Bearded Label Love: Hassle

Continuing our explorations into the world of independent record labels, Bearded turns head first into the punk/rock conglomerate of Hassle Records, and feels all the better for it.

Posted on Mar 18th, 2011 in Features and Interviews, Hassle / By Peter Clark
Bearded Label Love: Hassle Despite only coming into existence in 2008, Hassle records has quickly turned into an essential outlet for that punk and rock sound which you've heard blasting from car stereos, the guy-with-tattoos-and-a-beard's earphones on the bus/train/hovercraft, or whose bands are adorning the chests of the coolest-kids-on-the-street's t-shirts. and this influx of awesome, this cartel of noise, has not come from a hideous big daddy major monster, but from a couple of guys, in London, who just wanted to release some of their favourite records.

Bearded caught up with Chris Baker for an impassioned chat.

Hello. Firstly, who are you and what do you do?
Hello, I’m Christopher Baker and I’m the product manager for Hassle Records. If you want a more detailed explanation, then it’s, I kinda’ do everything. The attitude at our label and probably 99% of Indie labels is that if there’s a job to be done, you do it, and that’s what kind of makes it exciting actually. You’re never confined to one job. One day you’re working on the creative elements, like A&R on a new album, producing a video, liaising with the artist who’s doing the album artwork, the next you’re liaising with your license partners across the world, the next you’re doing a bit of PR and marketing and then all of sudden you’re working on upcoming tour production! ‘Never a dull moment’ sums it up better than any other way!

Where does the name Hassle come from?
Can’t really tell you straight out, but we have left clues over all of our releases…’s there for you to find!

How did the label start out?
Quite simply really. A few guys who have a love and passion for music who wanted to release records. The way I think any label should start out.

The label is a sub label from Full Time Hobby. Why was there a need to create a separate label to specialise in punk, rock, and emo, and not just culminate all artists under the Full Time Hobby banner?
Hassle isn’t a sub label of Full Time Hobby, but rather a sister/brother label to FTH. Knowing that we wanted to work across two broad genres, we felt we needed to have two labels so each could build and create their own identity without it being confusing to anyone. Very broadly speaking Hassle Records is a rock label and Full Time Hobby is an indie label.
This also extends into the relationships we have external to the label. There are other artists we work with (video directors / artists who create the album and single artwork etc) whose work suits one of the labels and not the other so it provides us with an amazing opportunity to work with a plethora of different artists. For example, Supermundane and Chrissie Abbott have done incredible work on some of the Full Time Hobby bands whilst people like Jon Barmby, Simon Moody and Caspar Newbolt have created incredible art for some of the Hassle bands.

How does the average day/week pan out for you?
There really isn’t a standard day. As I was saying above, other than getting to come into work and put on music (which I’m still in awe of) that’s one of the great things about this thing that apparently is called a ‘job’! Depending on what band I’m working on, where abouts they are in a campaign (just before the album is about drop, or maybe third single in), whether we have the band for the world (for example We Are The Ocean, Blitz Kids, Attack! Attack!) or license them for Europe (for example Cancer Bats, August Burns Red) radically alters each day. Oh, in fact the very first thing I do, is tea and toast with either peanut butter or Jam!

"You’re never confined to one job...‘Never a dull moment’ sums it up better than any other way!"

How has your job changed since you started?
It’s changed quite a lot in line with the company growing, (in terms of the amount of records we release and the increase in staff numbers). When I started 7.5 years ago, I was a Marketing Assistant, now my position is the European Marketing Manager. It this respect, it’s like most jobs. I’ve been here a relatively long time and know everything inside and out, so it makes sense that what I’m responsible for has increased. To begin with, all 7.5 years ago, it was very much like an intern assisting the general manager and the MD, and now I’m relatively speaking, pretty much left to my own devices because I know what has to be done. But then, we have an amazingly open company and in some respects there isn’t hierarchy so when I need guidance or someone to run ideas by, I sit down with the ‘powers’ and go through whatever it is I need to.

