Chris Hansen (No Sleep Records)
Contributed by notthatadam, Posted by No Sleep Interviews

Chris Hansen, Owner of No Sleep records, is no slouch when it comes to running his label. While many of the bands on his label are out touring the U.S. and beyond, he's back at No Sleep HQ in Huntington Beach, CA pulling all nighters resolving website issues and packing orders. The hard work that Chris puts into the label is mirrored on the road by bands like La Dispute, Balance and Composure and Into It. Over It.. That hard work that the bands and the owner have put in to the label are what has made No Sleep flourish in recent years. Occasional Punknews Contributing Interviewer Adam Sever spoke with Chris just days after Record Store Day about the opening of their flagship store, the problems their new webstore was having due to the increased web traffic on Record Store Day, the music community they share with their friend's labels, and sustaining the label's growth into the future.

How much of a headache were the website problems you had this weekend and into this week?
They were definitely a huge headache. We’ve had a new site that was supposed to come up for the past year or two. One of my friends was supposed to be doing it, but since it was like a friend thing, he kind of put it on the back burner and it never really got around to happening. A few weeks ago, I designed a new one and Nick, who did our old one, was free to do the new one. We got it going and there were a lot of bugs that kept coming up. It’s a complete custom site and store and there is a bunch of new features from the last one. It took longer to get live than we hoped and by the time we were able to launch it, there was this weird bug that we only would’ve found out once it was live. We only would’ve found out too if something that caused a lot of people adding that item to their cart at the exact same time. Instead of the quantity going negative, then it would’ve stopped people, for some reason there was a bug where the quantity kept going up. It was like a code thing were technically the quantity thing is like a negative code number, but it was showing up in the inventory slot as an actual quantity, so it ended up saying there was 50,000 copies of something when there was a negative amount. It just kept going up and up. It was definitely a huge headache and then we oversold all the Record Store Day stuff. I felt like shit obviously because people had been waiting, but we ended up having it all fixed after sleeping in the office for the past week pretty much. We gifted everyone that didn’t get it one of the Touche Amore/La Dispute 3rd press pre-orders as an apology. It was a one per customer, absolutely no exceptions kind of thing. People could only buy one per order, but there were a few people that tried to do multiple orders for it, so all their orders were canceled and they got nothing. Not everyone is going to do it to flip it, but with something like this, you can’t take the risk that it is for a friend or something like that. You need to make sure people that actually want it get it.

That makes sense. There probably is a high chance that someone would want to flip that.
Yeah, we had our opening for our new flagship store on Record Store Day, in the front of our office, and a few of the La Dispute Wildlife double LPs that we did are already on eBay. It’s kind of a bummer, because that one was only limited to 100 and the Touche Amore/La Dispute one was limited to 48 and only half of each were available in each location, and then less than half since band copies and stuff like that were taken out. It’s kind of a bummer that people do that. It’s just the way it goes.

How do you feel when you see your releases going on eBay for 2 or 3 times the amount you’re selling them for?
I feel a few ways about it. I’ve definitely paid lots of money for records on eBay before. So I understand why people do that, I just got outbid on the Cursed II LP, my high bid was $60. I know all about paying a lot for records. We have, as every label does, we have a vault where, when we need money to pay bills or something, we have records set aside to sell on eBay so we can pay debt. There is definitely good and bad to it. It sucks for the kids that can’t afford to pay a lot in the end, but you can only make so many of something. Plus if you make too many, there’s going to be a ton of extras and no ones ever going to be able to make money and labels will go under. You can’t press enough in the beginning for everyone, so if people really want a certain color-way, a certain limited, that’s the way it goes.

How do you usually determine how many you’re going to press of each album?
For both CDs and vinyl it depends on the bands. Usually we press, for records, 1000-1500 for the first pressing. This year, 200 of those go to the subscription service. Between that and we order extra prints to make the next pressing go quicker and then to also lower the cost of the next pressing. We try to press not too few, because with vinyl there is outrageous setup fees, which if you only press a couple hundred then the cost per record is going to be insane since there is like $600 in setup fees. We do 500 pressings for some stuff and we’ve done a couple things that were a one time pressing only, like the Wonder Years Leavenhouse 7" that came out with The Upsides pre-order. The Wharf Rats 7" is limited to 750 total copies. With the Wildlife release, the first pressing, we pressed 5,000 copies. We still have some, but we knew they would sell in the end eventually. It led for us to have enough for people to last a while, so people aren’t having to pay eBay prices right away. They have a chance. With certain bands there’s risks of how many you’ll sell at first, because vinyl is a very expensive thing. You got to be careful with how many you press for sure.

