Founded in 1993, Hopeless Records is a Southern California independent record label home to Yellowcard, All Time Low, Silverstein, There For Tomorrow, Enter Shikari, The Wonder Years, Anarbor, The Dangerous Summer, and many more. Throughout the 18 year history of Hopeless Records the label has released over 100 albums and launched the careers of Avenged Sevenfold, Thrice, and Melee. In 1999, Hopeless Records formally started supporting non-profit organizations under the Sub City name with charitable albums, tours, and events. Now itself a registered 501c3 non profit organization, Sub City continues this mission of raising funds and awareness for worthy causes and to date has raised over $2 million dollars for over 50 non-profit organizations.
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Hopeless Records today stands as one of the Top 10 U.S. independent record labels by market share. Hopeless Records recently celebrated All Time Low’s single, “Dear Maria Count Me In” certifying gold status, with over 500,000 downloads sold. Hopeless’ ground breaking release Waking the Fallen by metal giants Avenged Sevenfold is now RIAA certified Gold, with over 500,000 albums sold in the U.S. alone. The company’s charitable arm, Sub City, has raised over $2 million for over 50 non-profit organizations. And Hopeless Records/Sub City was recently recognized for its humanitarian work by the 110th U.S. Congress, the California Senate, the Los Angeles City Council, the National Association of Retail Merchandisers (NARM), Billboard magazine, Alternative Press and the Los Angeles Times, amongst many others.
So, how does a young man who was diagnosed with a rare degenerative eye disease with no treatment or cure start a record label out of his garage in 1993 and build it to one of the most prominent independent record labels in the business?
“Purpose, principles, people, and persistence,” says Louis Posen, the founder and president of Hopeless Records.
In 1990, at age 19, Posen was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa while studying film at California State University Northridge. Less than three years later, after camera assisting on various films, commercials and music videos—and directing his first video for legendary punk’s NOFX—Posen started Hopeless out of a dare from Orange County punk favorites Guttermouth while he was filming a music video for the band.
“Guttermouth was between labels and I think I was the only one they knew who could organize a project such as releasing a 7-inch record,” Posen recalls. “What they didn’t know was that I had no idea how to do it.”
Posen went out and bought a book, “How to Run an Independent Record Label,” and launched Hopeless Records with $1,000, no distribution and no business plan (he wouldn’t advise anyone to launch a business without having long-term goals).
“I learned early that you first have to have something compelling if you can’t turn water into wine and later, after lots of mistakes, learned that even compelling music can’t sustain itself without a vision, guiding principles, others’ help and good, old-fashioned hard work,” he says.
With the record label hobby growing and Posen’s eyesight declining, the vision for the label became clearer. In 1995, Posen made the label a full-time venture, brought his first team member on board (Darren Edwards, then a UCLA student), and signed such bands as 88 Fingers Louie, Funeral Oration, The Nobodys, Falling Sickness, and Digger.
“We were fortunate to find some great bands and lucky enough to be an indie punk label at a time when punk was growing so rapidly,” says Edwards.
The label began to receive both fan and industry notice throughout the ‘90s with the signing of bands like Dillinger Four, Against All Authority, Atom and His Package, and Mustard Plug, who delivered the label’s first release to break 50,000-plus sales with their 1997 third-wave ska release, Evildoers Beware. Hopeless also became known for its high-profile compilation series and innovative packaging with the Cinema Beer video compilations and the Hopelessly Devoted to You label samplers.
“There have been so many important and touching moments in the Hopeless history but the Hopelessly Devoted to You Too compilation took us to another level,” Posen recalls. “This compilation consisted entirely of Hopeless artists and became our first release to break over 100,000 albums sold. This stands out as a milestone for our company as it fundamentally changed our thinking on how the business was going to run moving forward. It finally sunk in that in addition to putting out great music, entertaining music fans and not having to get a fast-food job that we had an opportunity to do something positive, community-changing, and life-changing with our resources, talents and voices.”
Enter two major changes in the Hopeless company culture: Defining their vision and principles and launching the Sub City charity subsidiary. The initial step was posting its first set of company principles and consciously working on the business by not just being in the business. Hopeless also began adopting others’ experience and books such as Steven Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” as training and discussion material amongst the growing team.
“When I started at Hopeless part time after renting a room in Louis’ house while going to college at Northridge, I noticed the company was in a transition from a punk label just having fun to a real business with goals and principles,” says Al Person, General Manager, who has been with Hopeless for over 10 years. “My timing was great that I entered and could lend my experience as a musician and my previous, more formalized business experience in banking.”
Another internal change was in launching Sub City, with a mission to make a positive impact beyond music by subsidizing non-profit organizations and spreading social awareness. Starting in 1999, Hopeless began giving artists an option to release their music through Sub City, where a portion of the revenues—regardless of profit—were donated to a charity of their choice. In that same year, Hopeless/Sub City started the Take Action! Tour, bringing the social entrepreneurship concept to the road. This tour attracted such notable artists as Jimmy Eat World, The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Avenged Sevenfold, Paramore, Cute is What We Aim For, amongst many more. The first Sub City release, the Take Action! compilation, benefited the Foundation Fighting Blindness, an organization that raises funds for research in retinal diseases (where Posen is also a national trustee). Since then, Sub City has released more than 35 albums, run the annual Take Action! Tour and raised over $2 million for over 50 non-profit organizations.
