In 2009, Jake Round founded Pure Noise Records in California. Although he’d had no previous experience in single-handedly operating a record label, he was still able to turn a loan from his mother into one of the driving forces in independent pop punk, rock, indie, and hardcore.
In 2014, we are celebrating the five-year anniversary of Pure Noise Records, which has come a long way from a split decision to release a No Bragging Rights record. Perhaps you can accredit Round’s success to his longtime involvement in the local music scene, his time spent interning at a record label, or even his networking skills working at the now defunct AMP Magazine.
Collectively, it seems as though the former may not be the exact driving forces in Jake’s ability to make something out of nothing. His entrepreneurial, grassroots approach towards running a record label far surpasses what anyone may have expected while he was working as a substitute teacher.
Check out below to read an exclusive interview between Under The Gun and Jake Round. We discuss what it takes to run a record label, being successful in an unwelcoming economic climate, and how he’s taken friends like The Story So Far and so many more of your Pure Noise favorites from small town up-and-comers to successful internationally touring entities.
So, Pure Noise Records is celebrating its five-year anniversary. How does it feel? Have the last few years been a whirlwind?
Well, five years doesn’t go by particularly quickly. It’s been good and steady, the last year being by far the most noticeable jump. I started it out of my bedroom in 2009 and now we have an 1,800 square foot office and a full-time employee so it’s a lot different than it was in 2009. At the same time it’s not really that different — it’s me and one other guy, and a few freelance people. The actual operation hasn’t changed; I think we just started selling more records.
Back in 2009 before you founded the label, what was your involvement with the music scene?
I’ve always played in bands; I started when I was a teenager. My first music job was in 2006 or 2007, I was an intern at Fat Wreck Chords. From there, I started working at AMP Magazine. I was at AMP for about two years. While I was at AMP was when I started the label. Before I did the label Pure Noise was actually a booking agency. I booked bands for a while then I realized “This shit sucks, I don’t want to do this.”
A few months after that, while I was looking at AMP, I had some friends in No Bragging Rights who were shopping for a new label, they were really unhappy with their label at the time. I was helping them shop some demos because I’d known a lot of label people through AMP. No one was biting, so I thought, “Well, what if I just put this out?”
So, I talked to my mom. My mom agreed to let me borrow some money. I borrowed some money, put out the record, and here we are five years later.
So when you first put out the No Bragging Rights record, did you know anything about running a label?
No, I didn’t really know what I was doing per se, but I did have a lot of help. I’m really close with the guy that owns Rise Records, Craig Ericson. He was super influential and very much a mentor to me coming up, you know, we have the same lawyer now. He was always there; I called him a lot in the early days asking, “How do I do this? How do I do that?”
As far as an average person starting a label, I definitely knew a lot more than some person off the street. I look back on what I knew then and what I know now and what I could do for a band now versus what I could do for a band then, and it’s very different. To say I knew everything would be far from the truth. I had some friends that were willing to answer my questions and I really couldn’t have done it without that.
Some valuable resources, eh?
Oh, there’s not very many people that can just call someone who is wildly successful and ask, “How did you do this?” There’s no training course for opening a record label, especially in a downed economy while other businesses are crashing.
You’d mentioned how things haven’t really changed since 2009 except for the addition of office space and a full-time employee. Where is your shop set up? How do you divvy up responsibilities between you and the other staff member you’ve brought on?
The office is in Berkeley, CA. I live in San Francisco. My employee is new, like, two weeks new. So, before that I really just did everything. I have a bunch of freelance people, two different publicists I use in the state, they each do about half the roster. I have a full-time publicist on retainer in the UK, and then I have a couple of dudes who do graphics and video for me. They are basically freelance but they work out of my office because I’m their main client. They invoice me; they aren’t Pure Noise employees technically. They are extremely helpful, obviously there is a lot of art and video stuff that goes into the label, so that’s super helpful that they’re local and work out of the office when they’re home.
Running a record label isn’t as interesting as most people make it out to be, a lot of emailing and paperwork. For the first five years I did it all myself, but I’ve finally hit that breaking point.
Well, congratulations on that, man.