You were saying you opened up the No Sleep Flagship Store this past weekend, on Record Store Day, what made you want to open the front office for a store?
I think part of it was the room wasn’t in use at all anymore. There was a futon and a TV and then mail sits there before it gets picked up and things get delivered there. One of the things I’ve always wanted to do was some sort of record store setup. I figured since we have the room, it’s not going to cost us anything extra really to do it. And also, in Orange County, there are some record stores, but there is not a lot and a lot of the ones that are here, they don’t really carry our world of stuff. I figured it’s a cool way for people that want a No Sleep release or one of our friend’s labels releases, they can just come here, grab it, and grab a few other things they want.

What other labels are you stocking?
6131, Animal Style, Topshelf, Run For Cover, Deathwish, Bridge 9, Youth Conspiracy, and I think we are going to get Paper + Plastick stuff. Revelation is down the street and we buy random distro titles from them. So we stock Descendents, Minor Threat, Black Flag and all the key stuff. We opened on Record Store Day and we are figuring out exactly how often we want to be open. We’re doing a test of a couple days a week right now, and we’ll eventually drop down to only one day a week or whatever. It’s a cool thing and I think it also adds to the community aspect of the world that No Sleep and all of our friends are in. It’s a cool thing where kids can come to the label they like or get our releases and our friends and they feel a little bit more apart of the community as well in a way.

One of the things I wanted to ask about was the community aspect among labels like No Sleep, Topshelf, Run For Cover, and Count Your Lucky Stars. There is a big sense of community among those labels, how did that community aspect evolve and how vital has it been in the success of No Sleep?
I think the community aspect of it is very huge part of how well No Sleep has done and it’s continuing to start to do. Obviously we are all small labels compared to the giants of the industry, but it’s for us and for our bands and for the kids, it’s nice to feel apart of something. The majority of the people that are in our world are in our would because we were outcast from something. From one standpoint it’s very nice to feel apart of something for kids, and it helps people get through the day to day life. From a label standpoint, it helps with when the bands are friends with all the other bands, that makes things easier. All those labels, yeah they’re my competition, but they are also my friends. We go after the same bands, but it’s not like a, "fuck you" thing, it’s just the way it is. I would never, and I’m sure they wouldn’t either, I would never steal a band from one of my friend’s labels. There are bands on my friend’s labels that I would love to do releases with and if I am ever able to, I would do it, but I’m not going to be like "Yo, lemme steal you!" It also helps with finding new bands.

Since it’s a community, you hear of a lot more bands that way via the bands on the label. Even the other labels that are in the community that I work with sometimes will send bands to each other where it might be a better fit for them or us. Like if it’s something that I can’t do, and I think it’s a good release, I’ll send it to one of them and be like "Yo, you should do this." I feel what we do and what all they do all leads to us being just like a giant…I can’t think of the word I’m trying to say, but it definitely leads to a nice world for people to be involved in. With us and others doing what we believe is quality music, hopefully it’ll lead people to listening to good music. There’s obviously a lot of shit out there, to say the least. I like some shitty music, but we all have our shitty music tastes at times.

Is running No Sleep your full time job or do you do work outside the label?
I just do No Sleep. I do freelance graphic and web design too sometimes. I don’t do as much as I used to, but I try to do some design when I can. I also make buttons here and there.

I saw you had posted something about that a while back.
Yeah, we got a button maker a while ago for our store and figured we could do good prices for other people.

You mentioned in another interview I read that there isn’t a lot of profit to be made from vinyl sales, where does the money come from to keep No Sleep going from release to release?
With vinyl, any copies we sell in our webstore, we make some money from. Once you distribute it, you sell it for a lower price so stores can get it. Then there are distribution fees taken out. Especially with 7"s, a lot of times when you distribute it, you're not even making the cost back sometimes. Especially if it’s in the first pressings or second pressings. Once it gets into multiple pressings, if it was heavily distributed, then you make money. Webstore you make some. Vinyl is a niche thing, it’s the cool thing to do, it’s not a money making thing, you just do it because you love vinyl and you want it to strive and exist. No Sleep and all of our friend’s labels are definitely mail order driven. That’s how we sustain and keep going. We have distribution and all that, but that is extra money.

With our webstore, selling merch is a good source of income. It’s the same with bands on the road, they make their money selling merchandise. Apparel and stuff like that, the cost for it isn’t super bad. You pretty much double your money or so. For us, we have to pay royalties and stuff, but merch is definitely a huge thing that helps. Our vinyl subscription, it’s a cool thing, we get money up front, but in the end we have no idea how many releases we are going to do in the year. We could end up losing money by doing it or we could end up making a few bucks. It’s definitely a "who knows" in the end. We do the vinyl subscription which is nice, we sell them for $200 plus shipping, it’s a nice boost of income right there and then kids get the most limited color that will be done, and they get something special and cool. It’s definitely a mail order driven world. We still want to support and try to figure out ways to have record stores do more and more. Merchandise is definitely a helper. If we didn’t sell merchandise I doubt we’d be around still, because that definitely helps with getting money in.

