It only takes one look at the artist roster of Joyful Noise Recordings to learn that the Indianapolis-based entity is not your typical independent record label.
On Oct. 26, Joyful Noise released an album from Australia’s Tropical Fuck Storm—a band whose name is reflective of its strangely savage sound. Turn the calendar back a month, however, and you’ll also come across a Sept. 7 release from an artist by the name of Swamp Dogg. A Virginia-born soul veteran, the 76-year-old Swamp Dogg showcases his bold soul sound on the 2018 album titled Love, Loss, and Auto-Tune.
Originally founded by Karl Hofstetter in 2003 as a means of legitimizing the music of his own band, Joyful Noise has blossomed into a globally respected label over the past 15 years while maintaining its humble Indianapolis roots. In addition to the aforementioned releases, the label has put out several other noteworthy 2018 albums, including records from Danielson, Joan of Arc, Ohmme, Oneida, Why?, and Yonatan Gat.
Once housed in a second-floor space in Fountain Square’s Murphy Art Center, Joyful Noise moved to a nearby building behind Fountain Square Brewing Co. about two years ago. In addition to the change in locale, one other notable bit of Joyful Noise news was the hiring of label manager Jessica Clark in June 2017.
“It’s hard to think artistically and strategically if you’re in the nitty gritty details all day,” says Hofstetter. “Bringing Jess on allows me to be able to know that the day-to-day operations are taken care of. I can now spend most of my time just talking to bands and dreaming up new releases.”
With a great deal of music industry experience, Clark is a former employee of LUNA Music, who spent her 20s photographing, reviewing, booking, and promoting shows in Indy. Now based in New York City, she also worked in Amsterdam from 2012-2016 as the director of promotions at European booking agency Belmont Bookings. Her overseas experience has come in handy with her current role at Joyful Noise.
We’ve intentionally tried to promote our records better globally,” says Hofstetter of the label’s global footprint. “I wouldn’t say that we’ve intentionally sought bands from other countries. That has just kind of happened by accident.”
Going forward, however, Clark is hoping the label continues to bring more international artists into the mix.
“There’s a great big world out there, with so many amazing bands, artists, etc.,” Clark says. “In 2017, Joyful Noise released Lingering, an album from Denmark’s Sleep Party People. And last month, we released the new record from Tropical Fuck Storm, who live in Australia. We’ve got a few new releases coming in 2019 that are from other parts of the world as well.”
In reflecting on the artists Joyful Noise looks to release, both Clark and Hofstetter emphasize two things in particular. “The two questions I ask myself, the ones that matter the most to me, are: is it good and do I believe it?” Clark says. In fact, Hofstetter has his own mathematical system when it comes to selecting what acts he wishes to put his label behind.
“I’ve got this list of 13 different things that I ask myself when I’m listening,” Hofstetter says. “I rank it on a scale of 1 to 10, and then it has to achieve a certain score for it to be worth it.”
On the Joyful Noise scale, authenticity undoubtedly matters most. “The main thing is, ‘Do I believe them?’ meaning, ‘Is this band doing something authentic?’” Hofstetter says. Along these same lines, Hofstetter is also looking for acts that pave their own path sound-wise.
“There are a lot of bands that are good at achieving a certain sound, but it’s not anything new,” Hofstetter says. “That’s not exciting to me because it’s too informed by other music that already exists.”
Of course, there’s also the question of an artist’s drive as well. “If they’re the type of band that is self-motivated enough to tour and sleep on floors, that’s hugely important,” Hofstetter says. When push comes to shove, however, the one thread that’s sewn through each and every Joyful Noise release is not one tied to genre or style.
“I would say the number one thing is artistic honesty and purpose,” Hofstetter says. “That’s what allows us to release Swamp Dogg, a 76-year-old soul legend, right next to Anal Trump, a grindcore band.
When it comes to marketing their artists,Joyful Noise takes several different approaches. In the streaming age of 2018, music services like Apple Music and Spotify obviously reign supreme.
“Streaming is certainly a topic that weighs heavily on the minds of labels and artists alike these days,” Clark says. “Essentially, we want to make sure our artists are using every tool available to them to get their music to as many people as possible, and Spotify and Apple Music are part of that.”
In order to have the best success on streaming sites, Clark tries to maintain personal relationships with those at Spotify and Apple Music who are responsible for crafting playlists.
“We try to keep the relationships as personal as possible, like making sure certain editors are aware of upcoming tracks and releases by bands/artists that we think they will like or find interesting,” Clark says.
But while streaming surely matters a great deal, it’s not where Joyful Noise puts all of its eggs. Instead, the label still prides itself in putting out a stunning physical product.
“Even though streaming is a big factor these days, we still take a lot of pride in the artistry of the physical product,” Hofstetter says. “I think it’s even more important now because digital is so pervasive.”
He continues, “Because everyone has access to all music at all times, the physical product has to really be worth it to buy it. It no longer serves a purely utilitarian purpose. So it’s really more of a trophy or a piece of art.”
Under the supervision of in-house designer David Woodruff, Joyful Noise makes sure its releases also serve as relics. In addition to physically pleasing releases, the label also puts out a slew of limited edition records, from flexi discs to one-off singles. Often, these records are released exclusively through Joyful Noise’s VIP membership subscription, which Hofstetter first started back in the label’s early days.
“That was the thing that basically allowed me to quit my day job because it was consistent revenue,” says Hofstetter of his first-ever record subscription service through Joyful Noise. “I knew no matter what happened, we’d have this amount of money coming in every month, and that was really huge, just on a financial planning level. That gave us stability.”
Still today, the membership subscription program is crucial to the success of Joyful Noise. Having evolved since its original conception, the membership subscriptions now come in all shapes and sizes, varying from a $5 VIP subscription to a $100 JNR 100 membership.
“The membership series serves many positive purposes,” Clark says. “For example, with the Almost Live and Cause & Effect series’, we have the opportunity to work with artists we respect and admire that aren’t necessarily on our roster. And for members, I think it sort of takes on the feeling of a ‘club,’ which fosters a community amongst our fans and friends, and allows for direct, personal communication with our audience.”
In speaking on this “club” effect, Joyful Noise subscriptions manager Jonathan Horne has seen Facebook groups surface because of the program. “Now, our VIP Facebook group has 600 members, and that’s just people writing in about things they’ve seen related to Joyful Noise,” he says. In addition to these social effects, the label’s subscription program is also meant to give fans a way to personally connect with the Joyful Noise artists they love.
“Part of what we want to try and do with them is build a bridge between the fan and the artist,” Hofstetter says. “So one of the perks is we’ll get people on the band’s guest list for shows. And the JNR 100 people are invited to our Christmas party with all our artists.”
Ultimately, the label’s subscription program is just another unique way that Joyful Noise is still thriving in 2018.
“At its core, the VIP membership is a way for people to belong to the culture of the label,” Hofstetter says. “It allows people special access to certain things. It’s created a fan base for the label and not just for each of our artists, which is amazing because we have such a crazy diverse roster.”