Up Close: Big Hassle Media

Big Hassle Media


From Major Label to Indie PR: A handful of years before PR veterans Jim Merlis and Ken Weinstein joined forces to launch Big Hassle Media in 1999, the two became friends and hung out at CBGB’s in New York on nights when their respective bands gigged together. While the two bonded as fellow bassists—Merlis playing dirty Americana rock, Weinstein “weird indie power pop”—the two were also making major waves in their day jobs. Merlis, who started at Columbia, became known at Geffen for working Nirvana, Hole and Garbage. After establishing his career in PR, marketing and video production and promotion at Thirsty Ear/Beggars Banquet, Caroline Records, Caroline’s dance/electronica imprint Astralwerks, Weinstein repped Stone Temple Pilots, Bad Religion, Jewel, Page/Plant, and the Melvins at Atlantic. He later worked in marketing at Mercury. When a Polygram/Universal merger left them both free agents, Merlis focused on starting Big Hassle and Weinstein came on board as partner a couple weeks after the official launch.

The Big Hassle Aesthetic: Compared to their very structured years in corporate PR, Merlis and Weinstein’s aesthetic is just the opposite. One of their staff members, Leigh Greaney, calls them “free jazz,” referring to a basic foundation that has structure but is also loose and flexible, allowing for improvisation and creativity. The partners wanted their roster to be as eclectic as their record collections, which included everything from Metallica to Mozart—an effective approach that serves Weinstein well many years later running the press department for Bonnaroo.

In addition to focusing more on music quality than being boxed into specific genres, Big Hassle thrived by creating a unique culture that kept certain elements of “corporate label life” and jettisoning the things they didn’t like. Instead of specific rules, they simply focused on 1) hard work and 2) enjoying the work they did. Providing healthcare for employees was another must. These principles have served them well from the time they signed their first artist, Rufus Wainwright (who Merlis had worked with at Geffen), through their work with hundreds of clients over the past 24 years. Big Hassle Media has offices in New York, Los Angeles, the Midwest and Nashville.

Ken Weinstein: “It’s always been my belief that musicians can save lives, so we take our work with them very seriously, but at the same time, we want to have fun helping people save those lives. Jim and I are blown away and excited by the fact that we stumbled onto something that we loved doing in our lives and created something of great value with it. Whether we’re working with our famous clients or brand-new artists, we love getting near the flame and digging into what moves creative minds. We see ourselves as storytellers who love nothing more than telling these stories, coalesce narratives in a certain way and do our part to get impactful music to the world. The essence of the job in PR is inviting people into our living rooms and encouraging them to check things out.”

Contact Big Hassle Media, 212-619-1360