Industry Spotlight: Chris Hansen (No Sleep Records)

Hello and welcome to the only Industry Spotlight feature we plan to run all week. We don’t always advertise this aspect of our site, but a lot of the content that eventually finds its way to our front page does so because our readers requested it. You want to learn about bitcoin’s role in music? We’ve got you covered. Want to know about the guy who runs PropertyOfZack? We cover that too. Today’s post comes in response to a flood of requests we have received over the last six months, and it’s developed into what I believe is one of our best label-centric features to date. If you have any questions regarding the content of this blog, or if you would like to learn more information about the services offered by Haulix, please email and share your thoughts. You can also find us on Twitter and Facebook.

If you want to succeed in music you need to learn to take chances. Everyone who holds a position in the music industry today does so because another current or former industry professional took a chance on them when they were little more than a music consumer with a dream. Was there risk? You bet. Was there a chance someone could lose their job? Definitely. Still, each and every day people take chances on dreamers as a means to promote the continued existence of this thing we call the music business.

For me, it was not until No Sleep Records’ founder Chris Hansen took a chance on a completely unknown high school graduate from Michigan that I was able to find my calling in music. The year was 2006 and I was just a freshman in college with a weekly show on our campus radio station. The studio had great equipment, but due to budget cut backs the music catalog had not been updated since the Y2K scare, leaving all incoming radio hosts to find, request, and otherwise acquire whatever music they wanted for their show. I had been an avid reader of Absolutepunk for about a year at that point, and as I started to plan my show I began using the daily news posts to locate labels and artists I might be able to promote through my efforts. It’s hard to remember exactly how many emails I sent, but I will never forget the rush of excitement I felt when Chris wrote back and asked for an address to send over some promotional materials. The initial shipment included a 3-song teaser from a then unknown band called The Wonder Years, as well as a full length album from The Fire The Flood, both of which I played at great length in the weeks that followed.

I can completely understand how some may see this moment of kindness as a mutually beneficial move for all involved that in no way had to extend further than one shipment of records, but for me it was all the confirmation I needed to know my life was on the right track. The fact I could convince someone like No Sleep to send materials my way meant that I could potentially work with any artist and/or label I put my mind to, which is exactly what I set out to do in the months and years that followed. Everything I have today, from the music news blog I still over see, to my role here at Haulix, only exists because Chris Hansen took a chance on me. He probably does not even realize he made that kind of an impact on me, or that he likely made a similar impact on the lives of countless other industry hopefuls, but that does not change the fact he was a positive force in my life at a time when I desperately needed a sense of direction.

No Sleep has been a member of the Haulix family for a long time, but due to the label’s ever-increasing popularity it has been difficult to find a time where Chris and I could work together on a feature for this blog. Fortunately, such a moment presented itself at the end of May, and we quickly got to work crafting an interview that not only retraces the origins of the label, but also offers some insight on where it may go in the years to come. If you would like to learn more about Chris’ efforts beyond what is found in the conversation below, please make it a point to follow No Sleep on Twitter. Additional questions and comments can be left at the end of this post.

H: Hello. Before we dive in, please take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers:

C: Sure thing! My name is Chris Hansen, I run/founded the Huntington Beach based independent record label No Sleep Records.

H: Thank you for joining us, Chris. We have been looking forward to this interview since we locked it in earlier this month. Tell me, how is life treating you and the No Sleep Records team thus far in 2014?

C: 2014 has been a great year, and continues to get better and better. While the year is half over, we have so many more great releases to put out this year. Looking forward to it.

H: I want to touch on where you are now and the place you may go in the future, but first I would like to get a bit of background information on you. Do you recall the first album you purchased with your own money (bonus point if you include the format)?

C: Oh man, I believe the first Cassette I ever purchased was R.E.M.’s ‘Monster’ and then the first CD was Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. Pretty sure those are accurate, if not then I have lied many times that they were the firsts.

