Grammy Award-winning producer, Cheryl Pawleski, tells us her journey of how she jumped from the corporate music industry and opened her own historical catalog label.
Omnivore Recordings tagline “create, devour, repeat” succinctly describes Cheryl Pawelski’s ethos when it comes to music. A lifelong, self-described “voracious music fan,” she turned her passion into a career as the owner and co-founder of the historical catalog label, which is closing in on a decade in business. That’s quite an accomplishment, considering the state of the industry in that same amount of time.
A Milwaukee native, Pawelski was interested in the collection and recording processes of music from the get-go. With pay from her first jobs, she amassed as many records as she could, but it wasn’t until a chance meeting with an older collector at a local area Beatlefest that that ball really got rolling. He was tape trader who included her within his list of collectors, provided she make a copy for him of everything she got.
That’s when the floodgates opened, and Pawelski’s fate was all but set. “Bags of cassettes were showing up, and I started acquiring all of this knowledge. But I didn’t know that there was a job doing this. Books, records, and movies fall perfectly formed out of the sky—nobody knows how they’re made, nobody’s supposed to.”
Pawelski went to college with the intention of getting a teaching degree, but discovered she had more of an artistic temperament and switched majors and schools before making a permanent move to Los Angeles. Right away, she found a place in the Capitol Records temp pool and filled in for various folks before landing in special markets A&R where she licensed Capitol’s catalog “to companies like Rhino, Razor & Tie, Mosaic, and Starbucks. By doing this, I got to learn about all of the third party labels—exactly what Omnivore is now.”
Eventually, Pawelski wound up heading catalog A&R for Capitol and was there for twelve years before the company culled 1500 employees worldwide, eventually leading to its purchase by Universal. She was ready to leave the “corporate windtunnel of music”—well, almost. “I knew at the time that I didn’t know enough to start my own label. I was thinking about it, but you have to know the rules to be able to break them. So, I stayed and learned what I need to learn,” said Pawelski.
While working as a consultant for Rhino Entertainment in the early 2000s, she met Greg Allen, an already well-established photographer, art director, and graphic designer who was also working for the company. Several years later in 2010, they started Omnivore Entertainment Group with former Rhino head of sales Dutch Cramblitt, and Brad Rosenberger, a former Senior VP in Catalog Development & Marketing at Warner/Chappell. Named by Pawelski’s literature professor wife and current dean of Pomona College, Audrey Bilger, Omnivore perfectly described the partners’ collective wide-ranging musical interests. “There’s four of us—there’s four areas of the business, four legs on the table. We thought with our experience we could make it work—and it has,” Pawelski said.
The industry isn’t what it used to be, but Omnivore has made its mark as a recognized, worldwide brand with releases by Big Star, the Beach Boys, the Bangles, Dream Syndicate and plenty of others in its catalog. One such release, Hank Williams’ The Garden Spot Programs, 1950, even won a Grammy for Best Historical Album in 2015. “I went to Nashville to meet with Jett (Williams, Hank’s daughter),” Pawelski said. “We had a great meeting, and it was one of those things where I felt like I had hit a certain stride. Thinking, ‘I can get it done, and can deliver what I’ve promised.’ As we were parting, Jett said, ‘You’re going to go and get a Grammy right?’ And I just laughed. Who knew?”