In an ever changing world of music formats and distribution, how do/are you evolving and keeping current with today’s scene, and where do you see the future of Hassle heading?
Good question, and one that if I could answer with 100% conviction Hassle would have no future problems! The ultimate future of Hassle is to stay true to the reason we’re all here in the first place, to release records and work with bands we love.
Outside of that there are scenarios that I think we have to work to. I love Indie stores, there’s a vibe and culture that you don’t get anywhere else, but the realities of selling records are that HMV accounts for about 50% of our sales, and the way HMV are going at the moment we have to work towards one such possible scenario where HMV no longer exists, which theoretically means half of our distribution has disappeared, so that’s less tangible records out there for people to buy. And I don’t think you can underestimate how important it is to having records racked out in stores for the buyer who had no plans to buy that record before they entered into the store. If you think that as short a time ago as 3 years, there was Virgin, FOPP, Music Zone, Tower and not to mention the 100’s of indie stores that have now disappeared, it’s not unfeasible to think of the situation where HMV doesn’t exist
Which of course brings us over to digital sales, which as everyone knows are growing but certainly are not replacing the lost physical sales. And the fact of the matter is that itunes has a monopoly on digital sales and it’s incredibly disheartening to look at the homepage of itunes these days and see music reduced to perhaps ½ of the screen space, which is akin to walking into a music store and seeing half of the building being taken up by computer games and t-shirts.
So the future of Hassle is to not rely 100% on record sales and diversify as a company, and this is what we’re doing. We’re no longer just a record label, we also have a management company and a publishing company. We work on merch deals. We now do pre-orders, which is something, and it sounds bizarre saying it, that we never even considered (the music industry at large) when the company started eight years ago.
The majors have evolved into treating it as standard that when you sign a band, you sign everything (records/merch/publishing – an all rights deal) and I think fundamentally, this isn’t actually a bad idea, it helps everyone to survive and spread the risk, it’s just that it’s executed very badly. The idea is there, it just needs to be worked out so that everyone shares the risk and everyone shares the success. Also, not to labour the point but as a follow on from this, increased communication between all of the different parties involved in a band is absolute key to everyone’s future. It sounds cliché to say it, but working on bands is like being a part of a team. Bands have a record label, a manager, a promoter, an agent, a lawyer, a merch company, a press pr, a radio pr… goes on, and we all have to make sure we’re all working together with the same objective of growing and developing the band for everyone’s sake.

"Knowing that certain things haven’t happened or are happening based purely on politics is tough to stomach, but I guess it’s the same wherever you work."

On your website you say that you deal with” rock, punk and, here’s that apparently dreaded word, emo.” Do you find that you still have to deal with a lot of stereotypes involved with the music and style you’re involved with?
I like to take it old skool and say that that we deal with ‘Rock’. There are so many sub genres of music and arts these days it’s ridiculous. I understand why bands get annoyed with being termed emo, but I also think it’s comical. My understanding of the word as a descriptive is that it’s applied to bands that talk about emotional things. Well, I thought that’s what writing 90% of songs was about; pouring out thoughts and your soul onto paper. Or am I missing a trick here?

Can you see a resurgence in independent record stores, or have things changed so much that there’s no going back?
Yes, absolutely! It appears to have been a solid case of ‘Survival of the Fittest’ for Indie stores, and please don’t get me wrong, I’m not being complacent about it, I’m saying it as I see it. Those that are amazing (Rough Trade/Banquet/Rockbox/Resident) are still here, and I believe are stronger than ever. Hassle does a lot of work with Banquet and Jon over there has some great ideas that helps him and us sell records. I don’t see why, with the closing down on so many major stores (HMV closed a large number of regional stores recently) indie stores can’t make a bit of a resurgence.

It’s been for 3 years now, what have been some of the highlights and lowlights of your time at the label?
Highlights is easy. I work in music. I get paid to listen to my favourite bands, go to gigs, go to radio sessions at the amazing and historic Radio 1 Maida Vale studios. I work with a huge amount of artists. I walk into work and turn the stereo on. The amazing feeling of listening to a band on the radio or getting a cover feature, or seeing the video on MTV never lessens. I get to rock into work in shorts and flip flops in the summer because I work in the music industry. I remember the exact moment I fell in love with music (I was 8) and I still can’t believe that my job is in the music industry.
Lowlights, hmm….I don’t necessarily think I can say there have been any lowlights. Not seeing a band take off that you work hard on and 100% believe in can be hard to take, but you and the band have amazing experiences throughout. Actually, the politics in music is a lowlight. Knowing that certain things haven’t happened or are happening based purely on politics is tough to stomach, but I guess it’s the same wherever you work.

What do you look for in bands to garner your time and effort? How do you measure success?
That they write music we love, can perform live (although we believe 100% in development of artists across time) and that they have the same drive as us at wanting their band to succeed.

"The ultimate future of Hassle is to stay true to the reason we’re all here in the first place, to release records and work with bands we love."

Where would you advise someone to begin when wanting to discover the music of Hassle?
Hmm, I would say listen to the below albums from our catalogue (God that was hard choosing), and that should give you a good start.
Alexisonfire - Crisis
Cancer Bats - Hail Destroyer
Four Year Strong - Rise or Die Trying
We Are The Ocean - Go Now & Live
City & Colour - Bring Me Your Love
Juliette & the Licks - …Like A Bolt of Lightning
Zico Chain - Food

Any advice for someone wanting to set up their own label?
The old classic of ‘Make sure you’re in it for the love of it’…

Do you carry an ethos or mantra?
Lots of them, but all coming from a centre piece of loving the music we release and being as sustainable and respectful about it as possible.