Label Spotlight: Corporate Punishment

posted May 14, 2007

by Corinne

Corporate PunishmentPlease introduce yourself.

I’m Thom Hazaert, the President of Corporate Punishment. And I’m not only the President, I’m also a member.

When and why was the label started?

The label was started around 2003 by me and my partner Eric Nielsen. We had a lot of history together and a background in marketing, as we started Total Assault Marketing together (which Eric still runs with our other founding partner, ex-Polygram, Interscope, Trauma Promo guy Danny Ostrow), out of our living room in Hollywood, which built up to be one of the premier Street and Lifestyle Marketing companies in the business, and they are still kinda the go-to guys for a bunch of major labels. And before hooking up with Eric, I had put together street teams for labels like Flip and Jive, and been involved with Limp Bizkit, Staind, Cold, (hed)pe, 2Pac, Human Waste Project and a bunch of other stuff.

Eric was also the founder of Loudside.com, which was really how we met, as I started working on Loudside with him, and eventually we ended up running it together and relocating to Los Angeles for obvious reasons.

I also have a background in management and production, over the years in some way shape or form I’ve been involved in management on Chimaira, Switched, Depswa, Erase The Grey, Motorhead, Nonpoint, Earth Crisis, Allele, and a bunch of other bands. On top of that I also did A&R for Jive for a few years, and have done a lot of A&R consulting for other labels, as well as a lot of freelance writing.

So, basically, those things combined created the foundation for CPR.

As to how it started, long story short, at the time I was managing the late David Reilly, the vocalist from God Lives Underwater, who was doing his first tour as a solo artist in like 5 years, and we were going to fund his merch and CDs for tour, and he had recorded his first solo EP, so we decided that if we were going to fund and manufacture such a phenomenal title, we might as well start a label. So we did.

Anyway, Eric had been semi-seriously discussing starting a label with one of his former Total Assault employees, and he’d come up with the name Corporate Punishment, he suggested it, and it just sort of stuck. Our original logo, which we’ve since retired, was a photo of Budd Dwyer [former Pennsylvania politician who committed suicide in 1989 at a televised press conference] about to blow his brains out, which I guess made the statement we were looking for.

What kind(s) of music does the label put out?

Well, I’m pretty much the A&R guy, and make most of the decisions on the bands and what we put out, so it basically just kinda ends up being what I like, which is mostly hard rock and metal. A lot of the bands are our friends who are or were in other bands we’ve worked with in the past, most of which were on major labels and had bad experiences, and ended up looking for a good home.

Also, we have a lot of friends like Shaunfrom Soil, Chris Hamilton, who played drums in Bloodsimple, Downset, and is currently in St. Caine, Randy from Lamb of God, Scooterfrom Cold, etc, who turn us onto a lot of great bands too.

For the most part though, I just kinda make a conscious effort to avoid labeling our bands, and jumping on the flavor of the week bandwagon and trying to sign stuff like other metal labels are signing. We’ve had plenty of opportunities to work with a lot of bands that ended up doing relatively well on other labels, but they just weren’t really our thing. Usually the bands NO ONE wants to sign end up being more up our alley. Hahaha.

But we do, I guess, tend to gravitate more towards the radio-friendly modern hard rock end of the spectrum, and away from the metalcore/post-whatever stuff that is pretty much what everyone else is putting out.

And don’t get me wrong, heavy music was a huge part of my life growing up, and some of that is still among my favorite bands today, Slayer, Morbid Angel, Napalm Death, Megadeth, Pantera, Sabbath, King Diamond, Metallica, Mercyful Fate, Priest, Maiden, Carcass, Sepultura, Celtic Frost, etc., but as far as I’m concerned that’s been done, and it was done right the first time.

Of course there are exceptions. I mean, if I find a really heavy band that I love undeniably, like 3 Mile Scream, who came to us with an amazing finished record in hand, it’s hard to pass it up. Bottom line, I try not to let genres, or other people’s perception of them, dictate what we can or can’t sign. In the end it just comes down to how I feel about a band on a case by case basis.