H: Who was the first artist/group you can remember obsessing over, and how did you initially discover them? We’d love to hear an early Chris Hansen ‘fanboy’ moment if you have one to share:

C: I was in the MxPx fan club in junior high, or high school. Whatever year that was. So I guess that is the greatest “fan” aspect I have done since well I was in a fan club after all. I don’t remember everything that you got for being a member, but I do remember there was an awesome exclusive t-shirt.

H: Let’s pick up the pace a bit. Can you pinpoint in specific events or experiences in your life that may have laid the groundwork for the career you would eventually pursue? Maybe a great ‘lightbulb’ or ‘a-ha’ moment?

C: I have always enjoyed music and all things surrounding it, and I knew early on that I was not meant to play music, so instead I went down the path of working behind the scenes. After a few years of experiences at various other companies, and the timing was right No Sleep was born.

H: Did you seek out any education beyond high school, or did you immediately dive into the pursuit of a career in music?

C: I believe the summer after high school was when I took on my first “internship” at another record label, which eventually turned into a full time gig at their then sister company. As far as education goes, around that same timeframe I went to a community college for about a week, and then I decided it wasn’t for me.

H: While on the topic of higher education, do you feel college is a necessity for those wanting to enter the industry as professionals today? Should it even be considered?

C: This is a topic I have thought about, talked about and argued about many times. School wasn’t for me, but it is for some I think. It all depends on the field you want to get into as well I believe. as there are a lot of fields where school is literally just a debt you will have the rest of your life, and not something that will really help you in what you are doing. But with that said, there are many paths in life where School is needed. Again, that is just my opinion – which could be just because school wasn’t something I was cut out for.

H: The first industry gig I know of you having was an internship with Fearless Records and Smartpunk, correct?

C: Correct, I started an internship at Fearless Records I believe the Summer after High School, which then became a full time gig at Smartpunk who was their then sister company, worked in the same warehouse/etc in Garden Grove.

H: What can you tell us about the application process and your earliest memories with those companies?

C: I believe Fearless Records posted about an internship, to which I simply sent in a resume I had and did an interview. Mostly what I remember about my internship is disassembling a lot of Jewel Cases to be reused. Did that a LOT.

H: You were hired from the internship to handle content at Smartpunk, which you did for a little over a year. After that you had a brief break before joining the team at Revelation Records. Tell me, how did that opportunity come together? What kind of goals did you have for yourself and your professional career at this point?

C: I had known Vique and Jordan at Revelation from my time at Smartpunk and was lucky enough to get an internship when i returned to CA, which lead to a job in the warehouse. At this point I really just was wanting to work in the industry in some way still, and learn whatever I could along the way doing whatever I had to since i’d rather be working in the Warehouse at a label I love with great people, rather than working somewhere else i’d hate.

H: Your role at Revelation comes to an end in mid-2005, just months before No Sleep Records would begin. Did you know when leaving that role that you would be starting your own label? When did the ideas initially begin to flow for what would become No Sleep Records?

C: I had no idea at all, the whole inception of No Sleep in a way was a pure luck. While moving out to New Jersey to work at Trustkill I grabbed lunch with my friend Rick Robinett, who just happened to have a new EP that was paid for/needed a label to put it out on, and the rest is history.

H: We ask this of everyone, but what can you tell us about the story behind your label’s name? What is the origin of ‘No Sleep’?

C: Well i used to do Freelance Graphic Design on the side to make some extra money, the company used to be called Barton Fink Designs (after the movie with John Goodman, amazing film) and i decided to change the name to No Sleep Studios since at the time i had a horrible case of Insomnia (which has completely gone away, if you catch me up till a late hour, the world must be ending).

H: After the launch of No Sleep you joined the Trustkill Records team for nearly two years of work in the art department. What did you take away from your time there, aside from a paycheck, that aided you in developing No Sleep?

C: Everywhere i worked, from interning at Fearless, to being the Art Director at Trustkill helped me to learn various to do’s, and not to do’s in the industry – not to mention many connections/friendships that are still around to this day. Had i not interned/worked at every place along the way I truly do not think No Sleep would be around/where it is today. I am forever grateful for all the opportunities I have had along the way.