When you press records, some people have terms and some people don’t have terms at pressing plants. You usually have to get the order in three months or so before it’s going to come out. Depending on how you're set up is with the pressing plant, you’re either paying all up front, like 3 months before, or half of it before, then 3 months later you start to get money coming in. If it’s distributed, you’re not going to receive the money for another 3 months, because you are on terms with the distributor. Also distributors hold a reserve for any returns that come back to them, which is another chunk of it, which is usually like another 10 months. If we just did vinyl and relied on just music and not merch, it would be very hard with all those aspects of it. We’re paying $1000-$2000 months before it’s even out.

It’s a lot to think about before releasing a vinyl album.
It’s a risky business and world, but you do it because you love it. You don’t do it to make money. Some people do it to make money and it would be nice to actually make money so I can not stress about bills and everything personally. Definitely do this because you love it, you love music and you want to be apart of it somehow.

When you come across someone’s tumblr post where they are publicly asking for anyone to send them a link to download one of your labels releases, how hard do you face palm yourself when you see that?
Everyone steals music at the end of the day really. It’s the way it goes, but to publicly post trying to get something, that’s blatant disrespect to the label and the bands. You don’t really want to support them at all and you’re also too lazy to even, if you are going to steal it, to find it yourself. I think it’s definitely disrespectful, because then is also leads to other people just stealing it too. Someone will be like, "Oh I’m gonna buy it!" but then be like "I could just do this!" Doing what bands do, what we do, this is how we make money and how we survive and pay our rent. If people are just stealing music then how are we going to keep going because there is no income coming in. Then the labels and the bands will eventually have to stop. The majority of people at one point or another steal something, it’s just the way it is, but if you do steal something at least buy a t-shirt, buy something so you can help things keep going. If you steal it and really like it, purchase it after. Even buy it digitally or something where it’s not much. Labels via their Bandcamp or their webstore, they don’t usually sell digital releases for that much, so at least help out and buy it digitally or buy it on vinyl.

What release do you think was the turning point for No Sleep?
There definitely has been a few turning points where it was at a certain level then all of a sudden it was like holy shit it moved quite a bit. I think the first was The Upsides. From a business standpoint, it got a lot more notice in the industry, because it was our first time getting in Billboard. Having people know about your label in the industry helps because the more connections the easier it is to get going. Another big turning point was when…I started the label when I was moving to Jersey for a job at Trustkill. I was driving to Kansas City and my friend was like, "I know you want to do a label, I have a new record for my new band, do you want to put it out? It’s already paid for and everything." and that’s how the label started. I lived in Jersey for two years, I got laid off from Trustkill when I was the art director there and I moved back and that was when I started focusing on the label and design, doing freelance work as a main thing. I definitely think getting laid off was a blessing for me, just because I was able to put so much more into this. If I wasn’t laid off, then I wouldn’t have been able to get it to where it was. That was one thing, The Upsides, the bands doing so well, and everyone helping each other out on the label.

You left college to go work for Smartpunk/Fearless Records, what were you studying and do you regret not sticking with it?
I literally went to community college for like a week. I graduated high school in 2002 and I went to community college in Huntington Beach that year. I’m not the best with various tests and on all my placement tests too. I got put in classes that were way too easy for me at the time. Now I probably wouldn’t remember how to do any of that math, but at the time, it was just way too easy. It was like a, "Oh I’ll do all the work from home kind of thing" and just come in on the days that I have to. Then I said I’m just not going to do this. I don’t think college is for everyone. Back to the Trustkill side of it, I pretty much got hired as art director for Trustkill because I didn’t go to school for art. Everything I did, I learned from myself. That was pretty much the reason that Josh hired me there. It has helped me and I’m sure it hass hurt me too in ways. If No Sleep fails or falls eventually, I have no idea what I’ll do really. I could always do design, but I don’t have any other knowledge in other fields. Then having my throat tattooed and hands tattooed, obviously those are job stoppers. I don’t think as far as the college thing goes, I don’t think I really regret it. Sometimes I think maybe I’ll take some classes just to do it, but it’s definitely not something that is for everyone and not something that everyone needs.

What has been the most important thing you’ve learned while running No Sleep?
There’s been a lot of very important things. Some are that this is not an industry for everyone, it’s not the easiest industry to be in and there is a lot of shitty people in this industry. I’ve definitely learned how to run a business more which has helped me with personal things too at times. I’ve definitely learned that everything is not as you see it in the end. Definitely learned that as it grew, you need to rely on the people around you to help and having it being a community, listen to when your bands have other bands that they think are good for you.

