Ever since he was young, all Chris Hansen wanted to do was to make music. But when it came down to actually playing music, he realized that his dreams of grandeur were probably not meant to be. Eventually, he concluded that being in the business side of the music industry was the next best thing.
Despite his OC upbringing, Hansen bounced around the country, living in places like Salt Lake City, New Jersey, Kansas City and Huntington Beach. He had internship at Fearless Records and Smartpunk, then a stint at Revelation Records and Trustkill Records.
At the urging of a friend who recorded an EP and asked him if he wanted to start a label, he decided to start No Sleep Records at age 22 while working another record label job as an art director at Trustkill to pay the bills.
“I’ve always loved music and wanted to be a part of it,” Hansen says.
Based in Huntington Beach, the label opened up shop in 2006. Scouring discovery platforms like Myspace (“I used the search function for bands that were influenced by the ones I liked,” Hansen says), No Sleep established itself as a label for emerging punk, hardcore and emo bands. Add that to his experience working at labels and strong contacts, No Sleep was more advanced than other incubator labels at the time of when it first started.
“I didn’t really know what I was doing at first,” Hansen admits.
After putting out post-hardcore La Dispute’s first record, Hansen quickly realized that his fledgling label might have an extremely bright future as a tastemaker ahead. From there, rising artists like The Wonder Years, Balance and Composure, Allison Weiss, Into It. Over It. and Touché Amoré all put out early material through No Sleep. With each release, the label garnered respect for it’s astute sonic vision.
At the label’s peak, it had eight people on staff (not including Hansen) and a steady supply of interns and an office space.
“I liked having a place because it made a lot more business and a lot less fun than when I originally started the company,” he says.
Hansen released free compilations that helped promote its bands to help give the bands and the label additional exposure.
After nearly a decade of success, No Sleep hit a rough patch in 2015. The label overextended itself financially and Hansen soon faced a mountain of problems. Bands that were supposed to sell well didn’t and the label found itself with a number of employees it couldn’t afford to support. On top of that, the steady decline of physical sales was a recipe for trouble.
“One, it was that we put out a lot of records we thought were going to do more than they did,” Hansen explains. “Then you’re stuck after putting $15-$20,000 into a release and in a hole, and it just continues. It got pretty bad for a while, and there were moments where I thought about quitting.” But then he remembered why he started a label and why he loved bands. “In a way, it was a blessing to rethink things and brought it back to why I first started,” he says.
The label left Huntington Beach in 2016, but didn’t go too far. Now in Costa Mesa, Hansen is bullish on No Sleep’s future, especially as the label digs out from its problems. With that rough patch behind him and a sharper focus on what to do, the label boss, now 33, is confident his company’s best days remain ahead of it.
“It’s better than it’s been in a long time,” he says. “Throughout the 12 years, there’s been moments where I thought about walking away from the music industry — it’s stressful and a lot of work where people aren’t always great to you. But, I think it’s all been worth it and I’m excited to see where it continues and help new artists further their careers, and find a way to survive doing what they love.”