H: Was No Sleep a success from the start? If not, how long were you in the red before the company started to make any profits?

C: No Sleep was a success to me from the start, on the books? Definitely not. It took many years of hard work, and massive “debt” to become the “success” that it is today. I would have to say at least half of the time No Sleep was around there was no real profit made if you ran a P&L each year.

H: If you had to pick one release that signified when thing began to ‘take off’ for No Sleep, what would it be? We’d love to hear a bit about where the label was before this record came out, and how things began to change once it reached listeners.

C: There are a few releases that really made a impact along the way, and just made me take a step back and realize “Wow, this is really something.” The first one that really did that was ‘The Upsides’ from The Wonder Years. That album was the first time we made it into Billboard on any of their charts, it helped spread the awareness of No Sleep among the industry and the scene. A few other releases that helped a long the way would of course be ‘Separation,’ ‘Wildlife,’ and ‘Proper.’ But really, every release and every artist up until this point has helped to build No Sleep – sure some of them were successes and some could be called a “flop” from a financial standpoint, but I do not regret any release or band we have worked with.

H: There seem to be more indie labels than ever before vying for a bit of consumer attention. What advice would you offer to those just starting out to help them develop their business?

C: This is a question i get asked a lot, and is something i have a hard time answering. Really there has always been a lot of indie labels, etc trying to get the consumers attention, now there is just more social ways to promote it. So I don’t think it has really changed since when i started No Sleep, so hard work, lots of late nights, spending every penny you have, put out records from bands you truly love, and go in it aware of the fact that you won’t be rolling in the “dough” by any means.

H: Speaking a bit more generally, do you have any guidance to share with those who are simply curious about becoming a professional in the music business?

C: Get an internship anywhere you can that is in the industry, and see where it takes you. You can literally go anywhere from anywhere. The only thing that can stop you, is you.

H: Looking ahead to 2014 and beyond, what are the biggest challenges facing No Sleep?

C: I think one of the biggest challenges is finding true bands with a true purpose.

H: What goals have you set for yourself as far as your career and personal development in this business are concerned?

C: The same goals/etc since day 1. Release music from bands I love, learn as much as I can and enjoy the ride for as long as I can.

H: With the ever-growing amount of competition seeking to make a buck off alternative/indie/punk music, what steps are you and the No Sleep team taking to set yourselves apart from the rest of the industry?

C: The one thing that i think we have always done, and will continue to do so is release records from bands that we truly would listen to. We have stuck to the integrity that i set forth back in 2006, and i believe that is what has helped No Sleep to continue on this upward path. Sure following trends can make you a quick buck, but that won’t last a lifetime, nor will you be happy doing so.

H: You have been a Haulix client for several years at this point. What is it out about digital distribution service that keeps you coming back?

C: We have always been looking for a great place to allow us to share our music with those that need it early, but in a safe way. Haulix was that answer for us, and we will be lifelong customers of theirs.

H: If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?

C: It’s true, there are a lot of shitty people in this industry, and I would love for that to not be the case.

H: When it comes to music discovery, where do you turn when hoping to find new bands? I am sure a number of our readers would love for you to hear their latest creation.

C: A lot of the bands that come to us at this point are word of mouth from other bands on the label, or friends who are in bands on other labels. Just bands that our family/friends have seen at shows or heard, etc. Hard work is the best way to get your music discovered at the end of the day. Cheap shortcuts don’t get you very far in my opinion.

H: Do you have any job or internship opportunities with No Sleep? If so, how should people go about submitting their application?

C: We generally will post about any internships or job openings by way of our social networks, so following them is the best way to be in the know. And just a note, 50% or so of the staff that has been/is at No Sleep was previous an intern.

H: Okay, I think that covers everything. This got a little long in the tooth, but I appreciate you sticking it out. Do you have any final thoughts or observations you would like to share?

C: Death to false music.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.