Years with Company: 10
Location: Pasadena, CA
Clients: The Story So Far, Four Year Strong, The Amity Affliction, State Champs, Stick To Your Guns, Less Than Jake, Boston Manor, Knocked Loose
Jake Round started Pure Noise Records a decade ago with a loan from his mom. Since then, the independent label has mushroomed into one of the hardcore scene’s most respected outlets.
An Expanding Middle Class
Our biggest artist is still The Story So Far, same as it was five years ago. Fortunately, we have more bands now that are in a similar category as them, with State Champs, Knocked Loose, The Amity Affliction and Four Year Strong having all come on the roster. Counterparts has also done really well for us. We’ve sort of fleshed out a more expansive middle class of artists.
Records Over Profits
Something I’m really proud of is that I’ve never had a band leave. I think that says a lot about the kind of business we do and the kind of people we are. It’s remarkable how successful it’s become. Did I always anticipate it doing well? Yeah, for sure, otherwise I wouldn’t have done it. But I never had a specific goal. I’m not driven necessarily by money. I want to put out great records and if I put out great records then the financial part will take care of itself. That mantra has really served us well.
Part of the Scene
I grew up part of the punk, hardcore and metal community. I was immersed in it coming up. So many of the big bands in the punk space, like The Wonder Years and Four Year Strong, stayed on my floor. I was just a guy who was around. I did a bunch of Warped tours early in my career when I worked for Rise Records, so people knew me. And I was in local bands that toured a bit. For anyone to be really successful at anything, they have to be immersed in it.
My staff and I are so immersed in the culture of this music that a lot of it filters through and comes to us. Obviously, we listen to demos and stuff like that, but we’re at a point where if a band is making noise in this space we’re going to know about it. And if we don’t know about it, it’s probably more on the band than it is on us. If you’re making noise, we’re going to know.
We take demos through our website. If you go to our contact page and submit a demo, it’s eventually going to make its way to a folder in my email. Give us a link to stream your music; don’t make us download it. I just want to press play. And a link to your socials, website and any music videos, if you have those. I usually know within a minute or two if I’m interested in something. I’ve been doing this long enough that it’s almost visceral. Sometimes you just know. A band we saw recently that I’m excited about is Spanish Love Songs. I listened to three songs and was like, yeah, I’m interested.
Focus On Writing
Bands should start off making music for themselves. If you’re trying to do something, especially in music like this that’s very cultural, it’s going to show and can often come off as contrived. Bands should just focus on making great songs they want to listen to and let the rest take care of itself. And the more songs you write, the better you get. From time to time, we get songwriters involved and go hard on the A&R process. But the most important thing is to just focus on making great songs.
For the first five years, we did very few heavy records. We’ve done a lot of heavy records in the last five. In part, that was because I was playing. When the label started, I played in a metal band, so I specifically steered clear from that because I didn’t want it to be a conflict of interest where I was trying to pitch my band opportunities I should have been pitching to the bands I was working for. As I got away from playing music and became completely focused on the label, we slowly started to add more heavy acts. At this point, half the label kind of falls into the hardcore metal category.
We recently signed a band called Unitytx, which is a developing project we’re really excited about. They’ve got metalcore tunes, but also have full-on rap tunes. We’ve been wanting to do something in the hip-hop space for a long time, but wanted to find something that fit aesthetically with what we do. It has a full-on hip-hop element, but it’s also got a foot firmly planted in exactly what we do.
We do one-record deals, two-record deals, three-record deals. It’s all on the table. If you’re an established artist who has a large fan base and has been doing it for a long time, you’re going to get a better record deal than a brand new baby band. Everything’s negotiable. Also, you can revisit existing contracts. That’s something we’ve done with several of our acts. If we sign one deal and they’re doing well and want them to hang around and be happy, we can revisit those terms and improve them if that makes sense. It’s not one size fits all. We’ve got about 40 acts of all different sizes and shapes and the deals reflect that.
Matt Saincome [founder of satirical website The Hard Times] is a close friend of our label manager. We’ve talked for a long time about needing another resource in terms of press. We’d been friendly with Matt and talked about how we should do something non-satirical. We said, okay, why don’t we fund this thing initially so you can pay your writers, we’ll put our ads on the site and see how that goes. Occasionally, they’ll do interviews with our bands and stuff like that, but as far as the editorial goes we’re not involved. The Hard Times has become such a huge force culturally within our community that you couldn’t really ask for a better media partner.
Sony offered me kind of an A&R deal and it turned into a joint venture label deal. Essentially, Sony came to me and said, “Hey, do you want to sign some bands for us?” And I said okay. At this point, it’s not active. I still own the brand and may reactivate it at some point, but we’re no longer partnered with Sony. It was a difficult partnership in a lot of respects. Anyone you talk to who’s had a joint venture with a major label will tell you how difficult they are.
That being said, it was an amazing experience. When you’re your own boss and start your own company out of your bedroom, sometimes it’s difficult to gain new experiences. People are looking to you for mentorship and you don’t get a ton yourself. So for me it was an opportunity to work in the big leagues and see how they conduct business. As far as that went, it was very beneficial.
I have no interest in selling the label and even less interest in working for anyone. It’s not uncommon for the indie guy to get into the major system and not enjoy it. When someone says, “I need X amount of money,” I just say yes or no. In that respect, our business is much more efficient and quicker than a larger one. Our core business is artist development. As great as it is to sign established acts, where we really do our damage is developing talent and that’s very difficult to do in a major setting.