That’s a hard one for me to answer. There is so many different things, I’m not sure what exactly the best one would be that I’ve learned. Doing No Sleep has taught me that this is what I love and it’s the only thing that I know how to really do or want to do. There are other things that I would like to do at some point. One thing I’ve definitely learned is that music is definitely a huge part of my life and it always will be. Without it I don’t really know what would be happening in my life, where I’d be or anything. Since 2003, when I started working at Smartpunk, I have just worked in music related places and doing No Sleep has definitely shown me that I don’t really know what else there is out there. Running No Sleep as a label has also stopped a personal life because it takes up so much of my life.

Like a lot of labels, I’m sure you get numerous demos sent to you, what do you consider before signing a band and releasing their album?
Since it is a community aspect, a lot of times I ask bands on the label if they’ve heard them before or if they’ve seen them. Not everyone makes it out to California by the time I hear of them. If it’s music that I love. There’s some things I’ve put out that others might not like and there’s some things I’ll be announcing in the next couple months where it’s like other people might not like it, No Sleep fans might like it, but I personally like it a lot. That’s definitely one thing I’ve always done is put out what I like and I like all kinds of things. As long as it’s original and they are hard workers. Also, I like to talk to the band members beforehand to make sure that I genuinely think they are good people and that I can rely on them. I don’t really want to work with people that I hate. Doing No Sleep, it’s my job, but it’s also what I love and don’t want to work with people that lead me to hate what I’m doing. I don’t want to work with douche bags. Everyone on the label is my friend and I always want it to be that way. So pretty much tour, hard work, good people, they’re part of the community and they are doing what they do because it’s what they want to do and what they love and not just doing a band that is a trendy style to try to make money or have sex with a lot of girls.

I’ve heard from other labels the same kinds of things, where some bands will use labels as a stepping stone to bigger labels and I could see trying to not work with people like that.
I’ve done one off releases and will do one off releases, but it’s a family to me and I want people to be on the label that actually want to be on the label or do a release with the label and not be like "Oh, people like No Sleep right now, we should do a release with them." On the same side as that, if a band on No Sleep gets a deal from a large label that would be good for them, I’m not going to hate them or anything like that. I understand that you can’t stay with one person forever, you eventually move on sometimes. I would love for everyone to stay forever, but it isn’t always the case. The only time if a band on No Sleep actually moves to a label and I would care or get bummed is if it just makes no sense to me. Or God forbid something where I find out the band is a douche bag and they do something that completely fucks me or something like that. I want what’s best for my bands, so if something does come along that is good for them, then awesome.

So kind of like The Wonder Years going to Hopeless Records?
Yeah, that was like a move for them. They were done as far as their contract went with No Sleep, so I didn’t have any say obviously. Even if they had another record with me, if they wanted to pursue that, I wouldn’t have been "No. Fuck You, you’re staying on No Sleep, you have one more!" If there was a contract, we would want to get something that’s fair for us for the work we’ve done. Hopeless was a good move I think for them and they thought it was. I would have loved for them to stay on No Sleep. We’re still good friends and all that, so it was definitely a non hateful one. Soupy and all of them still support No Sleep. They still send me, when ever there is a band they really like, that they think would be great and things like that. Still friends.

No Sleep Records won the 2011 Libby Award from Peta2 for being the Most Animal Friendly Record Label and each No Sleep Release includes information on going vegan.
Some of the releases anyway, the inserts didn’t make it into every thing. It was just a flyer that had our download for a sampler and "No Sleep supports a Vegan Lifestyle" which just means as a label and me. All our bands are not vegan, they’re not all for that.

How did you feel about winning that award and what kind of feedback have you gotten back from customers about the vegan literature?
I was really excited because it was cool to get recognized for something other than music pre say. I am vegan and I haven’t had meat in 11 or 12 years now. It was a cool thing to be recognized for being an animal friendly label. There’s been some people that have been like "Yo, fuck you I don’t care about your propaganda bullshit" kind of stuff. For the most part people are cool with it and they like the stickers we send out. We send out Peta2 stickers with all our mail and mail order. If you don’t want it, throw it away. It’s our part to hopefully make you think that you don’t have to eat meat. If you like the taste of it, vegan food has gotten so much better where you almost can’t notice the difference at all. With that said, I haven’t had meat in 12 years, so my memory of what meat tastes like isn’t the best thing. It’s just me doing my part to hopefully help someone maybe think about that lifestyle. I’m not trying to push anything down anyone’s throat. I’m just sending it out, if you don’t want it, throw it away. If you want it, cool.

What are your plans to sustain the growth of No Sleep into the future?
Just continue what we’re doing. Live and learn with every mistake and success that happens. I always have to pay attention to the good and bad that happens with No Sleep, because that’s how you learn. I definitely think continuing to make this into a community and supporting our friends, the bands on our label, our friend’s bands is a huge thing that helps with the growth of the label. Continue finding new bands that we think personally are great that we hope other people will. They might not agree with our message or the band’s message, but someone will hopefully. Hopefully continue going as long as we can, doing what we love and releasing music I personally love.