If the average American picks up a Putumayo album and recognizes more than two of the artists on there, founder Dan Storper would be shocked.
Putumayo World Music, over the past 20 years, has highlighted artists that aren’t well known, even in their own country. While the internet has changed the music industry immensely (when was the last time you walked into a Virgin Megastore?), it is a double-edged sword for Storper. “It is so much easier to source music. So the internet, in a way, has helped,” he says. “Research is easier, but the world has an ocean of music and our role has become curatorial.”
The albums have become a gateway to introduce listeners to great music from around the world, so song selection plays a pretty big role in the process. Listeners trust Putumayo to provide a positive experience, and Storper strives to improve awareness of different artists and musical styles. He hopes the music inspires people to go deeper and listen to more work by the featured artists. He’s even received responses from customers saying they’ve been so inspired by music from a particular region, such as Brazil, that they’ve made the trek over to that foreign land.
While Storper is particularly inspired by African music, he’s also attached to Brazilian, French, and American music. He splits his time between New York and New Orleans, and often finds inspiration in his Southern home.
While some albums feature legendary artists like Bob Dylan and Louis Armstrong, it’s more challenging to put out artists people aren’t familiar with. “What’s critical is that the song has to be uplifting, and that people will like it,” he says. The best part is that the albums — which are available in many book and gift stores, museums, health food spots, and cafes — is that they’re a risk-free trial that customers can return if they’re not fully satisfied. The way Storper sees it, listeners are trusting Putumayo to provide good music, whether or not they know the artist or region.
“For 15 dollars, compared to things like therapy, a psychologist, or a meal, these CDs last over time,” he says. He wants to create quality albums that stand the test of time and make people feel good. “That’s why we don’t release hundreds of albums,” he says.
As the company celebrates its 20th anniversary, it released new albums this week featuring acoustic American songs, Acoustic America, and what’s guaranteed to be a popular children’s album, American Playground, just in time for July 4. “It’s nice to put together acoustic albums and celebrate the roots of what Putumayo came from,” Storper says of these new ventures that represent a solid company.