Fiercely independent, No Sleep Records cut its teeth over the past dozen years by putting out some of the underground scene’s most buzzworthy talent. Specializing in punk, indie rock and emo, the label boasts distribution through INgrooves in North America and The Orchard throughout Europe.
After I graduated high school, I interned at Fearless Records and then got a job at their sister company, Smartpunk. Then I worked at Revelation Records in their warehouse doing orders and wholesale. Between those places, I lived in Kansas City. That’s when I thought of starting a label. I was going to start it with my roommate, but we never got off the ground. That’s when I came up with the name and designed the first logo.
Fast forward a bit and I got a job as art director for Trustkill Records in New Jersey. As I was driving there, I stopped in Kansas City and met my friend, Rick [Robinett]. He had a new band called Our American Cousin and knew I wanted to do a label. Their EP was recorded and art was ready, so he asked if I wanted to put my logo on it to get it started.
The Search for Talent
In the early days, I found a few bands on MySpace and things like that. Nowadays, a lot of it’s word of mouth from other bands on the label or demo submissions, or just searching online, hearing about a band and checking it out.
We get a lot of demos. The demo submission page is a good way [for artists to get in touch with us] or they can send them to our P.O. Box. They can always message us on social media or email us.
I never want my label to be pigeonholed as one genre. I put out pop songs, I put out indie, I put out punk records, I put out metal… I’ve put out everything. If someone’s new to hearing of a label and they’ve only heard a couple of the bands, sometimes people think they wouldn’t fit in or shouldn’t send a demo, but all kinds of music is great. If someone wants to send a jazz demo, that’s awesome.
The records we’ve put out fall into pop punk, indie, emo, hardcore, metal and stuff like that, but I put out hip-hop once. I’d like to put out country, even. I like to have a wide range of stuff, because music is music and if I can enjoy it and find ways to help them it’s great.
Organic Followings and Realistic Goals
Some bands have 5,000 or 10,000 followers, but if it’s not organic it doesn’t mean anything. Some bands only have a few hundred but it’s all organic, true fans. I’m trying to see if [artists] have something started that we can continue and then it’s making sure they’re willing to do the work that needs to be done. When I talk to a band about their goals and what they want to see happen, I try to make sure they have realistic expectations, especially if it’s a smaller band.
Letting the Record Speak
[What attracts artists to the label is] the track record we have with bands who’ve “made it” or whatever you want to call it. And it’s the commitment we put toward our bands and the fact that we’ve stayed at a level of integrity with what we’ve put out.
All in the Family
I’ve always wanted No Sleep to be a family. Everyone, hopefully, likes each other and hangs out when they’re in town. I’ve seen a lot of that between the bands. They feel a sense of family and pride being on No Sleep. They’re connected to the other bands. It’s awesome to see the connections we’ve made.
We have a lot of new bands and they’ll get checked out right away just because they’re on No Sleep and [listeners] have a sense it’s going to be quality. It might not be something a fan of another band on the label is into, but they’ll check it out and usually enjoy it. A lot of bands we’ve signed mention that they get hit up by all these new people as soon as they’re signed to No Sleep. There’s an immediate boost of new fans because of our brand.
Love Your Work
You go into [running a label] as a hobby and if it’s something you truly love and want to be a part of you do it. It’s something you do because you love it and don’t expect to make tons of money. And you need to stay true to what you like. If you truly love the albums you’re putting out, you’ll be happier along the way. It also helps if you truly talk to new bands and see if they’re people you’d consider friends. It makes it a lot more fun.
For the Record
There’s some stuff we’ve only done digital, but usually we do [vinyl] for every release. As far as CDs go, we don’t really do those anymore because a lot of times we’ll sit on them. There’s a higher profit margin on CDs versus vinyl but there’s not the longevity. With vinyl, you’ll tend to sell out quicker. You don’t make as much but it’s about the art. Having a physical component is important because the packaging is part of the art and album as a whole.
Not So Great Expectations
Expectations can ruin a band. If there are too many people telling an artist something, it takes away from the art. They won’t put out the music they want to create as an artist. Maybe it’s not exactly what you thought it was going to be. Luckily, I’ve never been given an album where I’ve been like, oh, this is a bad idea. But I know people at other labels where they’ve been given an album and they shelve it. That’s crazy, because you’re signing an artist because you like their music. You need to trust in what they create, support it and figure out how to help them further their passion.
Standing By Artists and Maintaining Integrity
I’ve always had the mindset that, once you release an album, the album cycle goes on forever. You should always be promoting it and helping the artist as much as you can. And I always want to stay genuine to what I like, put out music I enjoy and keep my integrity throughout. Sometimes, I’ll get a demo and think, this could make me a lot of money but I can’t stand listening to it. I don’t want to be a part of something I don’t really back personally.
We’re putting out some 10-year anniversary releases. It’s crazy to be at that point. We had the Touché Amore demo 10-year anniversary reissue come out on Record Store Day. And then we have another one in the works for later in the year. It’s exciting being around this long. We’re going to have our 200th release soon, too. I’m trying to put together a cool collection of some sort to celebrate that. Hopefully, we’ll get some old bands involved.
The Blessed Path
I want to keep expanding. I want to continue to find artists and keep it going for as long as I can. It’s a blessing to be able to do something I love for so long. I just hope it continues on this path.
Years with Company: 12
Address: P.O. Box 1904, Harbor Blvd., #633 Costa Mesa, CA 92627
Clients: Death of a Nation, Charmer, Hot Mulligan, No Better, Blue Heaven, Moose Blood, The Wonder Years, Balance & Composure