What was the first release? How was it financed?

Technically, the first CPR release was David Reilly’s Inside EP, which was released in limited edition in 2003, basically just on the Internet. Then we did a few more ghetto style EP’s from Shenoah (ex-Chimaira, Ringworm) and Rikets (ex-Switched, Genitorturers), with limited distribution, which were later re-released when we did our distribution deal with Navarre a couple years later.

But our first actual national LP releases were Trigger Point’s A Silent Protest and Allele’s Point of Origin.

Unfortunately, neither of us is independently wealthy, so all of our original releases were financed pretty much out of pocket and on credit cards (which haven’t really changed much). We also took out a bunch of ridiculous high-interest loans that kicked our asses for a few years afterward. Luckily once we did our distribution deal(s) it got a little easier, but I’d imagine it’s not far from how most people fund their crazy ideas.

What is the most recent release?

I think our last releases were Re:Ignition’s (Steev and Snake from Skinlab) Empty Heart Loaded Gun, Ghost Machine’s (Ivan and Chris from Motograter) Hypersensitive, and 3 Mile Scream’s Prelude to our Demise, which all came out in November, as well as Amity Lane’s (Kevin Palmer and Josh Moates from Trust Company) The Sound Of Regret, which came out on Halloween.

How do you feel about sharing music on the Internet?

Man, this is really a can of worms you’re opening here. Hahaha. Personally, I don’t have a big issue with it. I mean yeah, it is probably hurting sales to a certain degree, but it's always been around in some form or another, and it’s a symptom, not the disease.

I mean, take away Bit Torrent, Napster, Kazaa, whatever you want. It’s not going to make the music you’re putting out any better. Personally, I think the biggest dangers to the music business are shitty music, short attention spans and more competition for the entertainment dollar.

So of course a casual music fan is gonna find the one song they like for free, instead of paying $18.00 for a CD, that they know costs a dollar to manufacture.

That said, personally, I think the biggest change needs to be made in the overall price structure of CDs and music distribution, which is what iTunes has already done somewhat, and I think is one of the major factors in their success.

Really CDs are still generally around the same price they were as a new technology, yet everyone on the planet knows you can buy 100 of them at Staples for 10 bucks. And, I mean, if CDs were all 8-10 dollars, they’d sell a hell of a lot more, which would be great for artists, and indie labels would still thrive, with a few minor adjustments to their business models. But, the majors, with their 8 billion dollars a year in overhead and expense accounts and private jets would be in a whole lot of trouble, which is probably why it hasn’t happened yet.

Sadly, I just don’t think music is the same all-encompassing force in people’s lives it might have been in the 70s, 80s and even the 90s. I know for me, there really WAS nothing else. Pac-Man was cool, but didn’t really have shit on Black Sabbath, ya’ know.

Also it seems a lot of the people working in and around music today, especially higher up, are increasingly coming more from the corporate sector, and there’s a lot of people doing it as a career choice, without really having a proper background. Really, being in the music business, isn’t really a choice, it kind of has to choose you. You really can’t be a “casual” music fan, and work in the music business, at least not in any capacity pertaining to artist development.

Add that to mergers, downsizing, and declining bottom lines, and the results are disastrous, especially in a “business” based on creativity and expression.

And it really has gotten to the point where accountants and number crunchers, who are completely out of touch with the consumer, are ultimately the ones deciding who does and doesn’t get signed. That’s a really scary World to live in as both an artist, and a fan, because when you have tastemakers with bad taste, we’re all fucked.

Any words of wisdom for those interested in running their own label?

Don’t. No, really. And if you have to, don’t sign a bad distribution deal.

What has been your most successful release?

Well “successful” is kind of a loaded term, as it’s pretty much relative, and to me, any band that makes a great record and gets it into stores these days is a huge accomplishment.

