Mudhoney, Nirvana and Tad, Sub Pop became a breeding ground for the local independant groups who were disenfranchised by the '80s glam-metal scene.

Continuing to release records, Sub Pop was saved from the brink of bankruptcy several times by good timing and shrewd business sense. In the early '90s Pavitt and Poneman flew a British journalist from Melody Maker in to hype the scene. It worked, and Sub Pop was back in the red when a Mudhoney release stayed on the British charts for over a year. The move that made Sub Pop a million dollar operation involved another band though, Nirvana. When the group left Sup Pop in favor of DGC after recording only one album for the independant label, they agreed to give Sub Pop 2% of the royalty rate on its next release, Nevermind. The album exploded, the scene exploded and Poneman and Pavitt were instantly the heads of a million dollar operation that was at the vanguard of a cultural revolution, the grunge movement.

Sub Pop has used the success of Nirvana to become stronger. Continuing to release some of the finest independent music around, the label has since branched out to sign groups from DC (Velocity Girl), Ohio (Afghan Whigs) and Portland (Pond). In recent years Poneman has taken much more control of the day to day operation of the label as Pavitt has pulled further away.