Dude, it’s life-changing. Basically I’ve been waiting to meet somebody who I couldn’t let go, and a friend of mine who I’ve known for a long time from Sacramento, he had some off-time from his job, he worked in marketing for a couple of years, and he asked if he could help out. He’d mentioned, “I have a job interview on Wednesday,” and I thought to myself, “Hm, that’s not gonna work for me.” So, I just hired him. It makes a huge difference, he’s big in social media and whatever shit needs to be done.
That’s kind of the hard part about having a small company, is that there’s a lot of shit work that goes into it that nobody wants to do. That’s why you need to be humble in order to do the job, because if you’re not doing it, I’m doing it. If I’m not too good for it, you can’t be too good for it.
Sure. You’re the big boss, but you’ve got to take care of the little things too.
Right, I still have to go pick up postcards, you know what I mean? It’s not that far removed that I was passing out flyers at shows. I was doing all that when I was 27, 28 years old. I got a degree; I wasn’t too good for that.
Some of this stuff is great, you get to travel and go to a lot of shows, and I’ve been to a lot of cool places. But at the same time you’ve got to do the not so fun stuff too.
What did you receive your degree in?
Political Science. I used to be a high school teacher.
That’s kind of a big jump from teaching high school to running a record label, isn’t it?
It was all kind of part of the transition. I taught high school when I first graduated college in 2005. I moved to the Bay Area and I was substitute teaching at the time. When I was subbing is when I started interning at Fat. Then the teaching sort of phased itself out slowly.
Were you able to work alongside Fat Mike? What was your experience like at Fat? What did you do there?
When I was there he was on tour for most of it. I stuffed envelopes, straight intern.
I interned at Equal Vision Records, I did mostly the same thing, mailing posters to venues. That kind of stuff.
That’s exactly what I did; I did tour mail-outs. Mostly what the internship was good for was a resume builder, because Fat Wreck Chords was such a big deal for so long. It helped me get the job at AMP. At AMP I realized that if I was ever going to do anything for real, that I was going to have to own the company. I very much wanted to own my own thing early on; I don’t like to be told what to do.
You’d mentioned earlier that one of the things you were proud of was being able to start a company where the economy was essentially in the shitter. Obviously the music industry has been no exception. What steps do you take to increase your music sales?
I never really thought of it like that. The climate was what it was. Had I started a label that had similar success to what Pure Noise is having now in the 90s I’d be fucking rich and that’d be great. At the same time it may not have been possible to start a little label like mine without the internet. I sell records just like everyone else sells records, at the end of the day the way to sell a record is to make sure it’s good. If the band’s make good records and you inform the kids that want to buy records about it, they’ll sell. If the records are bad, then they don’t sell. All the marketing that goes into putting out the record is definitely crucial and it’s all part of the aesthetic of the album.
But, at the end of the day if you want to sell records as a label you’ve got to sign good bands. Put those bands in a situation where they can succeed. The band has to make money, they have to be put into a studio that can help make a good record and pick the right producer. For me, there is no magic wand on how you sell records; it really comes down to good bands. I think we do a good job at the other stuff too, but it starts and ends with good music.
When your bands are planning tours, does Pure Noise try to help set them up with good packages?
As a label, we definitely have some influence, but it’s really managers and booking agents that put together the tours. To that point, my label is pretty aggressive about being involved in touring, just as far as trying to get the bands every opportunity they can get. In punk rock, that’s really how you sell records, that’s the marketing, it’s touring. It’s a little different from indie/pop music that’s very blog-driven or stuff like that.
Vinyl has had a huge resurgence in recent years. What amount does vinyl contribute towards sales?
Digital is by far still our biggest revenue source, not even comparable. In the webstore I sell twice as much vinyl as I do CDs. It’s a different kind of fan; Pure Noise is certainly a vinyl label. I definitely sell more vinyl than InVogue Records or a similar size scream label or something like that. It’s not more than like 20% of our business. It’s significant, but it’s definitely not the biggest, nor will it ever be.
Since 2009, what band would you say you’ve really grown and developed the most personally? What band are you particularly proud of?