Really, all of our records for the most part have gotten great press coverage and support, and we’ve been really blessed with a relatively decent amount of success at radio, especially for a label like ours.

In terms of textbook success, I would have to say probably Allele’s Point of Origin and Switched’s Ghosts in the Machine. Both records got a lot of love at radio and moved some units. Allele was, at one time, actually on over 50 stations, and I think both records had that special energy that people really reacted to.

Allele also got some great placements, including the TNT Stephen King miniseries Nightmares & Dreamscapes, as well as a track in WWE Smackdown VS. Raw 2007, one of the biggest video game sports franchises on the planet, as well as some huge radio shows, and touring with Saliva, 10 Years, Evans Blue, etc.

And don’t get me wrong, none of our records are flying off the shelves or anything, and to be totally honest, to this day we still have yet to even RECOUP on a record, let alone turn a profit. But every release gets us closer and closer, and the opportunities we are presented get bigger and bigger, and for me, that’s enough to know we’re doing something right.

All things aside, I’ve seen us outlive a lot of labels with a lot more hype and money behind them, and when you do that, eventually, people HAVE to take notice.

What's the best way and the worst way to get a label's attention?

Well I guess for us, get signed to a major label, sell a couple hundred thousand records, get dropped, and then call me. Haha. But really, just make sure you have your shit together, musically, and personally. Be professional. Especially in the age of MySpace, I get barraged with so much ridiculous shit EVERY DAY, Nirvana cover bands sending me boom box recordings, just stuff that really makes you scratch your head.

Regardless of genre, what do you look for in the artists and bands you sign?

Being on an indie label is a lot of work, so for me stability and a good work ethic are almost as important as the music. And we’re not the biggest label in the world, and, I’m sure, far from the best. But I am VERY straightforward about what we are with bands when I sign them, and I think they respect that I don’t blow smoke up their asses. Really with an indie label, it’s a partnership, and if a band is willing to work as hard as we are, we can definitely do some damage.

As for musically, like I said before, I really try and avoid genres and sub-genres and labels and all the associated elitist bs.

To me, metal has always been about individuality and expression, and getting away from formulated crap (which most people confuse “formulated” with “songwriting”), and I think bucking the trends and putting out what isn’t the flavor of the week is far more important than sell a bunch of records you can’t listen to. Personally, I like heavy music, AND I like singers who can sing, and melody, and hooks.

It’s amazing, today if you have a heavy band with, God forbid, a singer who can sing, or a band that actually understands how to write a good song, it’s “nu-metal.” Fuck that.

There are a lot of legalities involved in running a label (signing bands, releasing records, everyday work, etc.). How does your label deal with these things?

Well I actually deal with a majority of that as well. We have a few lawyers who we bring in to do stuff here and there, but for the most part all the day to day stuff falls on my lap. I pretty much sign all the bands and write up all of our contracts, as well as deal with all of the technical aspects of our distribution and retail operations. And a lot of it starting out was really just trial by fire. I had no idea how to do half the stuff I do now when we started, and I still learn stuff all the time.

What upcoming releases can we expect from Corporate Punishment?

We have Onesidezero’s self-titled sophomore record coming out June 5th, as well as releases from AM Conspiracy, Jason “Gong” Jones from Drowning Pool’s new band, and On A Pale Horse, an amazing band we just picked up from Des Moines, which is Josh Brainard, who used to be the guitar player in Slipknot, and Aaron Peltz, who was the vocalist in Downthesun, which both hit stores August 7th.

Also we have releases coming this year from Broken Teeth, which is Jason McMaster from Dangerous Toys/Watchtower’s latest project, as well as a 20 year anniversary LIVE double CD/DVD from Dangerous Toys, and a bunch of other cool more indie/regional stuff we’re distributing like Sappy Bell and Fahrenheit 420, both of which I produced.