Jan 31, 2018
30 Under 30, Class of ’18: Harry Portnof, Founder of Greenway Records
Name: Harry Portnof
Neighborhood: Prospect Heights
Most Likely to: Crowd surf
Favorite Quote: “Tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming.” – David Bowie
Accountant turned record label owner isn’t a phrase you’d normally have a reason to utter, but that’s exactly what Harry Portnof is. As a teen, Harry discovered his father’s record collection in his grandmother’s attic and quickly became enthralled with having physical, aesthetically and aurally pleasing vinyl. After amassing his own impressive collection, Harry wanted to be able to provide the world with vinyl of up-and-coming bands he believed in, so he left his career as a CPA to run a one-man-show record label called Greenway Records. In the three years since Greenway’s inception, Harry has signed over 38 bands, and recently signed a worldwide distribution deal with The Orchard/Sony. Living and breathing the industry, Harry brings a new oxygen to music.
What is your earliest memory associated with what you do now?
When I was in high school, I found my dad’s records collection in my grandma’s attic. That was it! I instantly became obsessed with the records I’d found and finding new ones. I knew most of the older generation in my life (family and friends) didn’t have turntables anymore, so I raided all of their record collections. When I figured out brand-new vinyl was still being pressed, I began hunting down records from all of my favorite bands. In a short time I built an impressive collection. After years of playing music, collecting vinyl and working as a CPA, I wanted to release my own records for the bands I believed in.
When did your occupation become real to you?
It became pretty real when I left my job in accounting and decided to put everything (time, money, blood & guts) into Greenway. When I was getting my Master’s in Accounting, I wrote about the vinyl industry’s resurgence for my final thesis. It was the first time I really put my pipe dream of starting a record label to pen and paper and it opened up a new path for me.
Diving into a new industry (especially music) was nuts, but I knew I had to start the label because it genuinely made (and continues to make) me excited to get up every morning and push forward. I envisioned a way to make people interested, keep them engaged and introduce new bands I loved via an amazing physical product all at the same time. I view music as one of the highest art forms and strongly believe in its value. I wanted to pay homage to the art form by pressing boundary-pushing, aesthetically compelling vinyl, essentially making the vinyl a piece of art itself. I feel creative record pressing is super important because it gets people interested in new music and also gets people to support new artists when they buy a record.
How does Brooklyn/your neighborhood particularly inform your work?
I love Brooklyn! I’m going out to shows almost every night of the week and 90% of the venues are local. It’s crucial to have easy access to the best up-and-coming bands in the world on any given night and the Brooklyn music scene is exactly that. I love living in Prospect Heights because it’s close to everywhere I need to be and it also is an amazing ‘hood filled with great people and, most importantly, great coffee shops.
It’s invaluable to be able to walk downstairs for my favorite coffee and meet a band, a manager, my publicist, or industry friends to discuss a plan of action for a new debut full length. Most people are surprised to learn that I’m a one-man band, literally the only person at the label. Being part of a community of driven people that fosters creativity allows me to do what I do on a daily basis.
What do you feel is most challenging about being where you are now?
I think the most challenging part about Prospect Heights and Brooklyn in general is the rent. I guess that’s an issue for most of us. It sucks to have such a high cost of living, but it comes with the ability to have everything locally at your fingertips.
What’s most rewarding?
The most rewarding part about Brooklyn is the ability to go out to shows anytime, anywhere and randomly catch some opening band who ends up being better than the headliner. Linking up with these incredible bands as they develop who they are as artists on a random night out in Brooklyn feels like fate sometimes. I do what I can to help them become successful and get their art out to the masses and be heard.
5 spots in Brooklyn people should know about?
What’s your most significant accomplishment to date?
In addition to signing 38+ bands to Greenway in less than 3 years, making insane records for them all and making great friends in the process; I recently signed a worldwide distribution deal with The Orchard/Sony for Greenway’s physical (vinyl) & digital content. Worldwide distribution is one of the (many) ways I plan to grow Greenway in 2018 and beyond.
Who/what inspires you?
The amazing artists I work with who are really living the shit out of this crazy life and putting their all into what they create. They tour like crazy and, after a very brief stint of road managing one of Greenway’s bands, I can tell you from personal experience that road life is NOT easy.
I want to work as hard as I can to do right by them and the fans I’m lucky enough to connect with along the way. The hard work of my fiancé Molly, my family and friends, it all pushes me to be the best I can every single day. This job I created for myself isn’t 9-5; it’s 24/7—and I’m lucky to: have a great support system; and be inspired to put something out into the world that I gave my all to.
Thinking about the future, where do you see yourself in the next 30 years?
In 30 years when I’m 59: running Greenway and still hunting down the very best new bands happening in Brooklyn. That, and training/grooming/performing with my very own family band that’s parts Allman Brothers/Partridge Family/Ty Segall. Haven’t talked that one over with my fiancé yet.
What’s next for Greenway?
Right now I’m working on two amazing full length records, the first is the debut from NYC’s Acid Dad (the new single “2Ci” just premiered over at BrooklynVegan) and we have the record release show/party on March 3rd at Baby’s All Right. After that is the new LP from Brooklyn’s Las Rosas, the first single from that record comes later this month and were throwing a big Greenway shindig with Dirty Fences & Las Rosas on February 15th at Rough Trade!
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