“You don’t have to be Bill Gates or Google to make a difference,” says Posen. “We believe everyone and every organization has talents, skills and resources that they can share with others by incorporating their community and humanitarian goals into their day-to-day work.”
In addition to money donated and awareness raised, Hopeless/Sub City also helped organize three press conferences on Capitol Hill as part of the annual Take Action! Tour, which aided in the passage of the Paul Wellstone Mental Health Parity Act. This act gives those with depression and other mental illnesses equal healthcare coverage as those with physical illnesses.
“Madam Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to a distinguished and accomplished constituent: Louis Posen and Hopeless Records, who has dedicated the last six years of his life to two extremely important causes, achieving mental health parity and reducing the unacceptable rate of suicide that plagues this country. Each year, more than 30,000 people die from suicide. For our youth, it is the third leading cause of death. And these deaths can be prevented.” —The Honorable Howard L. Berman (from the proclamation in the 110th U.S. Congress)
With a clearer vision, defined principles and the launch of Sub City, Hopeless was poised for great things in the new millennium. 2000 and 2001 revealed the new generation of Hopeless with a new logo and the signing of genre-defining artists Thrice, The Weakerthans, and Avenged Sevenfold. Thrice’s second full-length for Hopeless/Sub City, The Illusion of Safety, was released in 2002 and benefitted South Central Los Angeles drop-in center A Place Called Home. It also stunned the alternative rock community, not only marking the label’s first release to break 200,000 in sales, but also creating a new musical subgenre in blending rock, metal, punk and pop, which still thrives today. The album sales generated over $150,000 donated to the drop-in center and established the annual Thrice/Sub City music scholarship.
“When you think about it, it seems like a very small contribution,” Thrice drummer Riley Breckenridge told Billboard magazine. “But it’s about getting out there and making people aware in the punk and hardcore community aware that you can make a difference…”
2003 marked the next major milestone in the Hopeless history with the release of Avenged Sevenfold’s sophomore Hopeless record, Waking the Fallen, which was certified RIAA Gold with sales of over 500,000 albums in the U.S. The groundbreaking album—which six years later still sells 1,000 albums per week—stayed on the Billboard Heatseekers chart for over 30 weeks, landed the band on the cover of Revolver, Alternative Press and many other magazines, and established the band and label worldwide as permanent fixtures landing on many industry and fan radars.
With worldwide success firmly established, Hopeless could have taken the tempting path of selling the company or signing tons of new artists. But they opted to remain consistent with their core principles in signing the few artists that they could put their hearts and souls behind.
“We believe in a ‘quality-over-quantity’ philosophy,” says Eric Tobin, Director of Sales and Artist Development. “We are an artist development company and we don’t believe you can properly help develop an artist’s career if you are releasing several albums a month.”
The mid- and late-2000s brought the signing of There for Tomorrow, Anarbor, We Are The In Crowd, Melee, Amber Pacific and All Time Low. Hopeless/Sub City achieved other important milestones during this period including raising over $1 million donated to charity, four consecutive NARM award nominations (winning in 2007 and 2008), bands named Alternative Press’ “Artist of the Year” in two of the past four years and had the company’s unique vision featured in Business Week, the Los Angeles Times as well as Billboard magazine, to name a few.
Hopeless continued to build on their previous successes and in 2009 released pop-punk stars All Time Low’s second album for the label, Nothing Personal, which debuted at #4 on the Billboard Top 200 and Top 50 debuts in Canada, Australia, Japan and the U.K. Whether you were a fan of the band or a soccer mom, no one could escape the unmistakable insult-driven theme, which could be found on the album art, posters, mugs, debut video for “Weightless” (Added to MTV and FUSE), KROQ (Los Angeles), People magazine, The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, not to mention every website—and just about everywhere else.
“We look at every artist and every release as its own unique project; nothing is cookie-cutter,” says Ian Harrison, Director of Marketing. “It’s our job to dive into the band’s personality, mind and heart and find their message and deliver it in a way in which everyone wants to talk about it.”
All Time Low’s Nothing Personal sales and marketing proved there isn’t any level Hopeless couldn’t achieve. Today, with Posen nearly completely blind and the company’s vision clearer than ever, Hopeless is consistently ranked in the upper echelon of independent labels by sales, is housed in an 11,000 square foot building in Los Angeles, has a full sales, marketing, operations and finance team, and sports label management offices in the U.K., Italy, Japan and Australia.
“We are a team with a unified mission. A mission to be the best we can as individuals and as a company. Our goal is to continue learning and growing so we can better serve our artists, our partners, each other and our shared world.” —The Hopeless/Sub City Team