Growing up and participating in musical theater and observing his father work as a jazz pianist, Jake Saunders’ life is interwoven with music.
“I just like weird music,” Saunders said. “There aren’t that many people out there like me.”
Saunders, a junior communication studies major, dedicates his time to help independent artists by running Ramp Local, a small record label that represents more than 30 artists and markets their albums, CDs, cassettes and merchandise.
Saunders took over the label in January 2016 while living in New York City and is now expanding it to Philadelphia. His goal is to promote artists, and he strives to represent undiscovered, unique and experimental music.
A shelf of Ramp Local artists’ cassettes and other merchandise hangs in Jake Saunders’ home near Larchwood Avenue and 51st Street on Jan. 15. | JEREMY ELVAS / THE TEMPLE NEWS
Saunders started working in the music industry in 2013. He studied music at Bennington College, in Bennington, Vermont for two years where he organized shows for local bands. He eventually dropped out of school to work as an independent promoter in New York City while working at fast-food restaurants to keep himself afloat.
Saunders hosted a benefit show in 2015 for his own compilation tape called “Eclectic Sessions,” an album comprised of artists he was working with. There he met Trip Warner, co-owner of Wharf Cat Records, a Brooklyn-based record label company, who was impressed by the number of quality bands at the show.
“It was one of the coolest things happening in New York at the time,” Warner said.
Wharf Cat Records had a few bands that Saunders was also booking, and Warner asked Saunders if he could market the compilation tape through Wharf Cat. Saunders agreed and Warner began teaching him about distribution and promotion.
“He taught me everything I knew in the beginning,” Saunders said.
From there, Warner wanted to create Ramp Local as a small label within Wharf Cat and asked Saunders to run it.
Saunders eventually became unable to afford to live in NYC, which brought him to Philadelphia. He started establishing Ramp Local in the city and enrolled at Temple University in Fall 2019.
While Warner curated most of the music, he eventually gave Saunders total control over Ramp Local, which shifted the label’s focus from industrial noise to rhythmic punk rock, Saunders said.
“It’s been easy to fall into it because people see that there’s somebody out there that’s willing to push the weird shit that they make, which makes them down to work with you,” he added.
Still, the label runs on a common mission statement of putting out music that they enjoy, rather than putting out what they think will make them money.
“There is impetus to put out what you know can earn and make a lot of dollars, and then there’s choosing to put out what you love, and pushing it as hard as you can,” Warner said.
At the label, Saunders primarily runs public relations campaigns for artists: gets photos for the press, collects assets for the production of vinyl and ensures the artist’s vision is on track.
“What I really help bands with is getting their story together,” Saunders said.
By taking care of the logistics and media for bands, it gives artists more time to focus on their music, said Billy Brett, frontman of Buck Gooter, a rock band signed to Ramp Local.
“[Saunders] is also a big promoter and I’m not, so it’s nice to have someone like that in your corner,” Brett added.
As he’s taken more of an administrative role in the music industry, Saunders believes that empowering artists to be themselves is important.
“If you don’t have somebody on the backburner pushing you and motivating you and supporting you, and making sure that things are on track, it’s harder for artists to remain creative,” Saunders said.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of Billy Brett’s band. The correct spelling is Buck Gooter.