The Story So Far. I’ve known The Story So Far since Ryan, the drummer, was still in high school. The first time the band went to Japan and played overseas the first time, I played in the band. I managed the band for the first three years. That band and I are like a family. We came up together, we all know each other, they live 15 minutes from me, it’s not a typical relationship. It’s extremly personal. I have a similar relationship with The American Scene. Matthew and Charles are the guys that do the graphics and video for me. They lived with me for two years — they’re like my best friends. I have a super-close relationship with a few of the bands. Obviously TSSF has had more success than anyone else on the label, that’s obviously something to be proud of.
I think I’m proud of having a personal relationship with the bands across the board. Pretty much every band on the label–unless their brand new, aside from like Brigades really, because their my most recent sign–has met me and hung out with me and have my phone number. I’m not a hard guy to get a hold of. I come to all the shows, I travel a lot.
My goal when I started out was to have a label with a community vibe and it really has been. I think that’s important.
You said earlier that part of selling music is having faith in it and having really good music to put out. What do you look for when you’re looking to sign a band? Do you go looking for them? Or do you just wait for them to come your way?
Pop punk and punk rock in general, all encompassing of hardcore and indie, when you’re as involved in the “scene” as I am, I’m sort of aware of the bands as they’re coming up. If I haven’t heard of you, then that is probably a bad sign. Occasionaly stuff gets brought to me that I didn’t know about and it’s awesome.
As far as qualities in a band, it’s really super simple: 1) I have to like it 2) the band has to want to tour, and hopefully already is touring. Has a van, has done some DIY touring and I like it, that’s all it takes. It’s not some wild formula. If I put out stuff I didn’t like it might be different, I just sign shit I like and hope for the best.
Will pop punk always be your “go-to” genre?
I think we have a pretty eclectic roster as it is. I like that it fits into this “all ages” world. On one side of things we have Gates and The American Scene that are kind of like indie rock bands. On the other side of it we have Rotting Out and Vanna. Even in the pop punk bands we have The Story So Far that doesn’t sound anything like Handguns. I think it all sort of fits, I definitely want my label to have a brand and more or less know what to expect, but at the same time have a pretty wide vibe. We’ll see where things go but I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing. Who knows? Maybe in a few years I’ll have a sub-label and do other stuff. For the long term future, Pure Noise will be an all ages label.
Are there any significant long term goals you have for the label?
You know, it’s funny. I had a lot of goals that I started with in 2009. One of my dream goals was to have a band on the Main Stage at Warped Tour, I’m going to have that this summer. I wanted to have a record sell 50,000, I’m about 4,000 away from that with The Story So Far’s new record What You Don’t See. We should be at 50k by Warped Tour. For now, I think I’m pretty happy with where the label is. Do I think we’re going to grow? Absolutely.
The main goal is to just continue being successful releasing music I like, financially speaking if I can maintain what we’re doing for the rest of my life, I’d be just fine with that. If it gets bigger, that would be just fine too. I’m happy with that, but I’m ready to work towards making things grow and provide bands even more opportunities.
I would love to have bands on the radio, that would be rad. There are some things I can clutch and grab for but at the same time I want to do it on my terms. Pennywise is an example of a band that got huge, but they were always playing punk rock songs.
What is the coolest experience that running this label has brought you thus far?
Easy question. I just went to New Zealand with The Story So Far. By far the best place I’ve ever been to. They were doing some dates on the way to Soundwave and it was just an incredible experience. We went hiking and jumped off cliffs. It was a really beautiful place and it was a very inspiring trip. We didn’t really party, we kind of just hung out in nature.
Is there anything we didn’t tackle that you’d like to mention?
I’d like everyone to know that I appreciate their support over the last five years and I hope we can continue to keep doing what we’re doing.
Check out The Story So Far’s newest record What You Don’t See streaming below and help the boys hit 50,000 by purchasing the record here.
Interview conducted by: Derek Scancarelli (Follow him on Twitter)
Photography by: Derek Scancarelli*
Check out D. SKANK PHOTOGRAPHY for more of his concert photography.
*(with the exception of NBR promo shot)